In the second of two related stories, John Dicks, eldest son of the founder of Kendic Radio, recalls the life and times of an early West Country radio and TV engineer, manufacturer and retailer.
My father, Kenneth Dicks, was born in Yeovil in December 1908, the son of a cabinetmaker and French polisher. On leaving school he was apprenticed to Petters Oil Engine Company in their Yeovil works, where he acquired his engineering skills.
He became interested radio as this was rapidly progressing at this time, and decided to leave Petters and started building radio receivers of his own design. I believe that he was about 20 at this time (1928). The family had moved from Huish Episcopi, near the old football ground, where father was born, to premises in Frederick Place, off Middle Street, Yeovil, where there was a shop and outbuildings, and so there was space for a workshop. I believe that my grandfather used to make the cabinets at this time, but obviously the quantities were quite small at the start.
Wireless', as it was commonly known, was increasing in popularity, but as only a few people had electricity in those days, receivers had to be battery operated. This meant rechargeable accumulators and father built up a good business around the local villages exchanging recharged accumulators for flat ones on a weekly basis. I think he had several hundred customers in the early 30s: at 6d a time it was a good regular income. He also built his own amplifiers and started attending Fetes and other events during the summer. I think at one time he also used to provide music for dances.
The set-making business was increasing, and about 1932 he took on two employees to help with the workload. In 1934 he married my mother and moved to Brocks Mount, which had been bought by one of his uncles. He set up his workshop, moved one of his employees to Stoke-sub-Hamden, and left the other one to run the Yeovil shop as a repair centre.
About this time he landed a contract to make radios for a department store by the name of Morses of Swindon, under the brand name Morse Radio. This demanded a substantial increase in staff, as they had to produce 20 sets a week. Pithers of Castle Cary made the cabinets at this time. The contact at Morses at that time was a man named John James. After the war, John James started up on his own business in Bristol under the name of Broadmead Radio. He went on to become a multimillionaire.
The outbreak of war in 1939 put paid to most of the manufacturing side, as most of the staff were called up. Father joined the Royal Observer Corps, and spent many nights at the post on Ham Hill.
After the war, he decided that he would restrict the manufacturing side to one off specials, and apart from the normal radio sales and repair business, decided to start a mobile cinema. I think this was 1946 when he travelled to Merriott, Shepton Beauchamp and East Coker three nights a week, and showing at the old village hall on Fridays. By 1948 he had converted the large workshop at Brocks Mount to be dual purpose, workshop Monday to Friday then cinema Friday night and later Saturday and Sunday as well.
The late 40s also saw the start of television transmissions from Sutton Coldfield, Birmingham. Whilst officially out of our range, I can remember our first TV set, a GEC 9-inch, which, although fed from a huge aerial 40 feet high, often only gave a snowy-looking picture. However I think father sold a dozen or so around the area during the first year, often travelling to Weymouth to purchase 25-foot yacht masts to mount the aerials on.
1952 saw the opening of our region's own TV service from a transmitter at Wenvoe, near Cardiff. This was when TV sales really took off. Tube sizes ranged from 9 - 17 in, but Philips produced a 24 in rear projection set, using a very bright 2.5 in tube, and it was one of these, with a modified optical system, which was used to produce a 60-inch picture in the cinema for the Coronation in 1953.
1953 also was the year that the first American car, a black Ford custom with a 3.5 litre side-valve V8 engine, arrived in the family. Several more American cars were acquired over the following 25 years or so. It was also the year that I left school and started work in the business, at 35 shillings a week all found, if I remember rightly. The TV business continued to flourish but by 1958 the cinema had lost its popularity, and so was closed after some 11 or 12 years.
We continued to manufacture one-off specials and the 60s and 70s & 80s saw the production of numerous tailor-made sound systems for village halls and churches around the area. The early 60s also saw the advent of small portable TV sets that would work from a 12 volt car battery.
By this time father and mother used to attend various caravan club rallies at weekends. Of course father had one of the new 12 volt TV sets, but a lot of rally venues were near the coast and reception was poor on the internal aerial. So father designed an aerial to fit on the caravan, which could be raised and oriented on-site for best reception, then lowered for travelling. Of course many other people at the rallies saw this, and soon it was a case of I want one of those. Over the following 15 years or so, literally hundreds of people brought their caravans to Brocks Mount, often staying overnight, to have aerials fitted and sometimes buying the TV as well. Two or three caravan manufacturers got to hear about us, and for several years we supplied them with aerial kits that they fitted as initial equipment to order.
When father was 70 in 1978, a partnership was formed between him and myself. Father's health began to deteriorate during the 80s, and he died in Jan 86 at the age of 77.
My wife and I took over the business until the end of 1999, when we closed up for retirement and so Kendic Radio ceased to exist after trading for 72 years.