June 1946 Radio-Craft
[Table of Contents]
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics.
See articles from Radio-Craft,
published 1929 - 1953. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged.
"Why the Tube Shortage" was not
a question being asked by Radio−Craft magazine editor Hugo Gernsback, it
was an explanation. It is similar to the present day situation with the "Global Chip
Shortage" in all the headlines being blamed on the Wuhan Flu plandemic (sic)
causing a worker shortage. It has affected everything from the production of smart
watches to kitchen appliances to cars and trucks. In 1946, however, the cause of
the vacuum tube shortage was a multi-faceted ordeal according to investigative
work by Mr. Gernsback. Service shops were accusing tube manufacturers of
favoring radio production companies while radio production companies accused the
tube manufacturers of favoring service shops. The truth, ostensibly, was that
the federal government still laid claims to a large portion of tube
manufacturing for post-war defense needs, and at the same time labor strikes
were crippling production lines. There was also a shutting down of many of the
widely dispersed manufacturing sites across the country as companies sought to
consolidate production. As the old saying goes, "The more things change, the
more they stay the same."
Why the Tube Shortage
The present tube situation is one of great complexity.
During the past few months we have received a number of communications from radio
dealers and service people. The following is a good example:
"If I were running a radio magazine serving the Serviceman, I would try to find
out why the tube situation today is worse than it was during the war and inform
the serviceman and the public just what is the truth.
"It would seem to me the customer, who supports the radio industry, should have
first call on tubes, not the factory, who would only sell them more radios when
they have enough and all they need is tubes to make them work.
"When so-called radio tube companies advertise batteries, pilot lamps, etc.,
and avoid mentioning radio tubes which is their main article, I know something is
rotten. We don't want pilot lamps, batteries, what we need is tubes! Tubes! Tubes!!!
"They were d--n glad to sell us tubes in prewar years when the factories gave
them next to nothing for them, but now, there must be a black market, with greasing,
etc., to get the tubes that the public needs.
"They promised great things when the war was over, or is it?? Is the army still
taking most of the tubes? Is that what they feed the men? Every ad you see has something
else, but no tubes."
Chambers & Son,
Upper Darby, Pa.
Radio−Craft contacted a number of radio tube manufacturers, among them the largest
in this country, and has gathered some information on the subject. This may serve
to explain the present acute shortage and give an indication when it may be relieved.
To begin with, officially the war is by no means over. Very large numbers of
troops are still gathered in many former war theatres from Europe to the Pacific.
The Army, Navy, and auxiliary forces still maintain in use for communication purposes
a great deal of radio equipment. They still consume large quantities of radio tubes,
be it for new and more modern equipment or for replacement purposes.
Then, too, new trainees are still being inducted into the various services. Routinely
they require large amounts of radio equipment. The Navy also still has a sizable
portion of equipment afloat making it necessary to use practically all its shore
radio installations. Naturally the military not only uses up millions of radio tubes,
but also has priority on such matériel.
Strikes in many industries have slowed up many manufacturers - among them radio
tube manufacturers. They have not as yet recovered from this slow-up, though the
condition is being relieved slowly as this is written.
The complexities of modern radio tube manufacture is another reason given for
the slow-down in tube production. Manufacturers have many divisions, or "units,"
which process different stages of production. Thus we have glass-blowing units,
exhaust units, assembly units, etc. According to tube manufacturers contacted, present-day
inefficiencies or shortage of certain supplies may cut output of a single unit as
much as 20 percent, thus creating a bottleneck which may hold up other units which
are not in themselves suffering from inefficiencies or scarcity of materials.
A rather large percentage of all labor employed in the production of radio tubes
goes into the "mount." This term describes the already assembled part of the tube,
comprising cathode, plate grid, etc., which is put together before the envelope
is put on and the tube is ready for exhausting and sealing.
To obtain sufficient labor, during the war, it was necessary for tube manufacturers
to establish so-called "feeder plants" in localities where quantities of skilled
labor was available. These plants in many cases were relatively distant from the
main factories, and their establishment and operation increased costs to a point
that - now the war is at least unofficially over and the manufacturer has to face
O.P.A. price regulations and a competitive market - consideration had to be given
to closing them.
Let us now turn to the present receiving tube market, as compared to the prewar
market. Prior to the shut-down of radio receiver production in 1941, the radio industry
used approximately 100 million tubes for equipping their new radio receivers.
At that time the average requirement per set was 5 1/2 tubes. The replacement
market in prewar years averaged one out of three tubes required for set production,
or nearly 35 million tubes per year.
It now appears that the radio industry is geared up to produce some 25 million
radio sets per year, if and when the necessary materials become available. With
FM and Television in the postwar picture, it looks as if the requirements for the
original equipping of such sets will increase to approximately seven tubes per set
as against the 5 1/2 tubes per set in the prewar period.
From the calculations of these trends and other factors involved, it becomes
evident that radio dealers and radio servicemen in the United States alone will
probably absorb approximately 100 million tubes per year. These requirements would
be three times greater than those of the prewar period, making it necessary for
the serviceman to turn away two out of three customers.
The radio tube manufacturers feel that it is in the best interests of the industry
to serve the set manufacturer first, because basically the radio receiver has made
and will continue to make the tube market. Not even a radio serviceman without a
single tube on his shelf would contradict the axiom: "no receivers, no tubes." Another
important point: it is better at this state of our national economy to produce a
number of tubes to go into a new receiver, rather than produce them to repair a
worn-out antique which should be junked on account of old age. Consumers want tubes;
but new sets too.
For these and other reasons tube manufacturers feel that new receivers should
have first call on tubes; and accordingly they have allocated their production on
the basis of three tubes per new radio receiver and one tube for replacement. Radio
receiver manufacturers are and will continue to be the biggest customers for radio
tubes. This is true in normal times and today too.
It is idle to pretend that all, or even the greater part of the approximately
three million tubes a month allotted to repair and maintenance reach the serviceman,
even were these quantities actually produced at present. Radio−Craft is well aware
that large numbers of these tubes "disappear" through intermediate commercial channels
on their way from the factory to the ultimate consumer, the radio serviceman.
Throughout the whole industry, it is too well known that small radio, set makers-the
so-called "bedroom manufacturers" have no credit standing with the tube manufacturers,
who therefore won't sell them. But the small set makers - there are hundreds of
them - move heaven and earth to secure the precious tubes. They make "raids" on
wholesalers, radio stores, department stores - yes they even buy tubes from the
larger service establishments at fancy prices! This is a feature - albeit an unlovely
one - of the present economic setup, and one that apparently can be relieved only
by time and the natural play of economic forces. The radio serviceman is no worse
off in this respect than retailers in other fields.
After weighing all the facts, Radio−Craft estimates that the tube situation will
probably continue unsettled for the rest of 1946. There may be quite a bit of improvement
toward the end of the year, but the situation will not become entirely normal till
sometime late in 1947. This analysis is based on the premise that there will be
no unpredictable political or industrial crises or bottlenecks which would introduce
totally new and upsetting factors.
Taking all the facts into consideration, the only conclusion that can be drawn
is that it will be some little time before the situation will revert to a prewar
normality, with sufficient tubes available to meet all demands.
Posted September 15, 2021