Hallicrafters 820 Restoration

The Hallicrafters model 820 is the TV set that started my hobby of collecting and restoring antique television sets. It was the very first tv set that I acquired and restored.

The Hallicrafters 820 was the first TV set my parents purchased. As a 3 year old toddler, I sat on the floor in front of a Hallicrafters 820 tv set every day starting at 3PM, watching the first TV station in Milwaukee, WTMJ channel 4.

The year was 1951, and TV programming on WTMJ started around 11AM and sign off was at Midnight with the playing of the national anthem. There was an average of 86 hours of programming per week on WTMJ during 1951. Prior to sign on and after sign off a test pattern was usually displayed. If you click here you can go to a Wayback Machine Archive of a web site that WTMJ had on the internet during 1997 during their 50th anniversary. There's some great historical information about Channel 4 from the early days of television broadcasting in Milwaukee. WTMJ-History-Link Including many photographs and stories about the early days of WTMJ.

Here is a photo that I found in a family photo album. My mother took this photo of me in 1951 in the appartment we lived in on North 19th street in Milwaukee. We moved a few months later (late December 1951) to the home I presently live in. I am sitting at my play desk and in the background you can see mom and dad's new Hallicrafter 820 TV behind me. I was approximately 3 years 6 months old at the time. I have very vivid memories of those days even though I was just a toddler. There is an old TV program listing on the WTMJ archived web site (see the link above) and according to that old program listing I started watching at 3PM in the afternoon with The Kate Smith Show. After that I would watch Howdy Doody at 4:30Pm and then at 6PM it was Kukla Fran and Ollie.

My father had served in the Navy during World War II. During that period Hallicrafters did a lot of defense work for the government supplying radios of various kinds for the military. After the war, Hallicrafters went back to producing consumer electronics and produced a line of television sets. My father decided to purchase a Hallicrafters TV set as our first television, due to the great reputation that Hallicrafters had with the equipment that service men used during the war.

The Hallicrafters 820 receives VHF channels 2-13, and has an AM radio and provisions to connect a phonograph. The model 820 was one of the first tv sets to use the 16TP4, 16 inch, rectangular picture tube. Prior to the introduction of the 16TP4, all picture tubes used in all televisions were round. Most TV sets that used the early round picture tubes had a "mask" that truncated the top and bottom of the round tube so the picture looked oval, with a flat top and bottom and rounded left and right sides. Some "masks" also squared off the left and right sides so that the screen appeared rectangular. Some sets, referred to as "Portholes" had no mask at all and displayed a totally round screen.

Sometime in 1999 I was surfing Ebay, and discovered this Hallicrafters model 820. It was located on the east coast. Because it was the exact model TV that I sat in front of when I was a toddler, I decided that I just had to have it. So I bid on it and won. The seller did a rather poor job packing it up. And to make things worse, when the trucker arrived at my door with the cargo, the box, which was clearly labeled "THIS SIDE UP" with arrows, was laying on it's side. When I opened the box, I discovered that the picture tube had been broken, and the glass picture tube envelope was bouncing around on the chassis and had done a lot of damage to the chassis components. I had only one choice and that was to start looking for replacement parts and hope that I could find them. Here are some photos of the damage the TV suffered in shipping.

AS can be seen in this photo the TV set back was broken in a number of places. Fortunately I was able to salvage all of the small pieces and was able to piece most of the parts back together. I used 5 minute epoxy to glue all the pieces back together and then used pop rivets to re-fasten the plastic bump out to the Masonite parts. I then lacquered the entire back because the epoxy repairs had darkened the color of the Masonite where the epoxy was. By lacquering the entire back, I was able to produce an even color throughout, and the epoxy repairs became less visible.

After about 2 years of searching I was finally able to locate a new-old-stock replacement picture tube at an old time TV repair shop in Pennsylvania. I located some of the other broken parts at a store in Medina, Ohio called Play-Things-of-The-Past This is a very good place to locate new and used parts for old radios and TV sets.

When I had all of the parts I needed, I started restoring the chassis. The first order of business was to remove all the old wax paper capacitors and replace them with new more reliable capacitors. I also removed the aluminum electrolytic capacitors from the chassis and re-stuffed the cans with new more reliable electrolytic capacitors, and then remounted the cans on the chassis. I mounted the new picture tube and turned the set on. It was at that point I discovered that there was a burned out control on the back of the chassis. I found a replacement on Ebay and after it arrived I installed it. Then I powered the set up again. This time, although I had high voltage and the screen was displaying a full screen, the picture was all goofed up. I had multiple pictures being displayed. After some trouble shooting with my scope, I discovered that the horizontal blocking oscillator transformer was open on the secondary. Once again I began the search for another part. I got lucky and found one at Play Things of the Past again.

One of the components broken in shipping was a transformer in the AM radio section. I was able to also get a replacement transformer from Play Things Of the Past and installation of that part got the radio working. I hooked up an antenna and turned the set on again. And this time after a bit of adjusting, I soon had a very good picture.

This is a photo of the completely restored chassis with the new picture tube installed

The cabinet had some scuff marks and scratches, mostly on the top. So I stripped the top of the set,and sanded it down. I went to the hardware store and got several different shades of Mahogany stain and mixed the various stains until I had a good match to the existing color of the original finish. I sealed the stain with 2 coats of shellac, and then sprayed 6 coats of acrylic automotive lacquer on the top, wet sanding between coats with 400 wet emery. After the top was well lacquered, I sprayed the entire set with 2 more coats of lacquer.

The brass escutcheon behind the control knobs was badly tarnished from wear over the years. I stripped all the lacquer off of that part and polished and re-lacquered it to prevent future tarnish. I cleaned up all the knobs and polished the brass trim inserts as well.

I put the chassis back into the newly refinished cabinet, made some final adjustments and placed the set in the exact spot that my parents original Hallicrafters 820 sat in our living room. (I live in my parents old house where I grew up as a kid) But somehow I remember this TV set being bigger. I guess I was just a lot smaller and it looked big to me back then.

I connected a DVD player to the set and fired up a DVD of an old Ozzie and Harriet show. I brought my wife Tamy in to see it playing. It was a very moving experience for me. It brought back fond memories of a time when life was a lot simpler back in the 1950's. A time when mom stayed at home and raised the family and when Dad worked and was able to support his family on one paycheck. A time when all your neighbors were your friends and knew you all of them on a first name basis. My old television sets and DVD's of the old 1950's black and white TV shows that I watch, keep me in touch with my fond memories of the past.

I guess this little TV set, was my ticket back to the good old days. And it was the start of a hobby that has given me great personal satisfaction, and enjoyment for over 12 years now.