Philco Predicta Television Restoration

By Nap Pepin





This site is best viewed with Internet Explorer 6.0  Download it here.  Last updated March 14, 2006.

Having collected many radios over the years, itís hard not to take notice of some of the related items while searching.  Of particular interest to me are some of the older televisions.  My favorite has to be the Philco Predicta.  Manufactured during 1958 and 1959, this television pushed the envelope of design  innovation. 

I hope you enjoy reading about the restoration of my Philco Predicta television.  Thanks for visiting!

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The Philco Predicta pedestal was space age in design and often referred to as the "Gas Pump" or the "Cyclops" television.  Philco produced a number of different Predictas, from tabletops to one with a moveable screen on a cable.  Although they were of fantastic design, they were also credited with pushing Philco into bankruptcy because of poor reliability.  It was not uncommon for these sets to require servicing three or four times a year.  Recently, Mr. Charles Jeffries wrote me to tell me about his experience as the son of a Television and Appliance Shop owner in the 1950's and 60's.  According to Mr. Jeffries, the Predicta was too radical to sell and Philco was showing a color version but never put into production. You can read his story here.

Today, Predictas are considered one of the most collectible televisions and are often seen in movies, TV, advertisements and music videos. See MZTV and Philco Designers for more information on the history of Philco and the Predicta TV.


Finding My Predicta

Money can buy you anything and if you want something badly enough, the Internet can offer you nearly anything you want as long as you are willing to pay for it. There are Predictas available right now for the taking but they are not cheap. A Pedestal in good, un-restored condition can fetch between $1,200.00 and $1,500.00 in US funds! You can do much better if you  are willing to take some risk and invest some time and energy into finding a cheaper one that you are willing to restore yourself. That is precisely what I did. Watching Ebay over a few months, I found one that had some negatives that would likely keep it from selling for the normally high market price;

  1. It was in terrible condition

  2. It did not work

  3. The electronics had been worked on

I saw two positive things;

  1. The plastic was in good shape

  2. The seller said he got a horizontal line on the screen

The Philco Predicta as seen on Ebay

To me the key was that the plastic pieces (the front screen cover and the rear CRT enclosure) were all in good shape and since the ad said the owner got a horizontal line across the screen, I guessed that the CRT and the flyback transformer were still good. I would imagine that these parts are nearly impossible to find.  I have never restored a TV before but I felt I was right in my assumptions. The scary part was that someone else had worked on this set. There is nothing worse than undoing someone elseís bad work! Having bought several items on Ebay before, I followed two rules that experienced Ebayers use to bid on items. First I checked the sellersí transaction history and since it was good, I bid on the item in the last thirty seconds or so. Lucky for me, I was the high bidder at US$303.00. (Thatís about $450.00 in Canadian funds)

Shipping wasnít as fun as the auction. I hired Yellow Freight and received a 40% discount on the shipping costs from Missouri to Edmonton.  I apparently saved 40% because they are under contract for the company I work for and therefore offer special rates to our employees. Unlucky for me, the brokerage firm unjustifiably charged me duty because, as they put it, "unless you provide a certificate of origin, we assume the item was built over seas". Gee, then why did they call me a week earlier to ask me where it was made? To top it off, a label on the back of the CRT clearly says made in USA right on it! They waved the $35.00 brokerage fee when I complained but would not budge on the duty. Anyway, with GST (the wonderful 7% goods and services tax), the cost was about $220.00 to ship  although it should have been $65.00 less. It did arrive safely and was well packed in two parcels, one with the CRT and the rest in another box. The seller had used underlay as packing material so this added considerably to the overall weight but it was well protected.  It weighed about 100lbs, packed.  


The Visual Inspection

I like to show people what things look like when I first receive them. When I showed a friend the unpacked Predicta, with a blank look, all he could say was, "Did you know it was in this condition?".  I wasn't too worried about what was ahead.  The price was right and I had lots of experience having restored dozens of antique radios in the past.  At one point, I was so drawn into the hobby, I founded the Canadian Vintage Radio Society in 1992 and operated it till 1996.  The CVRS still  operates today.  Through my experience with the CVRS, I learned about tube technology.  By profession, I am an electronics engineering technologist but I was never taught vacuum tube technology.  During this time, I had the opportunity to learn and apply advanced finishing and restoration techniques thanks to a gentlemen  named Wes Bassingthweight, a piano restorer who originally performed the cosmetic restoration of an 1878 upright piano of mine.  I was so thrilled with the results that I convinced him to teach me his finishing techniques which use mostly spraying equipment.  It would take all of this experience and more to restore this Predicta.

Admittedly the Predicta was pretty ugly. I believe it was exposed to the elements for some time because there was some rust on the chassis, wheat and weeds in the inside and the front plywood plate where the channel selector resides was totally de-laminated. The front and rear feet were rotting away to. The plastic screen cover was very foggy and scratched and the electronics were badly hacked with telephone wire everywhere. I have a habit of buying stuff that looks like garbage, un-restorable.  I'm not sure if I like the challenge of restoring it or feel sorry for it, like a Charlie Brown Christmas tree.  I concluded that I could be working on this for a year.


The electronics were a mess.


Before I received the Predicta, I searched for information such as alignment and schematic diagrams on the Internet. One site I recall visiting for radio related information before is the site I returned to for help on this project. It is owned and operated by Sonny Clutter, "The Radiola Guy". He has a great web page on which he buys, sells and restores radios and TVís. I contacted Sonny via email and he was very helpful with advice, identifying my chassis and selling me an original Samís Photo Facts. I have never seen a Samís Photo Facts information package before but I am sold on them now. As the name says, they are technical information packages for almost any radio or TV. They include detailed schematics, alignment procedures, photographs, parts, and more. It is a must have for more complex projects.  Note that the same chassis was used in the pedestal and some table top models.  Click on the thumbnail below to see the full contents of the Photofact folder.

samsfolder.jpg (77293 bytes)    

Click on the thumbnail to see the complete contents of the folder.

With my Samís in hand, my plan was to first reverse or redo the work that was already done, replace any known bad parts, then perform an initial test. I quickly learned that someone had tried to hack in newer filter capacitors hoping that would make the TV work again. They used solid #24 telephone wire and had several capacitors literally hanging off the main chassis. The capacitors were hooked up correctly, but dangerously and poorly done. You can see two of them hanging out the bottom the picture above. I redid all of this with new high quality electrolytic capacitors and #18 colour coded wire, same as the original. Interestingly, Samís also provides some diagnostic information that immediately pointed me to a 5.6 ohm fusible resistor. If, as the fact sheet says,  you have no raster (snow) or sound, that device could be at fault. Indeed this part was bad. Realizing I probably could never find the part, I built a new one with tungsten resistance wire by winding exactly 5.6 ohms worth around a piece of high temperature fish paper in line with a 1 amp pig tail fuse.  I used fish paper because it would likely operate hot. Having done this, I inspected the TV again then cautiously powered it up. Like the previous owner, I managed to get a horizontal line, but above that I got a little bit of audio hiss to. 

At this point, I decided to check all tubes. Some were very week and so it was hard to determine if any were the cause of the problems. It was now time to jump in to the inevitable, full electrical restoration.

Donít Waste Your Time

Sonny Clutter makes an excellent point amongst the valuable information available on his web page and I fully agree with him. Over 90% of all electrical problems with old radios can be resolved by replacing most of the electrolytic capacitors. In the past, when I was first restoring antique tube radios, I would spend hours trying to pinpoint the faulty devices only to learn it was almost always bad electrolytic or paper capacitors. Nowadays I use a totally different approach to electrical restoration. I rarely diagnose the problem. Instead, I replace all the electrolytic and paper capacitors leaving only the original micas in place. Cosmetically I leave as much of the original capacitors as I can in place, especially the canned electrolytics that can be seen from the top of a chassis. I simply disconnect them electrically and replace them with new capacitors of the same or similar value underneath so the chassis appears original from above. I always choose capacitors with the same or greater voltage ratings as the originals.  Sometimes you have to be innovative to achieve similar values as the originals by paralleling or configuring capacitors in series.  Generally, you can safely use larger capacitor values only in the power supply sections.  Those old electrolytics often had tolerance ratings of plus or minus 25%.

I used the mass replacement approach with my Predicta as well and although there were a few more problems to resolve, the theory holds true for TVs too. I spent about six hours replacing all the electrolytic and paper capacitors on the two printed circuit boards, and the chassis. The two printed circuit boards consisted of the Video IF and the Main board. The difficult part was working on the Main board because I had to unsolder several (25 or so) wires to pull the board out. I made several notes and a diagram before proceeding. While removing this board, I found numerous broken grounds that were originally soldered to the chassis. After replacing all of those capacitors and re-soldering the grounds, I powered the TV up and got more than half a picture and reasonable sound! After looking further, I realized I missed a few capacitors in the chassis. In fact I missed several paper capacitors because of the clutter and dirt. After replacing a few at a time I would power the TV up and things just got better and better until it all worked. 


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