Pioneer of the First Hour


Engineer Franz Zehetner is counted among Austria's radio pioneers. The son of a Viennese civil servant, he was born in Vienna, on April 11th, 1907 and earned a degree in electronics upon graduation from the Vienna TGM in 1926.

Due to his good connections, he found an assistant position with the newly formed company RADIONE immediately after graduation. This first position determined the path from age 19 on.

Eng. Franz Zehetner (1907 -1986)

As an assistant, he was resposible for splicing and positioning cables. It was not exactly the career this ambitious technician had hoped for, but it meant a steady position at a time of little job security.

But soon people at work began to take notice of their young colleague and increased his resposibilities: he was permitted to solder during the assembly of appliances.


First Experiences Abroad

One day Zehetner was called in to see his boss, Engineer Eltz, who asked him whether he possessed a passport. As he didn't, he was given 2 days off to acquire one. He then accompanied his boss to the Czech Republic to repair the Duke of Liechtenstein's radio. It's hard to imagine nowadays, but this was the custom in those times. Shortly thereafter, he found himself abroad once more, this time with member of the board Mr. Zerdik, with whom he soon became friends. They visited customers in Poland, making repairs again. As a result of his thorough technical knowledge and motivation, Eng. Zehetner was soon sent on business trips alone.

When Mr. Zerdik went independent, the young technician joined him in the new company. During high periods they produced up to 150 radios a day in two shifts - at that time an admirable accomplishment. However, they not only manufactured machines sold under their name but also ones sold under the name of Horniphon and Philips. When Zerdik threw the towel in 1936, Eng. Zehetner took over the Repair Company.

The Founding of the Company "Radiobau ZEHETNER"

On August 2nd, 1938 the situation was this: he took over a radio store himself on the Lerchenfelderstraße 18, in the 8th district of Vienna, following the death of the owner. In order to be closer to his store, he made a spur-of the-moment decision to move in on the first floor of the building.

Although at first he dealt simply with "the production and repair of radio equipment, limited to construction from preassembled parts", by December 2nd, 1939, he had broadened his services to a "Dealership of radios, dicta-phones and components, electronic materials, records, bicycles and illumination."

In WWII he was drafted to Germany as a "technician". After it was discovered with considerable dismay that he was not captable of repairing motor vehicles, he received a crash course in auto mechanics and was allowed to make all manner of vehicles left behind during the march on Russia road-ready. He was able to survive the chaos of war with merely minor frostbite.

After WWII
As there was huge demand but virtually no supply for radios, Eng. Zehetner began producing radio-construction kits and completed radios from old military scraps.
This idea was worth its weight in gold: "The appliances were ripped out of our hands like hot rolls, we simply couldn't keep up with production" (original quote).

Following the first post-war trade shows Zehetner appliances were popular items, drawing in not only the sensationalists, but also providing considerable profits.

Aside from the appliances and assembly kits, the company also produced and distributed additional parts - from the scale motor to the ZF-filter - which allowed interested parties to build their own appliances

Construction kit Phonetta-Volkssuper
After four versions of the "VOLKSSUPER", the "PHONETTA", the "Zehetner-VS" , the "PHONETTA-SUPER" and the "PHONETTA K49", production on the so-called "Gem series" commenced.
These were upright appliances with sonorous names such as "ONYX", "RUBIN" (Ruby), "SMARAGD" (Emerald), "BRILLANT" (Diamond), "SAPHIR" (Sapphir) and "OPAL", the letter versions already equipped with the "magic eye".
Vienna Trade Show 1947

The Rise  
Innovation was always a theme of particular importance to Eng. Zehetner. When the first wave of demand was satisfied, he turned his attention to new types of appliances, perpetually remaining his firms' chief inventor. And so he developed portable battery appliances, so-called "suitcase-receivers" or "portables", realizing that portable devices find a ready market in times of increased leisure -, as is still the case today. These battery-driven appliances were the company's biggest hit in the early '50s.

The workshop at the Lerchenfelderstraße 18

On March 24th, 1953, he expanded his concessions with a "radio mechanics trade". Also in 1953, the company introduced the first combination-appliance on the market, a portable with a built-in record player, the "FROHSINN Junior".

The introduction of the FM-radio in Austria (1953) opened a market niche, which the company was able to fill immediately: For every appliance not equipped with FM reception possibility, he delivered FM reception devices - from add-on assemby to base, which could simply be plugged into the appliances' record-player:

the Zehetner ULTRA.

The Firm at its' Peak  
During the firms' most successful years, Eng. Zehetner employed approximately thirty co-workers who could barely fulfill the demand. The appliances were highly popular, even the prominent motor-sports journalist Dr. Max Reisch took them with him on his adventurous journeys. As the premises on Lerchenfelderstraße 18 were no longer big enough to accomodate them, the workshops were expanded and the office relocated to a small street-front office on the Neudeggergasse 1-3, in the same house right around the corner.

With the "FROHSINN" line, the UB60, UB61, UB62, the "TOURIST", the "JUNIOR" and the "PICCOLO" and the following appliances "ALLROUND", "JUNIOR 56" and the "PICCOLO 56", the company was at its' peak.

Eng. Zehetner was entered into the volume "Who is Who in Austria"

Frohsinn UB 60

The Decline
However, by the end of the fifties, a development became apparent which led to the end of the companies production of radios: The new technologies evolving through factory line production and beginning competition in the East (Japan) diminished further chances.

The last highlights were the beautiful "DARLING", the "BRILLANT" and finally the "BAMBI", which had to be renamed "CHERI" due to the Disney character bearing the same name. Also worth mentioning are the "Piccolo Fulltransistor-Autosuper", which could be used both as a battery receiver as well as an auto-receiver for 6 or 12 Volt.

Eng. Zehetner, who always gambled on intelligent products, developed a special test-clip for the service industry, the

     "Zehetner Universal Test-Clip"

which also sold well. Demand was so high that production could not fulfill it. Zehetners sons and colleagues' family members had to work extra shifts, even on Sundays.

However, he made a decisive mistake in not patenting the device, whose potential he barely grasped. The test-clips were copied in Germany (by Hirschmann) and underbid. The clips were delivered to Switzerland, France and the USA.

A small consolation remains in the fact that even today test-clips of this sort, regardless of the manufacturer, are referred to as "Zehetner-clips".

The 60's
In the 60's radio-receivers lost popularity, but home entertainment systems were produced, which the company made to customer specification. This came to an end in the 70's, when it became fashionable to simply compile individual HiFi components.

What remained was the production of  test-clips, which came in three versions and various colors. Foreign sales were good as well, informative print material was delivered in English and French as well.

The two improved versions of the clips were patented in 1968, and in addition to the test-clips, the repair service and radio dealership flourished.

Eng. Zehetner (left) with his
right hand man Eng. Walter Jauernik

But also servicing radios and TVs became problematic. The clients were usually elderly, possessing well-used appliances. Repairs should be as cost-efficient as possible, and services such as pick-up and delivery of appliances free. Clients welcomed advice when it came to buying new appliances, but then purchased at discount.

The End
At the age of 68, Eng. Zehetner incorporated his firm and turned it over to his senior colleagues, Eng. Walter JAUERNIK (who began as an apprentice with the company and was known as its "heart and soul") and Mrs. Paula SCHARL (deceased). He remained director in name only, enjoying retirement, though still young at heart and without profits. On the contrary: he supported his beloved company with his private fortune.

Vienna Trade Show 1952
The company, which was once ranked among the biggest in the industry, was close to the end. Besides the not-utilized chance of the test-clip, holding fast to small business practices - dealership, production and repair services - proved catastrophic. He didn't stand a chance in stiff competition, and it probably would have been better if he had concentrated solely on dealership.

Eng. Zehetner was on the Board of Directors for the "Landesgremium Wien for the trade with radio- and electronic equipment" from April 30th, 1970 to May 28th, 1985.

1986 he dissolved his company debt-free.
On the 24th November 1986 he succumbed to a heart attack.
In December 1986 the shop was definitely closed by Eng. Jauernik and Mrs. Scharl.

1984 in front of his beloved shop

© 2001
Mag. Kurt Zehetner
Eng. Franz Zehetner Jun.

For personal reminiscences of Eng. Walter Jauernik click here

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