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Radio Rentals was formed in 1932 to rent out radio sets by Percy Perring-Thoms with a turnover in the first year of £780. It later moved into televisions and ultimately video recorders. In 1965 it merged with RentaSet, Joseph Robinson's similarly formed company. Then in 1968 it was acquired by Thorn Electrical Industries and joined with Thorn's DER chain (founded 1938) as part of Thorn Television Rentals (TTR) though the two companies were run completely separately with different staff and vehicles etc. In 1980 TTR and thus Radio Rentals became part of the merged Thorn-EMI, and in 2000 it merged with Granada Limited to form boxclever. The company still trades as Radio Rentals in Australia.
Radio Rentals operated mainly in the UK, having started life in Boyces Street Brighton, Sussex, England. Growth of a public TV service after the war encouraged more people to want TV sets but they were expensive, leaving an opportunity for companies like RR to offer them at a monthly rental price which was much more affordable. With the coming of colour services, initially on BBC2 only, a further opportunity for renting was created. On 15 November 1969, colour broadcasts on both BBC channels and the ITV network became available from the main transmitter sites around the UK. This led to a boom in rental of the sets.
Later, in the latter 1970s, video recorders appeared on the market but were expensive. Only 5% of UK households had video recorders in 1980. Radio Rentals elected to offer Baird branded JVC VHS machines from 1977 onwards. With the advent of satellite broadcasting in the 1980s, Radio Rentals offered a range of equipment for rent, enabling more viewers to watch both Sky Television services and British Satellite Broadcasting services. (These broadcasters were later to merge and form British Sky Broadcasting.)
At its peak, Radio Rentals claimed it had more than 2 million customers, over 500 shops and employed 3600 technicians, 2700 skilled installers plus a large ancillary staff. They had sales and service locations across the UK, the RR logo being a common sight on many High Streets.
As domestic electronics became more reliable, with greater use of integrated circuits and better design methods, the urge to rent rather than buy became less - sets were cheaper to buy and more reliable. The company went through many restructures, shedding staff and rebranding itself. In common with other well known rental brands, it could not sustain a viable business model and has ceased to trade, merging with Granada Limited's rental arm to form boxclever.
Thorn operates 70 Radio Rentals stores within Australia, and 28 stores in New Zealand under the name DTR. Radio Rentals stores in South Australia trade under the name Rentlo (stylized as rentlo) due to an independent business trading as Radio Rentals; see below.
An independently owned chain operates 19 stores within South Australia; however is not in any way related to Radio Rentals owned by Thorn Australia PTY LTD.
In 2008 the Thorn Group, who operates Radio Rentals, launched Big Brown Box; an online retailer of brown goods and consumer technology gadgets. The site later expanded to include computers and whitegoods. Thorn Group decided to offload the business in November 2010, with the CEO, John Hughes, saying that while Thorn Group "still believes strategically in online and the potential of BigBrownBox.com.au" the company had to take a pragmatic view on the business given the group's limited resources.