A cheater cord is a special extension cord used by technicians to apply AC power to a device while the back cover with its protective power interlock is removed.
Battery replacement was a major operating cost for early radio receiver users. The development of the battery eliminator, and, in 1925, batteryless receivers operated by household power, reduced operating costs and contributed to the growing popularity of radio. A power supply using a transformer with several windings, one or more rectifiers (which may themselves be vacuum tubes), and large filter capacitors provided the required direct current voltages from the alternating current source.
As a cost reduction measure, especially in high-volume consumer receivers, all the tube heaters could be connected in series across the AC supply using heaters requiring the same current and with a similar warm-up time. In one such design, a tap on the tube heater string supplied the 6 volts needed for the dial light. By deriving the high voltage from a half-wave rectifier directly connected to the AC mains, the heavy and costly power transformer was eliminated. This also allowed such receivers to operate on direct current, a so-called AC/DC receiver design. Many different US consumer AM radio manufacturers of the era used a virtually identical circuit, given the nickname All American Five.
Where the mains voltage was in the 100–120 V range, this limited voltage proved suitable only for low-power receivers. Television receivers either required a transformer or could use a voltage doubling circuit. Where 230 V nominal mains voltage was used, television receivers as well could dispense with a power transformer.
Transformer-less power supplies required safety precautions in their design to limit the shock hazard to users, such as electrically insulated cabinets and an interlock tying the power cord to the cabinet back, so the line cord was necessarily disconnected if the user or service person opened the cabinet. A cheater cord was a power cord ending in the special socket used by the safety interlock; servicers could then power the device with the hazardous voltages exposed.
To avoid the warm-up delay, "instant on" television receivers passed a small heating current through their tubes even when the set was nominally off. A switch on, the full heating current was provided and the set would play almost immediately.