When I was at the flea market, I ran across a guy selling all of these old radios. He had bought them at auction years ago meaning to fix them up, and they had been in his basement gathering dust ever since.
I am no radio expert. I just like the way they look. Especially this 1940’s General Electric Bakelite one.
Collecting vintage radios is a pastime popular with people with an interest in both history and electronics. Old radios recall a time when society was very different. I always remember hearing the story about how my grandparents (in West Texas) sold their horses when they first got married in the 1930’s to buy a radio. My father tells stories about listening to the radio in the evenings before his family got their first TV in the 1950’s. The radio was to the early twentieth century like the internet is to us today!
After I brought these beauties home, I started looking in to the history of radios. There are literally hundreds of radio brands and models! Some are rare and valuable while others are only valuable to a few people who have a sentimental attachment to a certain model for whatever reason.
Some people collect by manufacturer (RCA, Philco, Zenith, Crosley, Emerson), and some collect by style (catalin, transistor, cathedral or console).
To look up and identify an old radio, look for the manufacturer and the model number, which can include any combination of letters and numbers. If you don’t see a manufacturer’s name on the outside, look inside the chassis, as it may be stamped on the tubes or other components.
The earliest radios were typically bare components (e.g. glass tubes) mounted on a board. These were known as crystal radios. They soon began to be put in plain wooden or metal boxes, and by the late 1920s, elaborate cabinets designed to look like real furniture.
Look at this one in the movie “A Christmas Story”…
The main problem with crystal radios was that the signal they received was very weak and difficult to hear. For this reason, when vacuum tubes were invented as a way to harness and amplify signals, the technology was immediately put to use in radios. Tube radios were used from just before 1930 all the way through to modern times. Cathedral and tombstone style wooden cabinets were popular during the 1930s.
Art Deco style radios made of Bakelite, Catalin and other early resins or plastics (Plaskon, Beetle, etc) became popular during the 1930s and 1940s.
Transistor radios were introduced in the 1950’s, displacing tubes and enabling miniaturization. The very first mass-produced transistor radio was the Regency TR -1, produced as a collaborative effort between Texas Instruments and a company called I.D.E.A. In the first year after its production in 1954, almost 100,000 radios were sold.
At the same time that transistor radios were becoming easier to produce, the socioeconomic state in the US was rapidly improving following WWII. This meant more young people had the disposable income to buy luxury items. Novelty radios appeared on the market due to heavy competition between manufacturers. Companies also used novelty radios to advertise their products. From Smurf radios to radios designed to look like bottles of Woolite fabric cleaner, there are hundreds of transistor radios that are still in working condition today. Many radio collectors specialize in novelty radios from this time period.
Although you may be able to play an unrestored antique radio, note that its capacitors are likely to fail without warning (and may also pose a fire hazard), so replacing them pre-emptively is advisable.