Radios…1930’s to 1950’s!

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“Radios Past” features collectible radios of the 1930’s and 1940’s, with some from the 1950’s.  The majority are table radios made of Catalin, Bakelite, Plaskon, and other plastics…plus some wooden radios.

The main presentation is an iBook (eBook).  It contains lots of photos, comments, and model numbers.  The photos are from over the years, so there’s quite a variety.  They include a good number of “shelfies”… simple shots of radios as they sit on the shelf…as well as formal photos, and some taken outdoors for good lighting.

To see the iBook click Here.

(The book normally loads in seconds.)

After this main page are short articles on various radios or topics.  As new articles are added, they will follow this page, and then you can scroll down for the older articles.  Thanks!

Note: Photos in the articles can be made clearer & larger by clicking on them.

Contact email: philbausch@gmail.com

Motorola Circle Grille

Among the most desirable Catalin radios is the 1940 Motorola 50XC, which is known as the Circle Grille.

It’s a fairly small radio, about 10-inches wide, 6 high, and 5 deep.  This particular radio has a rich butterscotch patina with that deep Catalin shine.  The colors of cases for this model also include red, turquoise, green, & brown tortoise-shell.

In his book “Classic Plastic”, John Sedeli calls the Motorola Circle Grille “One of the most appealing radios”…and says “The cabinet and dial face are both beautifully designed and very Deco.”  The large round speaker bezel and the wrap-around horizontal lines are distinctive features.

As you can see, this radio was rough-looking when I got it.  The bezel attaches to the case with screws, and someone had over-tightened the bottom screw and split the circle.  Fortunately, that was the only serious problem.  While the speaker bezel was being professionally repaired by Dan Blake, I cleaned the entire radio, and hand-polished the cabinet with Simichrome.  When the bezel was done, I replaced the grille cloth, and also had the electronics completely restored by Northwest Vintage Radio Society member Blake Dietze.

It was a bit of a project, and I needed “a little help from my friends”, but it’s nice to have a Motorola Circle Grille in the collection!

The Beatles…You had to be there.

This article isn’t about old radios, but it is about something that was played on some old radios.  With all the recent articles on The Beatles because of 50th anniversaries, some written by young people who didn’t quite know the details, I felt compelled to write the following article.                       ________________________________________________________

To truly understand how amazing The Beatles were, you had to be there. Sorry, but discovering them fully formed after they had made their progressions, after they had written all those songs, and after you’ve heard more recent recordings just doesn’t cut it.

Nothing replaces first hearing The Beatles as they were hitting the American airwaves…that excitement for something so different from the Teen Idols and the smooth pop music of the early ‘60’s. Not that there weren’t good singers and songs, but it was only slightly rock & roll at that time. In early 1964 The Beatles broke bigger than any act that had come before. Just the impact from their appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show was enough to encourage so many future music stars.

It all could have simply been an exclamation point in music history, except for two things. The Beatles became great songwriters and musical innovators. You needed to hear it as it happened. There is no replacement for being in your room, closing the door, and dropping the needle on Rubber Soul, then Revolver, then Sgt. Pepper, and through the remainder of their albums as they were released.

Rubber Soul wasn’t any kind of shock. It was a maturing of their songwriting, and simply a high quality album. The American version didn’t even have any singles. But we all know “Norwegian Wood”, “Michelle”, “In My Life”, “I’m Looking Through You”, etc. Of course the British version included “Nowhere Man”, plus, “We Can Work It Out” & “Day Tripper” were released as a two-sided single on the same day the album came out.  Those seven songs are better than a side of most artists greatest hits collections.

The first “What are they doing?” release of The Beatles was Revolver. Why does the album start with that odd count-in at the beginning of “Taxman”? One interviewer even asked them if they meant to do that. Nothing previous could have prepared fans for “Tomorrow Never Knows”… the one with John’s voice through a Leslie organ speaker, and the lyrics “Turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream”.  You couldn’t play that one for your parents. Instead, you played “Here, There, And Everywhere” to try to get them to understand the musical quality of The Beatles.

Revolver, “Paperback Writer” and “Rain” (tracks that should have been on the album) were filled with studio innovations…backward guitars, backward vocals, tape loops, odd microphone placement, and so much more. Great melodies, lyrics and arrangements abound…”Eleanor Rigby”, “For No One”, “I’m Only Sleeping”, “Here There And Everywhere”, and basically the whole album. It’s easy to see why many fans list this album as their favorite.

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band brought even more wonder. Crowd noise, then The Beatles calling themselves another band, the title song introducing the singer of the next song, and then flowing right into it! That was new. What, no silence between “With A Little Help From My Friends” and “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”? And it turned out all of the cuts lacked the 4-seconds or so of space that was normal on albums. To understand the difference in popularity between The Beatles and any other artists, look at the songs on the album.

Do you know them? Most people of the era will recognize almost all of the song titles even though there weren’t any singles released from the album. No other artists were so popular that the public knew so many of their album cuts. Not even close.

The White Album, released a year later, was another change. It contained just about every style of music. It was probably named The Beatles, because it represented nearly all of the group’s musical influences, and showed how versatile they were…Rock & Roll, Blues, Country, Music Hall, Ballads, Pop, Hard Rock, Humorous, Experimental, Acoustic, Electric, Orchestral, etc. When The White Album was released, a local FM station played the whole thing. As two DJ’s commented on the album, they said they didn’t know how The Beatles even came up with a running order, because the songs were so different from one another.

The next two albums, Let It Be and Abbey Road (which The Beatles recorded last), were released in the opposite order from which they were recorded.  Let It Be is often looked upon as a lesser album, but would an album with “The Long And Winding Road”, “Two Of Us”, “Get Back” and “Let It Be” be considered a “lesser” album for anyone else?

Abbey Road is a favorite of many fans, especially those who came later. It has two of George Harrison’s best songs “Something” and “Here Comes The Sun”, plus Lennon’s “Come Together”, and the side two medley, which is mostly McCartney. “Carry That Weight/The End” is a great way for The Beatles to finish…trading guitar licks, Ringo’s excellent drumming, and a final message about love.

The quality of their album cuts from their 7 years (1963-1969) of recording together would make a fantastic greatest hits album. No other artist could possibly put together anything like it from their own non-singles.  Here’s a playlist of songs not released as singles during The Beatles era.

Please look at the above list for any songs you think would have made good singles, or that you thought were singles.

Oh, and The Beatles had 46 singles in the Billboard Top 40 chart during their active years. If you watched that chart in the ‘60’s, you saw 21 of those hits make it all the way to number-one. It’s important to note that they did this when all of the rock and pop songs were competing on one chart, not the high number of charts today, when it’s much easier to have a number-one somewhere. We can’t really measure popularity anymore, because sales are so slight, and the majority of people have never even heard the songs that reach the top of a chart.

It’s almost unbelievable that The Beatles recorded all of their singles and albums in just 7 years in the ‘60’s (only “I, Me, Mine” was worked on in January of 1970 by Paul, George, & Ringo). And, when they broke up, all four of The Beatles were still in their twenties!

It’s fantastic that other generations keep discovering The Beatles, but they can never know the amazement their first fans experienced as each new album was released. We were lucky. It’s possible today’s music fans are feeling similar excitement as they follow current artists…but they just can’t know what they missed.

Radio Swap Meet

The Northwest Vintage Radio Society had a sale this April in Portland, Oregon.  It was mostly a swap meet with members selling radios and parts to other members, even though the event was open to the public.

My wife, Jeannette, helped bring in all of the radios from our vehicle, and took care of our table while I checked out the other tables.  Unfortunately for me, only a limited number of club members are into collecting Catalin, Bakelite, and other plastic radios.

Above are some of the radios we had for sale.  We sold three radios and a Catalin poker chip holder…none of which are pictured…because the photos were taken after the sales.  We’re starting to reduce our collection again, and we were happy to sell three radios, but it looks like we’ll have to use eBay for more sales.  The radios we sold were a black Bakelite Philco TP7, an ivory Plaskon Remler Scottie, and a Canadian blue Beetle Plastic GE C400…all shown below.

Emerson Tombstones…Catalin, Plaskon, Wood

Emerson Tombstones from 1936 to 1938:

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Emerson Tombstones are among the coolest table radios ever designed.  Sometimes they’re called “mini-Tombstones”, because they’re only about 10-inches high and 7-inches wide.  That’s definitely “mini” compared with the large wooden Tombstones of the 1930’s.  The oldest of these radios are the Wooden 110 and the ivory Plaskon U5A, both from 1936.img_2766This version features some beautifully grained & inlaid wood, along with acorn knobs.  It’s slightly larger than the Plaskon version, even though they use the same chassis.

p1040438The 1936 ivory Plaskon Emerson is the most Deco version, with a lot of great design touches that are simply too intricate for Catalin or wood.

It was a year later, 1937, for the first Catalin version:img_2153The 1937 Model AU-190 has a sculptured front, features a distinctive grille cloth, a sunburst dial, and chunky Catalin knobs.  Another year later, there were some major style changes.

img_3473The 1938 Catalin Model BT-245 case is similar, but it drops the sculptured front, and most dramatically it has a contrasting off-white louvered grille, and matching knobs.  In his book “Classic Plastic”, about Catalin Radios, John Sedeli says “This is probably one of the most successful design updates that you could ever find.”  He also says the beautiful colors were accented by the contrasting grilles and knobs.  I’m also partial to the contrasting colors of the 1938 model, with the above red being my favorite version.  However, many collectors prefer the 1937 model.  My guess is because the plastic is all Catalin, and those Catalin knobs are definitely more impressive than the ivory plastic ones.

IMG_3380Catalin shouldn’t be left in the UV rays for long!

Lafayette BB-22…how rare?

Normally when you go to Google Image and put in the name of a radio, you get lots of photos.  When I Googled the Lafayette BB-22, I got one photo and one graphic from an old price guide.  The photo was from the Radio Museum, and that radio had the wrong knobs.  Here’s the Lafayette I recently acquired:img_7085

It was made in 1940, and has the bold streamlined Deco look of the era.

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The one from the Radio Museum is black, as is this one.  This particular radio was saved from extinction by someone who did a great job of repairing some cracks (which can be seen only from the inside) and doing such a professional paint job that at first I thought it was black Bakelite.  It’s only the second repainted radio in my collection, and I’m more than happy to add this distinctive design.

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It has a very cool dial that’s obviously a Deco design.  These original knobs had some crazing, but most of it polished out, after I took those first photos.  The knobs go nicely with the dial and the grille cloth.  The BB-22 is about 10-inches wide, 7 high, and 5 deep.  It’s a good-sounding AM radio.  This Lafayette was purchased from Dick Bosch, along with these two near-mint radios…a Fada 845, and a Belmont 519.

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You can see more of Dick’s collection in the article below.

The Dick Bosch Collection

Most of the members of the Northwest Vintage Radio Society know Dick Bosch.  He’s a NWVRS member, a collector, a repairer, and a seller of radios.  Recently, he’s been actively selling his personal collection.  If you weren’t lucky enough to see it in person, here are some photos.  The main display is in a neat set of bookshelves along his office wall.  Here’s a general shot, and the individual sections follow, so you can see the radios better.  In fact, clicking on the photos will not only make them larger, but clearer too.

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Definitely a lot of great radios!  The one blank spot on the shelves was normally occupied by a Beetle Plastic Addison A2, but that day, Dick was working on the electronics in his shop.  Dick and his wife Shirley, who live in Vancouver, Washington, collected many more radios over the years, and have sold over 400 of them that Dick restored.

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A couple of fun facts.  As a Marine in the early 1960’s, Dick worked at the top secret Area 51.  While visiting nearby Las Vegas at that time, he got to see Frank Sinatra and the rest of the “Rat Pack” perform.

Air King Skyscraper (Updated)

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The 1933 Air King “Skyscraper” is so innovative and cool, it’s included as the first radio in John Sedeli’s classic book on Catalin radios…even though it’s not Catalin!

Some Air King Skyscrapers made of colorful Plaskon, like the three below, have gone for $40,000 to $50,000 each at auction. img_5112 img_5110img_5113

A dramatic example of the crystalline finish in black:img_5111

img_1762All of the above Air King Models 52 & 66 are owned by Hugh & Jane Hunt.  In 1933, it was unprecedented to offer radios in such an array of vivid colors.  According to my research…Plaskon versions were available in red, blue, green, yellow, lavender, ivory, and white.  Bakelite versions were available in brown and black.  And the crystalline finishes were only available in black and ivory…you saw the black above, and now the ivory:img_9813The crystalline finish is a smooth clear-coating that at times oxidized to show copper or gold tones.  Some collectors call it a “Flake Finish”.

fullsizerenderHere’s an elegant pure white.  Thanks to GR, a collector in Florida, for the two impressive examples above.

A close up of the speaker grille on top:fullsizerender-1

img_6911This is my one lonely Air King Skyscraper.  It’s the Model 770 from 1937.  Not as cool as the 1933 versions, but still a nice collectible radio.  The older models had the speaker grille on the top of the radio.  This model obviously has the speaker in the front, and has an added tuning eye.  Skyscrapers tend to look bigger in photos than in person.  They’re only about 12-inches high, 9-inches wide, and 7-inches deep, but according to Sedeli, it was a major step forward to mold a plastic case of this size in 1933, when most radios were made of wood.  The design is by Harold Van Doren.  He had many excellent streamlined industrial designs in the 30’s, 40’s & 50’s, including the first two-door refrigerator.

Update:  Here’s a real find.  GR from Florida obtained this extremely rare green Air King 770 that was an export model.  This one was discovered in South America.  A higher quality photo will be taken once the radio is cleaned up and ready for display.

1939 World’s Fair Zenith

Recently, there was an estate sale in Cottage Grove, Oregon.  It included the radios of collector Glen Bricker.  Fortunately, I was able to purchase a special radio…a “Glass Rod” Zenith 5R-317 that had been designed for the 1939 World’s Fair.

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You can see it looked okay.  The glass rods were all fine, but there was some wear on the wood finish and the dial surround, plus the gold pillars (that are between and farther back than the glass rods) were quite dull.  To bring the radio back to the look the designer intended, I turned once again to professional radio restorer, Gary Marvin.

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Gary took the radio completely apart and prepared it for restoration.  Then he did a total refinishing of the wood and repainting of the gold surfaces.  Now this Zenith is the way it was meant to look, and it fits right into my collection.img_6574

Besides the cool glass rods feature, this model has the first example of electronic station tuning (rather than the common mechanical tuning).  Zenith called it Transcontinental Automatic Tuning.  It takes just a touch of a button, instead of a full mechanical push.

Early in my radio collecting days I had quite a few wooden radios, but then sold most of them to concentrate on Catalin and other plastics.  Since moving to the west coast, I’ve enjoyed adding some nice wooden radios to the collection once again.

Radio Collectors in Nebraska

Another September trip to Nebraska, and a chance to see our radio collecting friends!img_6661

From left to right:  My wife Jeannette, brother-in-law Gary Wohlman, his wife Julie, Jon Walker, Jane Hunt, Hugh Hunt, Bob Smock, David O’Hanlon, and Bob’s wife Linda.

Hugh & Jane always host our get-togethers, and we get a chance to see their new radios, like these Stewart Warner “Silhouettes” or “Lady’s Head” radios.img_6650

The knobs on the left radio are Emerson knobs, so Jon Walker…who helps Hugh with needed repairs and detailing…will fabricate wooden knobs like the ones on the black version of the radio.  Of course the knobs will be black.  Here’s a photo of Jon and me.  (I swear I smiled right after the photo was taken.)  If you click to enlarge the photo and look closely at the gold Stewart Warner radio above our heads, you’ll see it also has the same type of knobs Jon will be making.img_6663

Jon is not only an excellent technician and handy person to know, he also has an extensive collection of Phonographs, Radios, Jukeboxes, and so much more!

Hugh & Jane made the trip even more special for us.  They got us great tickets to the Oregon-Nebraska football game!  We’re fans of both teams, but had to go with my alma mater…Nebraska…for this one.  The Huskers won 35-32, but it could have gone either way.img_6692img_6685

We attended the game with our good friends (and radio collectors) Al & Mary Kay Koontz…on the right…and ran into another friend, Avery Pickering.  All four of these friends have done Marathons and Half-Marathons together.

Here’s a photo taken in the early evening from the back deck of Hugh & Jane’s beautiful home in Blair…not far from the Missouri River.img_6647

It was a great visit!

Sentinel Catalin Radios

imageAbove are two 1945 Sentinel model 284 radios (click photo to enlarge).  What a unique design!  It’s the only Catalin radio model to have the chassis mounted upside down.  That allows for having the controls at the top, and of course, inside the tubes are hanging upside down.  The case is one of the most rounded Catalin designs, but the real appearance grabber is that Catalin “Wavy Grille”.  It gives the radio it’s nickname, and also provides a sense of quirkiness.  There’s really no other radio like it.  The size is about 11″ wide, 7″ high & 6″ Deep.

This version of the Sentinel has a case that’s called “sand”.  It’s a harder-to-find color, and is much more swirled and striking than the regular alabaster version that turns a plainer butterscotch.  This sand version also has the seldom seen red Catalin knobs.  Too bad Sentinel didn’t manufacture a red grille to go with the knobs.

img_6984This burgundy-red case with nicely contrasting butterscotch knobs and grille is a popular color combination.

Sentinel produced a version of this radio without the grille…simply a Catalin surround and a large exposed grille cloth:  img_2700It’s still a nice-enough looking radio, but it just seems like there’s something missing.  Sentinel also produced the open version under the name Musicaire.

My favorite Sentinel design is the 248NI (177U)…from 1939.  It features a slightly asymmetrical look with a grille that is not centered vertically, and wraps around the side of the radio.  The Deco looking  grooves are set to one side, and the dial pointer is is also on the side of the dial, rather than centered or at the bottom.  The trim, grille and knobs are all tortoise-shell for a nice contrast to the case.   To me, it looks classy.  Some of you may have noticed the photo above is new as of March 2017.  After more than a decade, I finally found an original dial pointer for it!

imageThis burgundy version belongs to Hugh & Jane Hunt.

img_3979And finally, the 1940 Sentinel 195ULTA.  For this one, Sentinel added push-buttons for instant station selection.