The Project Radio

Why is this radio blue?

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The 1939 Motorola Model 51A only came in brown Bakelite and ivory painted Bakelite. This small 9×6-inch radio is one I’d been wanting to add to our collection for some time, but they’re hard to find. Recently, I found this one:

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I didn’t have any repainted radios in the collection, but this one was well done… and since I might not find another one…I bought it.

Incredibly, about 3 weeks later, I found a brown Bakelite one at a radio swap meet. The radio case was in bad shape, with multiple cracks and repairs with glue flaking off, but the price was right, so it became a “project”.  I had to bond the cracks from inside the case, and fill them from the outside. Then I spent hours of sanding to try to get the cracks to disappear. Next, I painted it black:

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I already had an ivory one, and black was a fairly common color for 1939 radios. Unfortunately, the paint job wasn’t as good as I’d hoped, and some of the cracks still showed. So…I stripped the paint off and started over. After more filling and much more sanding, I made a bold choice (some might say wrong choice).  I painted it to look like the blue Plaskon radios of the late ’30’s. The radio’s design features show up better with the lighter color, and I didn’t want another ivory one. It’s probably a poor choice if I were planning to sell the radio, but I wanted to enjoy it for the design. One bonus is that the chassis was working great.

The speaker grille reminded me of an old microphone, but my research found that mics that look like that actually came after 1939, so it probably was designed to look similar to some of the car grilles of the ’30’s. By the way, the dictionary defines “grille” as the covering of an opening…such as a car grille. And it defines “grill” as a place to eat, even though some Bar & Grills add an “e” because they think it looks fancier. So the proper spelling of the speaker covering on a radio is apparently “grille”.

The two Motorola’s…and a blue Plaskon 1939 Detrola:

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3 thoughts on “The Project Radio”

  1. Anouk,

    I can’t find the name of an individual designer, but the radio was made by Galvin Manufacturing of Chicago, Illinois for their Motorola company.

  2. I really like what you are doing with your Web site. The pictures are beautiful and the stories are fun to read. Keep up the good work!

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