Finally broke down and bought a real Sparton Bluebird radio. I’ve loved the look of the Bluebird (by famed industrial designer Walter Dorwin Teague) from the first time I saw it.
The design of the Sparton Bluebird is extremely Deco, with blue mirror & chrome. It was so original that no other radio looked anything like it. Descriptions of the radio mention the “Streamline” design of the deco era represented by the three lines of chrome that span the front.
Great art (these radios are displayed in museums) lends itself to personal interpretation. Why was the name Bluebird chosen, as opposed to anything else that was blue? A real Bluebird flies, and one could certainly look at this “bird” as a tri-wing airplane in a blue sky. The three chrome lines get smaller as they go down, just like the three wings of the airplane. The inner ring would be the fuselage, and the outer ring could represent the larger circle made by a moving propeller. The black ball stands are the plane’s tires.
At least that’s one interpretation of the design. It may not be what Teague had in mind, but once you see the design that way, it’s a little hard to believe it wasn’t intentional.
The 14-inch mirror hides the black wooden box containing the chassis.
You can see how the radio leans back, which let’s us see the mirror better, and makes the controls more accessible. It also gives it stability to keep that big piece of glass from tipping over. In fact, the Bluebird originally came with an optional blue mirror for the radio to sit on. It was the exact same size as the main mirror, and could be fabricated to replace the radio’s mirror if necessary.
Here’s a photo of the real Bluebird next to my long-owned reproduction radio from the 1990’s.
The one on the left is a little over 20-years old, and the one on the right is over 80-years old. The reproduction’s mirror is larger (16-inches), and the feet were originally chrome. I painted them to look more like the real Sparton, and added the Sparton dial image. Besides the size, the biggest difference is metal vs. plastic for the chrome, and of course tubes vs. transistors for the sound.
Why was the reproduction made larger, and why were the feet chrome? Here are a couple of print ads from the 1930’s that might give us some clues. One of the ads says the mirror is 16-inches, even though it was really 14-inches, and the other ad gets the size correct, but mentions “silver ball supports”, even though they were black. (The ads and all photos can be enlarged with a click.)
After selling most of my radios, it was nice to add one…especially the historic Sparton Bluebird.
This bookcase that once held about 70 radios, now has radio books, books about musicians, and what’s left of a couple thousand CD’s and records. Please check out my website about music. There are a lot of articles about The Beatles, CSN&Y, Tom Petty, many other artists, plus some original concert photos and much more. Just Google “On The Records” or click https://ontherecords.net which will take you there.
The shelves also have some not-really-collectibles like these:
Above are some coffee mugs from radio stations where I worked in Nebraska and Oregon. There are also some microphones from my band and news-reporting days.
The lower photo is of three miniature metal radios. The first two are really music boxes. The black one (a Tesla) plays “In The Mood”, and the silver one (an Air King) plays “Puttin’ on The Ritz”. The third one was just a pewter-colored paperweight that I painted to look like a real Catalin Addison A5. I was given them about the time I started collecting radios. Eventually, I was able to collect real versions of all three radios these miniatures represent. Kind of like having a Bluebird reproduction for years, and finally getting a real one.
Saw this photo on a radio discussion page. It’s a Sparton Bluebird in the 1936 Jimmy Stewart movie “Born To Dance”.
The discussion determined it was the blue mirror version, and that it’s an optical illusion that it looks clear. Ah…the Deco era had such style!