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!

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:


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 Sideli 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.


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.



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.



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 sold 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.


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.


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 (2020 update)

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

Some Air King Skyscrapers made of colorful Plaskon, like the five below, have gone for $40,000 to $50,000 each in auctions and private sales.

An eye-catching example of the crystalline finish in black:img_5111

All of the above Air King Models 52 & 66 are part of Hugh & Jane Hunt’s impressive collection.

In 1933, it was unprecedented to offer radios in such a colorful array of choices.  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 Air King.  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.  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.  According to Sideli, 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.

GR from Florida provides this wonderfully dramatic ivory and black “Egyptian” model:

Here are three additional Model 770 finds by GR.  These are “didn’t know they existed!” versions.  Just check out the dazzling colors of these Plaskon (not painted) Skyscrapers.

The vivid green Air King is an export model that GR discovered in South America.  The bright red 770 is the American version, but that red color makes it extremely rare.  And finally, look over that beautiful blue Plaskon Skyscraper.  It was made by Air King, but it was sold under the Lafayette brand.  That’s why “Air King” is not imprinted above the tuning eye, and why it has a different dial.  (You can click or touch any of the photos to check out the radios more closely.)

Thank you to GR for helping expand our knowledge of how many different versions of Air Kings were manufactured.

1939 Zenith World’s Fair Radio

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.


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.


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!

Emerson 744B

As the mid-1950’s hit, radios began to look boxy as mass production and low cost replaced design.  The majority became rectangular, and although there are exceptions, many late ’50’s and ’60’s radio designs are boring and tend to look similar.

Just before that trend, came the 1954 Emerson 744B:P1080051IMG_1706OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It’s not like any other radio.  The large plastic grille & pointer look like a giant speedometer.  The main part of the case reminds me of an orchestra shell…like the Hollywood Bowl.  And the back looks like it’s covering an electric turbine.


As you can see, the Emerson 744B came in a nice variety of colored Plaskon cases.  I always thought it would have made a great office desk radio, because the back would look cool to guests.  Most radios have cardboard backs, or even open backs, but this one looks good from every view.


If you’d like to add a 744B to your collection, the first thing to look for is whether the faux front feet have broken off.  The design makes it easy to break those feet when the radio is serviced or even when the radio is just being handled.  In the above photo, you can see the thin plastic, and how the faux feet are not reinforced in any way.  Even though they look like feet, they cannot support the radio when the actual feet are removed for servicing.  Basically, the radios with unbroken feet are worth about double those without.

Philco Boomerang, A Study in Asymmetrical Design

Symmetry is pleasing.  It gives us a natural balance.  Things just look right with even sides and a nice easy-to-understand presentation.  People who have symmetrical faces are considered more beautiful or handsome.  Most radios are symmetrical.  One side matches the other.  So, why did someone design a radio that looks like this?IMG_5879Basically, the whole design of the Philco 49-501 is amazingly asymmetrical!  The only things symmetrical in the design are the round knobs (although of greatly different sizes), and the bottom, which is rectangular.  As we look at it, the left side of this 1949 Philco “Boomerang” is a large sweeping arc.  The arc itself is uneven.  The radio’s right side has two fairly straight surfaces that are two different sizes at two different angles.  The front of the radio is more curved than flat.IMG_5888And what’s with that speaker opening?!  Nothing about it is equal.  The two levels of the Bakelite that form the bottom of the speaker opening are two different sizes at two different heights.  The Bakelite lip of the big curve angles into the speaker grille with a wildly changing sweep…from small to large to small again.  It would be expected that the big curve would naturally join the top of the radio even with the front.  But instead, the top of the curve narrows and meets the right side of the radio farther inside.IMG_5886

There is no designer credited with this Philco model.  It’s a shame, because it’s an ingenious asymmetrical design…extremely well thought out.    Some people think it’s weird or futuristic looking (often called “Jetsons” in eBay listings).  But, it’s one of my favorite designs, because it’s so complex and bold.

Below is the ivory painted version of the Philco Boomerang.  This photo correctly shows the differences compared with the brown Bakelite version.  The grille is brown, the tuning dial has a brown background with white numbers, and the knobs are white.  Often, Boomerangs have incorrectly matched parts, or are painted wild colors.  This is the only painted version that’s original.  Some of the paint jobs can look pretty cool (stay away from one that looks like camouflage and claims to be “Catalin colors”).  You definitely want to know what you’re getting.image

The radio is approximately 11-inches wide, 7-inches high, and 6-inches deep.  But really, it all depends on where you measure it, because nothing is even!

For a more symmetrical radio that’s still highly original, check the one in the article below.