Air King Skyscraper (2019 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 four below, have gone for $40,000 to $50,000 each in auctions and private sales.

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A dramatic example of the crystalline finish in black:img_5111

All 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 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.

Update 1:  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.

Update 2:  More impressive finds from GR.  First is the wonderfully dramatic ivory and black “Egyptian” model.  The second one is the “didn’t know it existed” red model 770.  Rare examples indeed…Thanks GR!

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.


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!

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!

Update:  Added another one in 2019:

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.

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.

Sonora Excellence 301

Real & Reproduction (Part 2)

04This is a French Sonora Excellence…Model 301…as you can see on the left side of the dial in this photo.  It’s Bakelite case measures a large 18″ wide, 11″ high & 9″ deep.  According to the books “Radio Art” and “Bakelite Style”, the Sonora was designed in the United States, produced in France, and is nicknamed the “Cadillac”, because of the look of the large grille.  Most articles say this Sonora was produced starting in 1947, with production continuing into the 1950’s.  There is also a version of this radio that has a tuning eye as part of the dial display, Model 302.

The most important aspect of collecting for me is the design of the radio case.  The Sonora Excellence really delivers…the rounded corners, the dramatic grille, the sweeping horizontal lines, the touch of chrome, and more.  The Bakelite allows for the intricate design.  A Catalin case would never have this much detail due to the molding and hand-shaping restrictions.  But, the Bakelite is also a negative, because so many of these radios have Bakelite that has been damaged over time.  They tend to look dull and dried out.  I pulled the above image from Google as a “best” example…not dried out like many of them.  These Sonora radios normally sell in the $500 to $1,000 range.

I haven’t bought one of these yet, because of the poor condition of the Bakelite on the ones I’ve seen for sale, and because of the large size.  For comparison, the largest Catalin radio is the RCA 66X “Tuna Boat”…which is 15-inches wide (3-inches smaller than the Sonora).

So, what can you do when you love the design?


Above are two reproduction radios…Tunemaster SM 950’s.  They are still fairly large…13-inches wide instead of 18-inches.  The Sharper Image company was looking for a design for a high-quality table radio.  According to the owner’s manual, they spotted the original Sonora in a catalog for a Japanese exhibit of Industrial Design.  Naturally they loved the design, and decided to use it for a modern 7-band radio (AM, FM, VHF, Shortwave A & B, Aviation, & Weather).   On the back, it has full-size RCA inputs & outputs, jacks for headphones and speakers, shortwave & FM antenna connections, a BFO switch, a tone control, and a fine-tuning control.  Not a cheap knock-off!

There’s not a lot of concise information about this model available, but it was apparently made in 1989, and priced at about $300.

Everyone knows it’s best to not play the true vintage radios of the 1930’s and 1940’s on a regular basis.  The reproduction of the Sonora allows me to use it daily to listen to my favorite stations.  It certainly has good sound, and it fits right in with the display of the “real” radios in my collection.

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Oh, and the “Tucky” mini-radio works good too!

Note: Real & Reproduction Part 1…is quite a few articles below, on page 2…and was updated in April, 2016.

The Case of the Addison Radio

Addison Addition

It started as just a case on eBay:s1-l1600

Years ago, I had a wooden Addison 5 “Courthouse”, but for some reason sold it when I got a Catalin version.  Later, I regretted selling it, because it’s truly a uniquely designed wooden radio.  So, when the above case was reasonably priced on eBay, I bought it.  Unfortunately, the refinish on it was awfully dark, and looked more like paint than wood stain.  Fortunately, expert Gary Marvin could bring out the beautiful wood.

While he was working on the case, I found a chassis, restrung the dial, replaced the missing dial pointer, replaced a tube, remounted the loose dial, and did a cleaning…all stuff that doesn’t take any real talent.

Here’s the finished radio:

Here’s the wooden Addison next to the Catalin version:IMG_5674

There are some differences.  The Catalin radio has a flat front, while on the wooden one, the front juts out a little.  Although both versions use the same model chassis, the wooden Addison is slightly larger, because the wood is thicker than the Catalin.

Bonus photos of the all-original Catalin Addison:IMG_3430IMG_3433

If you want to see more of Gary’s restoration work, please check out his impressive collection in the post below.

Great Consoles & More!

Wanted to show you some of the radios in Gary Marvin’s collection.  He mainly collects and restores consoles and large tombstone radios.  The following series of 6 photos will take you around one large room in his house…flowing from left to right.IMG_5645 IMG_5644 IMG_5643 IMG_5642 IMG_5641 IMG_5640

Those of you who collect consoles and other wooden radios will have noticed some highly collectible models!

In another room you’ll find some really great tombstones!IMG_5647IMG_5648IMG_5650

Here are a few more consoles found in other rooms:IMG_5654IMG_5657IMG_3450image

Gary & his wife, Vanessa, have many more radios throughout their home.  Gary designed a specially built area as part of their large garage where he refinishes and restores radios as a near full-time job.  At any time you might find 10 completed consoles covered protectively in his garage, several partially-finished in the work areas, and more of his beautifully restored radios in antique stores.

Gary can be reached at:

Displaying Radios

What’s the best way to display a radio collection?

There’s no one right answer.  The space available in your home is the main factor.  When we were in Lincoln, Nebraska, we had a large walk-out basement with some built-in shelves, and then we added more non-permanent shelving along the walls.  We also added some overhead flood lights in order to show off the colors and features of the radios.  It worked fine:CIMG2487CIMG2499The above photos are poor quality, but at least you get the idea.  There was another unit of those metal shelves on the other side of the door, plus a small amount of built-in shelves by a fireplace.

When we moved to Oregon, we found most houses here don’t have basements.  My wife suggested the radios would add needed color to our living room.  So, we purchased some bookcases that have glass doors, and used a large living room nook that the previous owners had also used for bookshelves.img_7056img_7110Above Are two photos of our main display (updated in late 2016)…doors closed & doors open.  Since the display is located at one end of our living room, it provides guests a colorful introduction to our collection, and of course gives us a topic of discussion if they would like to know more about the radios.  Just for fun, I replaced the white door knobs with radio knobs:IMG_5573IMG_5574The radio knobs were not damaged.  I placed cut off screw holders (that are used for dry wall) into the back of the knobs, and used screws to hold the knobs in place.

This shows the space at one end of the living room:IMG_5576

By the way, the bookcases were reasonably priced at Ikea.  My son, Paul, and I assembled them, connected them together, and then secured the whole thing to the wall.  The shelving is adjustable, so I bought a few extra shelves to make areas for smaller radios.  The lineup of radios keeps changing as models are sold and others purchased.

Here’s another example.  Friends Al & Mary Kay Koontz display a portion of their collection using antique bookcases:IMG_5225

The next two posts below show a lot of ways to display radios.