Paul Litwinovich

WSHU Chief Engineer, author of Vintage Radio series

Paul caught the radio bug as a child. By age 12, he had taught himself the basics of vacuum tube theory.  He began repairing old, discarded radio sets, the kind that we now call vintage sets.  He loved listening, too, to local programs, DJs who picked their own music, talk shows designed to inform, not shock the listener.  But his favorite listening was to short wave radio, with its magic of music and programming from all around the world.

Hobby led to career.  Paul was a design engineer and engineering manager in the broadcast industry  for 14 years before coming to WSHU in 1990.  He holds an FCC commercial radio license, and an extra class Amateur radio license. And, oh yes, he's still restoring and collecting vintage radio sets, for more than 45 years now, and counting.  

P. Litwinovich collection

As the country emerged from the Great Depression, and with war looming on the horizon, Americans were looking for something to cheer them up. The radio industry answered with Catalin cabinet radios. Catalin is a brand name for the popular thermosetting polymer developed by the American Catalin Corporation in the 1930s. It is an early plastic made from phenol formaldehyde resins. Early on, radio manufacturers had sought an economical replacement for costly wood cabinets.

Atwater Kent

Nov 18, 2014
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, photographer unknown.

I could not write articles about vintage radio without including Atwater Kent, both the man and his radios. He is a legend among vintage enthusiasts and radio collectors, revered with near deity status.

P. Litwinovich collection

Last month, in part one of Radio Prepares for War we looked at the National HRO receiver, which set the bar for the standards required by military radio communications.  The HRO was a superb receiver for land or ship based use, but it was too large and heavy for use in aircraft. It also would have been difficult to redesign it for use on 28 volt aircraft power systems. The HRO also was relatively difficult to operate in a fast paced combat environment. It required changing coil packs to change from one group of frequencies to another.

P. Litwinovich collection

As the roaring twenties came to a close, radio technology would continue to evolve with significant improvements to consumer sets, particularly in the area of shortwave reception. Read my past articles for more details as to how this transpired. The price of radios would continue to fall as availability continued to increase. Herbert Hoover could have added "a radio in every home" to his famous "a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage" campaign slogan. This radio boom would continue right up until December of 1941, when the first bombs were dropped on Pearl Harbor.

Library of Congress, collection contributed by Murray Becker

The Hindenburg disaster was not the first time that radio influenced the way or the speed by which news was delivered to the masses, nor was it the first major event  to be given live coverage. To look at radio’s influence on news delivery of breaking events, we need to go back to the Titanic disaster.  Although the Titanic’s  plea for help was monitored only by other ships, a small handful of commercial shore stations, and perhaps a few early amateur operators, it did mark a turning point in media communications. Newspapers featured the story on their front pages and in special editions the following morning. Were it not for wireless communications, the story probably would not have reached the newspapers for several days. Other events marked the coverage of news live as it happened. KDKA, the nation’s first licensed broadcaster, went on the air with the coverage of the Harding/ Cox presidential election in 1920.

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