Vintage Radio

Credit P. Litwinovich collection

In this occasional series, WSHU Chief Engineer Paul Litwinovich explores aspects of vintage radio. The subjects will range from the radio sets themselves to the people and technology that made it all possible. He'll talk about collecting, dating, and restoring these relics of yesteryear. Each article features a different vintage set with information about its place in the development of the electronic age. Some of the sets featured are from his own collection. 

Comments and questions are welcome.

That's a Radio?

Oct 7, 2013
Paul Litwinovich

The average person probably wouldn't know what this object was if they came upon it at an estate sale or in an antique shop. They would have less of a clue were it not displayed with the headphones, which are also from the same time period. The two largest knobs are graduated with a scale that reads 0 to 100, the others are not labeled at all. If you were to turn it around, you would see the first clue that it might be a receiver of some type. There are seven thumb screw terminals, two of which are labeled antenna and ground. Three are labeled "B Battery", and the remaining two are labeled “A battery” and "Common". There is nothing to indicate what frequency it receives, such as 540 –1600, or whether it is AM or FM.

To a collector of vintage electronics, this item would definitely warrant a closer inspection. Since this is the first of my articles on vintage radio, I decided to go way back to the beginnings of radio as we know it today, the early beginnings of the vacuum tube era. This radio is a very early set, built with parts which appeared on the scene between 1919 and 1922. It may have been a kit radio, or it may have been designed  and built by a hobbyist from plans found in an early wireless magazine. Perhaps it was built to monitor the broadcasts of the first licensed broadcast station KDKA which hailed from Pittsburg PA in 1920. It may have been built to allow its creator to monitor wireless telegraph transmissions between ships and shore stations, or for use by an early amateur radio operator.

There were receivers which predated the age of tubes. An Englishman named John Preece began wireless transmission of Morse code for commercial purposes  as early as 1892, and Marconi made his famous transatlantic transmission on December 12, 1901, but I’ll cover those technologies at a later date.

Paul Litwinovich

This is one of the common questions that I am asked whenever the subject of vintage electronics crops up, which is often since I am an avid collector of antique electronic equipment.

Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines "antique" as 1: a relic or object of ancient times or of an earlier period than the present. 2: a work of art, piece of furniture, or decorative object made at an earlier period and according to many customs laws at least 100 years old. 3:Made in or representative of the work of an earlier period.

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