Radio Days: Vintage Replica Radios

History of the Radio

Radios really developed from the invention of the telegraph and the telephone - these technological innovations had made distant audio communication possible: the telegraph through morse code and the telephone through voice. The very first use of radio was for naval navigation and it proved to be a life-saver as it meant ships were no longer as isolated. During WWII, the government took control of the radio industry and this hurried along developments as the military developed applications for the new technology, including direct communication to air pilots.

Although there had been enthusiastic radio hams even before the war, widespread public broadcasting didn't really happen until the early 1920s but when it did it took off like wildfire. Many people made their own, crude crystal sets, although reception on these was intemittant - certainly not ideal.

Author's Pick:The Grundig

Grundig 960 Classic AM/FM Shortwave Radio
Grundig 960 Classic AM/FM Shortwave Radio

Retro Radio

In December, 1921, regulations were issued by the Department of Commerce in the US to set up a formal broadcasting service and by the end of the following year there were over 500 radio stations in operation.These early transmissions were sponsored by a variety of sources - individuals, commercial businesses and organizations.

As more and more radio receivers sprung up in the community the commercial potential of the radio became obvious. Over the next few decades, and until the invention of television, families would sit huddled by their radios listening to music, comedy, quiz and variety shows, radio serials and plays.

Photograph from the ARFTS Archive
Photograph from the ARFTS Archive
Crosley CR32 CD Cathedral Radio with CD
Crosley CR32 CD Cathedral Radio with CD

Vintage Radios

Stylistically, very early radios were designed like furniture pieces and were made out of wood or bakelite (a type of brittle plastic). The speaker was covered by an elegant pattern and they were quite large in scale and generally shaped in ether the cathedral style (shown in the replica radio at right) or the tombstone (above).

By the 1940s, they were becoming a little more streamlined and modern. The big old console style was still available, but buyers could also get smaller radios in a greater variety of shapes. During the war years the entertainment programs gave way to the dramatic events of the war and people used to listen every evening for news of what was happening abroad. Until the late 1940s radio broadcasts were live to air, as recordings were prohibited due to the poor quality.

Sonorette walnut bakelite radio, French, late 1940s. Photograph from Science and Society picture library.
Sonorette walnut bakelite radio, French, late 1940s. Photograph from Science and Society picture library.

1950's and 60's Radios

Post war, manufacturers got more daring...if more garish, with their designs. It was the atomic space age and the new designs reflected the schmick, clean lines of a growing technological emphasis. The buying public could now get radios with shiny chrome accents and they came in brighter colours and ultra-modern shapes.

Although the 1950s saw the ascendance of television as the dominant form of home entertainment, radio was still popular, especially for music and news. In addition, it was a boom period of affluence and a whole new youth market opened up. Radio proved to be boon for the promotion of pop music and Top Ten charts and youth oriented events began to emerge. Radio 'personalities', designed to appeal to a youth demographic began to develop devoted followings - it was the era of the DJ...

The Disc Jockeys

The term disc jockey was coined in 1938 by Walter Winchell to describe the first real radio star Matin Brock. 'Jockey' was a slang term for anyone who operated a machine and the 'disc' of course, referred to records.

Although there had been popular DJ's. as well as DJ dance parties in the 1940s, the popularity of the disc jockey began to climb in the 1950s and reached its zenith in the 60's and 70's. DJ's became celebrities in their own right, independent of the radio station.

In the early days, DJ's would often play discs according to their personal taste, but the introduction of station controlled playlists changed the dynamics. Underhand payments to DJ's in exchange for airplay had become a problem, so stations responded by keeping a firmer hand on what could be played.

Despite dire predictions for radio after the advent of TV, the industry continued to grow into the 1960s. People took their portable 'trannies' (transistor radios) to the beach or the park and listened to music while they washed the car. The portability of radio gave the medium one small edge over TV, though the latter had become the primary form of home entertainment, particularly in the evenings.

Red Bell Valve Radio. Mid 1950s. Photograph from Australian Vintage Radio
Red Bell Valve Radio. Mid 1950s. Photograph from Australian Vintage Radio
Crosley Solo Radio CR221
Crosley Solo Radio CR221

Radio Nostalgia

Radio remains a significant aspect of contemporary culture. The industry's long history...and the shifts and changes radio has been through over the decades, can be seen in the design changes of the radios themselves. It's amazing to consider the design leaps that led from those big, wooden consoles of the 1920s and 30's to the miniature radio's of today - some smaller than a thumbnail.

The great variety of these design aspects provide an aesthetic timeline of where we were in any given decade and are a fascinating source of nostalgia for those who enjoy looking back through time.

Am/Fm Old Fashioned Radio Hideaway Safe by Collections
Am/Fm Old Fashioned Radio Hideaway Safe by Collections

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Comments 4 comments

Phillbert profile image

Phillbert 5 years ago from The Ozarks

very well put together and very cool!


Ella Quirk profile image

Ella Quirk 5 years ago Author

Thanks very much Phillbert.


DDS profile image

DDS 5 years ago from Toronto

We used to have a really old radio at my grandparents cottage at Loon lake near Thunder Bay. It really added something amazing to the mood of the place having it there..


Ella Quirk profile image

Ella Quirk 5 years ago Author

That sounds great DDS...there is something really nice about those old radios. Thanks very much for the comment.

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