James's Radio Collection

Howard Armstrong I was a kid during the "energy crisis" of 1974, which is why a lot of what's going on today just feels like acid-indigestion deja vu. At school we were supposed to learn about energy and things we could do to use less power, where electricity and energy comes on, that sort of thing.

My dad was an electronics tech and he asks, you want a project? How about a radio that doesn't need electricity to run? You don't plug it in and it doesn't need batteries? Sure.

So (and this is via my hazy memory, so it wouldn't stand up in court), we took a Quaker Oaks box, a spool of copper wire, did a little math and wound a coil, which was mounted on a square foot of plywood. One end of the coil went to a post where a wire snaked out my bedroom window and hooked up to a metal bar that was my antenna; the other wire went through the same window and went to a metal stake that was stuck in the flower bed. A metal bar with a screw in it was used to tap the coil; we used a diode for the detector, and a couple more posts that hooked up a pair of old high-impedance headphones (the kind you see people wearing in World War II movies).

We lived near the transmitter for KFI in Los Angeles, which was (and still is) a 50,000 watt clear-channel station on 640 kHz AM. My father said the signal was so strong it would wipe out anything else on my set, but in practice I was able to pick up 570 (by moving the tap), and I think I sometimes got the other 50 kilowatt behemoth, XTRA 690, which blew in strong after dark from its transmitter in Tijuana, Mexico.

I'd fall asleep listening to the radio at night, and sometimes listen in the mornings when I woke up. If my parents didn't check on me, I'd wake up in the middle of the night with sore ears from those hard, unpadded high-Z headphones. At the time KFI was a Top 40 station so I'd hear music, but I picked up the Laker games on 570, and more music on XTRA. In the mornings I'd get the Farm Report and the legendary morning team of Lohman & Barkley.

I don't have the crystal set anymore, but I kept listening to radios. I had a number of smallish transitors and one of those big 4-band jobs that picked up nothing but static on the non-broadcast band, but fueled dreams of exotic stations and broadcasts I couldn't pick up with the "normal" radios. These days I still listen to the radio—mainly in the car or podcasts of shows I can play while I work.

I love old radios. It's like darkroom work in photography—you can do so much more with modern equipment and methods, but it's not as satisfying. I've tried internet radio and I can get all kinds of stations from all over the world with wonderful sound quality; but when you're sitting in the dark with nothing but the glow of the dial lights and maybe some vacuum tubes, you're sitting there making tiny adjustments via your fingertips on knobs, trying to project yourself a thousand miles to pick out a voice through static and atmospherics; it's just not the same looking at a web page and tapping a mouse.

General Electric Superadio portables from 1979-2008 - NEW FOR 2024

Hallicrafters SX42 boat anchor from 1947

Midland ER310 emergency radio, 2024 - NEW FOR 2024

Midland WR120 weather radio, 2024 - NEW FOR 2024

Packard Bell 15 midget table radio

Philco Model 20 Deluxe "Baby Grand" art-nouveau cathedral, 1932

Philco Model 84B "Baby Grand" art-deco cathedral, from 1934

Philco 37-611 tombstone, circa 1937

Philco 39-35 aka 39XX console circa 1939

RCA 5T tombstone, around 1934

RCA 225 console, 1935 (new for 2023)

Silvertone Neutrodyne by King-Hinners, 1925

Sparton 55 table art-deco table, 1934

Stromberg-Carlson 325-H art-deco table, 1938

Truetone D745 table radio, 1937

Wards Airline 5D8 midget tabletop from around 1940

Wards 84WG wood table radio from around 1950

Westinghouse Aeriola Sr. radio from 1922

Zenith 5R086radio/phonograph

Zenith 6G501M suitcase portable from 1941

Zenith 6P448 chairside Radio Cart

Zenith Transoceanics (various tube-era)

Zenith Trans-Oceanic: H500 the Super-T-O

Zenith Trans-Oceanic: Royal 1000 transistor model

Zenith Trans-Oceanic: Royal 3000 transistor model

Zenith Trans-Oceanic: Royal 7000 transistor model