Masthead

James's Radio Collection

Howard ArmstrongI 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.

That's also why I like old hollow-state stuff over solid-state and more modern equipment. The new stuff is fantastic and easy, but I feel insulated from the process. I'll admit that I'm often frustrated at the results I get; there's a big part of me that's spoiled with modern electronics and doesn't like getting static-y sound, doesn't like working to pick out an interesting broadcast only to have it fade away a minute later; doesn't like turning through 6 linear dial feet of white noise to find the only thing I can pick up is a religious sermon; doesn't like the fact that picking up a foreign-language broadcast is exotic and fun for about 1 minute until I realize I have no idea what they're talking about and never will. But I still enjoy it, and there's always the hope that the next night I'll get something good.

There aren't many radios in my collection, yet they seem to dominate my house. I also collect photographic light meters, and all of my light meters (and I have many) take up less space than just my Transoceanics. Like a lot of people, I'm stuck for space and every time I acquire something new, I have to figure out how to stay off the TV show Hoarders.

Admiral 7T09X big table model (no longer in my collection)

Aetna 502 tombstone from 1936 (no longer in my collection)

American Bosch model 36 table set (no longer in my collection)

Baofeng UV-B5 ham handy-talky (no longer in my collection)

Bendix 735M clock radio (no longer in my collection)

Crosley 410 1928 empty Deluxe Cabinet (no longer in my collection)

Crosley Bandbox radio for 410 Cabinet (no longer in my collection)

Fada Neutrodyne

General Electric F515 clock radio (no longer in my collection)

General Electric Superradio III 1990s portable (no longer in my collection)

Hallicrafters HT-40 ham transmitter (no longer in my collection)

Hallicrafters SX42 boat anchor from 1947

Hallicrafters TW-500 Trans-oceanic clone (no longer in my collection)

Hoffman something or other (no longer in my collection)

Magnavox FM 22 table radio from 1962 (no longer in my collection)

Magnavox speaker table from the late 20s (no longer in my collection)

Majestic 71 console from 1929 (no longer in my collection)

Miscellaneous projects (no longer in my collection)

National NC-57 boat anchor (no longer in my collection)

National NC-173 fresh off the Kon-tiki, from 1947 (no longer in my collection)

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 Model 90 highboy cabinet, from 1931 (no longer in my collection)

Philco 37-611 tombstone, circa 1937

Philco 39-35 aka 39XX console circa 1939

Philco 42-321 table from 1941 (no longer in my collection)

Philco 51-530 table radio, from 1951 (no longer in my collection)

Pioneer SX-203 1980s tuner-amp (no longer in my collection)

RCA 5T tombstone, around 1934

RCA 29K console from 1941 (no longer in my collection)

RCA 56X table radio (no longer in my collection)

RCA 65X1 table radio (no longer in my collection)

RCA 8-X-541 table radio(no longer in my collection)

RCA 128 tombstone/cathedral (no longer in my collection)

RCA 225 console, 1935 (new for 2023)

RCA BX-57 table (no longer in my collection)

Radio Shack 20-629 modern shortwave (no longer in my collection)

Realistic DX-120 Star Patrol 1960s shortwave (no longer in my collection)

Silvertone 4786 console, 1938 (no longer in my collection)

Silvertone midet that I'm ruining (no longer in my collection)

Silvertone Neutrodyne by King-Hinners, 1925

Sparton 55 table art-deco table, 1934

Sparton 1040XX AM/FM radio/phono combo, 1951 (no longer in my collection)

Stromberg-Carlson 130-J and 130-U art-deco tables, 1937 (no longer in my collection)

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

Tempo-Tone console (no longer in my collection)

Trav-Ler 5060A table radio, 1950 (no longer in my collection)

Truetone D745 table radio, 1937

Wards Airline Stereo 8-Track unloved 1970s tuner-amp (no longer in my collection)

Wards Airline 5D8 midget tabletop from around 1940 (no longer in my collection)

Wards Airline 62-169 farm radio (no longer in my collection)

Wards 84WG wood table radio (no longer in my collection)

Wards 94-BR-1526A white table radio from 1949 (no longer in my collection)

Wards 94-HA-1528 white table radio from around 1949 (no longer in my collection)

Westinghouse Aeriola Sr. radio from 1922

Westinghouse H-122A radio/phono front end from 1946 (no longer in my collection)

Yaesu FTdx-560 ham HF transceiver circa 1973 (no longer in my collection)

Zenith 5R086 radio/phonograph

Zenith 6G501M suitcase portable from 1941

Zenith 6G801Y table radio (no longer in my collection)

Zenith 6P448 chairside Radio Cart

Zenith H-503 1940s portable (no longer in my collection)

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

Zenith X334 Highlighter 1960s table model (no longer in my collection)

Items marked (no longer in my collection) will be removed some time in 2024