Gallery 4:
Radio’s Golden Age

Thanks both to improving technology (such as smaller tubes) and the pressures of the Depression, radios grew smaller and more compact—and less expensive. While most were still in wooden cases, here we see some early plastic cases as well. And a few reflect the art deco movement popular at the time. All the radios in this room are for AM reception, though some feature several shortwave bands.

Several innovations are represented in this exhibit, including an early automobile radio, some of the first clock radios, tuning “eyes” in some receivers, and the first wireless remote control—so large you surely won’t lose it in the couch cushions! The Crosley “Reado” is a very rare device from 1939–40. It utilized an early form of facsimile (using different technology than today’s fax machines), intended to receive and print out a morning newspaper. The thought was this would be a more efficient way to distribute papers than by having physical copies delivered to your front door. The experiment failed for several reasons. In addition to being ahead of its time, it was expensive (the receiver cost more than $1000 in today’s values), it did not print graphics or photos well, and it bumped up against the defense buildup of 1940–41 that made consumer electronics products increasingly hard to purchase.

The 1930s saw the golden age of network radio (now dubbed old-time radio or OTR, among collectors). Comedy, drama, variety, music and even educational programs filled the broadcast day, most from one of the networks, though large city stations produced many programs. Radio became an accepted means of home entertainment as regular audience surveys made clear. By the late 1930s, network news divisions had formed to help report growing tensions in Europe and the Far East.

During World War II, few radios were made and repairs were often difficult to get. But people everywhere listened to radio to obtain the latest war news (radio was so much faster than newspapers) or for entertainment in a tension-filled time.