Gallery 5:
Post-War Radio

The radios (and a few early television sets) in this main floor gallery appeared in the late 1940s and into the 1960s as radio began to share audience time and interest with television. Regular network television service began on NBC, CBS, ABC, and the short-lived DuMont network in mid-1948, though live coast-to-coast television service only became possible in 1951 with completion of the coaxial cable and microwave network used to carry the signals.

The two large glass cabinets display an array of post-war receivers. That on the left presents a selection of post-war plastic (and near plastic) table radios, demonstrating some of the shape and color flexibility radio makers could offer. These were inexpensive AM radio sets using four to six vacuum tubes. Note particularly the light blue pay radio used in hotels—a quarter would pay for an hour of radio time. Among the featured displays is the handsome Zenith Trans-Oceanic—the best multi-band portable receiver of its time. A multi-tube receiver that sold well into the 1960s (final models used transistors, not vacuum tubes), the Trans-Oceanic carried AM broadcast and multiple shortwave bands for tuning in foreign broadcasts.

The right-hand display cabinet tells the story of FM radio, since 1979 the most listened to radio medium. Receivers on the top shelf were made before World War II and are for FM’s original frequencies (42-50 MHz). For a variety of reasons, the FCC shifted FM up to its present channels in 1945, just before lifting the freeze on station construction. By the late 1940s, there were about 700 FM stations across the country and FM seemed the coming thing. But FM stagnated for years in the 1950s as the country and broadcasters fell in love with television.

The other large display cabinet shows a number of smaller post-war radios—including one designed to combine a camera and a radio (top shelf). The lower shelves provide a selection of early transistor radios. The first were sold in 1954–55, carried only AM broadcasts, were hard to tune and sounded pretty tinny—but they could fit into your shirt pocket. Thanks to the simultaneous development of rock’n’roll music, these soon became hugely popular among young people.