Radio history in Philadelphia - the receiver side

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The radio connection to Philadelphia also touches the receiver side. RCA is still a popular brand name in consumer electronics, and its history goes back to Philadelphia as well. But RCA isn't the only receiver manufacturer that called this area home. There are two other names that are well known and several more that tried their hand at radio receiver manufacturing.


The Radiola I was RCA's first mass-produced crystal radio set. This unit was manufactured in August 1922 by General Electric.

The RCA Radiola Special (1923) was designed for portable and outdoor use and was housed in a metal case. This radio used a Radiotron UB199 tube. The unit was manufactured by the Wireless Specialty Apparatus Corporation.

The RCA Radiola RS (1923) had a square wooden case and used two tubes. This model was manufactured by Westinghouse.

This Atwater Kent model 3955 was manufactured in 1923. The early Atwater Kent radios were based on this open breadboard design.

This early Philco model, like other early models, was housed in a metal case. The metal cases were soon replaced by wooden cases, mainly for aesthetic reasons.

RCA was the exclusive radio sales agent for the four largest electrical manufacturing companies: General Electric (which had bought American Marconi), AT&T, Wireless Specialty Apparatus and Westinghouse. These four companies owned nearly every practical patent for radio, made most of the commercial equipment, manufactured vacuum tubes and had strong ties to international companies. Through the 1920s, RCA did not actually manufacture anything itself, but rather had its name on products made by the four partner companies.

In 1929, it was decided that the conglomeration of these companies was a monopoly, and they were forced to disband. About that time, RCA bought the Victor Company, a manufacturer of phonograph players, so that RCA would be able to continue as a manufacturer. (Victor manufactured a few radios in 1928 that did not sell well.)

The first radio receivers to carry the RCA brand name were the Radiola models. The Radiola I, a crystal set, was manufactured in 1923. The wooden case opened on two sides. The front lid exposed the tuning control and connections for the antenna and headphones. The rear compartment provided a space to store the owner's headphones. The Radiola II was a similar unit, but used two tubes in the tuning section.

Atwater Kent

Founded in 1902 and originally created to build small electrical items and automobile parts, the Atwater Kent Manufacturing Company began manufacturing radio components in 1922. The first models were breadboard styles, built on wooden planks. By 1924, the company began selling radios in wooden cabinets. From 1925 to 1927, the company sponsored the Atwater Kent Radio Hour. As was the case with many companies, Atwater Kent was unable to survive during the depression and closed in 1936.


In 1906 the Philadelphia Storage Battery Company was founded to build batteries and power supplies. In the early 1920s battery sales began to decline until a new market appeared: radio receivers. In 1927, the company began manufacturing radio receivers. In 1930 Philco led the industry in radio receiver sales and remained one of the top radio sellers through the 1950s. In 1960, the company's profits were suffering and the company was sold to Ford.

Other manufacturers

Appleby had a short run at manufacturing. The company's model 60 was a table-top unit with a wooden, low, rectangular case. The front panel was made of metal and two dials and a meter on it. The top lifted for internal access.

Heteroplex manufactured the Deluxe model in 1925. This table-top radio operated on batteries, had three tubes, a two-dial front panel, a top door and was housed in a low, wooden, rectangular case.

Music Master traces its roots to 1908 when Sheip and Vandegrift began manufacturing wooden horns for phonographs under the trademark of Music Master. In the company changed its name to Music Master. It began manufacturing radios by 1925, but was out of business by 1926 because of financial difficulties and mismanagement. Several different models were produced with designs using five, six or seven tubes. Most of the models were table radios, but a few console-style units were also made.

Norden-Hauck was in business in 1926 and made a 10-tube table radio that measured 36" long. This unit was called the Super-10 Admiralty. The company also manufactured a model called the Universal.

Viz, a division of the Molded Insulation Company, manufactured the RS-1 in 1947. This table radio featured a plastic case and round front dial. It operated on batteries or ac power.

The photos are of units in the collection of Dr. Robert Lane, Leawood, KS.

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