Radio Boulevard
Western Historic Radio Museum


WHRM Radio Photo Gallery

Console (Floor Model) Radios and Radio-Phonographs

(now includes "Zenith Radio Corp" Models)

1929 to 1940

photo right: This well-dressed couple is enjoying great sound from their McMurdo Silver Masterpiece V 

Console (Floor) Model Radios  (1929-1940)

Victor Talking Machine Co.

"Nine Fifty-Four"

Although the name is Victor Talking Machine Co., actually the old "Victrola" company had been sold to a bank syndicate in 1926 due to Victor's CEO Eldridge Johnson's failing health. In early-1929, the VTMCo  was purchased for $32 million by GE, Westinghouse and RCA and the plant in Camden, NJ modernized. Priced at $1350, the "Nine Fifty-Four" Automatic Electrola-Radiola was one of the more expensive machines available in 1929. The cabinet was a fabulous 60" tall Spanish influenced walnut cabinet. Unfortunately, the 9-54 was fraught with problems. The deluxe receiver, the Radiola 64, was an eleven tube superheterodyne with tuning meter, AVC and impressive audio from a single-ended UX-250. To obtain maximum power from the UX-250 its plate was running at nearly +400 vdc. After a few years operation the power transformer's insulation failed - usually in a dramatic, smoke filled fashion. The automatic record changer was a second generation version of the original Victor automatic changer but the new changer was released before all of the bugs could be worked out. All of the second generation changers were recalled within a few months and reworked but even then the changers were unreliable and developed a reputation for breaking records - either by a failed ejection allowing the lifter ring to crush the record or by tossing the record onto the floor. Many 9-54s had their original radio and phonograph replaced with newer equipment, also some were "gutted" and converted into liquor bars or book cases. As a result, very few 9-54s survive intact today. This particular 9-54 is a complete, original example that was owned by 1920s-1930s cowboy movie-star, Hoot Gibson. Interestingly, another famous cowboy movie star also was a 9-54 owner, William S. Hart had one at his ranch in Newhall, California.


Victor Talking Machine Co.

(Radio-Victor Corp. of America)

Radio-Electrola RE-156


RCA,GE and Westinghouse were in a partnership running Victor since early-1929. Actually two companies were formed to run Victor, (AudioVision Appliance and Radio-Victor.) In late 1929, RCA-Victor was formed to consolidate everything into one company. In 1930, an Anti-trust suit was filed against the group which broke-up the longtime partnership (cross-licensing arrangement) and essentially put RCA in sole ownership of RCA-Victor. Due to the Depression, expensive machines were no longer a saleable item, so RCA-Victor utilized left-over cabinets from the previous year's most expensive model, the 9-56 Automatic Electrola-Radiola, ($1750 selling price in 1929) and replaced the 9-56's problem prone Radiola 64 and notorious automatic changer with the reliable ten-tube Microsynchronous TRF receiver and a simple manual turntable. Standing 65" tall, the Chinese Chippendale cabinet is decorated with oriental motifs in red, black and gold lacquer. Walnut veneer panels with black, gold and green lacquer trim are used on the exterior. With the doors closed, ten filigree bronze hinges and the filigree bronze door-pull escutcheons are visible. Selling for a mere $595, only 245 of these behemoths were produced.


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RCA Victor Co., Inc.

Radiola-Electrola RE-57


For 1931, RCA-Victor continued to offer the old Microsynchronous receiver in some of their Radiola-Electrola models. These later TRF radios have screen-grid tubes and an improved amplifier but still feature the odd tuning system of levers and rollers. The manual phonograph featured a large counter-balanced tone arm with horseshoe magnet pick-up. These types of pick-ups could also be "driven" to actually move the needle and RCA took advantage of that by designing a system of home recording that used "pre-grooved" records. The material that the records were made from was soft and it was possible to somewhat modulate the grooves using the pick-up with proper recording needle and a fairly heavy weight placed on the pick-up. The discs were only six inches in diameter so recording time was brief. One could select to record something from the radio or one could record using the hand-held microphone. Actually, for 78RPM record playback, the RE-57 and similar Electrolas provide great performance with ample sound and plenty of bass, as long as the pick-up has been rebuilt and the rest of the electronics are in good condition.



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RCA-Victor Co., Inc.

Radiola-Automatic Electrola,  RAE-59


RCA-Victor incorporated several new features into their deluxe radio-phonograph, for 1932 (introduced in late 1931.) Though the Microsynchronous receiver was still used in the lower-cost models, the RAE-59 had a newly designed ten-tube superheterodyne with Push-Pull 47s for greater audio power. The phonograph had a two-speed automatic changer that would continuously cycle through a stack of ten, 10" records loaded into the "magazine." The design of the changer allowed only a single side of each record to be played during the cycle which allowed about 35 minutes of music with 78RPM records and two and a half hours of music with RCA's new Program Transcription Long-Playing records. The new PTs were 10" in diameter and ran at 33.3RPM, featuring both popular and classical music. The changer would continue to play through the ten records as long as the user didn't interupt the cycle, however 78RPM records and PTs could not be intermixed on the automatic cycle. Additionally, one could make recordings off of the radio or using the "studio quality" double button microphone onto RCA Pre-grooved recording discs, (introduced in 1930.) The recording time was increased as the new pre-grooved discs were ten inches in diameter. The RAE-59 sold for a hefty $350.00 at a time when many manufacturers had trouble finding buyers for $50.00 radios.


Program Transcription by RCA Victor


RCA introduced these 33.3RPM long-playing records in late 1931. Produced through most of 1933, they were considered an engineering failure because the heavy pick-ups, used on all players at the time, caused severe wear to the fairly soft material used for PTs, (RCA called it "Victrolac.") Additionally, surface noise and frequency "wow" were problems in the early PTs. Introduced at the all-time low of record sales (due to the Depression) and with the increased price of PTs, combined with the fact that not many machines could play them (only expensive deluxe models,) PTs were almost assured of low customer interest and slow sales. Most PTs were 10" in diameter though a few 12" PTs were produced. A few PTs were single-sided. The labels were either gold or silver in color. Even though the PTs were a flop, some were still shown as available in the 1939 RCA catalog (old stock?)

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Crosley Radio Corp.

Model 609 - "Gemchest"


Crosley introduced the "Gemchest" in 1929, using their "Gembox" chassis installed into a small, Chinese Chippendale styled, metal console cabinet. The "Gemchest" was available in three colors, Mandarin Red, Nanking Green and Manchu Black. All featured an improved Crosley Dynacone speaker mounted behind an oriental styled grille with reeds and an unidentifiable water-fowl. Selling for $94 in 1929, the 609 was expensive for a Crosley and was fairly popular. All of Crosley's advertising artwork showed the "Gemchest" without a grille cloth installed, however most are encountered nowadays with a grille cloth installed (usually to hide damage to the Dynacone speaker cone.)


General Motors

Model 281 "Ashtray"/ Converter

This 1931 device has probably caused more confusion as to its real purpose than any other radio item. Most importantly, the 281 is not a radio receiver - it is a converter. A converter receives an incoming radio signal at that signal's frequency and then converts that frequency to another frequency by heterodyning the signal with a local oscillator. This intermediate frequency can then be connected to the antenna input of a radio receiver and amplified and detected, resulting in better selectivity, stability and sensitivity. The GM 281 is a heterodyning-type converter which was designed to be connected to any receiver to provide several different functions. First, as a converter, when used with a TRF (Tuned Radio Frequency - a non-superheterodyne) receiver, that receiver would then become a superheterodyne - providing the advantages of better sensitivity and selectivity. If used with a superhet receiver, that radio would then become a double-conversion superhet - advantages were better image rejection. An added advantage to the 281 installation was that it allowed for remote control of any receiver it was used with, providing remote tuning and remote volume control. Finally, it was also a floor-type ash stand. The IF frequency was 535Kc - so the receiver used with the 281 had to be tuned to 535Kc in order for the combination to work together. The 281 AC plug was to provide the 6.3vac heater voltage for the two tubes in the converter but B+ (high voltage) had to be supplied by the receiver (connecting wires were from the metal "coupler unit" which was mounted in the receiver cabinet.) A 25' cable allowed the 281 to be placed anywhere in the room, preferably next to the "over-stuffed" easy chair and the pipe. Today, many GM 281 converters are encountered with the cables removed and the seller trying to convince the buyer that the 281 is a radio receiver - it isn't. Neither was it ever intended to be set up in GM automobile dealerships for customer entertainment. The erroneous auto-related story variations are endless. The 281 was designed for home use and was to provide the user a way to upgrade his older TRF console radio into a remotely controlled superheterodyne radio. 


Zenith Radio Corp.

Model 77

Zenith's Model 77 was introduced in late 1930. The Depression had halted sales of the more expensive radios, so Zenith cut costs wherever they could. The Model 77 was housed in the same cabinet as the earlier Model 54 and Model 64 but whether the Model 77 used surplus cabinets from the proceeding year or just built new cabinets of the same old style is not known. The built-in loop antenna used in the Model 54 and Model 64 was eliminated as another cost-cutting measure. However, the tuned input, tuned output TRF circuit remained the same and an improved power supply was added. The Model 77 was not produced in any significant quantity.

This particular Model 77 was originally sold to Glen Wydette of Reno, Nevada by Nevada Machinery & Electric Co., Reno's Zenith dealer at the time. It is in excellent all original condition having always been stored inside a house.


Scott Radio Laboratories

All-wave Fifteen - AW-15


The Scott Radio Laboratories built some of the most "powerful" (an adjective E.H. Scott liked to use in his advertising) receivers from the late twenties up through the forties. Ernest H. Scott came from New Zealand and started in the transformer business in Chicago just after WWI. He later started producing superheterodyne kit radios. His interest in shortwave developed into world record reception using his receivers. When the RCA superhet licenses became available in 1931, Scott started to produce complete receivers. By 1933, Scott was offering his first chrome plated, semi-custom built receivers. The Allwave Fifteen (1934) is a 15 tube receiver using P-P 2A3s driving a twelve inch speaker. The power supply and audio output amplifier are located on a smaller chassis mounted by the speaker. Chrome plated chassis, projection tuning dial with shadow-graph meter, BFO (not for CW but for locating weak stations - the actuator is the push button located below the band switch lever) and a noise limiter (marked STATIC) are some of the modern features used in this 1934 receiver.  This AW-15 is housed in a small Tasman cabinet and is totally original, including all the original 1934 tubes!

I've owned this Scott since 1975. I purchased it from an antique shop in San Francisco called "Maritime Antiques." The shop was full of nautical items, diving helmets, brass clocks, that sort of thing. I noticed in the very back of the shop there was a console radio setting up against the wall. Getting closer, I saw it was a SCOTT. Lifting the lid revealed flawless chrome. About that time the shop owner came over and yelled, "I hate radios! They never work. I only have this one because it came with an estate. You can have it for fifty dollars." Even in 1975, that was an excellent price for a SCOTT radio but I didn't buy it. Instead, we walked out and went back to the in-laws house in the East Bay. That was a sleepless night, thinking about why was I so stupid to just let such a good deal pass. 9AM the next morning we were back at Maritime Antiques. "Are you going to buy that radio today?" The shop owner obviously recognized me. The price was still fifty dollars which was gladly paid, the radio loaded and we left before the shop owner changed his low opinion about old radios. Back in Nevada, I discovered that the short antenna wire was connected to the ground post - no wonder the shop owner thought the SCOTT didn't work. When connected up to an antenna, it worked beautifully.

Now, thirty five (plus) years later, the SCOTT AW-15 isn't operated very often. I'm content to just look at its amazing condition. Still flawless after eighteen years on display in the Western Historic Radio Museum (located behind glass, of course.)


Zenith Radio Corp.

Model 775B

This is a 12 tube, dual speaker, superhet using a pair of 59 tubes in Push-pull for the audio output. The dual 8"speakers are mounted a right-angles to each other. A "shadow-graph" tuning meter and "tell-tale" control indicators were also included on this high-end receiver. Sliding doors can hide both the speaker grille and the tuning controls. Even Zenith had its "bad days" when it came to quality control. The pillar on the right is mounted one-quarter turn off. The flat should be facing backwards to give ample clearance for the sliding doors, (it's facing left and can't be rotated because there isn't enough clearance due to the square base on the pillar.) Whether Zenith's QC missed the error or just "let it go" is not known.

An interesting find inside this Model 775B was an extension cord that was manufactured by COLT - the firearms company. The COLT logo is on the brown bakelite "head" of the extension cord and the power cord is brown cloth-covered cord. It is in excellent original condition, although what it was used for in the operation of this Model 775B is a mystery.

This 775B was originally owned by the Bothelo family of Walnut Creek, California. The original manual and the sales tag were also in the back of the set.


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Zenith Radio Corp.

Model 9-S-54

Zenith's famous "Big Black Dial" was introduced with the 1936 model line, although Zenith originally called it the "Black Magnavision Dial." It was a striking departure from the small, hard to read dials that proceeded it. The 9-S-54 was a 9 tube receiver with RF amplifier, triode audio drivers and a pair of push-pull 6F6s producing about 10 watts to drive a 12" electrodynamic speaker. The speaker was mounted on an "Overtone Amplifier" - a spacer that increased the opening on the baffle board and also increased the speaker's distance from the baffle board - an effort to widen the audio frequency reproduction. Two-speed tuning is also featured along with band-in-use indicators. The cabinet uses walnut veneers with black Japan trim and the upper pilasters are burled with marquetry trim. This particular 9-S-54 belonged to the Gladding family of Virginia City.

   Did Zenith really build the best "consumer-entertainment" radios?  -  They thought they did. The Great Depression taught Zenith "survival" during a time when building "the best" didn't necessarily equate to the high sales and profits necessary to survive in any business. When Zenith was about to "go under" in 1933, they hired a small company in Chicago called Wells-Gardner Company to build a line of inexpensive radios for them. Zenith had been building the $200+ models that sold well in the twenties but certainly were not selling in the depths of the Depression. Zenith had many times before claimed to "not know how to build cheap radios." Wells-Gardner built the low-priced Zenith radios first called "Zenette." Most consumers saw that the "Zenettes" were the "cheap" Zenith radios and sales were less-than-expected. In 1935, Zenith coined the name "Challenger Line" and these WG-built models did well, ultimately saving Zenith from the Depression. By 1936, Zenith had learned from Wells-Gardner how to design and build radios inexpensively. Almost all companies that survived the Depression learned the same approach that Zenith did. So, although Zenith radios from the thirties may be a little on the cheap side, they certainly weren't alone. Where Zenith pulled ahead of the competition was in their advertising and in their styling. Electronic design engineering was more-or-less average but the cabinet styling was incredible. Over the decades, Zenith radios of the thirties, especially the late thirties, remain attractive and desirable simply because Zenith cabinet designs generally took a fairly conservative approach, usually avoiding wild "deco" designs. Today, most collectors find that the 1936 to 1940 Zenith cabinets are the most appealing to modern tastes.




Model 680


This massive, 15 tube receiver was top-of-the-line from Philco in 1936.  Art deco and architectural styles influenced the cabinet design and the chassis featured everything Philco had to offer for the best in radio reception and high fidelity audio reproduction. The output is 20 watts of undistorted, class "A" push-pull audio, supplied by a pair of 6A3s driving a massive 11" electrodynamic speaker along with an 11" passive radiator and two  8" passive radiators, (Philco called them Acoustic Clarifiers.) A separate bias rectifier tube is used for the audio stages. Additionally, there is a separate bass amplifier circuit with adjustable bass control and variable-coupled IF transformers with an expansion switch for maximum bandwidth and audio highs. The shadowgraph tuning meter has its own tuned stage with rectifier and is separate from the AVC line. Also included is dual amplified AVC, dual speed tuning from 150kc to 22mc in four bands with Philco's superb dial accuracy and excellent sensitivity. Philco went all-out on the 680, producing a great performing receiver with absolutely magnificent sound that rivals any Scott. The 680 shown is the early version with the receiver chassis mounted vertically in the cabinet and a lid that covers the controls. Many collectors consider Philco a "cheap" brand and not worthy of their note. However, Philco was number one in sales all through the thirties because they made hundreds-of thousands of "cheap" radios that would sell during the tough economic times of the Depression. A "cheap" Philco is like any other brand of "cheap" radio - mediocre in performance and lacking in features. Unfortunately, the mass quantity of "cheap" Philcos that have survived have given collectors the wrong impression of Philco's capabilities. High-end Philcos will feature everything (and sometimes more) that any other high priced radio of the time had. Superb engineering, high fidelity, innovative designs are all found in the high end Philcos. Well,...that is until about 1940.


Zenith Radio Corp.

Model  12-A-58

The 12-A-58 was Zenith's 12 tube, dual speaker model for 1936. It was the "top of the line" radio from Zenith with the obvious exception of the Stratosphere models. The four tuning ranges covered 140kc to 380kc, 550kc to 1750kc, 2.0mc to 6.8mc and 6.8mc to 23mc with "band in use" illumination provided. A shadow-graph tuning indicator is also featured. Similar to other radio designs of the Depression, the 12-A-58's impressive tube-count requires a critical look at the schematic. Zenith actually  "doubled up" on the rectifiers, the audio drivers and, of course, the P-P output. A dual diode (6H6) is used rather than a duplex diode-triode which then requires a separate 1st audio amplifier tube be used. One tube is required just for the shadow-graph operation. The Second Audio uses parallel 6C5 tubes. The minimum stages provided are only one stage of RF amplification and one stage of IF amplification. A Converter stage is used rather than a separate Mixer and LO. When closely examined, the 12-A-58 circuit is really equivalent to about a seven-tube set which was sufficient for AM BC reception. Sound quality is very good since considerable effort was put into that part of the radio circuit design. The speakers are 12" and 6" in diameter and use Zenith's Overtone Amplifier mounting system. Two-speed tuning was provided.

The two 1936 12-tube models departed from the standard 1936 "Black Magnavision Dial" and used two different types of dials. The early 12-A-57 and 12-A-58 models utilized a "layered" glass dial that provided band-in-use illumination. The SW and LW bands were illuminated in red while the AM BC band and Aviation-Amateur bands were illuminated in green. To say that the early edge-lighted dial scales were subtly illuminated would be an understatement - dim is more accurate. Certainly the feeble illumination was the reason for the updated design of the second version dial which is a single thickness glass dial with scales in red, green, blue and yellow. The second dial style was much easier to read and was well-illuminated even though the vibrant multi-color scales are somewhat gaudy.

This early version 12-A-58 is in excellent all original condition. It was found in Reno and was undoubtedly sold by Nevada Machinery and Electric Co., Reno's Zenith dealer. The 1936 selling price was $159.95. Without a doubt, the 12-A-58 grille is a representation of the Olympic Torch along with the Olympic Wreath. Some of the 1936 Zenith advertising does mention that the "Torch" grille was to commemorate the 1936 Olympics. In collector circles, the 12-A-58 is sometimes referred to as the Zenith "Torch Radio" Unfortunately, another much-used moniker is the "Baby Stratosphere." This is a ridiculous nickname that has no basis in any Zenith advertising and is merely a recently appearing eBay seller's gimmick used to drive up the final auction price. To avoid confusion, the correct model numbers should always be used to identify any of the Zenith radios.


McMurdo Silver Corporation  -   Masterpiece VI

McMurdo Silver was a prolific author, flamboyant genius and possibly the first antique radio collector. He used to offer $30 off on his Masterpiece Receivers if the purchaser would trade-in a "genuine antique." His efforts benefited the Ford Museum, a "hobby" of his, as he stated in many letters. The Masterpiece VI dates from 1937 and featured 21 tubes, five bands, double-preselection, volume expander, selectable bandwidth, cathode-ray tuning indicator and terrific deco styling, (the chrome dust cover was removed for the photo.) This Masterpiece VI was originally owned by Rheingold Redelius, a prominent Reno, Nevada businessman. Unfortunately, the set had been stored in a basement that flooded in the infamous 1950 Reno Flood. Redelius managed to save the receiver but he discarded the severely damaged Clifton cabinet with 18" speaker and amplifier-power supply.

McMurdo Silver tried to "run" three companies simultaneously in the early-thirties. The Silver-Marshall Company was one, McMurdo Silver Manufacturing was another and then there was McMurdo Silver Corporation. There were stories circulating in the thirties that McMurdo would drive around to his various companies piloting a yellow Packard convertible with several of his girl friends "in-tow." Eventually McMurdo sold the Silver-Marshall Company was sold to Bill Halligan to from the Hallicrafters, Inc. McMurdo Silver Manufacturing was consolidated into the McMurdo Silver Corporation which remained building custom radios until 1938, when that company went bankrupt.


Zenith Radio Corp.

Model 10-S-160

Zenith's 1937 models continued the "Big Black Dial" with the higher tube-count models featuring a "bull's eye" type of shadow graph tuning indicator. The shadow graph is essentially a meter that measures carrier level of AM signals. Instead of a needle, the shadow graph uses a rotating vane. The vane is rotated (as a meter needle would increase) with signal strength. Behind the vane is a small lamp the casts a shadow on the back of a target piece of semi-transparent plastic. As viewed from the front, the shadow appears to widen or narrow depending on the signal strength. This would be how the 1936 Zenith shadow graph worked (along with many other manufacturer's shadow graphs.) The 1937 Zenith models are different and use an armature needle that had a ball on the end. With the 1937 shadow arrangement in the Zeniths, the shadow of the ball appears to move within the "bull's eye" with the proper tuning being when the ball is centered in the target (or as close to the center as possible.)

The larger 1937 models also were fitted with a papier-mâché "beehive adapter" over the 12" speaker. The beehive was called an Acoustic Adaptor and it could be adjusted to provide bass response for the room where the radio was installed. About 10 watts from the Push-pull 6L6 audio output (optional 6F6s could also be used) was the main feature that distinguished the 10-S-160 from the smaller consoles in 1937. The acoustic adapter and the acoustic amplifier along with the push-pull audio resulted in impressive sound capabilities.

Certainly, for the 10-S-160, the feature that is most innovative is the cabinet style. The upper-side gadrooning, gold stripping and unusual grille cloth (the photo shows the original style grille cloth used) all give this model a unique appearance that is either appreciated or abhorred. This 10-S-160 also has the "shaped" convex glass dial cover that bulges in the center, however the gold "Zenith" logo is not on this particular glass which is the original glass in this radio. Generally these "shaped" glass dial covers are on the earlier 1937 production year models.

This 10-S-160 was purchased new in 1937 from Nevada Machinery & Electric in Reno by the Guallo family. The radio never left the Guallo house for the next sixty years, at which time (1997) it was purchased for the museum. It is in all original condition. 


Zenith Radio Corp.

Model 12-U-159

If you wanted Zenith's "top-of-the-line" (and couldn't afford the Stratosphere models), the 12-U-159 was it. At $175.00, it offered the purchaser a 12 tube chassis with 4 bands (band-in-use illuminated and color-coded), a 12" bass speaker with a 6" treble speaker, shadow-graph tuning indicator and a beehive acoustical adaptor on the bass speaker. Push-pull 6L6 audio output produced about 10 watts of power (optional 6F6s could also be used.) The cabinetry was stunning with burl veneers, Japan trim and parquetry inlays. Much care was afforded the design of the transformer-coupled audio section and it results in the 12-U-159 being one of the best sounding Zenith console radios.

The 12-U-159 is a much larger radio than its predecessor, the 1936 12A58. Measuring four inches taller (at 45" tall) the cabinet is impressive in size. Also, the dial is 11" in diameter - the largest dial that Zenith ever produced - and it was only used on the two 1937 12 tube models. Unlike the 12A58, the 12-U-159 doesn't tune the LF band. Zenith, instead decided to offer continuous coverage tuning by replacing the LF coverage with an 18mc to 55mc band. At the time (1937,) the 11 year sunspot cycle was near maximum, the 10 meter amateur band was becoming very popular and many experimental wide-bandwidth "hi-fidelity" AM stations in the 50mc region were on the air. This probably proved to be more entertaining than the predominately CW signals that were from ships and coastal stations that were operating in the LF region. Today, though there is ample activity in the 18mc to 30 mc range, the signals do require good propagation conditions for reception and this is limited to daytime reception during the sunspot maximum during the 11 year sunspot cycle. Additionally, the 12-U-159's sensitivity on the top band is quite poor and requires very strong signals for successful copy.

The color coding on the "Big Black Dial" is subtle with no color used on the AM BC band (or white,) blue used for Police band, red used for the SW band and yellow used for the VHF band (called Ultra High Frequency on the 12-U-159 dial.) Don't expect vibrant colors in any of the 1937 Zenith Big Black Dials. The color is a very light, semi-transparent paint that was applied to the back of the dial. Some dials will have the numerals also colored but usually just the linear scale is colored. Some early versions of the 12-U-159 will have a "shaped" dial glass with "Zenith" in gold applied at the center-inside along with the "Seconds" scaling in white. Most sets have just the standard convex glass that has the "Seconds" scale applied on the inside of the glass (as shown in the photo.)      This 12-U-159 was found in Reno in the 1990s. 


McMurdo Silver Corporation



McMurdo Silver's last offering in the "custom-built" radio market was the "15-17." Obviously scaled back to reduce costs and hopefully increase sales. Although the external appearance is similar to the Masterpieces, inside the "15-17" is really just a large "tube-count" (15 tubes) console radio. The chassis is chrome plated and the radio does cover AM-BC up to 30mc. It also has a BFO and "slow-motion" tuning. A 15" speaker is mounted in the Oxford cabinet.

McMurdo Silver wanted you to know that "he knew" your radio was custom-built to your order. That's why every radio left the factory with a hand-engraved metal tag mounted to the rear of the chassis with your name engraved on it. This particular "15-17" was built for "Daggett Radio" - possibly John Daggett, who had a radio column in a Southern California newspaper in the thirties.

McMurdo had a long-running feud with E.H.Scott. The conflict began when Silver bought an AW-23, disassembled it and then published what he thought was wrong with Scott's receiver. Scott did the same thing to a Masterpiece and the feud began. At one point Scott sued McMurdo Silver for $100,000 in damages. Each used their respective newsletters to "bash" each other.

The "15-17" performance and sound quality are excellent if compared to other 1938 radios such as a Philco or a Zenith but the "15-17" is certainly a major step-down from the Masterpieces. McMurdo obviously knew the company was on its last gasp and he closed up the company after the "15-17" run. Ironically, in 1938, E.H. Scott (Scott Radio Laboratories) bought the bankrupt McMurdo Silver Co. rather than allow it to be acquired by another company that would "ruin Silver's reputation for quality." More likely is that Scott didn't want anyone else competing with him in the "custom-radio" market.

After WWII, McMurdo Silver went on to create the "McMurdo Silver Co." that built small test gear and gadgets in the late-forties. McMurdo, perhaps distraught at his future with the McMurdo Silver Co. faltering, killed himself - apparently while attempting to clean a loaded pistol. This was also ironic since McMurdo had worked his way through college buying and selling antique firearms.


Zenith Radio Corp.

Model 7-S-240

The "Robot Dial" (aka: shutter-dial) was introduced in Zenith's 1938 models. All of the larger models featured this fancy, mechanically articulated band-in-use dial scale. As a particular tuning range is selected the dial scales retract and only the correct scale appears. The illumination is a single bulb from the center of the dial. Since each of the scales are metal with white nomenclature on black paint the center-to-edge illumination is fairly dim and makes the shutter-dials sometimes difficult to read at night in the "lights-out" listening mode. The 1938 models featured the shutter-dial on seven tube models on up. In 1939, the shutter-dial is on nine tube models on up and for 1940 to 1942 only the 12 tube models and larger feature the shutter-dial. Certainly the expense of the shutter-dial limited its use to only the higher tube-count Zeniths.

For 1938, most models included a cathode-ray tuning indicator to replace Zenith's old "bull's eye" shadow-graph. The tuning-eye tube required an RCA license to use so many manufacturers (like Philco) never used them. Again, because of the expense, only higher tube-count Zeniths use the tuning-eye tube with the same sort of installation versus tube-count that is found with the shutter-dial use.

The 7-S-240 is a chair-side model. These smaller-than-a-console radios were popular in the late-thirties for apartments or other limited spaces. With the 7-S-240, the unusual cabinet allowed of storage of magazines and books. The sound quality from the eight-inch speaker is fairly good but certainly not up the level of the higher tube-count chassis.


Zenith Radio Corp.

Model 12-S-267

For 1938, all Zenith radios that had nine-tube chassis or higher tube-counts featured motor-drive tuning. Although called "automatic" tuning, it really wasn't since the user had to hold the actuator knob until the dial pointer was close to the frequency desired and then release the knob. The motor did reverse directions and allowed covering one end of the tuning range to the other easily. The motor drive tuning is only featured on the larger 1938 chassis since the following year brought electronic automatic tuning using push buttons which eliminated the need of "motor tuning" from one station to another.

Also, 1938 is the last year of wooden knobs for the majority of models. Some wooden knobs were still used in 1939 but molded plastic was being used more and more, especially on the larger console models. The 1938 Tone Control is switched preset audio compensations of Foreign (short wave reception - reduced bass,) Bass (reduced highs,) High Fidelity (wide response - lots of highs with some lows,) Normal (not so wide response) and Voice (some highs, reduced lows for better intelligibility.) The audio response of the 12 tube sets for 1938 is very good but its a difficult choice as to whether the High Fidelity or Bass sounds best - it's probably a subjective choice that's very dependent on the program material and the volume level that it's listened to.

The high-end 12 tube model for 1938 was the 12-S-267 which featured Zenith's departure from transformer coupled audio. The 1938 12 tube models used a vacuum tube phase-inverter circuit in place of the interstage-coupling transformer. This was less expensive to produce and generally trouble-free. For the top-priced 12 tube model the dual speakers used in the earlier models were dropped although the acoustical adapter (beehive back cover over the speaker) continued to be used on the 12" electro-dynamic speaker. The frequency coverage was standard for Zenith in 1938, that is, Standard AM-BC (540kc to 1700kc,) Police Band (1.6mc to 6.5mc) and Short Wave (6.5mc to 18.0mc.) Certainly the stunning cabinet with deco and machine-age styling using various linear angled veneers makes the 12-S-267 standout. The grille cloth features a "rolled" bulging center piece that sets-off the whole bottom of the cabinet. Of course, the Robot Dial is featured on the 12-S-267.

The 12-S-267 shown in the photo left is awaiting restoration. I do have the piece that is missing on the base. Luckily, the Zenith "block" pattern grille cloth is being reproduced. This cabinet had been painted black sometime in its past. A former owner had the cabinet refinished however it's not a very good job and I'll have to re-do it in the correct Zenith color with grain filler and lacquer. I'll add new photos when the project is complete. The musical instrument in the background is my 1938 - DEAGAN - Model 35 "Mercury" - Vibraharp (sometimes these instruments are called Vibraphones but Deagans are always Vibraharps.)  



Model 39-116

This was "top-of-the-line" for Philco's 1939 production year. Featuring a true, wireless remote control dubbed "Mystery Control", the 39-116 used 14 tubes - eight tubes were used in the radio receiver, five tubes in the remote receiver (part of the radio receiver chassis) and one tube in the remote transmitter (which was battery operated.) Remote station selection actuated a stepper unit switching between eight pre-set tuners. The Volume Control was motor driven and could be operated from the remote and also allowed the radio to be turned on or off remotely. A large loop antenna was mounted in the base of the cabinet for the remote receiver, allowing it to pick up the RF Pulses from the Mystery Control which could be set to any frequency in the range of 250kc to 395kc. The 39-116 had modern styling, great sound and featured enough techno-gadgets to impress your neighbors. The 39-116 was about the last of Philco's innovative creations. By 1940, Philco was offering air conditioners, refrigerators and other appliances besides their radio line. It soon became apparent to purchasers that Philco radios had become just another appliance.


Zenith Radio Corp.

Model 10-S-452

Zenith's 10 tube chassis for 1940 was offered in many different cabinets but certainly the most attractive was the chairside model. The art deco influence was enhanced with contrasting Japan trim (in dark brown) and booked walnut veneers. Also included was a 10 inch speaker, built-in wavemagnet antenna and casters (for easy moving.) The sound emanating from this little package is spectacular.

Believe-it-or-not, this radio was found under a house in Reno. Most of the finish was gone from years of what would normally be considered the poorest of storage conditions. However, the east slope of the Sierras is noted for its very dry conditions. Since the radio cabinet was not exposed directly to rain or snow, just dryness, all that happened was that the finish fell off. The radio chassis had no corrosion. I generally advocate keeping a radio as original as possible but this one was an exception. After all, how much more damage would refinishing do? This cabinet was done with several coats of amber shellac followed by two coats of lacquer. I tried to duplicate what is usually found on Zenith finishes here in Western Nevada. That is, somewhat faded orange-brown in color that is caused by the exposure to UV at high elevations.


Zenith Radio Corp.

Model 12-S-471

For 1940, Zenith changed the shutter-dial design for the 12 tube and larger radios. These shutter-dials, called the "Triple-Spectrum Robot Dial," feature three different colors for the dial scales. Black was used for the AM BC band, blue was used for the Police band and gold was used for the SW band. The 1940 models also improved the Radio Organ buttons from the "pull hooks" used in 1939 to "rocker levers" for 1940 models. Zenith claimed the Radio Organ could give 64 different tone combinations. By 1940 all Zenith models were fitted with molded plastic knobs.

The 12-S-471 featured a fabulous modern design cabinet with a slight hint of art deco but the design also seems to have some of a south-west influence to its appearance. The receiver uses 12 tubes with a tuning eye tube, P-P audio and a 12 inch speaker. 1940 is the first model year that Zenith started to use the problematic 6X5G rectifier tube in which early versions had a tendency to develop cathode-to-heater shorts. This generally caused the HV winding on the puny power transformer to open. It's very common to find 1940 Zeniths with a replacement power transformer installed. In fact, when first obtained, this 12-S-471 had a replacement transformer and had been converted to use a 5U4 rectifier. I managed to find another 1940 12 tube parts chassis with a good original power transformer and that was used in the rebuild of this set. To protect the power transformer one shouldn't use the older 6X5G tubes but should use the later 6X5GTA versions that corrected the design flaw that was in the original versions of the tube.

Besides the chassis problems, this 12-S-471 had the dreaded "potted plant syndrome." I don't know how long a potted plant resided on top of this Zenith but it was long enough to absolutely destroy the top veneer. It was rotted through in the center and warped everywhere else. I replaced the ruined veneer with a new piece of "iron-on" walnut veneer. Many of the new veneers will have glue already applied on the backside that is heat-activated and this type of application actually works very well. You just have to prep the surface really well for the veneer glue to have a good surface to adhere to. The finish was grain filler, amber shellac and lacquer. Only the top was finished, the rest of the cabinet is original finish.

The sound quality of the 12-S-471 is excellent with the typical Zenith "booming" bass. A very nice radio for night-time as the cathode-ray tuning indicator and great dial illumination (for a shutter-dial anyway) give just the proper ambiance for "Lights Out" listening.


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