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Radios: The Golden Age

June 2024
1min read

by Philip Collins; Chronicle Books; 119 pages.

You might have thought the golden age of radios was the 1920s, when Atwater Kent sold gleaming High Gothic burled-wood consoles the size of parlor organs, but the English aficionado Philip Collins isn’t interested in such musty classicism. For him, the best radios are the plastic ones manufactured from the 1930s to the 1950s, and this engaging book makes a good case for his point of view. During these years some six hundred manufacturers were struggling to make their radios look special. They drew on the talents of industrial designers like Raymond Loewy and Russell Wright, and more than a hundred of the results are marshaled here in a regular little 1939 World’s Fair of globes and ziggurats, their candy colors all glowing deliriously. Here is the definitively Moderne Air King of 1935—take away the lighted dial, and you have a swell Miami Beach hotel; here is the 1947 Porto Products Smokerette, with pipe rests hollowed out next to the dial; here is the 1940 Belmont Model 534, with the rounded snout of the streamlined locomotives of the day; here is the Mickey Mouse Model 411, made out of “Syroco wood”; here are a blazing blue-and-crimson 1947 Belmont and the 1940 Lumitone, which also serves as a lamp. The book isn’t heavy on text—there are just two pages—and yet the radios succeed so well at being objets d’art that the reader doesn’t miss it.

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