Radiola -- The Golden Age of RCA
By Eric P. Wenaas
Reviewed by Alan Douglas
When radio was new, a host of innovators and their companies competed for a share of the pie. Some only manufactured; others also broadcast. Some made their marks and disappeared; others succeeded for decades. Some were technically-oriented; others were masters of product design and merchandising.
All have been written about in some form, and a few in great detail, but up to now, most authors have tiptoed around the 800-pound gorilla RCA. While my sixty-page chapter on RCA was by far the longest in Radio Manufacturers of the 1920s, I could only give an outline of RCA's exploits, and a brief look at all its advertised products. Fred Barnum's 1991 His Master's Voice in America with its hundreds of photos from Victor, RCA and GE archives was an amazing accomplishment, given the scant attention paid by most companies to their past, but its nearly 400 pages had to cover nine decades.
Eric Wenaas has tackled the gorilla head-on. By devoting his book to the single decade of 1919-1929, and using his own extensive collection of Radiolas and their sales literature, all reproduced in full color, he has created the definitive reference to RCA's "Golden Age." That's not a term I would have used, though it's apt from a collector's viewpoint. RCA's competitors, even its own distributors and dealers, would have considered "gorilla" too tame. Their attitude was represented by an article published in The American Mercury in August 1931 by Dane Yorke entitled "The Radio Octopus," and a review of it in the September 1931 Modern Radio by L.W. Hatry (a former RCA distributor). If you want "the other side" of RCA, you'll have to look there. (See box at right.)
Picture in your own mind the ultimate Radiola reference book with detailed information on each model. Multiply that by ten and you have a fair idea of Eric's book. Photos (good color photos) of each model and variation, studies of serial numbers and production figures, discussion of the features and how each year's model lineup was conceived -- they're all here. Information was taken from contemporary sources, for accuracy. Add a very thorough and competent prehistory chapter, another on the foreign counterparts of Radiola models, reproductions of the best advertisements (again in color) and discussion of their artistic creators, color reproductions of instruction sheets in all their variations -- it never ends. Did I mention the chapter on Victor and Brunswick Radiolas, which by itself takes 27 pages? Whole books have been written, presenting less information than is contained in a single chapter of this one.
"The Radio Octopus" by Dane Yorke
The American Mercury, August 1931
This 16-page article is a ten-year history of RCA and the industry with two themes: the patent monopoly inadvertently created by the government, and the reckless exploitation of radio by nearly everyone (Philco and Atwater Kent excepted, though not named).
"The Radio Octopus" by Dane Yorke
Reviewed by L.W. Hatry
Modern Radio, September 1931
In a short review in Modern Radio of the above article, Hatry states: "But we do regard Dane Yorke's article "The Radio Octopus", in the August issue of The American Mercury with that respect which a well-reasoned, well-wrought, devastating but unimpassioned judgment deserves. It is decidedly worth a reading by everyone in the game."
You definitely won't be disappointed.
Radiola -- The Golden Age of
RCA in an 81/2 x 11 hardcover format with 485 pages may be
ordered from A.R.C. and other booksellers for $65. Please check with seller for shipping information.
Douglas, Alan. Radio Manufacturers of the
1920's, Vol. 3. New York: The Vestal Press. Ltd., 1991.
Barnum, Fred. His Master's Voice in America.
Camden, N. J.: General Electric Co., 1991.
(Alan Douglas, P.O. Box 225, Pocasset, MA 02559)