Brand Name Radios of the 1940s
BY RICHARD ARNOLD
The manufacture and branding of radios for sale by chain stores was prevalent during the 1940s. Richard Arnold provides some details of this aspect of radio manufacturing and merchandising. (Editor)
In the years from 1930 through 1940, such companies as Philco, Zenith, Emerson, and Galvin (Motorola) were vastly increasing their importance in the radio industry. At the same time, other companies with less efficient sales departments were losing ground. The four leading radio manufacturing companies of the 1930s were RCA, Atwater Kent, Crosley, and Grigsby-Grunow.
Grigsby-Grunow's rise and fall was fairly rapid. It started in 1928, peaked as an industry leader in 1929, and failed as a company in 1934. Crosley, on the other hand, lost prominence every year until 1937 and peaked again in 1938-1939. By 1940, it had lost its market shares to below its 1930 levels.
The Firestone Air Chief Model A4-26, "Newscaster," c. 1948.
Chain Store Brands
By 1940, a very important development in radio merchandising methods was about to come upon the scene and rise to prominence. This was the movement of major sales outlets, such as Montgomery Ward and Sears, into the radio sales market. In addition, automobile chain stores like Western Auto, Goodyear and Firestone also started selling manufactured radio sets in their own names. This competition was a definite challenge to the four major companies' growth, and it helped to force down the prices of radio sets.
Though these stores sold radios under their own trade names, they did not, of course, make the sets themselves. In fact, my major reference books say that none of the chain stores manufactured their own sets, so I guess we will go with that.
Continental Radio and Television Corp. made the Admiral, Globe Trotter, Radiomaster and Star Raider brands, to name just a few. Belmont, Noblitt Sparks, Stewart-Warner, Farnsworth -- all these companies did quite a bit of business making radio sets for the chain stores.
In researching this article, I found that Firestone is listed as the manufacturer of Air Chief in some books, while in others, it is not. The Roamer radio sets were made by Firestone. Belmont Radio Corporation made Goodyear Wings for Goodyear, as well as Classique, Crusader, Freshman, Imperial, Starck Classique, and Truetone for Western Auto.
Stewart-Warner made Aeromaster, Alemite and Ferrodyne. Farnsworth made Capehart. Wells-Gardner made Arcadia, Blackhawk, Fearnola, Fidelitone, Granada, Great Northern, Gulbransen, Hudson, Lexington, Skelco, Sky Rover, Solar, Star, Supertone, True Value, Universal and Whelco.
Many chain store manufacturers made radio sets that were equal in quality to the major brands. However, none of the companies, except for Farnsworth, had research facilities. In 1941, the estimated sales figures of the major chain stores were the following:
A good example of a common 1940s radio is the Firestone Air Chief Model A4-26 (Newscaster), ca. 1948. It is typical of the "All-American Five" radios produced in that decade. A standard 5-tube AC/DC superhet, it uses tube Types 12SA7, 12SK7, 12SQ7, 50L6 and 35Z5. It has the Standard Broadcast band with a slide-rule dial scale and loop antenna. A painted ivory plastic set, it is nothing special, but a good looking, and representative late 1940s radio set.
Bunis, Marty and Sue. Collectors Guide to Old Radios, 4th ed. Paducah, Kentucky: Collector Books, 1997.
Grinder, Robert E. Radio Collectors Directory and Price Guide. Chandler, Arizona: Sonoran Publishing, 1995.
Maclaurin, William R. Invention and Innovation in the Radio Industry. New York: MacMiillan, 1949.
(Richard Arnold, Box 275, Lone Grove, OK 73443)
Richard Arnold, a frequent contributor to A.R.C., has been collecting radios since 1985. His interest is primarily in cathedrals and 1920s battery sets, and his collection ranges from crystal sets to a 1928 American Bosch in a Pooley cabinet. His prize is the 1932 JB Peter Pan featured in the June 1991 A.R.C.