The AWA Review
Reviewed by Geoff Shearer
Once again AWA Review Editor Brian Belanger asked me to take a look at this year's AWA Review and provide commentary. I always look at these challenges with mixed feelings. This year's Review is 214 pages long, and along with my daytime job, it requires a great deal of time to get through the material and understand it sufficiently to make intelligent comments. It became a lunchtime project.
The upside to reviewing the Review is that I learn new information in radio preservation that I was oblivious to before. I will break it down and provide comments to individual articles. Overall, they are well written and edited.
The first article is "The Regency TR-1: 50 Years Later," by my friend and club member Paul R. Farmer. The article is very well written and flows easily. It has a friendly, folksy tone to the description of the early stages of Regency production. I appreciated the brief interlude discussing the hearing aid and how it aided the development, production, and distribution of the transistor radio. Now, I'll hold onto those two early hearing aids I have. (By the way, you can't sell them on eBay.) The first Regency sold for $49.95 and it surprised me that the company charged much more for the hearing aids because people "needed" them and would pay the price.
Paul makes a nice tie-in with IBM and the Regency Division of IDEA and Argus Plastics. He describes the design features of the first cabinet and the fact that the radio components didn't need to produce "high fidelity" because of the "sound" of rock and roll. Maybe rock and roll wouldn't have gotten off the ground if we were still listening to Bing Crosby and the big band sound. A lot of text was devoted to the design and looks of the cabinets and the different colors they came in.
I also liked the discussion of the rebranded radios. I was unaware that the cabinet was essentially available in about four other brands. One would think they would be worth more because of the scarcity. The percentage table was a little confusing for me, but I finally deduced that we were looking at eBay offerings and comparing the various colors/companies against the total found on eBay. If you're looking for the guide to the Regency TR-1, this is it.
I would love to see a sequel to this article that researches answers to my many questions: What happened with the other cabinet design? Was there a lime opalescent cabinet made? Could shoppers buy clear-back sets or were they give-aways? Were the completely clear sets preproduction prototypes? Who made the Mike Todd book cases? Did they manufacture a chrome set or was it an after-market add on? And where did those Neiman Marcus rhinestone sets get their face-lift? There must be a remnant from those times that could answer some of those mysteries.
The next article, "A History of the Kodel Radio Corporation" by John E. Leming, Jr." had a particular interest for me. I use to own a Kodel S-1 crystal set that I bought at Renningers Extravaganza about 12 years ago. Kodel founder Clarence Ogden was a self-made man who saw and seized opportunities as they came along. When his various enterprises merged in 1925, Kodel was the second largest manufacturer of medium-priced receivers -- I didn't know that!
There are a lot of other facts I was unaware of that this article presented in detail. As an example, Kodel focused on rectifiers for radios and made them well. I will not go into a lot of detail here because you need to get your Review and read this excellent account of Clarence Ogden and Kodel Radio yourself.
"The Evolution of the Submarine Telegraph With an Extensive Bibliography" by Bill Holly gives an account of the daunting challenge of laying cable across the Atlantic. This is an excellent source of reference on cable laying from about 1830 through the early 1900s. It is incredible the number of articles and books that have been written on the subject, and Bill Holly seems to have included every reference in his bibliography.
The only exception I took to this article was the statement that the "technology required was almost like asking Orville and Wilbur Wright in 1903 to produce a complete space station and shuttle system." Not even close.
I would like to have read more about why some lines worked while others did not. As an example, in 1845, 12 miles of copper cable was run under the Hudson River for 12 miles in a lead pipe insulated with cotton. How did it work? In 1858, the British and the Navy made a line from Newfoundland to Ireland that ceased working after one month. Why? In 1861, the line from Malta to Alexandria was a permanent success. Why?
I thoroughly enjoyed "Broadcast Receiver Manufacture by General Electric and Westinghouse in the First Decade of RCA" by Robert Murray. Though taken from a Canadian perspective, I believe Mr. Murray's assumptions about U.S. and Canadian manufacture are correct. I have a few early RCA sets and this article provided history that I can retain with my sets.
It all began in 1919 with the Navy and GE. The article goes on to explain that American Marconi became RCA and that companies like AT&T, with its sub Western Electric, joined ranks with RCA in 1920. Westinghouse and United Fruit & Wireless Specialty Apparatus Co. joined in 1921. What do fruit and wireless have in common? One big happy family?
As a result of all this friendliness, there were political barriers that RCA had to break down, and as a result, Atwater Kent, Crosley, and Zenith got a headstart. Charts in the article specify which companies made which sets and even mention some "in between" sets like the CW-53 and CGE-93. This is an excellent article that is worth the price of the volume.
The last article, "The Evolution of the National HRO and its Contribution to Winning World War II," by Barry Williams was intriguing. I am not a communications equipment collector or aficionado of these heavy pieces of equipment, but this article sparked my interest. I'm always ready to learn, and this article is an excellent piece of education. I was getting frustrated when after 42 pages I hadn't read a word of the HRO's contribution but I was not disappointed because the following pages went into that subject.
In 1934, the HRO was designed by two teams -- the mechanical part by the National group in Malden, Mass., and the electronics by the California group led by Herbert Hoover, Jr. The 20 to 1 ratio gearbox was designed by Graden Smith and was unsurpassed for 20 years. It was built to overcome deficiencies in the previous AGS model. The initial HRO (which stands for "Hell of a Rush") had a few problems -- the BFO had to be reset each time the set was turned off, and the frequency vs. dial reading gave only a general indication of frequency. As a result, they had to come up with a calibration booklet.
The article covers the history of the HRO through the last HRO 600 and discusses the impact of the set on World War II operations. This set was so good, the Japanese and Germans copied the design after the war. What a tribute! So this AWA Review comes with five excellent articles and 200+ pages for your library and research files. Enjoy!
The AWA Review, Volume 17, is published by the Antique Wireless Association, which is the sole distributor. To order, send a check payable to the AWA Museum for $19.95 to Edward M. Gable, 187 Lighthouse Rd., Hilton, NY 14468. Be sure to check shipping charges with AWA.
(Geoff Shearer, President, Mid-Atlantic Antique Radio Club (MAARC), 1400 Brookmere Dr., Centreville, VA 20120)