Midget Radios and the RCA Model 121


From Antique Radio Classified for January 1996
(Copyright 1995 by John V. Terrey - For personal use only.)

One of the first magazine advertisements in 1930 on the new "midget" radios reads in part, "Only 17.5 inches high and 16 inches wide, with reception limited only by the suitability of your location." The radio industry invented the name "midget" for these radios, but years later they came to be called "cathedrals" or "tombstones."

This style of radio came into being on the West Coast in 1929, and by 1931 had spread across the nation. These radios were usually TRF (tuned radio frequency) sets that used the new screen-grid tubes. The cabinets of tombstone or cathedral design occasionally used moulded wood.

The power, tone and overall general performance left a lot to be desired. However, the weight of these sets (about 25 pounds) and the price (averaging $50) were well below that of the heavy and relatively high-priced consoles of the period ($100 plus).

RCA had a pretty good clamp on the superheterodyne market and patents, and it wasn't until 1928-1929 that they really started to lift these restrictions. As a result, most manufacturers began producing superhet radios in the early 1930s. In 1933, there were 3,800,000 radio sets sold at an average unit price of $61. In 1929, the average unit price of a radio sold was $136. The midget radio market faltered for a while in 1931-1932, but then made a strong comeback for a few more years.

Figure 1. The RCA Model 121 midget has a beautiful cathedral cabinet design.


In 1933, RCA came out with the beautiful cathedral cabinet design of the Model 121, shown in Figure 1. This AC "midget" measures 17 inches high by 14 inches wide. The set has a broadcast band of 540-1500 Kc and a shortwave band of 5400-15.350 Kc.

The six tubes used are Types 58 (RF amplifier), 2A7 (oscillator and 1st detector), 58 (IF amp), 2B7 (detector/1st AF), 2A5 (audio) and 80 (rectifier). The radio has four controls - volume, tone, tuning (with a fine tuning feature to assist in tuning in the shortwave band), and a small knob on the right that pulls out to receive shortwave reception.


Paul, Floyd A. Los Angeles Radio Manufacturers. Glendale, Ca.: Floyd A. Paul, 1994.

Radio Today, Jan. 1939, p. 12.

(Richard Arnold, PO Box 275, Lone Grove, OK 73443)

Since 1985, Richard Arnold's collecting interest has been primarily in cathedrals and 1920s battery sets. His collection of over 60 radios ranges from crystal sets to a 1928 American Bosch desk radio in a Pooley cabinet. His prize is the 1932 Jackson Bell Peter Pan featured in the June 1991 A.R.C.

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Copyright © 1995 by John V. Terrey - For personal use only.
Last revised: December 31, 1995.Pages designed by Wayward Fluffy Publications