Radio comes of age
can be little doubt that the decade leading up to WWII became the golden
days for radio both in the
An unprecedented rise in
demand for and ownership of domestic radio receivers created an enormous
impetus for manufacturing growth. The development from the small
‘back-of-the-shop’ of the early 1920s to the explosion of major
companies of the early 1930s was indeed a phenomenon. Even so, at the
turn of the decade - 1930 - and despite advances in assembly and presentation,
radios still often had a visual plainness about them. True, fewer sets had
separate loudspeakers but functional styling was the norm for most sets.
The larger factories began to implement forms of mass production but the
assembly work was labour intensive and sets were costly.
the first couple of years, however, drastic changes took place, not least
in visual design terms. The old boxes went and in their place came what
are nowadays termed 'Art Deco' inspired creations
both in veneered timbers and in Bakelite, the versatile thermosetting
plastic that freed the designers from the constraints of timber and
allowed them free rein. Rapid technical advances allowed the radio to
become ever more 'user friendly', moving away from the scientific
instrument of earlier days. Just a glance at the typical range of receivers
from that era shows an amazing range of design. Ekco (see notes
elsewhere on this site for the Ekco story) opened a large factory at
Southend on Sea, Essex, employing the services of highly regarded
designers to create their Bakelite marvels, the most famous of which is
considered by many to be the ‘round’ series by Wells Coates, a
brilliant modernist architect who had been involved in some of the design work
for Broadcasting House. Others included J.K. White, Ekco's own designer (his cathedral shaped
RS2, M23 etc. cabinets of 1931/2 though ‘quaint’ still stand the test of time) and Mischa Black.
The era of the radiogram
began when electromagnetic pick-ups were allied to electrically driven
turntables and fitted into large cabinets together with radio chassis
and a - generally - large loudspeaker. These machines supplanted the
traditional wind-up console gramophones and became a symbol of
affluence. Electric amplification was superior to acoustic horn
amplification, but radiograms were expensive. An affordable alternative
was to obtain a record deck (a motor-driven turntable and pick-up
assembly, mounted in a case or a box) and to plug it into the pick-up
sockets of the domestic radio. There were commercial products made for
this very purpose; 'Plus-a-Gram' was a company that specialised in them.
The company later became known for the 'Dansette' series of record
players, which of course featured built-in amplifiers.
more on this topic, see under DESIGN
first came about in Britain
by the experiments of J. L.
Baird. In the early 1930s, he pioneered 30-line television transmissions
Palace, London. There is much more on the
amazing J. L. Baird elsewhere on this site.
It is fair to say that by
the mid ‘thirties, much of the development of radio had been completed
and for many years after until the commencement of FM radio
transmissions radio design remained - technically, at least -
pretty static. Incremental improvements by the score there were, certainly, to valves, components
and user convenience, but there were also many ‘gimmicks’ of dubious value applied to receivers as selling points; and
no great technical innovation unless you count motor tuning, push-button
selection, airplane style scale presentation and other stylistic details,
none of which add to sound quality or improve reception.
All but the most luxurious British sets tended to have no more than
three or four receiving valves plus rectifiers, due to the protective
cartel of valve manufacturers entitled BVA
(British Valve Association). This alliance deliberately kept
the cost of valves high whereas in the USA, valves were in a ‘free’
market and sets commonly had a larger valve complement.