Friday, July 16, 2010

Jumbo Radio!

Today we can make a radio 10,000 times smaller than a human hair. It's ten carbon atoms wide and only a few hundred nanometers long. But it's hard to make an advertisement for a radio you cant even see. (How do you market a virtually intangible product?) In advertising bigger is better so it is unsurprising that Philco made a series of huge radios in the 1930s to advertise their product.
This succession of radio were all over-sized replicas of their home models. In that era radios were already furniture-sized.  So after that over-sized is already the size of a car. Or bigger as you see above. Philco itself was huge at the time. I'll quote from
"...At one point in the fall, Philco had over 140,000 unfilled orders for Baby Grand sets. Philco would eventually sell over 343,000 of the Model 20 receivers – becoming the nation’s number one radio manufacturer in the process by the end of 1930"
It's completely appropriate then that they used the biggest radios to advertise the biggest radio manufacturer in America.  That Model 20 mentioned above was about the size of a French horn. It was portable, today it'd be considered huge and ungainly but at the time it was very impressive. The jumbo sets were the exact opposite, they were utterly non-portable. Hard to make, hard to transport, hard to assemble Philco only made a few but the exact number is not known.
These jumbo sets that traveled the country attracting attention to their dealers. the earliest one I find noted was displayed In Syracuse, NY at a plaza off Warren street in October of 1929. They made one about 12 feet tall to display at the Lipton Outboard Regatta, a boat race in Philadelphia, their home town. They made another which they posed at Denver University as a publicity photo with Denver University football team, The Pioneers. that unit was even bigger at about 16 feet tall, 8 feet wide and 5 feet deep.  Another was 16 feet tall and 8 feet wide, weighing in at 1,980 lbs. There was one displayed at Finkenberg’s in  in June of 1931. That was at 2279 third ave in New York City. The Boone radio shop in Charleston had one shipped from Indianapolis for a charity drive in April of 1930. Another 16 footer visited the Sigma Theatre in Dayton Ohio to advertise a small local chain of retailers, the M.D. Larkin Company. A leafler described the innards of the unit:
"Inside this huge cabinet is a Philco 95 receiver which picks up programs and rebroadcasts them through amplifiers placed behind the speaker panel of the large set. Records are also played so that a continuous program issues forth to entertain listeners."
Another leaflet claimed the unit could clearly be heard half a mile away. These units were 2:1 and 2.5:1 scale versions of their High Boy models straight out of the catalog. They were all designed by Edward L. Combs, who'd been designing their cabinets since1929. Other Philcos were designed by Normal Bel Geddes, but the cathedral design and the High Boy were both Combs. He also designed the including the 30, 41, and 96 highboy, the 296 lowboy radio-phonograph. You can identify these units by the old style lightning bolt Philco logo. Around 1932 they switched to block lettering. More here.