Category Archives: Phonograph History

1947 Portable Phono-Radio


Seventy years ago this month, the March 1947 issue of Popular Science showed how to put together this portable radio phonograph.  It was by no means deluxe, but it was the epitome of portability.  The magazine noted that in most cases, the “portable” terminology meant only that a handle had been slapped onto the cabinet, and the set was still tethered by the need for electrical current.   But in this case, a crank-up phonograph motor and a one-tube battery powered amplifier meant that it was truly portable.

The electronics consisted of a 1D8GT tube powered by two batteries, a 1.5 volt cell for the filaments, and two 67.5 volt batteries providing 135 volts B+, although it noted that it would work with as little as 90 volts.

The magazine noted that the spring motor should be set to 80, which would result in it running at the desired 78 RPM with a record on the platter.

The radio was simply a crystal set with a fixed crystal, which could be switched in place of the phonograph’s pickup cartridge.  While the radio strength was not great, it would serve to pull in local stations, especially with an external antenna and ground of some sort.


1942 Popular Mechanics Phono Oscillator


Seventy-five years ago this month, the March 1942 issue of Popular Mechanics carried a construction article for this portable phonograph oscillator.  Mounted in the always available cigar box, the one-tube record player used a 117L7-GT tube to produce a signal that could be tuned in on any nearby radio.

The tone arm could be removed when not in use, and plugged in with two phone tip plugs to hold it in place and make the electrical connection.

Since the phono oscillator only required one tube, and didn’t need an expensive speaker or transformer, they were quite popular for playing records for those who already had a radio.

For use right next to the radio, no external antenna was required.  For a bit more range, a short piece of wire could be added.  The coil inside was wound on a one-inch piece of cardboard, and a variable condenser could be tuned to a blank spot on the dial.


Free Tape to GI’s: 1967


Fifty years ago, sending an audio “letter” by tape was one way to keep in touch with servicemen overseas, but a home tape recorder was still a relatively rarity. So in this ad in the February 1967 issue of Popular Electronics, Radio Shack made an offer to send a tape to a GI anywhere in the world. The sender just had to come into the store, which would allow use of a recorder. They would even supply a free tape, mailer, and postage.

1947 Radio-Phono Service Call

1947FebRadioMaintIf you think something untoward is happening in this picture from 70 years ago, then you’re wrong.  This radio-phono serviceman is simply making an ordinary service call, and it was important for him to bring the right parts.  This ad from Astatic reminds him that it was always best to use exact manufacturer replacement parts, and that was especially true when it came to phonograph pickup cartridges.

To keep a service call from getting out of hand, the serviceman was advised to carry in his service kit a wide variety of pickups.

The ad appeared in the February 1947 issue of Radio Maintenance.

1941 Recordgraph


Seventy-five years ago this month, the December 1941 issue of Radio News carried a detailed description of a sound recording system that, while very sophisticated for its time, was quickly superseded by magnetic recording, first on wire, and then on tape. The magazine described the sound-on-film recording system employed by the Recordgraph, shown above. This machine recorded sound on 35 mm film, but did not involve photography. Instead, the instrument was a sophisticated phonograph, mechanically carving a groove into the film, which did not have any photographic emulsion. Instead of a disc or cylinder, the grooves were cut into the film.

The great advantage of this system was the large amount of material that could be recorded. The market for the system was law enforcement, which could make sound recordings of, for example, a telephone line. The machine could be switched on automatically whenever a phone was off the hook or a radio carrier present. The film ran in a continuous loop at 20 feet per minute. The film could hold 100 tracks, meaning that only 6-1/4 feet of film were necessary for an hour of recording.

A well preserved example of the Recordgraph can be seen at this link.  A similar system, the Tefifon, was commercially produced in Europe, and can be viewed here:

The Recordgraph apparently saw at least some use by law enforcement.  The record from this 1949 New York case includes testimony describing how the device was used for telephone monitoring.

While the sound quality of this system is remarkably good, it was quickly supplanted after the war by magnetic recording, first on steel wire and then on magnetic tape.  The greatest advantage of magnetic recording was that the wire or tape could be erased and re-used indefinitely.


Merry Christmas!


Merry Christmas from!

A hundred years ago, Santa brought this family a Victrola, the only instrument that could bring the world’s greatest artists, such as Caruso or Paderewski. The ad promised that nothing would bring so much pleasure to family and friends throughout the year. Prices ranged from $10 to $400, and dealers in every city in the world would be happy to give a demonstration.

1916companion2The ad appeared in the December 14, 1916, issue of Youth’s Companion, which also carried this ad, indicating that Santa would be giving some youngsters an introduction to wireless. This ad promised that a wireless set would keep a boy busy, and arouse the inventive scientific instinct in every red-blooded American boy. Prices for a beginner’s wireless set from the Doubleday-Hill Electric Company of Pittsburgh ranged from $10 to $50.

Caruso Cantique de Noel

Caruso’s only Christmas recording was O Holy Night (Cantique de Noel).  It was recorded on February 23, 1916, and a hundred years ago, Christmas 1916. would have been the first time it was heard.

1916 Victrola

1916nov26chicagotribuneA hundred years ago today, the November 26, 1916, issue of the Chicago Tribune carried this Victrola ad.

For $79.50 (or a dollar a week until paid), you could take home the Victrola, along with 12 selections of music (6 double-sided records). It was offered on a 30 day free trial, and the seller was confident that you would want to keep it as a permanent member of the family.

It was sold by the P.A. Starck Piano Company of 210-212 S. Wabash Avenue, Chicago.

1941 College Dorm Radio


On this date seventy-five years ago, Bates Fabrics, Incorporated, ran this ad in the August 18, 1941, issue of Life Magazine to answer the question that was undoubtedly on everyone’s mind: How were college students decorating their dorm rooms? The company put together a College Board consisting of students from the outstanding universities, and they conducted a survey of over 8000 students.

97% of the respondents believed that an attractive room helped any freshman get off on the right foot. Apparently, 3% believed that a dingy room was the way to go. 86% of the students said that they preferred bedspreads with matching draperies, and a third of them already had them. Fortunately, Bates just happened to sell exactly that: matching bedspreads and draperies, and the Life ad highlighted some of their popular designs.

The Yale men shown above preferred the “Cattle Brands” design, which, according to the ad, proved an overwhelming favorite in men’s colleges. And as you can see, these Yale men also had a radio in their dorm room. The radio sitting on the desk appears to be a Zenith model 5-G-401.

This radio was Zenith’s very first portable, sporting a lineup of 1A7, 1N5, 1H5, and 1A5, in addition to a 117Z6 rectifier. The set retailed for $44.95, and could operate off either AC power, as it probably did in the Yale dorm room, or with batteries.

1941Aug18Life1On the Left Coast, the co-eds shown here preferred a “gay, sun-country pattern on homespun ground” for their bedspread and drapes. They apparently preferred to listen to phonograph records on what appears to be a wind-up non-electronic phonograph.

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1941 Chicago Talking Juke Box


Seventy-five years ago today, the Chicago Tribune, August 7, 1941, offered an interestingly candid look at the juke box industry in Chicago. Typically, a juke box would contain 20 records, and the patron put in a nickel in exchange for playing one of them.

Things changed when the K.P. Music corporation of 1057 Wilson Avenue came along with talking juke boxes known as “automatic hostesses.” Instead of twenty records, the patron had a choice of 680 records.  When the patron inserted his coins, he was connected, via leased telephone line, to a hostess at 1057 Wilson Avenue, with whom he could exchange banter, make a request, and even dedicate a particular number to his friends.

Eighteen taverns quickly signed up and junked their old jukes. This went over well with everyone, with one exception, and that was Michael J. Boyle, also known as the “Umbrella Man,” the head of the Electrical Workers’ union. He had two objections. He first argued that the new jukes were too good, and that hundreds of traditional juke boxes were in other taverns, with hundreds of dollars tied up. The new talking juke boxes would cut in too heavily, making the investment a “dead loss.”

Umbrella Mike got his name from his practice of hanging an umbrella from the bar when making a visit.  The owner of the tavern could then conveniently deposit an envelope into the umbrella so that Mike could be on his way with a minimum of fuss.

The old machines were serviced by, and more importantly, in the territory “belonging to” the Apex Cigaret Company of 4220 Lincoln Avenue. Depiste the name, Apex wasn’t in the cigarette business. Its business was juke boxes.

The newspaper identified Joseph “Gimp” Mahoney as the nominal president of Apex, “but Eddie Vogel, old time Capone gangster, is known as the power behind it. Those gentlemen’s relations with Mr. Boyle are cordial.”

To express their displeasure, the union’s business agent, along with about a half dozen members of the union, showed up at the 18 bars in question. They carried signs announcing that the talking jukes were “unfair to organized labor.” After picketing for a bit, the business agent would slip inside and unplug the machine. He also left some advice to the owners that “it was in their best interests that the boxes remain silent.”

Eleven of the 18 taverns took the advice, but at seven others, “the tavern owners showed the agent the door and the talking jukes went on talking.”

The newspaper reporter visited the talking jukebox studio and described the operation. The “hostess,” Miss Mickie Martin, shown above at the microphone, would be signaled by a light that some business was coming in from one of the taverns. Another indicator would show how many nickels had been fed in. Confirming that payment had been received, she would flip the switch and say sweetly, “hello, what can I do for you?”

The reporter noted that many voices would come over the wire, both old and new. “Some were those of strangers, some those of old friends who’d built up an acquaintance thru many nickels with Mickie.”

In one case, the connection was interrupted, and Mickie advised that they were having trouble at that establishment, since the business agent was there.

The firm’s attorney was dispatched to the bar in question, but by the time he arrived, the agent had pulled the plug and left the scene. The attorney lamented, “I’ve got 17 cousins on the police force, but what can you do when you run up against this kind of stuff?”

And not insignificantly, the old juke boxes were serviced by members of his own union.

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