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Tuned to the Past : In the Days Before the Walkman, the Air King and Sparton Caught Our Ears and Eyes

November 22, 1987

AT THE HEIGHT of radio's Golden Age, the wooden consoles that had become fa miliar fixtures in homes across America underwent a startling transformation. The plastics revolution gave manufacturers an inexpensive medium for creating table radios with designs as fresh--and sometimes as whimsical--as the programs that came through their four-inch speakers. Between the late 1920s and early '40s, 600 companies enticed us to put a radio in every room, hiring noted industrial designers such as Raymond Loewy to create streamlined Art Moderne shapes for the receivers that brought us nightly reports of the war in Europe. To keep us buying, they emblazoned our five-tube sets with the Lone Ranger, Mickey Mouse and the Dionne quintuplets and shaped them into globes, pianos and beer bottles. By 1950, 95 % of the table models were made of plastic compounds. Assembled here: a sampling of memorable designs from "Radios: The Golden Age," by Philip Collins, published this week by Chronicle Books.

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