1922 RCA Radiola Senior Radio

1922 RCA Radiola Senior radio

This is the newest addition to my vintage tube radio collection and, oddly enough, it’s also the most sentimental. It is a 1922 RCA Radiola Senior radio that originally belonged to my grandfather when he was a teenager. I can imagine him listening to his first radio broadcast on this radio. This radio followed my grandfather from house to house… first Anaheim, then Tustin and then finally Sedona. After he passed away the radio ended up in my uncle’s garage where it’s been sitting for roughly the last 35 years. My uncle, knowing my love for vintage tube radios and history, gave this beautiful radio to me. I feel very privileged that my uncle passed this down to me. I think he knows how much I’ll enjoy it and will keep it within the family.  It’ll remain in my collection, where I can enjoy it and the fond memories it brings back, until I pass away. Then, hopefully, one of my kids will inherit it and pass it along to their grandkids.

The first thing I did after inheriting this radio was I posted some pictures of the radio and asked the members of the Antique Radio group on Facebook how I could restore the Poplar box. Most everyone said the box is in great condition and shouldn’t be restored. One member suggested that I just use a high-quality wood polish to shine it up and then leave it as is.  So that’s what I did. I bought some Old English Scratch Cover for Dark Woods and gave it a nice polish. It turned out very nicely! The minor scratches and blemishes were diminished greatly by the polish as can be seen in the photos. The Poplar box is in amazing condition for being a 100 year old!  While overall the radio is in great shape cosmetically, I don’t know if it still works.  My uncle said the last time he listened to it was in the 1960s using a headset and a dry cylinder battery.  So it worked 50 or more years ago.  That’s good to know, I chuckled to myself. 

I also asked the group what speaker and external amp goes with the Radiola Senior.  One member recommended skipping the external speaker for now and just getting a pair of 1920s headphones for it. So now I am on the lookout for a refurbished and tested pair of 1920s era headphones, such as the ones made by Brandes.  Someday perhaps I will buy the matching amplifier and a speaker to go with it but that will have to wait for now. 

I don’t know very much about this radio as there isn’t a whole lot of reference material out there for it. My vintage tube radio collection and experience consists of mostly Bakelite tube radios from the 1940s and 1950s and working on All-American Five radios. These radios had a 5-tube design that was popular among U.S. radio manufacturers from at least the 1930s through the 1950s.

What I do know is that the RCA Aeriola Senior is a one-tube regenerative set. Introduced in December of 1921, it was one of the first U.S. made radios and was manufactured by Westinghouse and distributed by RCA. It featured a single WD-11 vacuum tube. This was the beginning of the Radio Revolution and, being one of the first table-top portable radios on the market, it was an expensive radio in its day costing $65 when it was first introduced. Adjusted for inflation, a new Radiola Senior would cost $1,012 today.

Broadcast radio and tube radios in the 1920s had a similar type of impact that the internet and PC clone computers had in the early 1990s.  Americans rushed to buy these early radios so that they could listen to their news and entertainment.  Like the explosive growth of web sites during the late 1990s, radio stations started popping up all across the country.  By the beginning of 1925, there were 583 radio stations across the U.S. transmitting to more than 3 million radio receivers.  Now that the internet has been around for 30 years or more, satellite radio and music streaming apps and sites like YouTube have replaced the need for radio stations.  As a result, there aren’t that many radio stations around to enjoy listening to with these old tube radios but it’s still fun collecting and restoring them.

Original instruction card inside lid of 1922 RCA RAdiola Senior radio
Original instruction card inside lid.

References:

https://www.southamptonhistory.org/post/deep-dive-exploring-the-exhibits-39
http://www.jollinger.com/radio/radios/Westinghouse/aeriola_sr/westinghouse_aeriola_sr.html
https://law.jrank.org/pages/4873/Broadcasting-History-Radio.html
https://www.in2013dollars.com/us/inflation/1922?amount=65
Aeriola Sr. Amplifier
Power supply for 1920 era battery-operated radios

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