Apple Archive

Antique Radio Design and the Mac

- 2001.09.07

One of my hobbies, aside from working with Macintosh computers, is collecting antique radios. I have realized that both of my interests have several things in common with the other. Both Macintosh computers and antique radios both feature some interesting designs.

During the 1930s, the many designers (such as Raymond Loewy, Henry Dreyfuss, Walter Dorwin Teague, and Norman Bel Geddes) restyled common products in order to try to help them sell better in the poor economy. It wasn't just radios that started showing up with new designs, but toasters, refrigerators, and telephones, among other things. New materials were also being used, such as Bakelite ("the material of a thousand uses"), Catalin, and Plaskon.

The key phrase was "a radio in every room" - and radio manufacturers hired famous designers to come up with new cabinet designs so that people would buy their products. One of the most popular designs is known as "Art Deco," which came around after the 1925 Paris Exhibition.

New ideas started becoming popular, like the clock radio. Have one in your bedroom to wake up Philco 70to and another in the kitchen, which featured an electric outlet in the back for your coffee machine, to make your coffee in the morning.

Some radios had their cabinets designed to help the radio function better. The Stewart Warner model R 1821A has the speaker on the left side, facing inwards, for better sound. The Philco model 16L floor model has a special rear cover over the speaker portion of the cabinet, to help improve the already excellent sound. From built-in antennas that you could rotate to improve reception to "magic eye" tubes which helped you tune in a station better, there were all sorts of new gimmicks to make people want to buy a specific model of radio.

Take a look at Apple computers. Each case has been designed to look nice as well as function with the hardware design. The Quadra 700 was designed so that it draws air in through the floppy drive slot. The iMac is designed with special vent holes so that the system is kept cool without a fan. The AppleDesign team has come up with some truly unique designs, The Macintoshsuch as the original Macintosh case design, the Colour Classic, and the 20th Anniversary Macintosh. Each new model has some new feature which you "can't live without" (the handle on the original iBook, the slot loading CD-ROM drive on the iMacs).

While Macintosh computers weren't always designed by famous designers, there is a lot of thought that goes into the design. The lines on the Macintosh II aren't there for no reason. Try to picture a Mac II without the lines on the top, side, and bottom of the front. Mac IIIt would be pretty plain, boring, and unprofessional looking. Adding some simple lines really improved the look of the machine.

If the iMac had shipped in beige instead of Bondi blue, chances are that it wouldn't have sold as well.

The design of the Mac is one reason why they always manage to look good - even old models. The Quadra 630 (1995) looks just as modern as the beige G3 desktop (1997).

Antique radios always look good, also because of their design. While the components inside are not made with the latest technology, the design of the case can look great even in the most modern of rooms.

I will be mentioning several "further reading" links next week regarding design in the 1930s. In the meantime, if you are interested in looking for an antique radio, there are a couple places you can look. eBay can be a great place to buy them, but you really have to know what you are buying, and it is almost impossible to get a guarantee that a radio is working even if the seller says it is. The electronics are over 50 years old.

If you just want one to put up on a shelf to look at, eBay might be the best way to go. If you want a working radio with a guarantee, I suggest you contact someone who restores these radios, such as Mike Urban at Urban Radio & Collectibles.

More soon.

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