I have fond memories of sitting on the shag carpet next to my grandmother’s Hi Fi stereo cabinet in upstate NY, listening to the Bee Gees’ “How Deep Is Your Love” with the wonderful crackles and hisses of the vinyl spinning ’round and ’round.
There was a painting of an autumn tree-lined road above the Hi Fi that I just thought was a masterpiece, one of the most beautiful scenes ever painted. I was 5, after all.
This scene repeated itself every time I went up there for a visit. The records may have changed through the years, but the stereo was a beacon of excitement among the sea of shag and sometimes childhood boredom on rainy days.
It wasn’t just the music; it was the stereo itself. I just thought it was so amazingly clever that this piece of furniture held the stereo and records; and to close it, you just had to slide the handy dandy cabinet door. Amazing! What a feat!
This fascination with radios and stereos would continue throughout my life. As a matter of fact, I now own a very similar Hi Fi stereo cabinet, thanks to Mark’s grandparents.
In the 80’s, my obsession turned into taking radios apart and putting them back together. My mother had given me an old stereo at some point she thought one of the speakers may had been broken and probably didn’t work anymore. Well, I was so desperate to have more than just my little tape player for my own source of music that I was going to figure out how to fix it, and by golly, I did! I have no idea how, so don’t ask or assume I am some technical wizard.
So, when I was all grown up, perusing through antique shops or garage sales, my eye was always drawn to old radios, especially ones from the 20’s and 30’s. No, wait, especially radios from the 40’s and 50’s. Okay, well, all of them.
I think I am drawn to these old radios because there was so much thought put into the design. They weren’t just additions to other entertainment in the home or portable pieces of equipment that could be easily replaced in a few years. They were the centerpieces of family entertainment until televisions were prevalent in every household, which really wasn’t until the late 50’s/early 60’s. These marvels had to look beautiful, like something that you wanted to be the centerpiece of or at least a stylish addition to the living room.
So, I give you my vintage radios, each one a different and unique personality with a unique back story (that I made up in my head)…
Esther – Circa 1930’s Philco Radio with bakelite knobs
She is from Chicago. She belonged to a very wealthy and fancy family. She sat in the corner of the room with a beautiful Tiffany lamp on top, next to the fireplace. She often played the big hits of the 1930’s during the family’s very fancy cocktail parties. Sadly, the patriarch of the family was arrested for tax evasion and a possible connection to the mob. She ran like hell (Esther has also now survived a fire at my Pinup Studio; we are so glad she is safe)!
Chet – Circa 1958 Orthophonic Hi Fi RCA Victor
He is from Manhattan. He lived in a swanky, cool pad on the Upper West Side. He belonged to a couple of newlyweds, the husband a writer and the wife an artist. They had many swanky, hip parties in their very Mid Century Modern apartment. Chet’s legs can be removed to be a tabletop stereo for those warmer months when the party can move outdoors onto the balcony. Chet’s owners got divorced in the early 70’s over an argument about the new kitchen color scheme: avocado green or mustard yellow. The ex-wife got Chet in the divorce, and just for spite, she sold him at a garage sale when she got remarried to Bob.
Betty – Circa 1965 Motorola FM Tube Radio
She is from Indiana. She sat on the dresser of a suburban housewife’s bedroom just outside of Indianapolis. She would play tunes such as “Downtown” by Petula Clark and “Help Me, Rhonda” by The Beach Boys while styling her hair and applying her makeup at her nearby vanity table. Betty’s owner stayed loyal to her until the early 1980’s when her daughter forced her to move into a condo in a senior community and modernize her decor. Betty was then donated to a church sale.
Peggy – Circa 1957 Princess Pink Airline Clock Radio
She is from Georgia. She lived in the kitchen of a family of four who loved the beach and boating. Peggy wished she could join the family on their regular water skiing outings in their 1955 Chris Craft. Peggy would play upbeat happy tunes for the family during breakfast, soap operas for the lady of the house while cleaning, and songs like “The Twist” by Chubby Checker when the parents were away and the teens were hosting after-school get- togethers. Peggy was replaced by a portable radio and tape player when the parents retired and purchased a houseboat to live on. Peggy hitchhiked north to find new digs.
These are just a few of my precious radios. More can been seen in Retrocentric photos in the vintage kitchen and retro living room!