RCA 94BP1 Tube Portable (1939)
Have you ever bought a radio as an act of mercy?
When I found this old portable in a Minnesota shop,
it didn't look promising. The dial glass appeared to
be missing, the airplane-cloth case was pretty
beat up, and it was sitting in an "as-is" room
at the back of the shop, along with piles of other stuff
that most folks would be ashamed to own. I paid the asking
price of $8 primarily to save it from the trashcan.
When I got the set home, I felt better about
my rescue. The dial glass was still there. It
had simply slipped down, and the chassis inside
looked like it had just come out of the factory.
Made in 1939, this set was manufactured during a time
when portables enjoyed a surge of popularity. New, low-voltage
tubes allowed radios to be powered by relatively
small dry batteries, rather than the heavy acid-filled
batteries that powered earlier "farm" sets. It became practical
to build a reasonably-priced portable set, which didn't
cost an arm and leg to use, and manufacturers responded
by turning out many new portables similar to this RCA.
Compared to shirtpocket transistors of the next generation,
this radio is still quite a handful. But it's not hard to
imagine its proud new owner of 1939 carrying it to the
beach or a picnic, and listening to swing music or news of
the expanding war in Europe. Who knows, maybe this very set
played historic broadcasts throughout World War II.
Although designed as a portable, this kind of radio
could also serve as a economical primary set for families
on farms that hadn't been hooked up the national power grid.
As found, the radio still had three batteries inside,
one 11-volt A Wizard battery, and a Coronado battery supplying
B and C power of 45 volts and 22.5 volts. Those old dry cells
have been flat for decades, but they're much too cool
to throw away.
The antenna in this radio appears pretty old-fashioned
in comparison to the flat loops seen in later tube radios.
In the internal photo, it is the brownish rectangle seen
to the right of the chassis. Although you can't see it
from this angle, it's nothing more than a couple of
notched wooden sticks glued into an X shape, with wire
wound around the corners of the X and simple metal
straps mounting it onto the side of the chassis. You
can tell that it's factory made, but antennas of that type
that were made by many experimenters in the early years of radio.
The dial indicator in this radio is unusual. Instead of the usual
moving pointer, it's a green plastic disc with a white stripe
painted down the middle, and connected directly to the
shaft of the tuning capacitor. It's a neat solution,
incorporating the pointer with a colored background in a single
part that's both rugged and cheap to produce.
I haven't done much to this radio, other than to
remount the dial glass, polish and re-lacquer the brass
dial bezel and RCA nameplate, and scrub up the case.
The linen covering is too far gone to salvage. Perhaps one day I'll
find matching fabric and recover the whole cabinet.