Motorola Model 52L1A Tube Portable (1951)

Top-mounted controls give this Motorola portable a sleek appearance. The power/volume switch is on the left and the tuner to the right. The rotary dials are integrated into a large, brushed-steel top piece that carries the Motorola name and also anchors the folding handle. All of the lettering is lightly incised into the metal.

Thin rotary controls of this type can give a nice design effect, but I find them a bit inconvenient (a complaint I also have about my Zephyr AR-600 transistor.) There isn't much control to grab onto, and since the tuning dial connects directly to the shaft of the tuning capacitor, you have a "direct drive" tuner that's finicky to use.

The silver-colored grille is painted on, not a metal piece as you might think at first glance. Nestled in a recess in the the far upper right of the grille is a "battery saver switch." According to instructions inside the cabinet, you move the switch one way when close to a station, the other way when far from the station.

Inside are four tubes, 1R5, 1U4, 1U5, and 354. Like my Motorola 5P21N and 55L2 models, this one has an "upside down" chassis. The chassis is mounted at the top of the case, and the tubes hang upside down rather than standing upright as in most tabletops. The chassis is enclosed on all sides and it appears to be plated with copper. The radio runs either on AC or on DC (two large 1.5-volt A batteries and one 67.5-volt B battery). When running on battery power, you need to plug the AC cord into a plug on the chassis, a feature in common with my Arvin 852P portable.

This radio isn't listed in the Bunis collector guide or in The Portable Radio in American Life. The technology is definitely early 1950s, however. And since the dark green color and gold serpentine "M" logo are identical to my 1951 Motorola 51M1U, I'm going to call this a 1951 radio until somebody tells me otherwise.

Now that I've aroused your interest, I have a confession. I bought this radio just to get change! I was at a radio swap meet and happened on a set that I really wanted. The seller wouldn't take a check and couldn't make any change for the bills I had. So I dashed over to a nearby table, found this one for $5, quickly concluded the transaction, then returned with the right change to buy the first radio.

This radio has a few boo-boos, so $5 was a fair price. A small triangular chip is broken out of a bottom corner of the back. Somebody left the old batteries in the case a few decades too long. They're still present in the battery clips, with a handsome coating of rust around all the edges. And, someone amateurishly replaced a couple of capacitors. Instead of replacing them in situ, long leads were run outside the chassis and the replacements were fastened on the ledge of the battery carrier with a couple of turns of electrician's tape! Definitely something I'll need to correct before I try out this set.

©1995-2023 Philip I. Nelson, all rights reserved