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Radio’s Bits and Pieces

Crystal sets had limited range and volume because radio signals alone powered them. At first, radio fans could only hear radio through earphones. Listeners would sometimes put a set of earphones in a bowl to amplify the sound, so more people could listen to the radio at the same time. Even as radio was maturing, receiving sets remained a collection of component parts. Besides the radio receiver, listeners needed batteries, tubes, and antenna wires.

In a red and white checkered design, the ad depicts various loudspeakers, headphones and transformers.

Brandes (Westinghouse) Advertisement, Radio News of Canada 4, no.5 (November 1925): pp 86. La Société Québécoise des Collectionneurs de Radios Anciens (SQCRA).


The use of vacuum tubes to amplify signals led to more powerful devices. Radio users could ‘listen in’ and hear voices and sounds from further away. Unfortunately, radio relied on batteries that often leaked. Radio assembly and listening were often confined to attics, barns, and garages.

The large speaker horn, as seen from the front, is attached to a small but heavy, square metal base.

Loudspeaker, Magnavox (1922), United States, 78 x 46 x 46cm. Musée des ondes Emile Berliner.

Proper speakers could facilitate an increased signal strength to amplify sound. At first, radio borrowed speaker horns from gramophones. From 1927 on, electro-magnetic cone speakers reduced distortion through the amplification of sound. This made radio listening more enjoyable. Advancements were also made in vacuum tube technology. Canadian Edward S. Rogers produced battery-less radios after contributing in the development of a tube that modified the alternating current from the electrical grid into direct current used by radios. Rogers radios broadcast with less disturbing humming than older radio technology. Electricity in the home was supplied only through light. This meant that listeners had to plug their radio into a light socket, as seen in the ad below. Rogers marketed his “battery-less” radios in 1925. Good sounding radio receivers found their place in well-designed, wooden cabinets. The radio became a handsome, modern appliance. Families listened together to radio programs at home in the parlour!

The ad in black, white and red shows a man and women listening to a radio in the top half to the left . On the right, a man beside a radio reaches up to plug the wire into a light socket. In the middle of the page, a receiving set figures more prominently. At the bottom of the page, two more radios are shown under some text.

“Rogers Batteryless Radio Receiving Sets,” Canadian Homes and Gardens (November 1925), Toronto, Ontario. Musée des ondes Emile Berliner.

Tube radios were expensive and prestigious items in the households. Like cars and other new appliances, they needed maintenance. First, owners had to check batteries frequently to replace them as required. They also replaced damaged or burnt-out vacuum tubes. People could visit the local pharmacy to test their equipment. The Mercury tube tester, seen below, shows the technology used to test the radio tubes to keep radios running.

The tube tester is oriented like a chair: the green bottom section is flat and contains many receptacles to test tubes. The back is white and has a horizontal display for advertisement.

Tube Tester, Mercury 202-203 (1953), United States, 66 x 64 x 60cm. Musée des ondes Emile Berliner.


A grey and black small hard paper card with text and a drawing in the centre of a cabinet like radio. Text is in French.

Business Card, Radio Service  Compagnie Rimouski (August 1939). Musée des ondes Emile Berliner.


The radio was a new electronic technology in the home. Listeners relied on the guidance of knowledgeable experts. Companies like the Radio Service Company in Rimouski advertised radio servicing. They also repaired mechanical components of bicycles, motors, and other electrical appliances. To maintain radios, the industry printed service manuals for individual models. A host of booklets and magazines were also published to assist in the maintenance of radios. Newspapers, too, published columns on radio repair from their experts.

Book cover in beige and dark red. The small illustration below the title shows a man working on a radio.

“Allied’s Radio Builders Handbook” (1941): cover, Chicago, Illinois. Musée des ondes Emile Berliner.

The black and white print shows the RCA logo, lists the company and models and purpose of the page, two photographs of the radio models and at the bottom of the page the electrical specifications.

RCA Victor: Models A1 and A2, RCA Victor Service Manual: pp 3. Musée des ondes Emile Berliner.