The radio set as a centerpiece

From the 1930s onwards, radio sets became a prominent part of the living room in many homes

By NEMO Science Museum

Low Loss Coils for radio reception (1900/1920) by Elka de luxeNEMO Science Museum

Until the 1920s, radios weren’t that easy to use. 

Adjustable or interchangeable coils were needed to tune them. 

Before then, radios had mainly been used in the shipping industry and by the armed forces.

Tube radio (1935) by PhilipsNEMO Science Museum

More and more consumers wanted a radio set at home, so these needed to be easy to use.

These radio sets only had a few knobs.

Radio tube (1926) by LoeweNEMO Science Museum

The radio revolution was driven by the radio tube, which amplifies radio signals.

Tube radio in wooden furniture (1929/1930) by RonofoonNEMO Science Museum

Radios were fitted with loudspeakers, so the whole family could listen to a broadcast together.

In the 1930s radio became a real mass medium.

Radio tubes produce heat, so they needed to be enclosed in radio cabinets. The manufacturers produced radio sets with beautiful wooden cabinets, which fit perfectly into the home’s interior decor. 

Tube radio (1930/1945) by AKAHNEMO Science Museum

For many people, a new radio set was extremely expensive. 

It was also a status symbol. To emphasize this, manufacturers hired designers to create beautiful radio cabinets. 

Tube radio (1931) by PhilipsNEMO Science Museum

To protect the cardboard speaker, manufacturers fitted decorative features in front of it.

Like these waves and stars – which are made of Bakelite (an early type of plastic) – on a 1931 radio set. A few years later, this became Philips’ official logo.

Self build war radio (1940/1945) by UnknownNEMO Science Museum

During World War II, some people built their own radios so that they could secretly listen to forbidden broadcasts.

This set uses empty tins of food.

Pocket radio (1962) by PanasonicNEMO Science Museum

The newly introduced transistor did not produce much heat, so 1950s radio sets were much more energy efficient.

Small, portable battery-powered radio sets became available. 

Radio (1970/1979) by PhilipsNEMO Science Museum

In the second half of the twentieth century, radio sets were increasingly made of plastic and other materials. They were shaped by numerous design trends. 

This model has a front made of aluminium and dates from the 1970s.

Radio and gramophone (1962/1976) by GrundigNEMO Science Museum

By that time, radios were everywhere. Small and affordable, these were no longer seen as status symbols.

As a result, radio cabinets gradually disappeared from people’s living rooms. This model dates from the 1970s.

Credits: Story

Object of the Month – May 2021 

Each month, NEMO Science Museum spotlights one item from its collection of 19,000 special objects. These objects, which were once part of people’s everyday lives, show us how technology changes over time. 

This story was written with the help of the Philips Museum. 

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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