On Tuesday afternoon, I made a pilgrimage the to the National Capital Radio and Television Museum in Bowie, Maryland, USA. The museum is located in a modest and beautiful historic house on the corner of Mt. Oak and Mitchellville Roads in Bowie.
Museum Curator and volunteer, Brian Belanger, kindly gave me a private tour of the museum collections (the museum is closed on Tuesdays).
Many thanks to Brian for taking time out of his day for the tour, and for allowing me to take some photos for the SWLing Post!
The museum has a number of display rooms with radios broadly grouped by style and decade. The first room offers examples of some of the earliest radios produced–including the venerable crystal radio (below).
[Click photos to enlarge.]
Like Brian, numerous volunteers work to keep the collections in working order. This isn’t a place where vintage radios come to die; they actually come to life here.
Even examples of some of their earliest radios are on the air and can be tuned to local and international stations.
This RCA “portable” (below), housed two batteries on either side of the center faceplate. Note the ad on the wall above–a couple enjoy the RCA as they recline on a beach.
Speakers of the day were pretty amazing, too–check out this hand-painted 1927 Air Chrome Double Cone Speaker, below.
The museum also has an extensive collection of studio and off-air recordings that can be played over an AM carrier throughout the building.
By the late 1920s and early 1930s, radio manufactures built gorgeous console radios, features in the living rooms and parlors of many lucky homes.
This E.H. Scott All-Wave 23 console (above and below) sported not only twenty-threee vacuum tubes, but a large, robust internal speaker. Radio collectors consider the All-Wave 23 to be one of the finest performing radios of the vacuum-tube era.
The museum also features the Zenith 12-S-232 tabletop radio with working shuttle dial–a futuristic band-switching mechanical wonder with a stunning dial.
A number of tabletop and portable radios that span the decades have found their homes in this museum. No doubt many SWLing Post readers cut their teeth on these classics!
I love the design of the Garod Model 5A2–wow! And I’m sure many kids of the fifties wished they had an official Hopalong Cassidy AM radio (below).
The museum, of course, also houses a large number of classic televisions.
Radio stations and benefactors have also donated many items used in the industry, both in broadcast and retail.
Brian was also kind enough to take me to the building, next door, where they repair radios and store others for eventual rotation into the collection.
Museum volunteers also teach radio repair and restoration classes.
The number of classic ham radios, home brew receivers and transmitters was simply amazing. Indeed, I felt like a kid in a candy shop!
By the end of the tour, I had decided to become a member of the National Capital Radio and Television Museum. Even though I live a few states away, I like knowing that my membership funds not only help preserve vintage radios and televisions, but also provide me members-only access to many of their scanned archives. Click to view a full list of benefits for a modest $25 membership.
Again, many thanks to Brian Belanger for the amazing tour of this wonderful museum! Brian, I’ll be back next year…
Hi [t]here, I have one SX88 in minty shape and is one of a handful that came in military green on [the] front panel for evaluation by the military. This is an exceptional radio in amazing condition. I can provide pics for someone who is seriously interested. I am open to a fair offer on radio. Please, no low-ballers. We all know what [it’s] worth…
“We all know what it’s worth“–?
Well, it just so happened that my good friend (and Elmer, or ham radio guru) Mike Hansgen (K8RAT) had recently provided me with a little history lesson on the subject of the SX-88, so I did know what this rig is worth: a great deal of money.
But curiosity got the best of me, so I contacted Jeremy (a nice fellow, by the way) and asked what he was expecting to receive in exchange for his Hallicrafters SX-88? Jeremy’s reply:
“…$5,500 USD will take it. It is a very rare unit; it was… only one of about 6 [painted green]…for presentation to the military for evaluation.
That price is firm. [I] will not negotiate downward, and shipping [from Ontario, Canada] is extra.”
Osterman’s wonderfully comprehensive guide mentions that the SX-88 is a “highly regarded, rare and collectible model.” As for the rarity of the SX-88, he describes it thus: “Extremely Scarce.” The used price range he gives is from $3,500-7,000 US.
After thanking Jeremy for his response, he replied:
“It’s a lot of money for a receiver for certain, but it is a fantastic shortwave receiver as the audio that comes out of it is amazing.
It has 10 watts of audio and into a big speaker–it is second to none. The fidelity is amazing and it is the king of its kind. [For those who like] tube rigs, it is the best of its kind.
For ham purposes on AM it is amazing, and on CW I find it incredible to use.
[W]hen they built this thing they intended to pull all [the] stops out and build the best radio they could for the day with the military in mind. It was an engineering marvel for the day.
Anyway, I have played with it for years now and need to thin out the herd.”
Impressive. And while I just don’t have that kind of money to fork out for a receiver, I did ask myself the question: “If I had $5,500 to blow, would I get that Hallicrafters SX-88?”
And my answer? Yes. In fact, I would personally drive to Jeremy’s home in Ontario and bring it back; no way I’d trust it to a parcel carrier or the post office…
Click to enlarge (Source: AntiqueRadio.org)
Come on, you may say. For a guy who rarely pays over $50 for a vintage receiver, how could you possibly justify that kind of financial and time commitment–?
Well, let’s think of it this way. I remember when when I paid well over two thousand for my first laptop in college. How much is it worth now? Maybe twenty dollars–?
Many people have retirement funds in investments, some of which are in a variety of innovative companies that they actually patronize–for example, Apple or Microsoft. But how often can you find an investment that you can actually play with? One which you can turn on, tune in, work the controls, and enjoy?
Yes, I’m sure this is just the sort of justification voiced by many a vintage car collector…So, why not for a museum-worthy radio? After all, they’re not making these anymore.
I expect this Halli will not only hold its value, but will probably increase in value over time.
Ah, well; fun to ponder. My question to you: Would you buy a $5,500 vintage receiver if you had it to spare?
If your answer is yes, and you do have the money, then you might want to contact Jeremy.
I’m very curious if there are any SX-88 owners among our readership? If so, please comment with your thoughts about the ’88!
And for the rest of us, just so we can revel in the vicarious pleasure of ownership, I’ve included some additional information about the Hallicrafters SX-88 below, including two videos.
Below you’ll find a short video of my 1945 Scott Marine Radio Model SLR-M playing Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra’s jazz-infused version of “March of the Toys” from Victor Herbert’s holiday classic “Babes in Toyland.”
It’s a little holiday time-travel I cooked up for you on this great vintage rig. I’m actually playing the song via an SStran Model AMT3000 AM transmitter I built from a kit (more on that in a future post). The transmitter has been set to 1410 kHz, to which the SLR-M is tuned.
Though the microphone on my Flip Video camera makes the sound in this little recording tinny (you’ll have to trust me that, live, it’s remarkably warm and rich), it does feel a bit like radio time-travel to hear a 1940s-era song played on a 1940s era-radio. This is just how WWII servicemen might have heard this music.