Bing Crosby demonstrating the 1946 Philco model 46-1201 radio / record player. Today this item is often referred to as the Bing Crosby radio.
I have an addiction to old radios, especially anything that was manufactured in the 1923-1950 period. That may seem like a long time to some folks but when you gain senior citizen status 25 years is a blink of the eye. This love of old radios is tempered by the limited display space that I have in my home. I am at the point where I am very selective when it comes to buying a new radio. Although there is always room for another ‘small’ radio I am somehow attracted to the larger models. A rough count of the full-size consoles in this house (and garage and shed) comes to about 11. Just in this room (second floor radio shack) there are 5 console radios, two of which reside in the closet. The only surprise is that my wife has not tossed the radios and me out by now.
So, it is no surprise that I enjoy attending radio flea markets. Most of the events I frequent are either in Connecticut or Massachusetts. Rhode Island has very little in the way of antique radio flea markets (although we do have a great wireless and steam museum). And you can forget about eBay. Radios on eBay usually have inflated prices and descriptions. Even if you do find something reasonable the shipping for anything bigger than an All American Five table model is very costly and hazardous (many are damaged during shipping).
This is where the Vintage Radio & Communications Museum of Connecticut (VRCMC) comes in. This is a wonderful museum that has an enormous collection of radios and other communication-related technological wonders. They also hold regular flea markets to help raise funds needed to run the museum. During the cold months the events are inside (limited space) and during warm seasons (April, June, September) they are outside (plenty of space). This year I attended the first Spring event that was held on April 13, 2021. It was a great success!
I prepared for my 1-1/2 hour trip by first contacting museum volunteer John Bayusik. John is in charge of deaccession (disposing of items that the museum has an excess of). I asked John about a particular radio model that I was interested in. It was the 1946 Philco model 46-1201, sometimes known as the Bing Crosby radio because it was so heavily advertised by Bing. The last time I went to an indoor flea market at VRCMC the museum was selling one of these radios since they already had a restored one on display. I did not buy it. Later, after finding out about some of its unique features I regretted my decision. I asked John if he would check to see if there was an excess 1201 in storage. If there was I was interested in buying it. John quickly got back to me and said that he checked and he did have one. He would show it to me when I arrived. The radio he showed me looked pretty good and I felt confident that I would be able to bring it back to life and make it look presentable. The deal was done and I am grateful to John for his assistance.
The Philco 46-1201 is a very interesting radio. Notice the finger slot in the lower front panel. Pulling on that panel makes it drop down. Then you feed a 10″ or 12″ 78 rpm record into the exposed slot. Close the door and the record begins to play. If you prefer to hear the radio just turn the function control (on the right) to the right and the radio comes on! It is similar to an early CD player. This will be another fun radio to get going. Notice the black grill cover. That is not correct. It should be a yellow basket weave pattern. I can feel the original grill under the black replacement. I will have to deal with that. Maybe the underlying grill is in good condition? Time will tell.
My next stop was to check out the vendors that were all braving the 34° “Spring” weather. It was only 8:00 AM and so most of us dressed well. There were about 20 different vendors, a nice turnout for this event. I saw quite a few quality ham radio receivers and transmitters. Hammarlund, Hallicrafters, and even Collins were represented. My focus was more on antique radios and test equipment. And yes, there was a good selection of those items too. The museum even had a few of its radios for sale. One did tempt me (1930’s, nice cabinet, complete, inexpensive) but I am just running out of room to place a console. I had to stick to my plan of downsizing (not getting rid of radios, just buying smaller ones).
The first item that I went for was a nice wooden Peerless speaker in the shape of a cathedral radio cabinet. The owner was nice enough to loan me a battery so I could test the field coil (I forget to bring leads and a battery). I could not coax any static sounds out of the speaker. Chances were that I would have to replace a coil or the entire insides. The owner asked me to make an offer, I did, and he accepted it. Two happy folks. Upon getting the speaker home I took it apart and noticed some wires were not connected. I still don’t have it going but I will repair it one way or another. The nice surprise was that I found that this is a kind of cone speaker as can be seen from the above photo. This will be a fun project.
Next I noticed an interesting piece of test equipment. I have been experimenting lately with a vintage Tektronix 564B oscilloscope that dates back to 1969. After learning a little more about oscilloscopes I realized that I needed a function generator to make the scope more useful. I was looking for a Heathkit model IG-18. I like Heathkit equipment and the IG-18 was able to generate both sine and square waves. Well, the second table I visited at the flea market had that very item. It appeared to be in nice condition. The owner said it worked and he had it priced at $35. I thought that was a little high and so I offered him $20. We settled on $30 and now I have a nice unit to complement the oscilloscope.
Just when I thought my bargain day was over I noticed something interesting. It looked like one of those typical 1940’s combination record player/radio combinations. I was attracted by the cabinet and front dial, both in pretty good condition. Upon further investigation I found that it was also a Philco from 1946, the same year the model 46-1201 was produced. This radio was a model 46-1203. It was offered at only $10! I asked the vendor if all the parts were there and he promptly turned it on its side so I could see the vertically mounted chassis with a full complement of tubes. Sold! After getting the heavy player home I found out that this was the first Philco with a fully automatic record changer. The nice cabinet wood is actually faux wood (made with a decal) that is walnut burl on the top and standard walnut on the sides. I have been working on fixing up the cabinet with stain and paint-based permanent markers. It is coming out fine. I can’t wait until I have an opportunity to begin the electrival restoration of this fine example of 1940’s technology!