Western New York Radio History
by Don Beehler: email@example.com
Radios Made In WNY Area:
When radio was young this area was home to a number of manufacturers . Some did have limited success but others faded
quickly. The radio business was especially volatile from 1925 to 1935 and immediately after World War II. The great depression changed the face
of radio from an expensive furniture piece to a more utilitarian item and the recording industry merged record players into many table and floor
models. Other firms in the area made radio parts such as the Chisholm-Ryder Company of Highland Avenue, Niagara Falls (building still standing),
which made radio whip antennas branded Premax.
Stromberg-Carlson - Rochester
Stromberg- Carlson (S-C) started as a telephone parts builder to Rochester Telephone Co. in 1894. It began making wireless parts in 1910 and
continued with headsets for the Navy. In 1916 a chief engineer was hired to support more radio related activities and by 1923 radio receiver
manufacturing had started. During the 1920’s radio products accounted for a small portion of overall sales which were dominated by telephones
and telephone equipment. Table and floor model receivers were offered in 1925 and a speaker was added by 1927. Some receiver cabinets were highly
styled and were priced as high as $1299. Additional speaker products were added including an electro dynamic speaker in a floor standing enclosure
the size of a small receiver console by 1929. The stock market crash of October 1929 severely changed the radio market but Stromberg-Carlson
weathered through much better than most radio makers. It continued to offer expensive sets into the 1930’s and operated radio station WHAM. S-C
was a higher priced set maker and sold on the basis of technical features. One of these was features was the acoustical labyrinth speaker which
was included in floor model receivers from 1936. This was a 10” compliant speaker of their manufacture mounted in a sub enclosure within the radio. The enclosure would capture the speaker back wave and project it forward to reinforce the front wave. This development would open the door to increasing speaker attention into the world of high fidelity reception. Other manufacturers started to improve speaker performance by the mid 1930’s as well. Philco had received patents for mounting speakers slanted upwards and was using drone speakers or clarifiers at this time. Floor model receivers had improved tone from 1929 to handle low frequency bass tones to the point of overemphasis or boominess which now was being controlled for better fidelity.
S-C was an early adopter of Frequency Modulation and moved on to TV after World War II. For most radio manufacturers, the main emphasis in the
late forties was television and larger and more rectangular picture tube models. With the television focus consuming some manufacturers, a
blindness for the growing interest in high fidelity reproduction of radio and recordings left open the hi-fi market. S-C did enter the component
home entertainment market with highly regarded products in 1954. General Dynamics purchased S-C in 1955 and radio /TV production stopped in 1956.
Stereo hit in 1957 and S-C stayed with radio-record players and hi-fi components until 1961. S-C bookshelf speakers continued to use the
acoustical labyrinth design. S-C is in the telephone business today.
Aragain – Niagara Falls
The Autometal Corporation advertised its Model B three dial table set during 1925 and 1926 in the Niagara Falls Gazette. One of the addresses
listed for the company is 311 Falls Street. The name Aragain is Niagara spelled backwards. In February of 1926, the Niagara Falls Gazette carried
an ad for an Aragain Radio overproduction sale. A five tube set normally priced at $150 was being sold off at the factory for $59.75. The factory
location was Erie and Eighth streets. Most old radio directories do not include listings for Aragain models.
Branston – Buffalo and Toronto
Branston Radio was especially active from 1922 through 1926 and advertised regularly in Popular Mechanics in 1923 and 1924. Several types of coils
were main items but other parts such as lightening arrestors , audio transformers and builders parts were offered. Radio kits and complete radios
were also available, some later models under the Hetrola brand. Various advertisements show the company address as 817 or 819 Main Street Buffalo.
Although not a well known name today, collectors of TRF and early superhet sets are familiar with this maker.
USL– Niagara Falls
This firm was a wet cell battery manufacturer known as U.S. Light and Heat Corporation and was advertising radio B batteries in Popular Science
Monthly in 1922. Factories were listed in Niagara Falls, NY, Niagara Falls, Ontario and Oakland, CA. Five different radio receivers from 1924
through 1927 are listed in The Radio Collectors Directory and Price Guide by Robert Grinder. Other directories show additional models including
3 consoles, the highest price of which was $95 in 1927.
The U-S-L Radio division was formed in 1926 which also offered battery chargers, radio A and B power packs, radio dry and wet batteries and arc
welders. The year 1926 was especially good for sales that were handled by 13,000 dealers and service stations throughout the country. In 1927
financial interests from Auto-Lite acquired the company which then became known as USL Battery Corporation. The previous USL logo was retained.
The name is sometimes confused with another USL from Long Island.
It appears that this facility became the headquarters for Autolite which grew very big by acquiring 25 other manufacturing sites during the
1930’s. The firm then became Prestolite and battery making ceased in the 1970’s. By the mid 80’s the masonry building on 4 acres of land was
empty. In subsequent years the City of Niagara Falls became the owner. Remedial work is expected to be completed for a new commercial owner by
the end of 2013. The facility is located at 3123 Highland Avenue near Route 31 in the city’s Northeast section where a number of manufacturers
were once located.
Colonial – Buffalo and Batavia
Colonial Radio Corporation was founded in 1924 in Long Isand City and moved eastward , first to Rochester, as it expanded in stages to Rano Street
in Buffalo by 1931. It bought the King Manufacturing Corporation plant there and continued making Silvertone radios. Colonial seemed to have a
special expertise in building good performing sets at a low cost and continued to grow. It sold radios under its own name until 1934. It had
become a major supplier to Sears and did OEM work for Firestone, Goodyear among others. Silvertone radios sold by Sears have a chassis marking
using six digits as well as a model number. Chassis with the prefix 101.XXX indicate Colonial manufacture. Sears used several other manufacturers
to support its Silvertone brand.In 1944 Sylvania Electric bought Colonial facilities in Buffalo and Batavia to add radio sets its radio tube and
lighting products marketing program.
King – Buffalo:
King Manufacturing Corporation evolved from King –Hinners and King Quality Products to make radios for Sears using the Silvertone brand as well
as the King brand. Its registered trade mark included the word Buffalo. A floor model line started about 1924 and it made a number of sets
including Neutrodynes, TRF styles and screen grid sets into 1930. Radio Retailing of November 1929 carried an advertisement showing the discount
plan to dealers for 8 and 9 tube consoles so more distribution was still a goal at this time. However the firm seems to have lost money in 1929
and the loose association of Sears ownership was lost. Colonial Radio acquired the plant late in 1930 and radio production went forward again
this time making Silvertone radios by contract. The 1929 King neutrodyne model FF (shown here on the right), marked the end of an era in radio
technologies, radio form and even for the King Company itself.(Also see Colonial.)
Federal – Buffalo
Federal Radio Corp. started as a telephone equipment firm known as Federal Telephone & Telegraph Co. in 1908. It was a consolidation of
independent telephone companies in the area. Federal started making radio products in 1921 as radio was now becoming more well known with the
general public. Federal sets had the look of complex technical instruments and indeed were priced rather high. By 1924 a floor model furniture
unit was added and floor models became exotic by 1926 at a $600 price tag. Radio station WGR was operated by Federal in 1925 and the company was
sailing along. The introduction of more advanced circuitry by RCA impacted Federal in 1926 and lowered sales caused organizational and name
changes to Federal Radio Corp. Soon the Ortho-sonic series of sets was introduced with only limited success. Ortho-sonic custom built cabinet
sets resembling wardrobes were priced as high as $1225 in 1927. The company drifted along into 1929 which seemed like a good year for radio sales.
Federal fell into receivership however in July of 1929 just a few months before the stock market crash. A very complete history of Federal was
published a few years ago by the late NFWA member Larry Babcock.
Promenette – Buffalo
Promenette Radio and Television Corp. started in 1945 on Elmwood Avenue. This was a small startup operation that produced table model broadcast
receivers series 501 and 601. A few consoles were made. O f the three principles involved, one had previous radio experience at Detrola of
Michigan and another had a coil making background with Mignon Electric of the area and Elmira. The firm lasted a short time when it was
determined that production costs were too high to make the business profitable. The operation was dissolved in December of 1946. NFWA past
president Floyd Engles has a Promenette set in his collection and has researched the history of this venture.
Lyric – North Tonawanda
Lyric was a brand name of the All American Mohawk Company which became a captive company of Wurlitzer Company of Ohio. Wurlitzer was a musical
products company that had bought a competitive pipe organ company in North Tonawanda. All American Mohawk was a combination of two Chicago radio
firms both of which were active since 1920. All American was known for Lyric audio transformers which boasted superior tone and Mohawk which had
developed single control tuning in 1925. Both firms offered table and console sets before combining. Mohawk got a contract to build radio
cabinets from Wurlitzer in 1928 and joined with All American having Wurlitzer management on the board of the new company. After March of that
year an announcement was made that Lyric would become the new brand name. There was a Lyric avenue leading to the plant but a recently built
nearby Walmart store entrance has replaced it. In 1929 Wurlitzer announced that the North Tonawanda plant would be building Lyric cabinets and
speakers. As the stock market crash was about to take place, a new radio chassis plant was about ready to open in Chicago. After the crash
Wurlitzer subsequently moved All American Mohawk operations to North Tonawanda. Lyric advertising pieces claimed that more than 80% of their products were produced by the company. Lyric radio cabinets carried the tag “product of Wurlitzer”. Lyric offered a good variety of cabinetry and plastic cases in table and floor models. Lyric seemed to be technically strong offering high tube count chasses before the depression and a 13- tube, 2-speaker set with inter-station hush in 1932. Pricing seemed to top out at $139 for the most elaborate consoles placing Lyric slightly below Philco and well below Zenith. Sales were only moderate and by 1934 All American Mohawk went bankrupt when a new Wurlitzer president took over. Radio manufacturing continued with Wurlitzer branded products. For more see Wurlitzer.
For collectors, the changing history of the All Americn Mohwak Company causes confusion about whether an All American Mohawk set was built in
Western New York. This may help. Sets that show All American Mohawk (AAM) on the dial bezel were made in Chicago. AAM sets with Lyric on the
dial bezel and carry a model number like 98 were made in Chicago. AAM sets with Lyric on the dial and use type 24A tubes were made in North
Tonawanda. The crossover point appears to be the use of screen grid tubes. AAM was quite good at marking their chasses and a check of the
chassis plate should verify point of manufacture. New sets offered in the 1930 model year were made in North Tonawanda but presumably older
production was also sold due to the stock market crash.
Sylvania – Buffalo and Batavia
Sylvania Electric went through a number of changes before making home entertainment products. With various alliances it started in 1901 making
incandescent light bulbs and then starting in the 1920’s was a major player in radio tube production. Other lighting products were added and in
1944 it bought the Colonial Radio facilities in Buffalo and Batavia. Radio and television products were being made on a big scale when General
Telephone & Electronics bought Sylvania in 1959. By 1970 production of stereo products had moved from Batavia to Smithfield, NC. Engineering
remained in Batavia where component features were added to the consumer browngoods units such as Field Effect Transistors in FM tuners, magnetic
phono cartridges in record changers and air suspension woofers and dome tweeters in speakers. One production line of BW TV and two lines of
color TV were still in Batavia at this time. The firm was aiming at reducing the market share of competing Magnavox which was marketing similar
products. Sylvania also offered a complete table and portable radio line made offshore. Nearby related facilities at this time were a TV picture
tube plant in Seneca Falls, a lighting distribution depot in West Seneca and a radio tube plant in Emporium , PA. In the 1980’s the diverse
Sylvania group was sold. The Sylvania name still appears on home entertainment products and lighting products use the name Osram.
Temple – Toronto
The Temple Corporation was a Chicago based maker of radio speakers in the late twenties and started U. S. radio manufacture in combination with
the Sleeper Corp. early in 1929. Temple sold well for a new start up and started a Canadian operation on King Street in Toronto. Production peaked
at the time of the stock market crash. The U. S. operation went bankrupt early in 1930 at which time the chief engineer moved to Toronto to save
the Canadian arm. A table model was developed in 1931 but nothing was heard of the operation by the 1932-33 sales year. Temple had a local
distributor and presumably sets , probably of stateside manufacture, were sold here. The name Temple reappeared about 1944 when a Connecticut
company building military radios switched to consumer radios at the close of the war.
Wurlitzer – North Tonawanda
Wurlitzer was a successful old musical instrument operation based in Ohio with an organ manufacturing plant in North Tonawanda still standing
today. Wurlitzer operated a number of factory stores around the country selling band instruments and had been selling such items before the civil
war. Talking pictures severely impacted the theater organ business and the company was looking for new products to manufacture and sell. Radios,
some branded Wurlitzer but probably not made by Wurlitzer, were sold in their stores during the early 1920’s. Wurlitzer bought reminants of the
defunct Eagle Radio Company of New Jersey in 1926. From 1928 through 1934 radios branded Lyric (see Lyric for more details) were made and from
1935 to 1937 the brand changed to Wurlitzer. The name was not reproduced in the traditional type style used earlier. Some Lyric sets carried over
appear to have been rebranded Wurlitzer. New Wurlitzer branded sets carried a different series of model numbers as would be expected. Both Lyric
and Wurlitzer repair data are listed in Riders service manuals. Juke boxes had become a new product in 1934 when Homer Capehart sold the concept
based on an automatic record changing mechanism to Wurlitzer management. Though Juke box sales were slow to get started, they were much better
than Wurlitzer radio sales had been. Wurlitzer became well known for reliably made juke boxes while 78-rpm records were king. Electronic organs
were also a business of Wurlitzer. The Wurlitzer building on Niagara Falls Boulevard still shows its namesake but has been subdivided into a
number of small businesses. A large illuminated Wurlitzer logo is visable atop the facility’s tower at night.
About this information:
Additional radio manufacturing activity was going on in the area. Much of this information is obscure. Its not unusual for poor documentation of
radio related manufacturers. Commercial business record keeping in general has been poor also. Little is known, for example, of the much larger
firms in Chicago that were in the radio background. Local radio makers such as Ariel of Rochester and Larkin of Buffalo have not been included for
lack of information. Similarly area radio parts manufacturers suffer the same fate. The NFWA has published radio historical information through
The Chronicle in years past. This was a membership newsletter published casually at intervals by volunteers. More complete information is
available from the Antique Wireless Association.