Saturday, December 5, 2015

New Project: Midwest Radio 16-37

My Philco 87 is not yet finished, but the cabinet is back in the house and looking pretty good. I'm done with the lacquer, I spraypainted the inside of the cabinet brown, and I replaced the grille cloth. Over the Christmas season, I put the chassis back in so that I'm not constantly moving it around the house to keep it out of the way. I'm down to melting the wax out of the capacitor block and recapping it (which I keep putting off because I'm afraid I'll mess it up).

I have more radios than space, so I have to move one of my projects out of the house and into a workspace so that I can put my Philco 87 in its place. Because of the work that I need to do on this year's Pirate Radio Annual and the Corsette that I've been trying to build, they take priority. I really need to get that stuff done first. But I thought that while I'm pulling out the chassis and moving the cabinet, I should take some photos and start the page for the next radio: the Midwest Radio 16-37.

Midwest Radios have been high on my list of radios to pick up for years because it seems like they were somewhere between a consumer radio and a communications receiver. Often boasting 16 or 18 tubes, by tube-count alone they surpassed most communications receivers even into the '50s and '60s. Fact is, Midwest often doubled up on tubes in their circuits to make the receivers appear more robust for the "tube counters." Regardless, I've seen comments from many people who swear by the quality of their Midwest Radios (as compared to other brands from the '30s).

Another aspect of Midwest Radio that made me consider them as being somewhere in between the realm of the consumer console and the communications receiver is that they took out full-page ads in RADEX, typically either the back cover or the inside back cover. I have a few dozen issues of RADEX from 1929 to 1941, and I'd consider it to be somewhat of a hybrid between the NASWA Journal and Popular Communications (or The Spectrum Monitor). It was a great magazine that set the pattern for what future DX newsletters and magazines should be.

After occasionally searching eBay for Midwest Radios, I found a 16-37 console. One great thing about this particular radio is that it came with the console cabinet. It's strange, but Midwest was maybe the only major receiver company that regularly sold their radios without cabinets. It just seems like there should be a great story behind the Midwest Radio company because their business model was so weird: In an era when Philco, Zenith, and Crosley had their own dealerships around the country and when Hallicrafters was marketing radios to radio amateurs, Midwest Radio was mailorder only. You could buy just the receiver or also have a cabinet shipped. They proclaimed that they cut out the middleman so that you'd save money and get a better radio.

I drove about 100 miles through a snowstorm to get to this Midwest 16-37. Unlike the Philco product numbers, which don't mean anything, Midwest's tell a lot: 16 tubes, built in 1937. This was a true '30s dream receiver, 16 tubes and hardcore art deco styling. Beautiful. Appropriately, the radio was in a neighborhood of Johnstown, PA, that had decayed and needed even more restoration than the radio. I talked for a while to the seller and her friend, who could remember when the console was sitting in the house during better years and not relegated to a garage filled with junk.

I haven't seen any other Midwest Radios, but the 16-37 is a study in contrasts. From photos, the gaudy art deco front panel looks amazing. But when you actually try it, well, there's no dial glass and the tuning knob is right in the middle of a flimsy plastic dial. What would possess someone to make the tuning, of all things, so shoddy? The front panel isn't walnut; it's just metal painted to look like walnut. I thought that was slightly disappointing, but the problem is that it's thin sheet metal. For a few cents more, Midwest could've had a solid front panel.



Fortunately, the cabinet is more physically solid than the front panel, but it's relatively plain. In what I guess what the style of Midwest Radio, they used a lot of lacquer toner in the design and the radio's edges to try to "dress up" the cabinet and also to cover nail heads.


Also, I should mention that this radio cost $49.95 without the cabinet or tubes in 1937. I wonder how many young DXers saved up paper route money for one of these sets, then saved to buy the tubes, one by one, 'til he could listen to it? At a time when the Hallicrafters SX-17 cost $149.50 with a speaker, the 16-37 must have looked like a viable alternative to some.

I'm really looking forward to working on this radio and to see how everything goes because the positives and negatives are just so extreme. In some ways, this radio seems to be in the same general league as some excellent Zenith, Hallicrafters, and maybe even McMurdo-Silver radios from the time period. In other ways, the 16-37 looks more shoddy than the cheapest Philco or Crosley radio of the time. It'll be interesting to see what my opinions are by the time I finish it.



3 comments:

  1. look also on PD1GL @ QRZ.com

    Greeting from Holland

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  2. Thanks for the link, you have some great-looking radios!

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