How to build a radio receiver

“That winter, however-the winter of 1921-22-it came with a rush. Soon everybody was talking, not about wireless telephony, but about radio.” – Frederick Allen “Only Yesterday”

Collage of different people using radio.
Click here to see a larger version of the picture.

Newspaper-operated radio stations in the early 1920s not only had to convince their readers about the good of radio, but they also had to instruct them on how to build and use their radio receivers. It was not until 1924 that consumers could purchase pre-built receivers, but these required the purchaser to buy the tubes separately. The ability to plug the receiver into the wall was not widely available until 1927. [1] The San Diego Evening Tribune, and the Los Angeles Times ran “how to” columns concurrent with the opening of their radio stations.[2] Los Angeles based radio magazine Radio Journal published articles on building home receiver sets. [3] Newspapers also gave away radio sets to readers who joined their radio clubs or collected a specified number of subscriptions for the newspaper.[4] The early homemade radio receivers were massive and messy; the receiver sets were often relegated to the garage or barn because the expensive batteries leaked acid onto furniture.[5] Listeners had to use headsets to hear what the radio receiver was picking up.  Historian Susan Douglas described radio listening before 1924 as “a very personal experience; the listener put on headphones and entered another world, the world of sound.”[6] Newspapers had to convince their readers’ that radio was not just a masculine activity but also a family activity. Newspapers and magazines featured photographs of families listening to radio together; showing all the family members (including baby) wearing headsets hooked up to the same receiver. The Los Angeles Examiner held a contest offering readers a monetary prize for photos of “radio families”.[7] Newspapers had to convince their readers that radio could be a purposeful part of their readers’ everyday lives.

An example of an early radio receiver circa the early 1920s.
An example of an early radio receiver circa the early 1920s.

Sources for Page

[1] Susan J. Douglas, Listening In, 69.

[2]  The San Diego Evening Tribune ran a series of articles by Harry F. Dort titled “Instructions for a Radio Telephone Receiving Set” from May 2, 1922 to May 3, 1922. The Los Angeles Times ran a series of articles by G.C. Farmer under their “Times Radio Department” masthead from April 1992 through June of 1922.

[3] See the following for an example of one of these “how to” articles: Samuel McMeen. “An Excellent Short Wave Receiver Set” Radio Journal, August 1922, 130 – 132.

[4] “Everybody’s Doing It! Why not you?” Los Angeles Examiner, April 23, 1922 ; “Radio Fans Attention!” Los Angeles Times, March 28, 1922; The Los Angeles Times and Los Angeles Examiner both advertised in the San Diego market too. “Audion Radio Sets to be Given by Los Angeles Times.” San Diego Evening Tribune, June 2, 1922; “Free! It’s Easy to Get One!” San Diego Evening Tribune, May 9, 1922.

[5] Douglas, Listening In, 69.

[6] Douglas, Listening In, 47.

[7] “$10 Prize for Best Photo of Radio Family.” Los Angeles Examiner, March 28, 1922.

This website was created for the History 502 Digital History class at California State University San Marcos in spring 2018.