September 1932 Radio-Craft
[Table of Contents]
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics.
See articles from Radio-Craft,
published 1929 - 1953. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged.
New York City has forever, it seems, been the place to be for
street vending. A famously large pedestrian populace creates
an ideal venue for hacking goods of all sorts to passers-by.
A phenomenon in radio was created in the early 1930s with the
rapid advances in technology and high volume manufacturing techniques,
coupled with increasingly efficient transportation of goods
on interconnecting roadways and delivery trucks. The photos
included in this Radio-Craft magazine story illustrate the level
of enthusiasm by the public for radio. A plethora of replacement
components for repairing malfunctioning sets and for scratch-built
sets at fantastically low prices helped fuel the fire. An offer
of 'aluminum chassis' with pre-punched and drilled holes was
really surprising not because of the holes, but for the claim
of aluminum as the chassis material. I thought all the early
radio chasses were made of sheet steel, since aluminum was relatively
scarcely found in consumer products.
Radio a la Cortlandt Street!
By Robert Hertzberg
There is no city in the world that has a Radio Row comparable
to New York's Cortlandt Street. To the great army of Service
Men outside of New York City, this article is dedicated. Read
it and weep!
"Pick 'em out yourself! the prices are all
marked." This sidewalk display, at the corner of Cortlandt and
Washington Streets, is typical of New York's Radio Row.
Any set - 25 cents." This crudely crayoned, yard-square sign,
stuck on a heap of once-expensive broadcast receivers, thoroughly
exemplifies the spirit of New York's famous "Radio Row," where
there are more radio shops per square foot than anywhere on
earth. The stores themselves are not big enough to hold all
the cut-price merchandise offered to the passing crowds, so
they disgorge their surplus onto the narrow sidewalks. Here
loud-voiced barkers exhort the cash customers not to overlook
the wonderful bargains, and at the same time they keep a sharp
lookout for the light fingered gentry to whom the low prices
The whole district has a sort of carnival atmosphere, with
only the music, the kootch dancers and the freaks missing. What,
you exclaim, no music on Radio Row? Until a few years ago every
store kept two or three powerful sets running from morning to
night, but the din was so terrific that the city was forced
to pass a municipal ordinance to curb it. Where once the roar
of the nearby elevated was completely obliterated by the output
of 12-inch dynamic speakers, today the receivers in the windows
stand altogether silent. Demonstrations are given in private
rooms, with soft lights and artificial flowers lending a much
needed air of respectability.
The main axis of Radio Row is Cortlandt Street, on which
the majority of the stores are located. The two blocks between
Greenwich Street and West Street (which runs along the Hudson
River), are practically solid with radio stores, with the exception
of a few interlopers, such as beverage dispensaries, and an
empty bank. On Greenwich and Washington Streets, which cross
Cortlandt, and on Liberty Street, one block south, and Telegram
Square, one block north, are dozens of additional stores. Some
are mere holes in the wall, perhaps eight feet deep and five
feet wide; others are really fine places with balconies and
plenty of aisle space.
This is an honest-to-goodness photo of a
Washington Street sidewalk. The sign is no joke; you can take
away any set you like for one quarter, no more, no less.
Why Cortlandt Street?
Just how or why the district assumed its present identity
no one knows. A factor of undoubted importance is the location
of a string of ferry slips at the foot of Cortlandt Street,
from and toward which New Jersey bound commuters stream by the
thousand twice a day. During the week the "Street" is filled
with normal New York crowds, but on Saturday afternoons it is
well nigh impassable, for radio men from the entire metropolitan
district come down to do their weekly buying.
A casual tour from store to store soon reveals the attractions
that have crowded Radio Row for ten years. On Washington Street
between Telegram Square and Cortlandt Street the visitor finds
himself tripping over chasses by the dozen, with the most absurd
prices marked on them. Look at the heap pictured below, with
the "Any Set 25 cents" sign in plain view. Shades of departed
glory! Here we find Radiola second-harmonic superheterodynes
that once sold for $200; old three-dial Grebe's with their beautiful
workmanship; Freshman Masterpieces, with one R.F. coil missing;
Stromberg Treasure Chests, once the finest radio instrument
in existence - and others too numerous to mention.
Move along a few feet and you encounter a line-up of cabinets,
some with sets still in them. Look at that yard-long Fada, marked
$1.00! Or the Philco midget for 50 cents! Of course, everything
is sold "as is" and refunds are unknown, but who can go wrong
or a mere quarter when one socket or transformer may earn two
or five dollars in a repair on a customer's set of the same
A sidewalk display at the corner of Washington and Cortlandt
Streets draws the visitor because the apparatus looks pretty
clean. An Amrad screen-grid job for $11.50, Atwater Kent Compacts
for $2.50 and $3.95, Exide batteries that you can't even lift,
for $4.50. This is all workable apparatus, not junk.
Cabinets, with and without sets, 50 cents
and up! The center set at the bottom, marked $1.00, once sold
for about $275. No refunds; you pay your money and take your
And parts! Stuff that you thought went out of existence in
'18 finds space alongside of pentode output transformers and
make believe the boys aren't buying! You don't even have to
go inside a store to do your shopping, as in many places the
counters are right on the street, with big items like chasses
and loudspeaker baffles hanging invitingly in open sight.
A Radio Paradise
The variety of the parts available is beyond belief, and
is amazing to the man who has grown up on mere catalogs. From
the Service Man's standpoint the district is a virtual paradise,
because in it he can find pretty nearly everything that was
ever made in radio, from the year one and on. This is by no
means an exaggeration. One famous store, hardly wide enough
to accommodate two people but running three stories high, will
sell you pre-war loose couplers and electrolytic detectors in
their original factory cartons also fixed spark gaps, coherers,
oscillation transformers, and absolutely any ancient part you
can think of. Only a few steps off the busy waterfront, it is
a meeting place for radio operators from all over the world.
They come in to buy spare or replacement parts for their
private short-wave receivers, for their captains' broadcast
sets, and for the sets of friends and relatives in remote places
where an extra tube or filter condenser may save months of boredom
or loneliness. They often leave souvenirs in the form of tropical
fish, South Sea Island shells, Japanese fans, etc., which help
to dress up the window displays.
Don't get the idea from the foregoing that only obsolete
junk is on sale along Cortlandt Street. Far from it. The street
boasts a number of flouncy stores, with canopies 'n everything,
where you can see, hear and buy the very latest superhets with
two or more loudspeakers, and where you can be waited on by
polite salesmen who actually wear coats and speak English.
Auto Radio Booming
The Street attracts the ordinary radio buyer as well as the
professional worker, for here a prospective purchaser can look
over everything the market has to offer without walking more
than two blocks from the subway and "L" stations at the corner
of Cortlandt and Greenwich Streets. Some of the stores with
small fronts have considerable display space inside, where a
bewildering array of receivers ranging from tiny midgets to
big phonograph combinations awaits the customer. One firm has
just taken over an old movie theatre, and by removing the seats,
covering the screen with big posters, and building up wall and
floor displays, has created a permanent little radio show all
its own. The former balcony serves as a convenient and accessible
Radio Row's latest boom - auto radio. Service
Men are enjoying considerable business in this field. A little
thing like a fire hydrant doesn't annoy these men at all.
The latest development along Radio Row is automobile radio.
It is an inspiring sight to the visiting Service Man to see
the curbs parked solid with all kinds of automobiles, on, in,
and under which one or two men are working. A car owner can
leave his machine in front of a store in the morning and drive
it away in the afternoon with a complete radio receiver in it.
The installation men run A.C. lines out from the stores to the
curb, draping them around convenient light poles to prevent
passers-by from tripping over them. Oblivious of the curious
crowds that gather to watch them work, they dope up ignition
wiring, saw out footboards, rip out upholstery for aerials,
and snake wires around hot exhaust pipes and steering columns.
A lunch hour tour on an average Tuesday revealed more than two
dozen cars being fitted with auto radio, right on Telegram Square
and Washington and Cortlandt Streets. There must have been as
many cars on the side streets.
Taking advantage of the gathering crowds, the store owners
put big signs on the tops of the cars, giving prices and descriptions
of the auto sets they sell.
Circulars are handed out freely, and business appears to
Why go into a store. Just gather your parts
on the run. Look at these prices for aluminum chassis! 25 cents,
75 cents, 85 cents, and all cut, drilled and bent.
Special Service Station
So far the police have been obligingly tolerant of the curbside
activities, but traffic being what it is in lower New York,
some of the store owners are making other provisions for their
rapidly expanding auto-radio business. One man, now occupying
a large store, has rented an adjoining one, which he plans to
equip as a special auto-radio service station. The car owner,
instead of leaving his machine at the curb to the not-so-tender
mercies of the curious onlookers, will drive it right into the
store, where it will be fitted with a receiver in jig time.
This arrangement is the answer to the question that has perplexed
auto-radio manufacturers for so long: should auto sets be installed
by auto mechanics who have only a faint notion of what it is
all about, or by competent radio Service Men who know just what
they are doing?
It is an unusual auto mechanic who knows how the third brush
on a charging generator works; and he is even more unusual if
he can distinguish between the primary and secondary of an audio
transformer. A radio Service Man, familiar with the intricacies
of superheterodyne power systems, finds an auto ignition system
A common scene on Cortlandt Street: watching
an auto radio receiver being installed. Note the sign on the
top of the car. Plenty of interest, and plenty of business.
Posted November 2, 2015