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A Little Red Radio: The AA4, Perhaps?

I wrote in the Jan. 3 RW about “Remembering the All-American Five,” which you can read under the Milestones tab at

Writing that article brought to mind another memory.

Many radio stalwarts begin personal sagas with a line like, “It all started at a 5,000-watt daytimer in Lower Loc de Flambeau, Wisconsin.” But for me it started even earlier, before the tower and the power, with a little red radio.

When I was 4, my sister Leila graduated from Forest Park High School, age 17, a classmate of Spiro Agnew. Almost overnight she went from being a student with an allowance of 25 cents per week to a woman with a good job as a telephone operator.

With her first paycheck, after paying her tuition to law school, she bought many of the things a teenage girl would want including a little red art deco Airline radio for her room. Airline was the radio appliance brand of Montgomery-Ward and most of these units were made for it by RCA.


No sooner had she brought it home and sound came out of it did I notice the radio. Worse, I was captivated. Like a phantom, I confiscated that radio when no one was looking and took it to my room.

Obviously, Leila noticed within minutes and complained to my mother that “little Charles has taken my new radio.”

My mom had had six normal children by the time she had me at 47; she was tired of raising children, especially a precocious, fledging tech geek with kleptomaniac tendencies.

She turned my rearing over to my brothers and sisters who immediately set me out in traffic; but that’s another story.

My mom’s response to the purloining of the radio: “If it will keep him out of our hair, just let him have it and I’ll make it up to you.”

Within hours of zooming up and down the dial for the first time, I decided that whatever it took to make that voice come out of this box, I wanted to be part of it. The rest is history, or at least my history.


That radio and I became inseparable. It was on whenever I was in the bedroom. Actually it was mine all the way through high school, when it gave up its life, or at least the bare chassis, to become an IF strip in a shortwave project.

In my maudlin seniority, I have pined a bit for the comfort of that little red companion and started watching eBay for that model. Eureka and serendipity, a few weeks back and not only the same model but a radio in the exact same fire-engine red as mine.

Now it’s here.

Worse for its travels through time, the radio needed a new line cord, main multi-section electrolytic and one tube. Amazingly it appears that all were originals; only one of these was bad. The volume control needed an overnight bath in cleaner but is usable now.

This radio was meant to be even more cost-effective and minimal than the AA5 and had only four tubes — the AA4, perhaps?

With only one real RF tube and no AGC, sensitivity is poor. Even after peaking up, this one is as deaf as the original that sat beside my bed in Baltimore in 1951. At night I was lucky to get maybe four stations, WCAO, WCBM, WBAL and WFBR. Occasionally if I turned up the volume, I could get the Class IV stations that were running 250 watts, WITH and WWIN.

On the radio in the early 1950s, the networks already were starting to scale down in the shadow of the coming of TV. Still, the “Lux Radio Theater” and the City Service music program were on and exciting listening. “Suspense” and Gene Autry were Sunday favorites.

Neither the times nor the programs of that era will come out of this latest radio’s speaker, but somehow, Rush seems to have more panache now when I turn him on here in Hartford.