Feast Your Eyes (Part 1) - Magnum Opus of Late 50s Motorola Radios

The designs from the latter half of the 1950s for home, industry, and art genres represent the nostalgia epicenter of American collectibles. If you had a few thousand dollars and time-warped back to the late 50s, pretty much anything you could have bought would be the best of what's collectible today from cars to fine art to musical instruments to toys to radios.

For Motorola radios, these were banner years. Motorola was a company not without engineering and financial clout back then and today. Radios of the late 50s are the smartphones, tablets, laptops of today. Everyone had one or wanted one. And, manufacturers clambered over each other for consumer mindshare. This led to some exciting products that reverberate to this day and some outlandish ideas that perhaps never should have seen the light of day.

The 56H is one of the more exciting designs from the Motorola brainchild. The "turbine" or "cone" model available in ivory, brown, turquoise, and green. Red seems like it would have been offered but I have never seen one. The gold metal cone with station numbers rotated as you tuned into radio stations. The cabinet was a hefty urea plastic which smells curiously like fish and chips when vaporized. The standard AA5 tubes were mounted on a Placir double sided circuit board and sound came out of a 4" paper cone speaker. The oval knobs were color matching and specific to this model.

The 56R was the little brother to the 56H more dimunitive for a desk top or bookshelf. Although it utilized the same heavy urea plastic, it says something completely different stylistically. It was offered in black, brown, ivory, turquoise, green and red. The design is the most angular of the three radio designs and featured a tapered cross hatched front grill design. The knobs were again unique to this model.

The 57H is a sleeker table radio that would go well on the kitchen counter. It is slightly smaller than the 56H. This design has aviation motifs with its swept back wing like front grill vanes and propeller like knobs which again are specific to this model. The 57H was available in same colors as the 56H except red.

The 5T22 "dragster" radio was a more budget level radio but with Motorola pedigree and design. The styrene based cabinet was molded in white, black, and red. Of all late 50s Moto designs, this one is the most automotive. The sleek horizontal slats that flow into the offset tuning wheel well makes the radio look like it's about to burn rubber down the drag strip.

All Motorola electronic circuits were designed as excellent receivers. Motorola used reliable components and quality manufacturing processes that were ahead of its time or at least out of the budget of its smaller competitors. Under normal conditions, Motorola radios should continue provide reliable performance that meets or exceeds others designs from the period.

On the down side, the tops of these Motorolas suffer from a tendency to develop heat cracks. The successive heating cooling cycles caused the brittle urea plastic to crack above the 50C5 amplifier tube. No other chronic issues. The filter capacitors were normally encased in an aluminum canister and survive over the years without replacement. Luckily, the knobs are usually securely mounted on split or half shafts so they didn't usually go missing. The only other issues commonly seen besides the heat crack are missing labels which were metal or metal foil cardboard applied with glue.

Prices of these radios have risen sharply over the past few years due to the Internet and a community of avid collectors. Working examples without heat cracks no missing pieces in rare colors should continue to rise in value. These models should continue to appeal to new generations as technologies evolve and become adaptable with old radios.

NEXT: Feast Your Eyes Part 2 - Magnum Opus of Late 50s Motorola Clock Radios

Back to the top