Feast Your Eyes (Part 2) - Magnum Opus of Late 50s Motorola Clock 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.
We now turn our focus to part 2 of our Motorola “Magnum Opus” gallery series- the famous (or infamous) Motorola clock radios of the late 1950’s!
While everyone wanted a radio in their family room or kitchen, another 1950’s essential was the similarly designed clock radio made for the bedroom or other parts of the house. Not only could you use your beautiful and snazzy Motorola table radio to listen in the family room, but also with Motorola’s clock radios you could wake up to your favorite music! Motorola put as much effort into designing their clock radios as their table radios, and these designs have stood the test of time as some of Motorola’s most beautiful products from the era.
At Retro Radio Farm, we have a special love for these Motorola’s and they are very popular sellers! Their variety of color and style is gaining traction with Mid Century Modern decorating trends that have become popular lately.
1957 Motorola 57CC in pink
Lets start with Motorola’s most popular and iconic model(s), the 1956 56CD and 1957CC!
These urea plastic clock radios from Motorola in the late fifties are sought after for their unique Sputnik period styling. One could even compare their radio ‘alter-ego’ to a 1959 Ford Galaxie!
They feature a left mounted speaker and color-matched volume knob (Motorola’s special ‘Golden Voice’ speaker of course), a large center color-matched tuning dial with incremental tuning, and the clock on the right. These radios featured a sleep timer, radio/alarm on/off switch and alarm set knob on the front right under the clock. These models came in different varieties- some with no date/day, some with a day indicator, and some with a day/date indicator. The sets were featured in turquoise, pink, sea green, a lighter sea green, brown and ivory urea plastic and used the typical difficult to work on Motorola “PlaCir” double sided printed circuit board chassis with the typical AA5 tubes. It is exceptionally rare to find a model without heat cracks (or other chips/cracks for that matter) as for some reason (cost cutting?) Motorola did NOT build a heat shield like other manufactures over the super hot 50C5 audio output tube. They definitely added that Motorola flair to a 1950’s household and can do the same for yours! Their sound is excellent too.
1957 Motorola 57CC in turquoise
1957 Motorola 57CC in sea green
1957 Motorola 57CC in white
1957 Motorola 57CC in brown
Next, lets take a look at the slightly smaller and less conspicuous 57CF/CS/C12 model. This clock radio features a large, easier to read clock on the left side with clock controls on either side of the clock and volume and tuning knobs on the right under the speaker/grill with long bars as the grill design. This radio is smaller and more square-ish in looks and came in a few different colors than other Motorola radios. It can be found in brown, black, white, sea green, pink, and was the only Motorola radio other than the 57R to come in a bright red. The clock also appeared with either a gold backing with black numerals or a black backing with white numerals. All of these were AA5 radios with the PlaCir circuit board. These are perhaps the most common of the Motorola clock radios but still provide that great Motorola style and sound.
1959 Model 57CF
One of Motorola’s most flashy clock radio designs and another favorite of Retro Radio Farm is the split-level 57CD/5C27 series. This radio came in a multitude of colors including a bright aqua blue, turquoise, cornflower blue, hyacinth (lavender- the most rare! No other radio of this period comes originally in this color!), mocha (darker brown) and antique white. This model reminds me of the Mid-Century Modern houses and design styles of the period, which were bi-level and sleek looking. It also speaks to the auto design trends of the period where wide and sleek was considered attractive like the 1959 Pontiac Bonneville Wide-Track. These radios are common in brown and ivory (like most tube radios) but the flashier colors like turquoise and lavender are super rare. Maybe this is because they only sold to markets of more eccentric or design conscious/trendy buyers? Here in the South they are almost impossible to find- it seems these radios are concentrated up north near where they were made. For Motorola, that is Chicago. Finding one is an exciting find! The 5C27 series might be the only Motorola clock radio to come with a heat shield – thank you Moto! As with all Motorolas, the split-level 57CD/5C27 series is made from a thin urea plastic susceptible to cracking from the heat of the amplifier tube. If you drive a 1959 Pontiac or live in a split-level MCM house, then this is the trendy Motorola clock radio for you!
Next up is the 57CS series. Available in sea green, pink, black, and white, the pink and sea green colors are the RRF favorites of this model. Featuring a rounded left mounted clock face and round, clear right mounted tuning and volume knobs set against the contrasting vertical bars that run the length of this radio, this radio also speaks in a slightly more reserved fashion to the mid-century design trends of the period. This radio reminds me of the interior dash or front end of a late 1950’s Chevrolet, just around the time when cars were transitioning from a rounded look to a more boxy/ square look.
The last great Motorola clock radio of the late 1950’s we will take a look at is the two-tone 5C23. This radio came towards the end of the era of the split-level radios and represents Motorola’s transition to much more conservative designs, moving towards more square shaped radios and abandoning the wildly colored plastics and shapes. The 5C23 series came in two-toned colors of pink and white, blue and white, and green and white. These radios featured a rounded clock and similar rounded clear tuning dial set against a square design. The featured color is on the front of the radio (pink, blue, or green) and the antique white accent color makes up the molded plastic back cover (which I think looks much better than cardboard backings).
These radios represent the most flashy and iconic designs of the late 1950’s from Motorola. After about 1960, the company transitioned to boxier designs and lost many of these color and shape options. They still retained the great tube sound and circuitry and Motorola ‘Golden Voice’ speakers until the late 1960’s when Motorola was one of the first companies to change to transistor technology. For a look at the early 1960’s Motorola tube radios, check out the first ad (from 1962) on this gallery article.
But certainly the most memorable designs are from this late 1950’s period. The represent some of the favorite radios of RRF and 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.
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.
If you are looking to add one of these iconic, classic, and timeless radios to your home or collection- RRF frequently has them in inventory but act fast as they are quick sellers! Here are the ones we have in stock currently:
MOCHA BROWN split-level 57CD:
OLIVE GREEN 5C23:
SEA GREEN 56CS:
RARE LAVENDER split-level 57CD:
Tune in next time for another great feature article from Retro Radio Farm!
Jacob Weinstein for Retro Radio Farm completed this article. Jacob is a passionate radio restorer and collector and mid-century modern enthusiast in Athens, GA . He is a music education student at The University of Georgia.