Battery Operated Radios
of the 1920s & '30s



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Atwater-Kent, a popular
1924 battery radio

rear view of a typical
mid '30s farm radio

a typical late 40s, small
battery operated portable

Few homes in the early 1920s where wired for AC operated appliances. True, many had electric lights that were ceiling mounted but that's about the extent of the AC wiring. Electric operated radios first appeared on the market around 1926 and were promoted as *"Light Socket" operated" and showed a picture of the AC wire plugged into the ceiling's light socket. Up 'til that time all radio sets were battery operated and required more than one type of battery. There was the "A", "B" & "C" supply. While all radios did not require a "C" battery, all needed the "A & B" supply. The "A" battery was for the tube filament supply. For most radios that would operate a loud speaker (which was usually external), that supply was 6 volts and was usually provided for a standard car battery. Some radios incorporated "Dry Cell" tubes, these were mostly smaller radios with not enough power to operate a loud-speaker. These dry-cell tubes typically required a 3 volt "A" supply and was available from the standard No.6 battery. The "B" supply (B+) was the high voltage supply and varied considerably; from 22.5 - to 135 volts (multiples of 22.5 volts). The radio's tube count and the loud-speaker power output determined the high voltage supply needed. The "C" battery was used in some circuits to improve the sound quality. Battery radios of the type described above were made until about 1930.

Few radios made after 1930 were of the type described above as the switch to AC power became the "norm". Battery power radios of the ‘30s were mostly sold for rural use where electricity had not yet arrived. These radios were usually described as "Farm Radios" and were powered from what was called a “battery pack" which contained all the batteries needed to operate the radio. Radios that used such batteries had a multi-pin plug that plugged into the battery pack. These battery packs were special to particular models and not universal for other brands and models and there were many, many of these type battery packs. Such radios were made through-out the 1930s and into the ‘40s. These are commonly referred to as “Farm Radios” and were made for rural areas that were not get wired for electricity. These radios came in all types of cabinetry from console (floor models), wood table sets and portable models. More on "Farm Radios".

*advertising of some of these AC operated radios used this term as the few homes at that time that were wired for AC power, many did not have wall receptacles and a plug adaptor had to be screwed into a light socket.

More information on farm radios

Information about 1920's battery radio speakers


© C.E. Clutter


Member of:
Northwest Vintage Radio Society

Member of:
Antique Wireless Association