Avnet-Centennial: Avnet and the Golden Age of Radio

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Avnet-Centennial: Avnet and the Golden Age of Radio

100 years ago, Charles Avnet began buying and selling surplus radio parts in a tiny shop on New York’ legendary Radio Row, the sight where later the doomed Twin Towers of the World Trade Center were erected.

by Tim Cole

 

Guglielmo Marconi

Guglielmo Marconi

In 1901, Guglielmo Marconi’s Wireless Telegraph and Signal Co. received the Morse code letter “S” transmitted to Canada from England. The first wireless signal to cross the Atlantic Ocean, it relied in part on a diode vacuum tube created by John Fleming. In 1906, Reginald Fessenden broadcast a Christmas Eve selection of music and stories to ships with receivers off the Atlantic coast. An amplifying vacuum tube, the audion tube, was invented in 1912 by Lee DeForest and was the essential component in what would come to be known as “radio,” a word with its etymological roots in “radiated signals.” Peter Jensen came up with an idea for hi-fidelity, or amplifying, speakers in 1915, calling his company Magnavox, Latin for “great voice.” By this time, people all over the country were tinkering with radio kits. By the end of the 1930s, 20 percent of all cars had factory-installed radios. Governments had established untold numbers of official stations and networks on almost every continent, their citizens even more. From this time KDKA until World War II began — the Golden Age of Radio — more than 100 million radio receivers had been sold.

Where It All Began: Welcome to Radio Row!

Avnet-Centennial - Vacuum TubeThe end of World War I ushered in the joyful noise of the Roaring Twenties and the Jazz Age, a raucous decade of flapper-fueled Charlestons, crooners’ sentimental ballads, the sizzling bands of Harlem, and the frst notes from swing and big band music pioneers like Benny Goodman and Count Basie. Into this heady atmosphere the first affordable, mass-produced consumer radios were introduced, expanding the technology beyond the realm of hobbyists. In and around America’s East Coast harbors a brisk trade in radio components blossomed. Just a few strides from the docks of New York City’s Lower Manhattan was Cortlandt Street, soon christened “Radio Row”. By the 1960s, Radio Row encompassed six blocks, its milieu an exuberant, cacophonous din of music and street sounds as vibrant as the city itself. More than 300 stores lined its streets – for four decades, the largest collection of radio and electronics stores in the world.

 

It was, as The New York Times called it, “a paradise for electronic tinkerers.” In 1966, a two-year battle royal for the soul of Cortlandt Street came to an end when the New York Supreme Court ruled that the Port of New York Authority could condemn and bulldoze the area to make way for the twin towers of the World Trade Center. The Ajax Wrecking Company demolished the first of 26 vacant buildings in the area soon thereafter. Radio Row was silenced forever.

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