THE AWA JOURNAL / SUMMER 2013 

This is my article on the Privat-ear radio as it appeared in the Summer 2013 edition of the international AWA Journal...

 

 

 

  

As far as I can tell, this is the first time
the story of the Privat-ear pocket radio
has been told. It was manufactured in
the USA and released by Electronics Systems
Corporation in 1949 (1a, b, c). Although small
enough to fit in a shirt pocket this is not a transistor
radio; it owes its
small size to the use of
subminiature tubes developed
during WWII
and was designed as an
earphone-only model.
It predates the first
commercially available
transistor radio by five
years and was an innovative,
but ultimately
doomed, attempt at
realizing an American
cultural objective; the
creation of a portable
shirt pocket radio with
mass appeal.
The Privat-ear was
invented by Frank L.
Stuck, a minister, of
Lakeland Florida.
Stuck might have developed
his keen interest
in electronics while attending college and
was most probably a part-time radio enthusiast
and hobbyist. He may have been inspired
from an early age by the popular writings of
science fiction author, futurist and ‘promoter
of all things radio’ Hugo Gernsback.
Gernsback founded numerous technical
and radio themed magazines including the
USA’s first radio magazine, Modern
Electrics, in 1908. His popular magazines
were aimed at electronics hobbyists and
through them he promoted, amongst other
things, the idea of ‘pocket wireless apparatus.’
At that time only crystal sets could be
built pocket sized and the limited selection of
portable radios available were housed in
large, heavy briefcases. Neither option was
particularly appealing to the average American
consumer.
In 1929 the stock market crashed bringing
on the Great Depression. This resulted
in thousands of banks
closing and millions
of Americans losing
their jobs. Times were
tough but over the
next decade Reverend
Stuck managed to find
ministry positions in
three West Virginia
towns. Radio became
a source of comfort
and warmth to struggling
families who
gathered in the
evening to listen to
popular broadcasts.
xxThe ‘fireside chats’
of newly elected President
Roosevelt were
particularly reassuring
and the emergence of
new shows, radio
stars, sports broadcasts
and the like served to increase the radio audience.
The popularity of radio exploded and
by 1937 it is estimated that almost 23 million
American families owned a set. Radio had
taken on a more intimate quality and was
now almost indispensable to a family’s emotional
and social wellbeing.
In 1939 America’s love affair with the airwaves
continued to bloom and the genesis of
the shirt pocket radio came one step closer
with the development of miniature tubes by
RCA and smaller ‘B’ batteries by Eveready.
This enabled further reduction in the size of
portable radios; one example being the popular
RCA Victor BP10, marketed in 1940
CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND • [email protected]
BY JAMES J . BUTTERS
THE PRIVAT-EAR SHIRT POCKET RADIO
Advertisement for the RCA Victor BP10.
SUMMER 2013 / THE AWA JOURNAL 45
and measuring just 8.85" 5 3" 5 3.6".
In 1941 America entered WWII and its
consumer electronics industry was quickly
directed towards churning out supplies and
equipment for the military. This concentrated
effort led to innovations such as the printed
circuit board and the development of tiny
subminiature tubes by Raytheon, making further
miniaturization of radios possible. At the
close of the war defense contractor Raytheon
looked at various projects for maintaining the
company’s profitability during peacetime.
One of the proposals put forward was to
build a shirt pocket radio. Raytheon implemented
this idea by purchasing the Belmont
Radio Corporation and then assigning one of
their own engineers the responsibility of designing
the set. The earphone only made its
debut in December 1945. It measured 6.25"
5 3" 5 0.75" and incorporated the newly designed
subminiature tubes (1g). It was the first
commercially available shirt pocket radio;
however it lacked mass appeal.
Sadly, total sales reached only 5000 at
most (1h). However, the Belmont Boulevard
was a cutting-edge, visionary device. A year
earlier Gernsback had stated that “pocket and
vest pocket radios fill a real demand” and he
predicted that “before long many millions of
these radios will be built annually.” He was
right, but his predictions were too early for
the Belmont Boulevard.
Its suave design appeals to us now but it
seems that in 1945 it was simply too far
ahead of its time for the American consumer
to appreciate. A range of factors contributed
to its failure but probable reasons include its
high purchase price ($65.00), the need for
frequent battery changes, its merely average
audio performance and its similarity in appearance
to hearing aids of that era. This particularly
negative association with the ‘hard
of hearing’ was reinforced by having to use
an earphone. It was just not fashionable.
Meanwhile Reverend Stuck, who had
moved his family to Lakeland, Florida,
clearly still believed that a radio similar to
the Belmont Boulevard would be a viable enterprise.
His patent for the radio that became
the Privat-ear was filed on May 8th 1947 (1c,
i). Production of the Privat-ear began some
time after and the set appeared in the October
1949 edition of Mechanix Illustrated. It employed
a two-tube reflex circuit and measured
just 5.75" 5 2.25" 5 0.9".
Sadly, Stuck had passed away two months
earlier while addressing a meeting in Bristol,
Virginia. His speech notes included a reference
to Admiral Byrd, the famed explorer
and American Naval Officer (1e). Perhaps
Reverend Stuck used him as a source of in-
The sleek, but ill-fated, Belmont Boulevard.
(Detail from an advertisement.)
Privat-ear ads tended to be in comic book
style.
46 THE AWA JOURNAL / SUMMER 2013
spiration, or maybe he
just wanted to sell him
some radios!
By December 1950,
Electronics Systems Corporation
had either
changed its name or the
company had been sold
and now traded as Privatear
Corporation. The address
of the company had
also changed from 112
West 18th Street, Kansas
City, to 2016 Bronxdale
Avenue, New York.
The Privat-ear was
sold from late 1949 until
at least April 24 1954 and ranged in price
from $19.95 to $28.95. Privat-ear radios
were sold in drugstores, radio shops, hearing
aid shops, department stores, and even
at Abercrombie & Fitch! Some were sold to
the Navy.
Interestingly, in 1954 Privat-ear Corp. ran
an ad in the New Yorker magazine indicating
that its radio could be purchased either at famous
Chicago retailer Von Lengerke & Antoine
or alternatively a check or money order
could be sent to ‘Privat-ear Corporation
Blacksburg Virginia a Division of the Instrument
Corporation of America.’ Sounds very
grand and it was also the last known change
of address for the company (10).
Several other earphone-only pocket radios
using subminiature tubes appeared on the
market during this time. They included the
kit radio advertised for $6.99 in the July 1948
edition of Popular Science (1j). The threetube
‘Micro Pocket Radio’ was featured
alongside the Privat-ear in the October 1949
edition of Popular Mechanics (1k). Also interesting
is the two-tube radio from Chicago,
circa 1950. The Privat-ear was the only one
of these radios to be encumbered by a large
telescoping antenna.
In 1951 Hugo Gernsback’s magazine
Radio Electronics assessed the Privat-ear
and it was said to “provide sensitive reception
with adequate volume”—even “pulling
in stations from as much as 50 miles away.”
Author Michael Brian Schiffer called the
Privat-ear “the most
stylish and popular set
of this genre” and “a
modest success.”
xxThe Privat-ear was a
good performer, it received
a favorable review
in Gernsback’s
magazine and was sold
for five years, yet it could
not bridge the gap between
mildly successful niche market curio
and lucrative mass market appeal. Arguments
against it include the use of an awkward,
protruding antenna and an earplug that
implied the same negative connotations encountered
by the Belmont Boulevard; an
image of unhealthy infirmity was not one that
the makers wanted to convey.
But the final nail in the coffin was about to
be hammered. The birth of the transistor
radio in 1954 ushered in a new era in micro
electronics, and the little Privat-ear became
just another electronic gadget that didn’t
quite make it. Yet it does have its place in history
as one of the worlds first commercially
available shirt pocket radios.
One Privat-ear pocket radio in my collection,
pictured with this article, was originally
sold on the 11th of February 1952 at the
Navy Exchange, U.S. Naval Training Center,
San Diego California. I think the Navy might
have purchased a quantity of these radios because
their functionality would have suited
the cramped living conditions aboard ships.
The personal nature of the radio meant that
the chance of disturbing sleeping bunk mates
was minimized. Of course the radio would
have worked at its best while the ship was in
dock. Privat-ear may in fact have earmarked
the Navy as a potential cash cow early on for
those very reasons.
Although this radio was sold in 1952 I
believe that it was manufactured a bit earlier
than that, possibly in 1950 or even as
Privat-ear’s two subminiature
tubes can be
seen near the bottom of
the picture to the left of
the output transformer.
SUMMER 2013 / THE AWA JOURNAL 47
early as 1949, partly because
it does not have the
patent number stamped on
the case. Other examples,
probably manufactured
after September 5th, 1950,
have ‘U.S. Pat. No.
2521423’ stamped on the
case; mine has ‘Pat Pend’.
Nor does it have the New
York or Blacksburg Virginia
addresses molded
into the back of the case as
pointed out by fellow collector
Mike Schultz on his
excellent Reverse Time
website: www.uv201.com.
After cleaning up and photographing my
Privat-ear I was curious about whether it actually
worked. Rummaging around in the
garage I found what I was looking for; a relatively
new 22.5v ‘B’ battery. I carefully
placed it in the battery holder together with
a couple of AA batteries. Actually I was
quite nervous, would it really work after all
this time? Notwithstanding it had probably
been 60 years or so since it had last been
fired up.
The batteries fit in quite snugly and I was
a bit worried that the plastic case might crack
at the bottom, but it held firm. I placed the
somewhat uncomfortable earplug in my ear
and slid the telescopic antenna all the way
out engaging the simple internal on/off
arrangement. I turned the volume control up
and instantly a glorious wave of distortionfree
musical joy swept over me.
I wanted to jump up and down and run
onto my balcony screaming “It’s alive!!” at
the top of my voice, just like Dr. Frankenstein
(but I didn’t!). I was really surprised at
how well it worked and needless to say I had
a big grin on my face for the rest of the day.
The plastic cabinet of this radio is hard, inflexible
and light. When you flick it makes a
‘tink tink’ sound as opposed to the cabinets
of later radios that when dropped make a dull,
muted ‘thud’. It is also highly reflective.
Collector Mike Schultz believes that it is
some sort of polystyrene plastic. That makes
sense as this type of plastic was in common
use during the 1940s and
early 1950s. A polystyrene
plastic that went
by the name of ‘Lustron’
was supposedly high gloss
and the cabinet of this
radio might very well be
made from it.
xxThese radios invariably
suffer from melt marks
caused, over time, by the
vinyl insulation on the earphone wiring coming
into contact with the plastic cabinet.
These marks can be sanded and polished out
but it is a long, fussy process and hard to perfect.
To avoid this it is best to store the sets
with the wires wrapped in a protective covering,
away from the body of the radio. come
from Privat-ear.
The Privat-ear was made in three colors
that I know of: maroon, red and white. White
seems to be the rarest color.
REFERENCES
Ref 1a American Farm Youth, Volumes
15–16 1949
Ref 1b Mechanix Illustrated, Oct 1949
Ref 1c United States Patent Office Patent
No 2521423
Ref 1d 1920 United States Federal Census
Ref 1e Kingsport Times, 23rd of Aug 1949
Ref 1f Beckley Post Herald, 24th of Aug
1949
Ref 1g Popular Science, Feb 1946
Ref 1h The Portable Radio in American
Life,Michael Brian
Ref 1i 1947 Lakeland Florida, City Directory
Ref 1j Popular Science, July 1948
Ref 1k Popular Mechanics, Oct 1949
You’ll find much more information about
the Privat-ear on the author’s website at
www.jamesbutters.com/privatear.htm.
This Privat-ear from the
author’s collection was
originally sold at a U.S.
Navy exchange in 1952.
44 THE AWA JOURNAL / SUMMER 2013
As far as I can tell, this is the first time
the story of the Privat-ear pocket radio
has been told. It was manufactured in
the USA and released by Electronics Systems
Corporation in 1949 (1a, b, c). Although small
enough to fit in a shirt pocket this is not a transistor
radio; it owes its
small size to the use of
subminiature tubes developed
during WWII
and was designed as an
earphone-only model.
It predates the first
commercially available
transistor radio by five
years and was an innovative,
but ultimately
doomed, attempt at
realizing an American
cultural objective; the
creation of a portable
shirt pocket radio with
mass appeal.
The Privat-ear was
invented by Frank L.
Stuck, a minister, of
Lakeland Florida.
Stuck might have developed
his keen interest
in electronics while attending college and
was most probably a part-time radio enthusiast
and hobbyist. He may have been inspired
from an early age by the popular writings of
science fiction author, futurist and ‘promoter
of all things radio’ Hugo Gernsback.
Gernsback founded numerous technical
and radio themed magazines including the
USA’s first radio magazine, Modern
Electrics, in 1908. His popular magazines
were aimed at electronics hobbyists and
through them he promoted, amongst other
things, the idea of ‘pocket wireless apparatus.’
At that time only crystal sets could be
built pocket sized and the limited selection of
portable radios available were housed in
large, heavy briefcases. Neither option was
particularly appealing to the average American
consumer.
In 1929 the stock market crashed bringing
on the Great Depression. This resulted
in thousands of banks
closing and millions
of Americans losing
their jobs. Times were
tough but over the
next decade Reverend
Stuck managed to find
ministry positions in
three West Virginia
towns. Radio became
a source of comfort
and warmth to struggling
families who
gathered in the
evening to listen to
popular broadcasts.
xxThe ‘fireside chats’
of newly elected President
Roosevelt were
particularly reassuring
and the emergence of
new shows, radio
stars, sports broadcasts
and the like served to increase the radio audience.
The popularity of radio exploded and
by 1937 it is estimated that almost 23 million
American families owned a set. Radio had
taken on a more intimate quality and was
now almost indispensable to a family’s emotional
and social wellbeing.
In 1939 America’s love affair with the airwaves
continued to bloom and the genesis of
the shirt pocket radio came one step closer
with the development of miniature tubes by
RCA and smaller ‘B’ batteries by Eveready.
This enabled further reduction in the size of
portable radios; one example being the popular
RCA Victor BP10, marketed in 1940
CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND • [email protected]
BY JAMES J . BUTTERS
THE PRIVAT-EAR SHIRT POCKET RADIO
Advertisement for the RCA Victor BP10.
SUMMER 2013 / THE AWA JOURNAL 45
and measuring just 8.85" 5 3" 5 3.6".
In 1941 America entered WWII and its
consumer electronics industry was quickly
directed towards churning out supplies and
equipment for the military. This concentrated
effort led to innovations such as the printed
circuit board and the development of tiny
subminiature tubes by Raytheon, making further
miniaturization of radios possible. At the
close of the war defense contractor Raytheon
looked at various projects for maintaining the
company’s profitability during peacetime.
One of the proposals put forward was to
build a shirt pocket radio. Raytheon implemented
this idea by purchasing the Belmont
Radio Corporation and then assigning one of
their own engineers the responsibility of designing
the set. The earphone only made its
debut in December 1945. It measured 6.25"
5 3" 5 0.75" and incorporated the newly designed
subminiature tubes (1g). It was the first
commercially available shirt pocket radio;
however it lacked mass appeal.
Sadly, total sales reached only 5000 at
most (1h). However, the Belmont Boulevard
was a cutting-edge, visionary device. A year
earlier Gernsback had stated that “pocket and
vest pocket radios fill a real demand” and he
predicted that “before long many millions of
these radios will be built annually.” He was
right, but his predictions were too early for
the Belmont Boulevard.
Its suave design appeals to us now but it
seems that in 1945 it was simply too far
ahead of its time for the American consumer
to appreciate. A range of factors contributed
to its failure but probable reasons include its
high purchase price ($65.00), the need for
frequent battery changes, its merely average
audio performance and its similarity in appearance
to hearing aids of that era. This particularly
negative association with the ‘hard
of hearing’ was reinforced by having to use
an earphone. It was just not fashionable.
Meanwhile Reverend Stuck, who had
moved his family to Lakeland, Florida,
clearly still believed that a radio similar to
the Belmont Boulevard would be a viable enterprise.
His patent for the radio that became
the Privat-ear was filed on May 8th 1947 (1c,
i). Production of the Privat-ear began some
time after and the set appeared in the October
1949 edition of Mechanix Illustrated. It employed
a two-tube reflex circuit and measured
just 5.75" 5 2.25" 5 0.9".
Sadly, Stuck had passed away two months
earlier while addressing a meeting in Bristol,
Virginia. His speech notes included a reference
to Admiral Byrd, the famed explorer
and American Naval Officer (1e). Perhaps
Reverend Stuck used him as a source of in-
The sleek, but ill-fated, Belmont Boulevard.
(Detail from an advertisement.)
Privat-ear ads tended to be in comic book
style.
46 THE AWA JOURNAL / SUMMER 2013
spiration, or maybe he
just wanted to sell him
some radios!
By December 1950,
Electronics Systems Corporation
had either
changed its name or the
company had been sold
and now traded as Privatear
Corporation. The address
of the company had
also changed from 112
West 18th Street, Kansas
City, to 2016 Bronxdale
Avenue, New York.
The Privat-ear was
sold from late 1949 until
at least April 24 1954 and ranged in price
from $19.95 to $28.95. Privat-ear radios
were sold in drugstores, radio shops, hearing
aid shops, department stores, and even
at Abercrombie & Fitch! Some were sold to
the Navy.
Interestingly, in 1954 Privat-ear Corp. ran
an ad in the New Yorker magazine indicating
that its radio could be purchased either at famous
Chicago retailer Von Lengerke & Antoine
or alternatively a check or money order
could be sent to ‘Privat-ear Corporation
Blacksburg Virginia a Division of the Instrument
Corporation of America.’ Sounds very
grand and it was also the last known change
of address for the company (10).
Several other earphone-only pocket radios
using subminiature tubes appeared on the
market during this time. They included the
kit radio advertised for $6.99 in the July 1948
edition of Popular Science (1j). The threetube
‘Micro Pocket Radio’ was featured
alongside the Privat-ear in the October 1949
edition of Popular Mechanics (1k). Also interesting
is the two-tube radio from Chicago,
circa 1950. The Privat-ear was the only one
of these radios to be encumbered by a large
telescoping antenna.
In 1951 Hugo Gernsback’s magazine
Radio Electronics assessed the Privat-ear
and it was said to “provide sensitive reception
with adequate volume”—even “pulling
in stations from as much as 50 miles away.”
Author Michael Brian Schiffer called the
Privat-ear “the most
stylish and popular set
of this genre” and “a
modest success.”
xxThe Privat-ear was a
good performer, it received
a favorable review
in Gernsback’s
magazine and was sold
for five years, yet it could
not bridge the gap between
mildly successful niche market curio
and lucrative mass market appeal. Arguments
against it include the use of an awkward,
protruding antenna and an earplug that
implied the same negative connotations encountered
by the Belmont Boulevard; an
image of unhealthy infirmity was not one that
the makers wanted to convey.
But the final nail in the coffin was about to
be hammered. The birth of the transistor
radio in 1954 ushered in a new era in micro
electronics, and the little Privat-ear became
just another electronic gadget that didn’t
quite make it. Yet it does have its place in history
as one of the worlds first commercially
available shirt pocket radios.
One Privat-ear pocket radio in my collection,
pictured with this article, was originally
sold on the 11th of February 1952 at the
Navy Exchange, U.S. Naval Training Center,
San Diego California. I think the Navy might
have purchased a quantity of these radios because
their functionality would have suited
the cramped living conditions aboard ships.
The personal nature of the radio meant that
the chance of disturbing sleeping bunk mates
was minimized. Of course the radio would
have worked at its best while the ship was in
dock. Privat-ear may in fact have earmarked
the Navy as a potential cash cow early on for
those very reasons.
Although this radio was sold in 1952 I
believe that it was manufactured a bit earlier
than that, possibly in 1950 or even as
Privat-ear’s two subminiature
tubes can be
seen near the bottom of
the picture to the left of
the output transformer.
SUMMER 2013 / THE AWA JOURNAL 47
early as 1949, partly because
it does not have the
patent number stamped on
the case. Other examples,
probably manufactured
after September 5th, 1950,
have ‘U.S. Pat. No.
2521423’ stamped on the
case; mine has ‘Pat Pend’.
Nor does it have the New
York or Blacksburg Virginia
addresses molded
into the back of the case as
pointed out by fellow collector
Mike Schultz on his
excellent Reverse Time
website: www.uv201.com.
After cleaning up and photographing my
Privat-ear I was curious about whether it actually
worked. Rummaging around in the
garage I found what I was looking for; a relatively
new 22.5v ‘B’ battery. I carefully
placed it in the battery holder together with
a couple of AA batteries. Actually I was
quite nervous, would it really work after all
this time? Notwithstanding it had probably
been 60 years or so since it had last been
fired up.
The batteries fit in quite snugly and I was
a bit worried that the plastic case might crack
at the bottom, but it held firm. I placed the
somewhat uncomfortable earplug in my ear
and slid the telescopic antenna all the way
out engaging the simple internal on/off
arrangement. I turned the volume control up
and instantly a glorious wave of distortionfree
musical joy swept over me.
I wanted to jump up and down and run
onto my balcony screaming “It’s alive!!” at
the top of my voice, just like Dr. Frankenstein
(but I didn’t!). I was really surprised at
how well it worked and needless to say I had
a big grin on my face for the rest of the day.
The plastic cabinet of this radio is hard, inflexible
and light. When you flick it makes a
‘tink tink’ sound as opposed to the cabinets
of later radios that when dropped make a dull,
muted ‘thud’. It is also highly reflective.
Collector Mike Schultz believes that it is
some sort of polystyrene plastic. That makes
sense as this type of plastic was in common
use during the 1940s and
early 1950s. A polystyrene
plastic that went
by the name of ‘Lustron’
was supposedly high gloss
and the cabinet of this
radio might very well be
made from it.
xxThese radios invariably
suffer from melt marks
caused, over time, by the
vinyl insulation on the earphone wiring coming
into contact with the plastic cabinet.
These marks can be sanded and polished out
but it is a long, fussy process and hard to perfect.
To avoid this it is best to store the sets
with the wires wrapped in a protective covering,
away from the body of the radio. come
from Privat-ear.
The Privat-ear was made in three colors
that I know of: maroon, red and white. White
seems to be the rarest color.
REFERENCES
Ref 1a American Farm Youth, Volumes
15–16 1949
Ref 1b Mechanix Illustrated, Oct 1949
Ref 1c United States Patent Office Patent
No 2521423
Ref 1d 1920 United States Federal Census
Ref 1e Kingsport Times, 23rd of Aug 1949
Ref 1f Beckley Post Herald, 24th of Aug
1949
Ref 1g Popular Science, Feb 1946
Ref 1h The Portable Radio in American
Life,Michael Brian
Ref 1i 1947 Lakeland Florida, City Directory
Ref 1j Popular Science, July 1948
Ref 1k Popular Mechanics, Oct 1949
You’ll find much more information about
the Privat-ear on the author’s website at
www.jamesbutters.com/privatear.htm.
This Privat-ear from the
author’s collection was
originally sold at a U.S.
Navy exchange in 1952.
As far as I can tell, this is the first time
the story of the Privat-ear pocket radio
has been told. It was manufactured in
the USA and released by Electronics Systems
Corporation in 1949 (1a, b, c). Although small
enough to fit in a shirt pocket this is not a transistor
radio; it owes its
small size to the use of
subminiature tubes developed
during WWII
and was designed as an
earphone-only model.
It predates the first
commercially available
transistor radio by five
years and was an innovative,
but ultimately
doomed, attempt at
realizing an American
cultural objective; the
creation of a portable
shirt pocket radio with
mass appeal.
The Privat-ear was
invented by Frank L.
Stuck, a minister, of
Lakeland Florida.
Stuck might have developed
his keen interest
in electronics while attending college and
was most probably a part-time radio enthusiast
and hobbyist. He may have been inspired
from an early age by the popular writings of
science fiction author, futurist and ‘promoter
of all things radio’ Hugo Gernsback.
Gernsback founded numerous technical
and radio themed magazines including the
USA’s first radio magazine, Modern
Electrics, in 1908. His popular magazines
were aimed at electronics hobbyists and
through them he promoted, amongst other
things, the idea of ‘pocket wireless apparatus.’
At that time only crystal sets could be
built pocket sized and the limited selection of
portable radios available were housed in
large, heavy briefcases. Neither option was
particularly appealing to the average American
consumer.
In 1929 the stock market crashed bringing
on the Great Depression. This resulted
in thousands of banks
closing and millions
of Americans losing
their jobs. Times were
tough but over the
next decade Reverend
Stuck managed to find
ministry positions in
three West Virginia
towns. Radio became
a source of comfort
and warmth to struggling
families who
gathered in the
evening to listen to
popular broadcasts.
xxThe ‘fireside chats’
of newly elected President
Roosevelt were
particularly reassuring
and the emergence of
new shows, radio
stars, sports broadcasts
and the like served to increase the radio audience.
The popularity of radio exploded and
by 1937 it is estimated that almost 23 million
American families owned a set. Radio had
taken on a more intimate quality and was
now almost indispensable to a family’s emotional
and social wellbeing.
In 1939 America’s love affair with the airwaves
continued to bloom and the genesis of
the shirt pocket radio came one step closer
with the development of miniature tubes by
RCA and smaller ‘B’ batteries by Eveready.
This enabled further reduction in the size of
portable radios; one example being the popular
RCA Victor BP10, marketed in 1940
CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND • [email protected]
BY JAMES J . BUTTERS
THE PRIVAT-EAR SHIRT POCKET RADIO
Advertisement for the RCA Victor BP10.
SUMMER 2013 / THE AWA JOURNAL 45
and measuring just 8.85" 5 3" 5 3.6".
In 1941 America entered WWII and its
consumer electronics industry was quickly
directed towards churning out supplies and
equipment for the military. This concentrated
effort led to innovations such as the printed
circuit board and the development of tiny
subminiature tubes by Raytheon, making further
miniaturization of radios possible. At the
close of the war defense contractor Raytheon
looked at various projects for maintaining the
company’s profitability during peacetime.
One of the proposals put forward was to
build a shirt pocket radio. Raytheon implemented
this idea by purchasing the Belmont
Radio Corporation and then assigning one of
their own engineers the responsibility of designing
the set. The earphone only made its
debut in December 1945. It measured 6.25"
5 3" 5 0.75" and incorporated the newly designed
subminiature tubes (1g). It was the first
commercially available shirt pocket radio;
however it lacked mass appeal.
Sadly, total sales reached only 5000 at
most (1h). However, the Belmont Boulevard
was a cutting-edge, visionary device. A year
earlier Gernsback had stated that “pocket and
vest pocket radios fill a real demand” and he
predicted that “before long many millions of
these radios will be built annually.” He was
right, but his predictions were too early for
the Belmont Boulevard.
Its suave design appeals to us now but it
seems that in 1945 it was simply too far
ahead of its time for the American consumer
to appreciate. A range of factors contributed
to its failure but probable reasons include its
high purchase price ($65.00), the need for
frequent battery changes, its merely average
audio performance and its similarity in appearance
to hearing aids of that era. This particularly
negative association with the ‘hard
of hearing’ was reinforced by having to use
an earphone. It was just not fashionable.
Meanwhile Reverend Stuck, who had
moved his family to Lakeland, Florida,
clearly still believed that a radio similar to
the Belmont Boulevard would be a viable enterprise.
His patent for the radio that became
the Privat-ear was filed on May 8th 1947 (1c,
i). Production of the Privat-ear began some
time after and the set appeared in the October
1949 edition of Mechanix Illustrated. It employed
a two-tube reflex circuit and measured
just 5.75" 5 2.25" 5 0.9".
Sadly, Stuck had passed away two months
earlier while addressing a meeting in Bristol,
Virginia. His speech notes included a reference
to Admiral Byrd, the famed explorer
and American Naval Officer (1e). Perhaps
Reverend Stuck used him as a source of in-
The sleek, but ill-fated, Belmont Boulevard.
(Detail from an advertisement.)
Privat-ear ads tended to be in comic book
style.
46 THE AWA JOURNAL / SUMMER 2013
spiration, or maybe he
just wanted to sell him
some radios!
By December 1950,
Electronics Systems Corporation
had either
changed its name or the
company had been sold
and now traded as Privatear
Corporation. The address
of the company had
also changed from 112
West 18th Street, Kansas
City, to 2016 Bronxdale
Avenue, New York.
The Privat-ear was
sold from late 1949 until
at least April 24 1954 and ranged in price
from $19.95 to $28.95. Privat-ear radios
were sold in drugstores, radio shops, hearing
aid shops, department stores, and even
at Abercrombie & Fitch! Some were sold to
the Navy.
Interestingly, in 1954 Privat-ear Corp. ran
an ad in the New Yorker magazine indicating
that its radio could be purchased either at famous
Chicago retailer Von Lengerke & Antoine
or alternatively a check or money order
could be sent to ‘Privat-ear Corporation
Blacksburg Virginia a Division of the Instrument
Corporation of America.’ Sounds very
grand and it was also the last known change
of address for the company (10).
Several other earphone-only pocket radios
using subminiature tubes appeared on the
market during this time. They included the
kit radio advertised for $6.99 in the July 1948
edition of Popular Science (1j). The threetube
‘Micro Pocket Radio’ was featured
alongside the Privat-ear in the October 1949
edition of Popular Mechanics (1k). Also interesting
is the two-tube radio from Chicago,
circa 1950. The Privat-ear was the only one
of these radios to be encumbered by a large
telescoping antenna.
In 1951 Hugo Gernsback’s magazine
Radio Electronics assessed the Privat-ear
and it was said to “provide sensitive reception
with adequate volume”—even “pulling
in stations from as much as 50 miles away.”
Author Michael Brian Schiffer called the
Privat-ear “the most
stylish and popular set
of this genre” and “a
modest success.”
xxThe Privat-ear was a
good performer, it received
a favorable review
in Gernsback’s
magazine and was sold
for five years, yet it could
not bridge the gap between
mildly successful niche market curio
and lucrative mass market appeal. Arguments
against it include the use of an awkward,
protruding antenna and an earplug that
implied the same negative connotations encountered
by the Belmont Boulevard; an
image of unhealthy infirmity was not one that
the makers wanted to convey.
But the final nail in the coffin was about to
be hammered. The birth of the transistor
radio in 1954 ushered in a new era in micro
electronics, and the little Privat-ear became
just another electronic gadget that didn’t
quite make it. Yet it does have its place in history
as one of the worlds first commercially
available shirt pocket radios.
One Privat-ear pocket radio in my collection,
pictured with this article, was originally
sold on the 11th of February 1952 at the
Navy Exchange, U.S. Naval Training Center,
San Diego California. I think the Navy might
have purchased a quantity of these radios because
their functionality would have suited
the cramped living conditions aboard ships.
The personal nature of the radio meant that
the chance of disturbing sleeping bunk mates
was minimized. Of course the radio would
have worked at its best while the ship was in
dock. Privat-ear may in fact have earmarked
the Navy as a potential cash cow early on for
those very reasons.
Although this radio was sold in 1952 I
believe that it was manufactured a bit earlier
than that, possibly in 1950 or even as
Privat-ear’s two subminiature
tubes can be
seen near the bottom of
the picture to the left of
the output transformer.
SUMMER 2013 / THE AWA JOURNAL 47
early as 1949, partly because
it does not have the
patent number stamped on
the case. Other examples,
probably manufactured
after September 5th, 1950,
have ‘U.S. Pat. No.
2521423’ stamped on the
case; mine has ‘Pat Pend’.
Nor does it have the New
York or Blacksburg Virginia
addresses molded
into the back of the case as
pointed out by fellow collector
Mike Schultz on his
excellent Reverse Time
website: www.uv201.com.
After cleaning up and photographing my
Privat-ear I was curious about whether it actually
worked. Rummaging around in the
garage I found what I was looking for; a relatively
new 22.5v ‘B’ battery. I carefully
placed it in the battery holder together with
a couple of AA batteries. Actually I was
quite nervous, would it really work after all
this time? Notwithstanding it had probably
been 60 years or so since it had last been
fired up.
The batteries fit in quite snugly and I was
a bit worried that the plastic case might crack
at the bottom, but it held firm. I placed the
somewhat uncomfortable earplug in my ear
and slid the telescopic antenna all the way
out engaging the simple internal on/off
arrangement. I turned the volume control up
and instantly a glorious wave of distortionfree
musical joy swept over me.
I wanted to jump up and down and run
onto my balcony screaming “It’s alive!!” at
the top of my voice, just like Dr. Frankenstein
(but I didn’t!). I was really surprised at
how well it worked and needless to say I had
a big grin on my face for the rest of the day.
The plastic cabinet of this radio is hard, inflexible
and light. When you flick it makes a
‘tink tink’ sound as opposed to the cabinets
of later radios that when dropped make a dull,
muted ‘thud’. It is also highly reflective.
Collector Mike Schultz believes that it is
some sort of polystyrene plastic. That makes
sense as this type of plastic was in common
use during the 1940s and
early 1950s. A polystyrene
plastic that went
by the name of ‘Lustron’
was supposedly high gloss
and the cabinet of this
radio might very well be
made from it.
xxThese radios invariably
suffer from melt marks
caused, over time, by the
vinyl insulation on the earphone wiring coming
into contact with the plastic cabinet.
These marks can be sanded and polished out
but it is a long, fussy process and hard to perfect.
To avoid this it is best to store the sets
with the wires wrapped in a protective covering,
away from the body of the radio. come
from Privat-ear.
The Privat-ear was made in three colors
that I know of: maroon, red and white. White
seems to be the rarest color.
REFERENCES
Ref 1a American Farm Youth, Volumes
15–16 1949
Ref 1b Mechanix Illustrated, Oct 1949
Ref 1c United States Patent Office Patent
No 2521423
Ref 1d 1920 United States Federal Census
Ref 1e Kingsport Times, 23rd of Aug 1949
Ref 1f Beckley Post Herald, 24th of Aug
1949
Ref 1g Popular Science, Feb 1946
Ref 1h The Portable Radio in American
Life,Michael Brian
Ref 1i 1947 Lakeland Florida, City Directory
Ref 1j Popular Science, July 1948
Ref 1k Popular Mechanics, Oct 1949
You’ll find much more information about
the Privat-ear on the author’s website at
www.jamesbutters.com/privatear.htm.
This Privat-ear from the
author’s collection was
originally sold at a U.S.
Navy exchange in 1952.