Get Your Own Designer Radio
By James Grahame
Once upon a time, radios were magnificent handcrafted creations that stood regally in the corner of living rooms across the nation. The arrival of cheap plastic-cased transistor sets in the 1950s put an end to all of that, as mass-produced radios became affordable status symbols for youth around the globe. The glamor evaporated as we raced into The Gadget Age.
There are still a few holdouts, however. Tom Kipgen is a retired salesman who launched a second career as a creator of whimsical radio sets a few years ago. Each is a handmade masterpiece, and no two are quite alike. Best of all, they're reasonably priced.
The E.T. Crystal Radio is Tom's take on a curvy little green alien. In addition to an AM crystal receiver with a hand-wound coil, it incorporates a compact but powerful amplified speaker in its head. There's an on/off volume knob on the front panel, along with a headphone jack on the back. The tuner is a vintage 1937 FADA Radio mechanism that allows a full 360 degrees of motion. In exchange for a mere $245 earth dollars, E.T. could phone home from your house.
The Orange Blossom Bomber features a regenerative tube circuit and an aluminum faceplate. Tom explains: "Simplicity and clean lines define this art deco radio style with polished brass domes strategically placed that help bind it all together. The use of matte finished aluminum plate from surplus sales at the manufacturer of the B-1 Bomber provides the clean and uncluttered quality of the cabinet.
A beautiful dial from the 1920’s adds dimension to the front panel with stark black against the gray metal and ties the set to the glory days of radio. A padauk wood knob with curly maple skirting balances the front panel with a nice gloss shine of lacquer finish. The padauk wood tube’s cowling ties the top of the cabinet to the front panel and is mated to the undulating surface with a guitar building technique. The cabinet housing is curly maple carefully bent to shape and finished with lacquer toned deep orange here in my shop." Priced at $231.
The Caramel Magic Eye uses a rare Russian EM83 Magic Eye that Tom purchased from a collector in Germany. He designed the rounded cabinet to draw attention to the magnificent tube in the center, which pulses with a hypnotic green glow [video]. The indicator on the left side of the tube shows signal strength, while the right shows signal amplitude. This example of Soviet efficiency is priced at $340, Comrade.
There are dozens of unique radiophonic masterpieces on Tom's site. I could ramble on, but it's best for you to see for yourself. Oh, and be sure to check out the astoundingly cool LaserRadio that looks like it was stolen from the Flash Gordon prop department.
[Tom made a small payment in return for this post. We'll eagerly spend it on a few billion bits of bandwith.]