How to Ruin an Antique Radio [Photo Roundup]

Normally, I write about how to fix an antique radio. Today, though, I’m writing about all the creative and interesting ways people have found to destroy them – and there are quite a few ways, from gutting a radio cabinet and painting it a garish white to turn it into a “shabby chic display case”, to cutting pieces off radios to make into shelves for putting in a modern radio, to turning them into a fish tank or “blinged out” display case.

Most of these modifications are done without regard for final appearance, and usually end up being dumped on Craigslist or eBay for dirt cheap once the previous owner realizes they’ve created something hideous – and they stay there because nobody else wants to buy them, either.

Here, someone’s taken a nice late 30s-early 40s console radio, cut out the front patch with the controls and speaker, and inserted a cheap ’90s stereo component shelf. While more tastefully done than some, the modern controls look totally out of place and while it probably receives FM and can play two cassette tapes at a time, it looks especially awkward with the bookshelf speakers sitting on top of the cabinet. and in a non-matching finish.

This Delco antique radio case mod was done with a little more attention to detail – the dial face and knobs were left intact as dummies – but unfortunately, the radio that used to be inside was a relatively rare and valuable model that used to run on the little-seen 32V DC mains voltage found out in some rural areas in the ’30s. This one is pretty tasteful, but even if the radio chassis was trashed it’s doubtful it would have been too far gone to restore.

I believe this one used to be a ’30s RCA, significantly modified to fit a single large speaker and what appears to be either a PA or guitar amplifier in place of the vintage radio’s controls. Shame, too, this one used to have an eye tube.

This poor tombstone-style radio from the ’30s met an unfortunate end, having the guts from an integral all-in-one stereo unit bolted to the remains of its stripped chassis. It’s nice the owner left the knobs and dial intact for display, but it’s still a low-end modern system shoved into what could’ve been a beautiful and functional antique.

For reasons that escape me, the owner of this one took a German hi-fi radio console from the ’50s, with the clean lines, and shoved it into a French Provincial style cabinet common to stereo consoles in the 1960s and 1970s. While it’s probably an upgrade from whatever equipment came in said console in the first place, French Provincial cabinets like that are some of the ugliest furniture that exists in my opinion.

This used to be a ’30s Zenith radio, one of the most sought after brands. Now it’s an aquarium.

What used to be the rare and valuable Atwater-Kent model 84 from 1931, was turned into an AM/FM transistor radio at some time in its past life, leaving only the cabinet to show for it. With a tiny, 3-inch speaker the sort you might find in a clock-radio.

By far, though, the worst of the examples I’ve come across has to be this one:

This used to be a ’30s Grunow All-Wave radio, an excellent performer and fairly uncommon, until it was gutted and “blinged out” for display in a nail salon in Miami until the owner tried to unload it on Craigslist.

Have any photos of gutted and converted antique radios you’d like to share? Send them to me!

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14 Responses to How to Ruin an Antique Radio [Photo Roundup]

  1. joetro says:

    I am currently re-purposing an old Coronado into a home theater PC for my home theater in my basement. Before you start throwing things at me, just know that I’ll not be making any permanent modifications to the radio itself. I am mounting the PC components where the original speaker goes. I removed the speaker and the wood it’s attached to and made a new piece to put in its place. I have the chassis out of it and am going to see what I can do to refurbish it and get it working. The wiring is in very bad shape, so it, along with the caps, et al, will be replaced. The cabinet is in poor to fair shape, but is still presentable and I have, somewhere, some replacement grille fabric. Whenever I do something like this, I try very hard not to make any permanent changes to whatever I’m working on. When finished, this will be the HTPC, but it will be physically unchanged from original, aside from the new electrical components to get it working (if I can) and the swapping out of the speaker board/base with the PC components. The speaker and its board will be stowed away someplace safe until such time as I put it back together as a mostly original piece.

  2. Joel Trout says:

    I am currently re-purposing an old Coronado into a home theater PC for my home theater in my basement. Before you start throwing things at me, just know that I’ll not be making any permanent modifications to the radio itself. I am mounting the PC components where the original speaker goes. I removed the speaker and the wood it’s attached to and made a new piece to put in its place. I have the chassis out of it and am going to see what I can do to refurbish it and get it working. The wiring is in very bad shape, so it, along with the caps, et al, will be replaced. The cabinet is in poor to fair shape, but is still presentable and I have, somewhere, some replacement grille fabric. Whenever I do something like this, I try very hard not to make any permanent changes to whatever I’m working on. When finished, this will be the HTPC, but it will be physically unchanged from original, aside from the new electrical components to get it working (if I can) and the swapping out of the speaker board/base with the PC components. The speaker and its board will be stowed away someplace safe until such time as I put it back together as a mostly original piece.

  3. G140 says:

    I like a nice restored radio. But like someone said before, the market is flooded with them and the parts to keep them operable, are more than the console units themselves. If done right, I have seen radios re-purposed in a way that looks good, respects the old time piece, and is functional today……………but who knows…..maybe in 70 years….I will be bemoaning someone installing a holographic LP player n my old 5.1 onkyo.

    That said….some people appear to be lazy and lack imagination. So many nice ways one could mod or re-purpose an old radio with out making it look tacky.

  4. Brian says:

    I’m probably asking for a beating here, but I really don’t have an issue with converting the “works” of an old radio to am/fm/bluetooth so long as the appearance of the unit looks original and the work is well done. I purchased a beautifully styled late 1930s Montgomery Wards tabletop radio empty case at a radio swap meet many years ago, I think I paid $3.00 for it. Knowing I’d never track down the original chassis, dial, etc. for it, I stripped and refinished the walnut case and regutted it with an old am/fm clock radio tuner. A dial was made from some old ham radio dials and a aftermarket car radio speaker was fitted under a new period look grill cloth. I have no illusions that it’s a valuable antique (any window of opportunity of that happening went away long before I owned it), but at least it survived, is useable, and the conversion could be reversed with little to no damage to the case should I ever stumble onto a parts donor for it.

    Given the micro size of today’s electronics technology, I see no reason that modern boards couldn’t be hidden under the original chassis and the work carefully done so that the original electronics could be reattached and restored at a later time. I’m considering doing just that on my old Firestone Consol from the late 1940s that has a toasted transformer. I already have three other consols, two of which are in original, working condition (one is my Stewart Warner that was the first old radio that I owned, that I hope to restore) but, to be honest, I have very little interest in listening to the vast talk radio wasteland that AM radio has become on the Firestone Air Chief and my motivation to track down another transformer for it just isn’t there. I’d rather just do the hidden am/fm conversion, along with a hidden mini headphone jack to attach a bluetooth device to the amp and actually use it more than a few times during the year, like I do my other, original units. Likewise, I hope to recap and restore my 1956 RCA consol television this winter; but just a few weeks ago, I found an early ’50s Zenith consol cabinet, sans CRT and electronics, being sold as a “bar” in one of the antique stores I haunt and my imagination turned to the idea of grabbing it and a mid-1990 CRT 19 or 20 inch tv at Good Will and “regutting” the refinished case with it to look as original as possible, but in color and remote control!

    Now, all that being said, if I needed a shelve for my stack stereo, I get a shelf. If I ever created …. whatever that is …. out of a Grunow, I’d seek mental health care.

  5. Jon Hall says:

    Here’s one for you from the current Charlottesville, VA. Craig’s List:

    ‘Antique Radio Cabinet / Hutch – Shabby Chic Refinished – GORGEOUS – $135’

    https://charlottesville.craigslist.org/fuo/4920884155.html

    The guts are included if you want them. They just made this work of art for you to own and treasure! It could be worse. Your Grunow still wins although maybe it was their last project.

    • jwk says:

      That’s practically a holy grail of radio “mods” right there. Discordant color/cloth combination, with both a fake potted plant AND a kitschy sign on top of it. Well done sir.

  6. Tears. I have nothing but tears.

  7. jwk says:

    I help clients perform resto-mods myself (swap speakers, transformers, etc. for better sound quality that wasn’t available back then) but yeah. That Grunow. It’s very, very…………special.

  8. Sean F says:

    Enthusiasts view these modifications as heartbreaking, but like upright pianos, film cameras, and manual typewriters, the market is flooded with more old technology than buyers can absorb. Better they be modified and put to use than stashed away and forgotten or worse still, dropped in a landfill somewhere. Except for that blinged out Grunow…that ain’t right.

  9. Andrew :
    This happens because nobody sells NEW & empty “Antique Radio Style” cabinets and most people don’t have a complete woodworking shop attached to their house.

    Yes, that’s true. I wouldn’t mind that much if the radio was beyond repair or had its chassis missing.
    At least here it’s not profitable to make new cabinets, and sadly the people with skills (and willing to) is reducing.

  10. Andrew says:

    This happens because nobody sells NEW & empty “Antique Radio Style” cabinets and most people don’t have a complete woodworking shop attached to their house.

  11. I almost cried looking at that modifications. The worst I’ve seen was in the mid 90’s, an old barber hid a walkman inside a tombstone so he could listen to a local FM. But the radio worked and looked original, for an extra money tip he would turn it on and let you peek inside with a mirror mounted on the wall behind.

  12. Pingback: Ruined Antique Radio Photo Roundup Redux « jkoebel.net

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