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Emerson Radio & Phonograph Corporation
Compact Model 25
World’s Biggest Selling Little Radio

Richard Arnold

From 1924 to 1932 Emerson Radio and Phonograph Corporation distributed radio receivers bearing the name Emerson through many diverse channels, including department and sporting goods stores. In 1932, Emerson began to specialize in small receiver sets for home use. One of these sets was the now very collectible and desirable model 25. This is the first true compact radio.

Philco 70 Cathedral compaired to the Emerson Model 25.

The idea for this radio design came to Benjamin Abrams, president of Emerson while looking at a clock or rather a clock case, handsomely styled, as style was understood in those days. A few attempts had previously been made to produce a set smaller than the “Midget”, but nothing quite so small as the clock case. How could public confidence be inspired and engendered to by such a hybrid?

The year is 1932 and the fortunes of small radio were at lowly state. For some reason the midget sets, (back in those days cathedral and tombstone receivers were considered midget sets) had defiled to hold their own on the market and had lost public favor. Small radio manufacturers were folding up about as fast as they had started. Some of the major companies that produced consoles reluctantly continued their midget models as price and gift items, or just simply to round out their product lines. For all practical purposes, research, engineering and promotion of small radios was dead.

At this time Emerson attempted to make a radio smaller than the midget radios that were usually 18x15x9 inches in size. This new idea radio would be only ten inches wide, six and a half inches high and four inches deep. The idea of squeezing a radio chassis along with the tubes, speaker and everything else into a case this small was preposterous to say the least.

Emerson 25 and General Electric K-52

I have placed a “midget” radio, my GE K-52 that is a smaller cathedral (11.5 inches wide by 13 high by 7.5 inches deep) than most next to the “compact” Emerson 25 for a comparison. Even using the smaller cathedral you can see the impressive difference.

Rear view of Emerson and GE sets

No standard speakers, condensers, dials, coils or other components were available, nor were any of the suppliers of radio equipment very enthusiastic about making any. It was going to have to be a pioneering job, and Emerson engineers went ahead on their own and overcame many discouragements and seemingly insurmountable difficulties. By doing so they developed the first practical and popularly accepted “compact” radio receiver. It measures only 10x6.5x4.5 inches This set, pictured in Fig.1, has the small brass discs behind the knobs that say on the left “increase volume” and the knob on the right says “selector” and the dial scale goes from 0-100. This one also has the wood inlay. Others have only a design behind the knobs and no inlay.

With the design and production of this radio, the model 25, Emerson made radio and merchandising history in that the first practical, popularly accepted COMPACT had come into being.

The Emerson model 25 was presented to the public late in 1932 when the country was at the lowest depth of the depression. Astounded dealers who could not believe their eyes sold more than two hundred thousand model 25s in 1932-1933. Orders poured in from all across the country and for more than a year orders were greater than production could sustain. Not until the middle of 1933 did production and sales come into balance on this one model alone.

The model 25 is a 1932/33 four tube TRF (Tuned Radio Frequency) receiver. It uses a 39 tube as a RF Amp., a 36 tube as a Detector and 1st Audio, a 38 tube as an audio output and a 37 as an AC line Rectifier wired with its grid and plate tied together. It uses a five-inch electromagnetic armature speaker and weighs in at only six pounds as compared to the twenty-five plus pound midgets. The price of the Model 25 was fixed at $25.00. The going price of a midget radio was around $49.50.

Many manufactures and dealers of the time considered Emerson’s small radio a “depression product,” and that with the return of prosperity sales would drop. Instead, sales of small radios climbed to even higher levels in the following years.

One of the many interesting developments, which immediately followed the introduction of the Compact, was a revived acceptance of the “Midget.” For several years both types, in varying sizes, enjoyed wide sales. Most of the small-set engineering however was devoted to the Compact and the “Midget” gradually faded out of the picture. Some of the first model 25’s were even altered for 32v and 6-volt battery operation to respond to the growing demand for farm reception. The round half-dollar sized connector seen on the back of this radio’s chassis was for the portable or DC operation option.

Emerson 25 with Saks Fifth Avenue Case
Photo courtsey of Alan Douglas

Just a little trivia here, but Saks Fifth Avenue in New York, advertised (Fig 2) and sold the radio as a “Unique” compact radio and for an additional charge of only $10.00 one could purchase an exclusive pigskin carrying case with a handle (Fig 3). This was available in the sports department on the seventh floor.

By 1935, total production at Emerson of all types of receivers was 5,500,000, of which 2,600,000 were small sets. All of the major radio manufacturers as well as distributors, dealers and the general public, had been forced to take small radio seriously.

For years one of Emerson’s slogans was “World’s Biggest Selling Little Radio.” The company thinking was; it was small radio that built Emerson in the past—it will be so again. For in small radio the public has a larger variety of products for its choosing, greater value for less money—more easily utilized receivers—and sets for every purpose and every purse.

It is amazing that even though there were so many of these sets made they are now hard to find. The model 25 is a very popular radio today.

Well, this one is in my collection. It is one of the early ones and I really do like the style and even more so the history of this small radio. I have it sitting on a table in my radio room where I can enjoy looking at it and even better, enjoy listening to it.

References: Small Radio, Yesterday and In the World of Tomorrow Issued December 1943 by Emerson Radio and Phonograph Corporation, New York, NY
Rider, John F. Perpetual Trouble Shooters Manual Vol. 3
Pages 3-9

A Special thank you to Mr. Fielding Grigsby a local collector/friend for his charitable efforts in getting this radio working for me.

Richard Arnold
P.O. Box 275
Lone Grove, Oklahoma 73443


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