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International Radio Corp.
Alan Voorhees

In the 1920s, when radio manufacturing was in its infancy, a young man in Ann Arbor, Michigan started making radios. Charles Verschoor didn't make his mark on the radio world, however, until 1931 when he started the International Radio Corporation. One of his first products was a diminutive little radio with a plastic case, the Kadette. The compact size of the radio was accomplished by using an innovative new circuit, one which strung all the tubes in series like Christmas tree lights. This set, which would operate on either AC or DC current no longer required a power transformer, and that made it lighter , smaller, and cheaper than the other sets on the market.

Its plastic case was noteworthy as well. Manufactured for International Radio by the Chicago Molded Products Co., it marked the beginning of a new era in cabinet design by being the first set housed in plastic. Its design was rather traditional, having a strong Gothic look with arches on the front of the case. The radio was a hit with the American public, and its popularity led to the almost immediate profitability of International Radio. Within two years, International Radio was the only Ann Arbor corporation that was still paying dividends to its shareholders.

Other innovative sets followed in rapid order. The following year the Kadette Jr. appeared. It had two dual-purpose tubes and was the world's first pocket sized set-albeit a coat pocket sized one. By this time the first Kadette model had been refined into the handsome Kadette Jewel, which appeared in five standard color combinations. Like with some other Kadette models, Chicago Molded Products made a few cases in other, often unusual, color combinations.

In 1936, just as Sears was jumping on the bandwagon with its first Bakelite set, the "Streamliner" (model 4500, above left) in basic black plastic, International was releasing the Kadette Classic (above right)-a set with a cabinet molded in three different plastics. It was ultimately available in seven color combinations, among them an ivory case with contrasting grill and green, yellow, rose, or blue top and a jet-black case with an ivory grill and a bright vermillion red top. The set resembled a colorful room heater, and the front and the back looked basically the same allowing the radio to be placed away from the wall and still be attractive from behind.

Wooden cased sets also got the International touch. An unusual set, the Kadette Clockette was introduced in four styles in wood (and in various plastics as well) and resembled a small mantle clock. Its compact size was typical of many of the International Radio sets. "a five tube set in half the space" their ad proclaims. The speaker hid behind a brass screen in the center of a large round grill. A number of other cabinet styles emerged as well. Some were intriguing, deco-inspired designs, others plain and unremarkable in appearance.

Then in 1937 they introduced a coup in the radio retailing world. A 10-tube set for the price of an ordinary cheap 4- or 5-tube model. When other manufacturers were producing 10-tube radios with price tags that started around $100, the low $19.95 tag on the Kadette line were nearly a miracle. International had actually pulled a fast one on the public. The sets contained three ballast tubes among the ten. Their only purpose was to drop the voltage enough for the tube filaments to work properly. One would have been sufficient. The sets weren't really great ... they worked as well as other $20 sets, and that's all they really were ... $20 sets with extra ballast tubes thrown in.

The 10 tube Kadettes had a rapid turnover, but they carried profit margins or 15% or less. Radio dealers had to move a around a dozen of the Kadettes to equal the profit they could get selling one premium radio. International began making the dealers take additional slower selling Kadette models in order to get the 10-tube sets. Dealers had to offer under-the-counter discounts to move the radios, and their aggregate profit on Kadette radios could drop to as low as only 5%. This led to dealing dropping the Kadette line in favor of other manufacturers. International scrambled to rectify the problem, but were too late to repair much of the damage they had done.

In 1939 International sold the radio manufacturing business as well as the Kadette name to W. Keene Jackson, who had been International Radio's General Sales Manager. Jackson and the new company, the Kadette Radio Corp., planned to introduce television sets to the Kadette line. "The Kadette Radio Corp. is going to employ every technical resource to bring the price of efficient television reception to the point where every American home can enjoy this new art as quickly as possible." he said.

The problems of the Kadette sales that plagued International Radio hindered the new company as well, and in about a year they ceased operation. In the meantime, International Industries flourished with their lines of camera and optical equipment manufacturing under the Argus brand. The Argus Compact camera had been released by International in 1936 and became an instant success, selling 30,000 the first week it was available.

After the sale of the radio business, International Industries and their new International Research division continued with great success. At the end of the war they became a wholly owned subsidiary of Argus, Inc. and the International name ceased to exist.

Alan Voorhees was raised in Ann Arbor and has a special interest in the sets manufactured there. Kadette sets pictured with this article are from his collection.

Kadette Marketing Error, Arthur Adams, CHRS Journal, Vol. 18, No.1
A History of Ann Arbor, Jonathan L. Marwil, Ann Arbor Observer Co., 1987
Ann Arbor News, July 9, 1939
Ann Arbor City Directories, 1930-1948

Additional Resources:

Kadette Tunemaster
Just imagine yourself lounging at ease the whole evening through, really enjoying radio as you have never enjoyed it before. Never once is the spell broken by having to leave your chair to change programs or adjust volume. Think, too, how convenient for the busy housewife. She can carry Tunemaster from room to room and operate a radio anywhere else in the home as easily as if sitting beside it. (1939)

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