Radio’s ubiquitous today, but it was the equivalent of an iPhone X back in the Roaring ’20s.
Although the first commercial radio station in Philadelphia wasn’t licensed until 1922 — WGL was the first and several others, including WCAU, followed later that year, according to broadcastpioneers.com — radio quickly became a big deal.
That’s why Gimbels (then still called Gimbel Brothers) ponied up for a big ad touting “Magnet” Radio Receiver Sets. For $79.95 (with just $15 down), buyers received a unit with six guaranteed vacuum tubes, a 6-volt, 90 ampere store battery, two 45-volt B batteries, an adjustable loud speaker and complete aerial equipment.
“We promise — Extreme selectivity. Ease of tuning. Returning of any station at same reading. ‘Magnet’ ZR-60 embodies superior audio frequency amplification, which is new,” the ad said.
Despite the promises, buyers (and $80 was a pretty penny back then) probably weren’t getting much bang for the buck, since stations of the era often were limited to a few hours of daily operation; in addition, many stations had minimal range, thanks to broadcasting at just 250 watts of power.