Grandpa Walter's Scott
Memories and Recollections of a Classic 1930s Radio Receiver
Of all my relatives, my maternal grandfather was the family’s one true radio enthusiast. Grandpa Walter first started tinkering with radio back in the 1920s. I don’t think that he ever had an ambition or an interest to obtain his amateur radio operator’s license. He just enjoyed staying up late at night tuning through the various bands -- AM, shortwave, marine, aviation, police & emergency, etc. -- to see what he could pick up.
For many years, my grandparents lived in Avon Lake, Ohio just west of Cleveland. Sometimes when we would be visiting, Grandpa Walter would turn on one of his shortwave radios to see what distant or interesting stations he could tune in for us: time signals from Canada (given in both French and English), "powerhouse" outlets like the BBC and Radio Havana, weather stations, ship-to-shore messages, where you could only hear one side of the conversation, etc. (One of the radios I can remember him using was a Zenith H500 Trans-Oceanic.) He would also regale us with fascinating accounts of the things he’d heard while monitoring the airwaves. The relative closeness of Avon Lake to Cleveland gave him good reception of the Cleveland police channels. Major holidays such as New Year’s Eve and Labor Day would typically provide him with many unusual and/or humorous police calls to talk about later.
Grandpa Walter undoubted inspired much of my own enthusiasm for radio listening.
About 1957 or 1958, my grandfather made the find of his life in a Cleveland second hand store: a 1936 Scott 23-tube Allwave console radio. I can remember the first time he showed it off to me. Even to a young person who knew nothing about custom-built radios, it was impressive. The cabinet lid opened up and you could look inside and see the large, chrome-plated chassis with its 17 tubes, each one inside of its own chrome-plated can. Down below, there was a heavy-duty chrome-plated 6-tube amplifier and three speakers: a 12" auditorium speaker and two tweeters.
Its four wave bands went from 540 kHz to 22.6 MHz. Most important, it was capable of fantastic DX reception on all bands. (One Sunday afternoon when we stopped by, my grandfather had it on and was listening to a St. Louis AM station, which was coming in like a local. His "antenna" was a 30-foot length of zip cord.)
For my grandfather, owning that Scott was like owning a Rolls Royce automobile or an original Van Gogh painting. Just to hear him talk about it filled me with a sense of awe and respect for it, too.
Before going any further, a little history about the company that made my grandfather’s Allwave-23 is probably in order. Ernest Humphrey Scott (1887-1951) was an engineer, perfectionist, and super-salesman, whose all-consuming desire was to be first in whatever he did. A native of New Zealand, he came to the United States after World War I and settled in Chicago, where he wrote syndicated newspaper columns on automobile care and on the construction of radio sets. A hands-on person, Scott designed, built and tested hundreds of radio circuits in his own, well-equipped laboratory. Traveling back to New Zealand for a visit in 1924, he took along a receiving set that he had constructed, and which he used to listen to radio broadcasts from stations located in the United States, 6,000 miles away. To verify his reception reports, Scott sent daily cables to those stations he had monitored the night before, providing them with program details. (The manager of KNX in Los Angeles was amazed that Scott was able to pick up his station’s 500-watt signal almost every night.) Scott named his receiver the World Record 9. Lest anyone think that it was a freak, he cabled back to Chicago and had a duplicate set of parts sent to him in New Zealand. There, he built a second World Record 9 receiver, which performed as good as the first one had. Upon his return to Chicago, Scott received hundreds of requests from radio enthusiasts around the country, asking for details on how to build a receiver like the one he had used. Realizing that in order to build such a set, it would first be necessary to have a properly matched pair of IF transformers, he organized the Scott Transformer Company to supply them. Gradually he added other radio parts to his catalogue and soon was selling complete radio kits. As the reputation of his sets grew, Scott eventually began selling assembled receivers. In 1931, with the stated aim of producing the finest radio receivers possible, he changed the name of his company to E. H. Scott Radio Laboratories. By then, he had 97 employees and was operating out of a large, modern three-story building located at 4450 Ravenswood Avenue in Chicago. In adherence to Scott’s manufacturing philosophy that "The Fine Things Are Always Hand Made," each Scott receiver was custom-built and assembled by hand. Only the highest quality parts were used and each set was thoroughly checked during every stage of its construction. The end result was a quality receiver built to out-perform any mass-produced set then available. A master promoter and salesman, Scott wrote most of his own advertising copy and was a wizard at publicizing the prowess of his radios. To demonstrate the shielding in his Allwave Deluxe receiver, for example, he installed one in the control room at the top of the Sky Ride at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. Despite being surrounded by motors, dynamos and control contactors, the radio consistently reproduced music and news without the slightest trace of electrical interference. In 1935, a Scott Full Range High Fidelity Allwave receiver was installed on the stage of the Drake Theater in Chicago so that patrons could hear the Joe Louis-Max Baer fight. Not only did the set bring in the desired station without a trace of the ambient downtown electrical noise, but it also "filled every corner of the theater with the volume turned only one-third up." By the mid-1930’s, Scott receivers were acclaimed for their performance and quality. The list of Scott owners was a veritable "who’s who" of the rich and famous of the 1930’s: Arturo Toscanini, Frank Lloyd Wright, Guy Lombardo, Walter Winchell, Deems Taylor, Kirsten Flagstad, Jascha Heifetz, Eugene Ormandy, Enzio Pinza, Lily Pons, actor Robert Montgomery, and many others.
During World War II, when no new consumer radios were being produced, the Scott Radio Laboratories manufactured low-radiation receivers intended for use on board Navy and Merchant Marine ships for communications and entertainment. It also designed and built the radio that was installed onboard the first presidential airplane Sacred Cow, used by presidents Roosevelt and Truman.
Following World War II and uncertain about the postwar future of radio, Scott sold his controlling interest in the E. H. Scott Radio Laboratories, remaining on as one of its officials. Soon dissatisfied with the way the company was being managed, Scott resigned in a 3,500-word letter and took out large ads in two of Chicago’s leading newspapers to publicly announce his resignation. He then moved to Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, where he spent the remaining years of his life. Without Scott’s leadership, the company that bore his name eventually went into decline and finally closed its doors in the mid 1950s. (The company founded by E. H. Scott is sometimes confused with the company formed in 1947 by Hermon Hosmer Scott, and which produced a line of quality high-fidelity tuners and receivers. E. H. Scott Radio Laboratories and H. H. Scott, Inc. were two separate companies and had no connection.)
Other than the bits and pieces of Scott "folk lore" that I had heard from my grandfather over the years, I didn’t really know all that much about Scott radios until the early 1970s, when I ordered some reprints of vintage Scott literature from Puett Electronics in Dallas, Texas. I ordered everything that Puett had on the 23-Tube Allwave, including reprints of the instruction manual and various issues of The Scott News. Since I was then on active duty in the Navy, I had everything sent directly to my grandfather and didn’t get a chance to look through this material until I was home on leave. When I did, it made for fascinating reading.
The 23-Tube Allwave was introduced in an article that appeared on the front page of the March 1935 issue of The Scott News. At that time, it was being referred to as the Scott Imperial Allwave. Later, after it was learned that another radio manufacturer was already using the name "Imperial," the Allwave-23 was renamed the Scott Full Range High Fidelity Allwave. The Allwave-23 was one of the first high fidelity radios ever sold, being able to reproduce a frequency range of 25 to 16,000 cycles or the entire tonal range of the human ear. The article mentioned that there were "a number" of high fidelity stations broadcasting in the full frequency range. Later, on page 7, it acknowledged that the total number of high fidelity stations then on the air was only four: W2XR in Long Island City, New York, W6XAI in Bakersfield, California, W1XBS in Waterbury, Connecticut, and W9XBY in Kansas City. It optimistically prophesized, however, that by 1937, domestic AM radio broadcasts in the full frequency range would be commonplace, and that Scott Allwave-23 owners would then be able to take full advantage of the high-fidelity reproduction their sets were capable of. Scott advertising also stressed how much more realistic phonograph records would sound when played through an Allwave-23. This was another benefit that, for the most part, would not be realized until full frequency phonograph records began to appear commercially some 10 years later, following World War II.
The March 1935 issue of The Scott News also included an article describing a tour of the Scott factory or, as E. H. Scott always referred to it, the Laboratory. It pointed out that the technicians who assembled Scott receivers had all been trained in precision work by Scott Laboratory engineers. (While describing the assembly process, no mention was made of the unique system used to create each set’s serial number. The serial number of my grandfather’s set, for example, is U591. The U prefix identified the assembler who had built this particular receiver. The number following the prefix indicated the total number of chassis that individual had assembled. Under this system, a particular receiver chassis could be traced back to a specific assembler for quality control purposes. It also allowed an assembler’s productivity to be tracked.) The article also described in some detail the precision measurements and adjustments that each Scott set received before being shipped to its new owner. A photo showed the Scott Laboratory’s custom-built Standard Signal Generator, used to calibrate, measure and test each new Allwave-23. The Laboratory also had a special room which simulated humid conditions and which was used to see how sets would perform in tropical climates. The article made it a point to mention that "Scott Custom Built Receivers never have, and never will be built to a price mark, but always to a quality standard."
Among the Puett reprints was an actual Scott invoice dated 10-30-35 giving the cost breakdown for an Allwave-23 that had been sold to a customer in Wampum, Pennsylvania. The basic package, consisting of the chassis, amplifier, a set of laboratory-matched tubes, the auditorium speaker, the pair of high frequency speakers and a set of 10 spare tubes cost $179.50. There was also an additional charge of $19.19 for Federal excise tax and the RCA & Hazeltine licensing fee, making a grand total of $198.69. (Adjusted to 2009 dollars, that would be about $3,104.00.) Not included in this price was the cost of a console cabinet. Many Scott receivers were custom-installed in special built-in enclosures in living rooms, music studios, onboard yachts, and in other locations that didn’t require a stand-alone cabinet. Some Scott owners enclosed only the amplifier and speakers and left the chassis exposed in all its chrome-plated elegance. If a cabinet was required, Scott offered them in prices ranging from $25, for the basic "Windsor," to $950 for the massive "Warwick Grande," which came with a Scott Allwave-23 automatic record changer. (My grandfather’s set was in a striped walnut veneer cabinet designated as the "Warrington.") The Puett reprints also include an Allwave-23 order form that lists a cabinet as being included along with the radio at no extra charge as part of some special offer. (This free cabinet was not a "Warwick Grande!")
The cost of the electricity needed to operate a radio with 23 tubes must have caused some concern among Scott customers, since the November 1935 issue of The Scott News included a brief article about the Allwave-23’s power consumption. According to the article, "The average electric light bulb used in a kitchen light fixture consumes over 100 watts, so . . . two of these use as much electric current as our receiver. (The) operation cost of the Scott 23 Tube Full Range High Fidelity Allwave is so small that even when operated continuously on an average of four hours every day in the month, it will add only a few cents over $2.00 per month to your electric bill." Those customers who felt that paying $2.00 a month to operate a radio was too much would also not have been interested in the Scott Quaranta, a special-order set that sold for $2,500 and which was first introduced around December 1935. The first Quarantas utilized 40 tubes and had four speakers. Later variations had 48 and even 50 or more tubes and had five speakers. (Those people who could afford a Quaranta in the 1935 were probably not too concerned about being able to pay their utility bills!) The Scott Philharmonic, the receiver that replaced the Allwave-23 in April 1937, had 30 tubes.
While on the subject of tubes, the August 1935 issue of The Scott News included a full- page article by E. H. Scott on metal radio tubes, which had just then been introduced. Earlier in the year, Scott and his engineers had received their first samples and had subjected them to a number of exacting tests to evaluate their performance. According to Scott, the U.S. radio industry was still undecided about them. One very prominent manufacturer had announced that metal tubes would be used only in its cheaper models but not the high-priced ones. Another manufacturer announced that customers could buy any of their models with either metal or glass tubes. At the end of the article, Scott finally got around giving his opinion: "[Metal] tubes at present offer no advantages over our present highly perfected glass envelope tubes. When the development of metal tubes has reached the point where they will enable me to built a better receiver than I can now build with the glass tubes, they will be immediately incorporated as a permanent part of the design of my receiver."
Owning a radio capable of full frequency range sound reproduction was probably not as important to the average Scott customer in 1935 was having one capable of receiving distant stations on both the AM and shortwave bands. Keenly aware of this, Scott made sure that letters from satisfied owners, telling about the many stations they had received on their Scott radios, were reprinted in The Scott News. In the March 1936 issue, for example, a Scott owner in Santa Barbara, California wrote "On the broadcast band, I play the Eastern stations as quiet and clear as stations on this coast. As for short waves, all bands are good. Big Ben, London, at 7:00 P.M. comes in with a bang, also Radio Colonial, EAQ, Spain and Germany." In the June 1936 issue, 49 letters one from a Scott owner in each state plus the District of Columbia -- were reprinted. The Scott owner in Delaware wrote: "Results on the Scott have been beyond my expectations. I can bring in stations in England, France, Italy, South America, Central America and Australia like locals." The owner in Montana wrote " I believe that here in Montana, we are in about the toughest spot in the country for bringing in Europeans but in spite of this fact, I have brought in Paris and Rome every day. The quality of the music from Europe was the finest I ever heard. As one of my friends remarked, ‘You might as well be right in the studio it sounds the same.’" And the Scott owner in Oklahoma wrote "Even on bad nights I get London clear as day. I thought I had Boston or Schenectady it was so strong, but during the numbers I heard the violins being tuned and then the announcement ‘This is London calling.’" In the January 1936 issue, E. H. Scott wrote a long and detailed description of the BBC’s coverage of Christmas Day festivities that had occurred throughout the British Empire, and which he had heard direct from London via shortwave on his Scott receiver. In 1939, after war had been declared in Europe, the The Scott News ran an article telling how Scott owners could listen to shortwave broadcasts direct from the warring nations to stay informed about the latest developments. (The article did include this caveat: "Although we know that the ‘news’ broadcast at regular intervals during the day from the transmitters of London, Berlin, Paris, Rome, and Moscow is highly seasoned with propaganda, these broadcasts at least enable us to hear all sides of the story.")
Of all the DX reports submitted by Scott owners and published in The Scott News, the one that most captured my imagination appeared in the November 1936 issue. Paul W. Dilg, an internationally famous DXer from Evanston, Illinois spent a week’s vacation in October 1936 using his Allwave-23 to see how many distant shortwave stations he could log. Beginning on October 24th and continuing for seven straight days, Dilg would begin listening at around 6:00 a.m. in the morning and continue on until around 11:00 p.m. at night. (An accompanying photo showed Dilg, dressed in a coat and tie, seated next to his Allwave-23 with his logbook. He was, by the way, one of those Scott owners who chose to display his radio’s chassis out in the open, rather hiding it inside of a cabinet.) For each station he heard, Dilg wrote down the country, city, station call sign, frequency (expressed in Megacycles), signal strength, the time heard, the station’s distance from Evanston, and a brief description of the program material. His logs were mailed to E. H. Scott and reprinted in full in the November issue. Here are a few of the programs that Dilg logged on Sunday, October 25, 1936:
|England||London||GSF||15.14||Strong||4:42 P.M.||Orchestra Selections from "Dollar Princess"|
|Canary Island||Tenerife||EDZ||9.48||Fair||4:50 P.M.||Woman speaking in English|
|England||London||GSB||9.51||Good||5:00 P.M.||"Woodsman Spare that Tree" (song)|
|Dominican Rep.||San Domingo||HIH||6.78||Fair||5:08 P.M.||Tenor singing typical ballad|
|Germany||Berlin||DJB||15.20||Strong||5:15 P.M.||Woman singing "Arrogant Princess."|
|Germany||Berlin||DJD||11.77||Strong||5:17 P.M.||Organ Grinder music in Fairy Tale|
|Hungary||Budapest||HAT-4||9.12||Strong||6:00 P.M.||Woman announcing "Radio Budapest"|
|Ecuador||Guayaquil||HC2RL||6.66||Good||6:35 P.M.||Orchestra - Concert Music|
|England||London||GSP||15.31||Strong||6:42 P.M.||Band of the Holstein Guard Regimental March|
|Germany||Berlin||DJA||9.56||Good||6:44 P.M.||Man talking in Spanish|
During his seven days of marathon DXing, Delg logged programs from 448 foreign shortwave stations located in 186 foreign countries.
Between March 1935 when it was first introduced, until April 1937 when it was replaced by the 30-tube Philharmonic, approximately 2,500 Allwave-23 receivers were produced. Despite this low number, it is the most common of the "classic" E. H. Scott receivers made between 1932 and 1942, and is the one most likely to be encountered today at antique radio meets. Incidentally, there were two variations of the Allwave-23. The first version had 5 knobs, while a second variation, introduced around March 1936, had 7 knobs. (My grandfather’s set is the variation with 7 knobs.)
After being released from active duty Naval service in 1974, I settled in the San Diego area. Whenever I was visiting my family in Ohio, Grandpa Walter and I would usually find time to spend an evening or two DXing with his Allwave-23. (While we didn’t hear as many interesting things as Paul Dilg did in 1935, it was still fun to see what foreign stations we could pick up.) Having the Puett reprint of the original Allwave-23 instruction manual proved most helpful. For example, in all the years my grandfather had had the set, two jumper wires required for unused connection terminals at the back of the set had been missing. After we installed these, I would like to think that the Scott performed even better.
E. H. Scott once explained in The Scott News that the reason his receivers were finished in chrome was because it was the only known finish that would retain its gleaming surface indefinitely in humid tropical climates and in locations near the seacoast. Although not in the salt air of a seacoast, my grandfather’s home in Avon Lake, Ohio was located right along the shore of Lake Erie. One year when I was back visiting, it became readily apparent that, after 40 years, the Allwave-23’s chrome had tarnished. We carefully dissembled the chassis and amplifier and removed them from the cabinet. A few hours’ polishing soon restored them back to their original appearance.
Around 1978 the Scott fell silent. The tubes still glowed and the dial lit up, but only a hum came from the speaker. The troubleshooting suggestions given in the manual proved to be of no avail, and the chances of finding a local radio repairman knowledgeable about vintage tube model sets, particularly one as esoteric as a Scott, were virtually nil. For the next few years, every time I was back in Ohio, I would power up the Allwave-23 just to see if it would start working again, but it never did.
The last time I saw my grandfather was during the summer of 1983. By then, he was in a nursing home and only vaguely aware of his surroundings. Still he always carried around a little transistor radio so he could listen to Cleveland Indians ballgames. He remained an avid radio listener to the end.
It was a foregone conclusion that I would someday inherit Grandpa Walter’s Allwave-23, since no one else in my family was the least bit interesting in a radio the size of a modest refrigerator and inoperative to boot. After it passed into my possession, my first concern was to restore it back to working condition. J.W.F. Puett recommend a Scott enthusiast in Texas who was qualified to do the work. After the necessary arrangements had been made, my father custom-built three wooden shipping boxes one for the receiver, one for the amplifier, and one for the three speakers -- and shipped them off to Texas. The empty cabinet was shipped directly to me in San Diego, where I had it professional restored to its original appearance. By the summer of 1985 my Scott Allwave-23 was back together again and fully operational.
A member of the family now for over 50 years, Grandpa Walter’s Allwave-23 is still in good working condition and remains one of my favorites from a modest collection of vintage, tube-model radios. Surprisingly, I seldom use it now for DXing. (The dial is only slightly larger than a large postage stamp and is not particularly easy to read. Scott must have realized this shortcoming too, since the Allwave-23’s successor, the 30-tube Philharmonic,had a big, black round dial similar to the one on a Zenith Stratosphere.)
I do, however, make full use of my Scott’s PHONO IN terminals. When connected to a quality turntable, the Allwave-23 provides superior sound reproduction of my vintage records, particularly "high fidelity" monophonic LPs. When connected to a CD/MP3 player, it once again gives forth with old radio programs from the 1930s and ‘40’s including historical opera broadcasts, and news and commentary programs from World War II which might very well have been received on this set when they originally aired. And when connected to my little Sony ICF-7600GR receiver, it provided a unique compromise of unbeatable sound reproduction along with the convenience of direct frequency readout, superior selectivity, and variable bandwidth tuning.
Like Zenith Trans-Oceanic radios, there will never be any more Scott Allwave-23s in the world than there are right now. I feel fortunate indeed to be the (temporary) custodian of this rare and unique piece of radio history. Sometimes when I’m sitting there listening to it reproduce an old record or a vintage radio broadcast from yesteryear, I can almost sense that Grandpa Walter is sitting there along with me, enjoying it too.
Eric Beheim is a life-long radio enthusiast. A former commanding officer of a Naval Reserve Combat Camera unit based in San Diego.
Eric Beheim leads a multi-faceted career as a free-lance writer, professional musician, and owner of his own music and sound project studio.
Born in the first wave of "baby boomers" he grew up with radio and remains a life-long radio enthusiast. His particular interests are collecting news and commentary programs from the late 1930s and early 1940s (including World War II news), and programs that feature performances of operettas and musical theater presentations.