1929 Model 57 by Stan Watkins
Prior to 1928 most radios required several sets of batteries for operation. The batteries were expensive, bulky and limited in life. Late in 1927 RCA started production of tubes which could be run on AC current. Atwater Kent's first set completely designed for AC current was the model 37. Six months later the model 40 came out. With slight improvement on the model 37, the model 40 and it's knock off brothers sold almost one million units in the 1928-1929 season. The model 57 shares the same chassis with the more popular model 40.
Atwater Kent started stamping out metal cabinets for the model 35 in 1926 to lower costs. The metal cabinet style was popularized by the model 40, and by mid 1928 had become a fad. The cabinet was much cheaper to produce than wood cabinets, and was dressed up in two colors with gold trimmings. Atwater Kent ads described the model 57 as a "the slimmest, daintiest, friendliest, little radio companion you could ever wish for. In January 1929 you could purchase a model 57 for the low, low cost of only $105 WITHOUT tubes. This little console incorporated a flanged version of the E speaker, described in ads as "radio's truest voice"! Prior to late 1929, Atwater Kent emphasized table model radios. Dealers made console models by placing Atwater Kent table radios in cabinets made by other companies, but the models 52 and 57 were the only consoles produced by Atwater Kent for the 1928-1929 season. The model 57 employed a simple seven-tube tuned radio frequency circuit. The performance was good by 1928- early 1929 standards, although the sound was somewhat tinny. The model 57 was exceptionally well built, durable, and trouble-free, most saw many years of use in the home.
Restoration of a 1929 Model 57
We radio collectors often travel to obscure and out of the way places to find radios. I heard rumor of a decrepit Atwater Kent hidden in deepest, darkest, flattest South Carolina. I figured the only practical method of reaching this remote region was by air. Thats how I found myself winging my way down to Bishopville South Carolina. As I made my way south, all seemed a vast flat unbroken waste of cotton, soybeans, and chicken houses. Finally I spotted a small trace of civilization (?!) fitting the description of my far-flung destination. A small grass strip on the edge of this outpost served as my airport. A civilized fellow met me (he collects radios, that counts as civilized, right?) and guided me to the sought after radio.
The radio must have been worked over by a couple of toughs and then thrown into a river with concrete galoshes on from the looks of it. I decided to evacuate the radio immediately by air to get it the treatment it desperately needed. The flight back was tough. I battled clear skies, smooth air, moderate temperatures and sunshine, but I made it home. Sometimes you just have to take some risks to save a radio. Once in the radio clinic, I examined the patient. Strange growths and tumors covered the chassis. Both the chassis and the cabinet had serious cancer. The speaker looked hopeless. I let the patient convalesce a few months before the serious operations.
March 7th, 1997
The time to operate finally arrived. The chassis came first. All major components came off for cleaning and repair. The tuning condensers were very rusted on the top, but perfect on the bottom - proof that corrosion is caused by gravity. I swapped the two outer tuning condensers to give that perfect radio look. The center tuning condenser traded places with an identical unit in an AK55. The part mounts upside down in the AK 55. I replaced capacitors and audio transformers as needed. Next, I baked the power supply to soften the tar so I could replace the potted capacitors and speaker choke. Using a borrowed speaker, the chassis came to life again after being in a coma for 40 years! Once the chassis regained its health, I tackled the cabinet. With an assistant, I sanded the cabinet thoroughly. This did not completely do the job, so I resorted to brute force and used the sand blaster. After a couple more hours of sanding the cabinet was smooth, shiny, and mostly bare. Two coats of primer/surfacer helped fill the pits in preparation for the finish lacquer. After even more sanding, I built the finish with three coats of black lacquer, inside and out. A torturous taping job followed the black lacquer. A specialist was called in to custom mix the green lacquer. I finished building the finish with the satiny green color. I removed the bandages, and the patient started to look much better. Spurred on by the promised recovery, I operated on the speaker. Two days of major repairs to the cone and driver resulted in a working speaker. I assembled all the parts of the radio, replaced a couple of bad tubes, and pronounced the patient fully recovered!
Most would say Im crazy to take on a case like this , but hey, somebody has to do it.
© Stan Watkins 1997
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