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1926 - the roaring twenties are in full swing! In show biz, Rudolph Valentino dies, Mae West is jailed ten days for obscenity, and most movies are still silent. In aviation, the Ford tri-motor airliner is introduced, Admiral Byrd flies to the North Pole, and the Army Air Corps is formed to replace the Air Service. In sports, Jack Dempsey loses the heavyweight crown to Gene Tunney, and the Harlem Globetrotters form their showy basketball team. In Japan, Hirohitho begins his reign, in England, A.A. Milne publishes Winnie the Pooh, and in America, Philadelphia hosts the World's fair. Of course radio is there in the midst of all this activity, and the public clamor for inexpensive radio sets rises. To capitalize on this demand for inexpensive radios, Charles Freshman produces the Freshman Masterpiece, selling for only $60!

In 1926 most radios (including the Freshman) were tuned by means of three dials, and required several sets of cumbersome batteries for operation. Reliable and affordable AC powered sets arrived near the end of 1927. The Freshman Masterpiece was a rather conventional five tube radio, except for the fact that it sold for only $60 (competing radios sold for $75 to $150). The Masterpiece was also available as a kit for only $17.50. Charles Freshman cut costs everywhere he possibly could, sometimes dealing with suppliers unethically when it was to his advantage. Some of Freshman's cost cutting backfired, the audio transformers and the rheostats often failed during the warranty period, requiring Freshman to pay for repairs.

The genius (and low cost) of the Masterpiece lay in the simple circuit design. By locating the RF transformers close to the tuning condensers, the set would work without oscillating (uncontrolled squealing). Other circuits that prevented oscillation required expensive components and license fees. The Masterpiece circuit was not the best performer, but it worked well enough to satisfy most customers.

Despite the average performance of the Masterpiece, hundreds of thousands were sold since it was affordable. Many of these radios soldiered on long after AC sets rendered them obsolete, and a fair number still exist. The Freshman Masterpiece occupies a place in history as many families' first radio.

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Copyright 1997 Stan Watkins