FROM GARBAGE TO GRAYBAR
RUBBISH TO RADIOLA
The 1929 Graybar model 311 was a 7 tube set employing a Tuned Radio Frequency circuit. The model 311 is housed in a deco styled metal cabinet, painted to simulate wood grain. From 1927 to about 1930 metal radio cabinets were popular, the Radiola 33/Graybar 311s being among the most stylish of their kind. The all-metal cabinet was billed as "a daring departure, a lifetime cabinet... not susceptible to warping or marring", "It suggests tomorrows mode today" The Model 311 "console" sold for $77.50 without tubes, the model 7 loudspeaker for an additional $22. In late 1925 Western Electric sold its wholesale supply business to its employees and the new electrical supply company was named the Graybar Electric Co. Graybar radio sets were made by RCA, with slight cosmetic differences. The model 311 uses the same chassis as the Radiola 33 (which is almost identical to the 1928-1929 model 18), but the cast trim, knobs, legs and paint differed from the Radiola. The speaker is uses the same reproducer as the RCA 100B, but in a different cast housing. The Radiola 33 came as a table model or as a "console" unit on spidery legs.
This Graybar set was purchased at Autens Radio Sales on 127 West 4th street in Charlotte, North Carolina. The set remained in Charlotte during its 66 years and had two tubes replaced during that time - one in 1936 and one in 1995. Some years after its prime, the power switch failed. Since the radio had little value at that time, the switch wires were fastened together and the radio played on...... probably in one of the childrens rooms or some other secondary location. As the radio became more obsolete, it was finally retired to a damp garage. The Graybar remained in the damp garage many years; the wood base began to rot where water dripped in the radio, the paint rusted, a stray garden implement put a dent in the front. Finally, the garage was cleaned, probably when the original owners moved to a rest home. The Graybar and all the other junk in the garage were sent to the Harrisburg Landfill.
A friend of radio collector Ron Lawrence worked at the landfill and rescued the Graybar as it arrived for disposal. When Ron received the radio, it was rotted, rusted, and dirty, but complete and still operable! He carefully disassembled the cabinet and had a new base made to replace the rotted original. Then other, more significant projects pre-empted the Graybar, and the restoration languished for 15 years. In December 1994 I obtained the Graybar 311. Restoration work began again in March 1995.
First, I had to determine the type of original finish. After careful cleaning and wiping with a damp sponge I saw that the radio was finished with a simulated wood grain pattern on the sheet metal portions. The cast portions were painted with dark brown paint. I bead blasted the cabinet to remove the rust and deteriorated finish. Next I primed the bare metal using a red oxide primer. When the primer had dried, I applied tan paint with a sponge on the parts needing the wood grain effect. Then I sprayed the entire radio with a custom mixed brown paint. When the paint was dry, I wet sanded the surface to bring out the "wood grain". For the final coat, I applied a mixture of clear varnish and paint to soften the color contrast. The final result closely duplicates the original. The radio chassis required mostly cleaning and only minimal electronic repairs. The speaker, however, was another story. I had to make a new cone and completely disassemble and repair the driver. I assembled the radio and then it was time to enjoy!
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©1997 Stan Watkins