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No matter what the economic climate, there will always be people who want the best, and have the means to afford it. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, while most radio receiver manufacturers sought to cut the cost of their radios as much as possible, others nonetheless produced sets for those who wanted the ultimate in radio receivers. The receiver that stood at the top of them all was the Scott Philharmonic.

E. H. Scott and the Scott Radio Laboratories enjoyed a reputation for producing some of the finest radio receivers it was possible to own, a reputation built on models such as the World’s Record Super series and the Allwave Imperial. These radios were built completely by hand at Scott’s “modern daylight” laboratory, in contrast to the prevailing factory-style production methods of the day. In 1936 Scott and his engineers began design work on the Scott Philharmonic, a receiver intended to be the finest in the world and one no other could match in performance or features.

The magnificent Philharmonic was introduced to the radio market in 1938. At a time when the average radio set used five or six vacuum tubes in its circuit, ten or twelve for ‘deluxe’ models, the Philharmonic had no less than an astonishing thirty tubes. Each tube had a specific and necessary function; unlike some competing receiver models, there was no padding of the tube count in this receiver.

The remarkable and complex circuit that employed all those tubes was quite advanced for its day, with multiple radio frequency amplifiers, a huge backlit dial, and two tuning eye indicators. Scott himself designed many of the major components – coils, switches, tuning capacitors – and most of the circuit itself. The radio was capable of reception from the standard broadcast band up to 80 megahertz, a wider range than most other receivers. The radio frequency section of the receiver was sensitive and selective, and could easily be configured from the front panel to match reception conditions.

Audio response of the receiver matched the radio frequency section in exacting design as well. The features included a volume expander to restore the dynamic range of broadcasts, continuously variable tone controls, and a 60-watt audio output amplifier, over ten times the power of the average radio receiver. All this was fed to a gigantic 15-inch loudspeaker; an optional 3-way speaker system was available for those who desired the best audio definition. The audio section could also be configured to play phonograph records.

As with many custom-built items, one did not just walk into a radio shop and walk out with a Scott Philharmonic. It had to be ordered direct from the Scott Laboratories, since each model was built to the customer’s order. Along with the order for the radio itself, the prospective customer was encouraged to choose from a number of cabinets created especially for the Philharmonic – cabinets with impressive-sounding names such as the Warrington, the Waverly Grande, the Georgian, or the Chippendale Grande. Each was crafted with the same care that went into the radio itself and was designed to blend in with the ambience of the room where the radio would be installed. The Warrington could be had free of charge, as part of the deal; if the customer wanted one of the other cabinets, thirty dollars could be deducted from its price.

Once the customer’s order arrived at the Scott Laboratories, he or she could expect a personal letter from Scott himself describing the many advantages a Philharmonic owner could expect. A brochure would be included telling the customer all about the details of “overseas” (shortwave) reception, and the benefits of high fidelity radio and phonograph reproduction, most of which were of course only possible with the Philharmonic. Also, the receiver’s warranty extended not for the usual three months, but for five years, reflecting Scott’s confidence in the receiver and its construction.

All this came at a price, and for $272 (in 1937 dollars), one could purchase a Philharmonic complete with power amplifier, Warrington cabinet, tubes, “Symphonic Loudspeaker”, and the “Scott Super Antenna System”. Time payments were available for only $98 down and $18 per month for the next 12 months. This price assumed the customer would install the radio; professional installation could be had for an additional charge.

Scott received many orders for the Philharmonic. In a 1938 issue of the Scott News he published a list of owners, and that list was no less impressive than the radio itself. Among Scott owners were nationally known businessmen, radio, film, and recording stars, orchestra leaders, and prominent politicians from around the world. Many wrote glowing testimonials about the Philharmonic’s quality of reproduction, often including pictures of the radio as installed in their homes.

Today, the Scott Philharmonic has lost none of its appeal. Surviving models, including those without cabinets, are highly sought after by collectors and command prices to match. The radios are excellent performers when competently restored, even under today’s reception conditions. I am currently restoring one and it shows every sign of becoming my life’s work!


SOURCES

Scott Radio Laboratories brochure, The World's Finest Instruments for reproducing Radio and Recorded Music . Chicago: E.H. Scott, 1940.
Scott Radio Labortories, Scott Philharmonic Service Manual, 1938
King, Kent, "Scott Radio Labs.com", E.H. Scott Antique Radio web site. January 2002. <www.schroeder-dieball.com/scottradiolabs> (May 2004).

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