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June 8, 2017
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Posted by Tivoli Audio
June 8, 2017

History of Radio Design

Radio has been a fundamental component in how people structure their daily lives for over a century. It shaped domestic life and altered listening practices, blurring the boundaries between public and private spaces -- between the concert hall, the theater and the home. Families often gathered around their radio to hear their favorite programs, turning the radio into a literal centerpiece of the household, and as such design started to become a major selling factor of radio units. As components became cheaper, design became more expensive and ‘high style’ was often privileged over ‘high tech.’ It was during these years that radio units became heavily influenced by the mid-century modern aesthetic.

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There are few design eras and styles that are as iconic as mid-century modern. As a movement, mid-century modern is synonymous with contemporary, and is frequently used as a catch all phrase for mid-century art, design and architecture. It is in home design magazines, TV shows and websites. Mid-century modern emphasizes elegance, functionality and simplicity. It is built upon the maxim that good design impacts lives. The style also highlights and foregrounds the intersection of function and form. Objects designed in this period were often multipurpose, speaking to an idea of ‘casual living’ that hearkens back to the movement's Bauhaus roots.

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Materials and their use are of particular importance in mid-century modern radio design. Colors were often muted and few materials used - often just two materials and two colors. Patterns were very infrequently used, and solid colors preferred. Accents like gilding, rare woods veneers, resin, textiles and ivory accents were common and stressed the ‘affordable luxury’ of the pieces.

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Radios became investment furniture pieces, with many cabinets doubling as tables, record players, and stereos. Those who could afford it often built the cabinets directly into their home architecture, easily hiding cables and the inner workings of the unit. As these consoles were cumbersome and expensive, most people opted for smaller tabletop units in cathedral, tombstone and tabletop styles. Large consoles were far too bulky for most people who instead opted for the smaller tabletop ones in cathedral, tombstone and tabletop styles.

Another important feature emphasized in mid-century modern radio design is the dial, which is frequently the most recognizable piece of radio units. The dial eventually evolved into the tuner on newer units.Tivoli Radio Design Banner

Mid-century modern has become a key Marketing buzzword - everyone lists products as such without actually having the qualities inherent in the style. We at Tivoli take pride in the fact that we use quality materials and stay true to the tenets of mid century modern design. Original mid century modern radios look great but many have internal components that are beginning to fail to which there are few if any replacements available. Our mid-century modern inspired radios are a great option for those who want a radio that stays true to its design tenets and inspirations with modern technological integration like bluetooth and Spotify Connect.

Throughout the mid 20th century, the radio and its design was continually reinvented. Whether it be the art-deco tabletop radios of the 1920s, the massive wooden cabinets furniture and centerpieces of the home or the smaller tabletop radios that placed emphasis upon the dial as the centerpiece of the object, design mattered - and to this day it still does.

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Terry Williams
By Terry Williams On June 25, 2017

Correction needed. In the paragraph "Throughout the mid 19th century, the radio and its design..."
Should be mid 20th century.

By Tivoli Audio On June 25, 2017

Thank you very much for the heads up Terry! We've corrected our mistake.

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