The average person probably wouldn't know what this object was if they came upon it at an estate sale or in an antique shop. They would have less of a clue were it not displayed with the headphones, which are also from the same time period. The two largest knobs are graduated with a scale that reads 0 to 100, the others are not labeled at all. If you were to turn it around, you would see the first clue that it might be a receiver of some type. There are seven thumb screw terminals, two of which are labeled antenna and ground. Three are labeled "B Battery", and the remaining two are labeled “A battery” and "Common". There is nothing to indicate what frequency it receives, such as 540 –1600, or whether it is AM or FM.
To a collector of vintage electronics, this item would definitely warrant a closer inspection. Since this is the first of my articles on vintage radio, I decided to go way back to the beginnings of radio as we know it today, the early beginnings of the vacuum tube era. This radio is a very early set, built with parts which appeared on the scene between 1919 and 1922. It may have been a kit radio, or it may have been designed and built by a hobbyist from plans found in an early wireless magazine. Perhaps it was built to monitor the broadcasts of the first licensed broadcast station KDKA which hailed from Pittsburg PA in 1920. It may have been built to allow its creator to monitor wireless telegraph transmissions between ships and shore stations, or for use by an early amateur radio operator.
There were receivers which predated the age of tubes. An Englishman named John Preece began wireless transmission of Morse code for commercial purposes as early as 1892, and Marconi made his famous transatlantic transmission on December 12, 1901, but I’ll cover those technologies at a later date.