Dec 23
Radio Stratosphere

By 1933, millions of radios were being turned on and listened to across the country. The average radio in an American home cost less than $100 and there were hundreds of models a consumer could choose from.

There was a small niche of radio buyers with the means to purchase higher end radios; the custom made models with higher reception performance, a chrome chassis, elaborate cabinet and high-end bass.

For $200 to $2,500 a well to do businessman could be the proud owner of a chrome chassis Masterpiece II by McMurdo Silver or the much publicized E.H. Scott All-Wave Deluxe XV cradled in the Imperial Grand console cabinet with a ten stack record player and home recording system.

At the time, some considered the Scott All-Wave Deluxe XV the finest radio in the world and the company's product was getting major attention and positive reviews in magazines like Radio News and Radio Retailing. Scott had created an image and marketing buzz among the well to do, and not just in America but around the world.

In May 1933, the opening week of the Chicago World's Fair, the fair published its official program giving fairgoers an overview of elaborate exhibits created by major corporations from countries from all over the world. The guide featured an E.H. Scott Radio Laboratories, Inc. advertisement for All-Wave Deluxe radio highlighting the gorgeous, chrome chassis for about $200.

The full-page Scott ad tied into the theme of the World's Fair by claiming "World-Wide Reception” and calling out the very countries that were exhibiting at the international trade show like Italy, France, Germany, Australia, Spain and England. Scott's had high visibility at the Fair and a carefully crafted advertising message in the fair program, which boasted that that Scott radio owners could stay connected to the world, just like people were experiencing at fair exhibits.

The Zenith Radio Company was also manufacturing in Chicago in 1933 and had its eye on Scott's high-end radio success. Zenith decided to compete for the same wealthy class radio market as Scott Radio Laboratories. Zenith, like many other radios manufactures of the time, strayed away from the high-end, radio market segment due economic impact from the Great Depression from 1930 through1932.

The newly created middle to upper class created in America's Roaring 20's, the ones that bought the pricier radio sets, had almost completely evaporated. This kind of harsh economic decline could be seen in other consumer products as well. For example, the American piano manufacturing industry went from producing over 200,000 pianos a year the late 1920's to a mere 10,000 in this same early 1930's time period.

In April 1933, about the time Scott's ad come out in the World's Fair program and E. H. Scott Radios were getting rave reviews in consumer and radio industry magazines, Commander Engine F. McDonald, the President of Zenith Radio Company, sent a memo attached with Scott promotional materials to his management and engineering staff and asked them to study the materials and figure out a way to produce Zenith radio that would directly compete with Scott's All Wave Deluxe models.

In the same time period, Scott Radio Laboritories, Inc. was sending out marketing packets with multi-page magazine like marketing brochures and a personally signed letter from E.H. Scott himself. The packets included a ten-page list of Scott radio owners that read like the Who's Who of Hollywood, American industry and the scientific world.

At the same time, Commander McDonald was being told at Chicago social functions that Scott radios were the best in the world, which wrangled him to the point he refocused his company to design what would become the $750 1000Z Stratosphere by the end of 1934. Zenith's timing on the Stratosphere production was poor.

1933 was the worst year of the depression and Scott had been advertising its upscale high performance chrome radios in major publications like Fortune and National Geographic Magazines for quite some time Zenith would start signaling to consumers that a larger De Luxe 25 tube, 3-speaker radio was coming.

In mid-July 1934, at Zenith's Chicago dealer's convention, the company announced the introduction of their new top end radio, the 1000Z Stratosphere, to their best distributors. It would take Zenith another four months to bring the large dial masterpiece to market. In the end Zenith would produce only 350 of their top end radios. From there, Scott addressed Zenith's Stratosphere efforts with its own big dial 30 tube and 33 tube radios. Philharmonic radio tuner chassis, amp and 15" speaker.

By 1937 Scott ended up cutting the price of its top of the line radio to $200, about the same price of Zenith's upper middle of the 1937 12-U-159 console radio. To sweeten the pot, Scott even gave radio buyers a free cabinet with a Philharmonic purchase.

The chrome Scott Philharmonic was a real looker for $200. Zenith's $750 price tag was steep and it took them four model years to sell all 350 produced. Keep in mind, a brand new Buick automobile could be purchased for $750 in 1935.

Summing it all up, Zenith's Stratosphere suffered from the following: the radio was introduced in the middle of the Great Depression at a difficult price point when Scott was already established in the high end radio market. Scott out maneuvered Zenith by producing a very nice looking radio with fairly good performance at less than a quarter of the price of the Stratosphere. At a price point of $200, Scott was now selling radios to the upper middle radio market that was slowly growing again by 1937.

According to a 1936 Radio Retailing magazine, the average price for a radio console in America at that time was $110. The 1936 Zenith 12-A-59 was priced around $139. The 1000Z was almost 7 times higher than the national average and the Scott Philharmonic was priced at almost half the national average. In the end though, Scott could not compete due to the high cost of construction for the elaborate chrome chassis. E.H Scott would lose interest in his company and by the war years, his company would dwindle away as Zenith rose to the top of radio manufacturing list by 1942.

1000Z Stratosphere cabinet & Scott Philharmonic Warrington Cabinet

Zenith Stratosphere & Scott Philharmonic cabinets