RCA Model 5Q56 Ivory Bakelite Table Radio (1939)
RCA Model 5Q56 'New Yorker' Ivory-Painted Bakelite Table Radio
John Vassos Designed (1939)
In June of 1939 RCA introduced their "New
Yorker" series of table top radios, made for
all-wave reception and styled by RCA's long-time
industrial designer John Vassos. Intended for
both domestic and overseas use, the debut of
these sets came at a time of growing unease
among free peoples facing a deteriorating state
of world affairs. The very name "New Yorker"
was a reminder to those in faraway places of the
safety and opulence of that shining city, that
beacon of stability with the soaring architecture,
firmly anchored on the shores of the land of

The line at first included the 5-tube AC-powered
(5Q) models, some supporting multi-voltage
operation. They apparently sold so well that
additional models were soon added, including
six, eight and nine tube table sets and consoles.
Battery-powered 4-tube (4Q) versions were also
offered, together with optional AC adapters. The
radios in the series were advertised extensively
both at home and abroad, including the Carib-
bean, where reassuring "
tropic proofed through-
" claims made in the advertisements no doubt
helped sales.

On a lighter cultural note, the influence of the
1939 New York World's Fair on this radio cannot
be overlooked. The fair opened at the end of
April 1939 and ran through the summer and fall
of both 1939 and 1940. Its theme was "Building
the World of Tomorrow". Ads for the "New
Yorker" radios, inaugurated in June of 1939 just
a few weeks after the fair opened, referenced
the "
modern style", the "sweeping modern lines",
the "
beautiful streamlined cabinet" of the sets, all
terms readily relating to the theme of the Fair.
There can be no doubt these sets would have
made an appearance in the Fair's RCA exhibit at
some point. Could these souvenir
from the period have been part of that fair exhibit

Despite the advertising accolades rained down
on the modernism of this radio, and its popularity
when introduced, this is an overlooked, almost
forgotten radio today. It fails to make the 'A' list
of stars when it comes to the more brazen  
machine-age radio designs of the 1930s and
early 1940s, the ones that are now so sought
after by collectors. John Vassos, the radio's
designer, believed in a less radical, gentler form
of modernism, his radios largely featuring soften-
ed edges, linear dials and sweeping grilles, with
themes based on simple squares and circles. He
stated that "
a program of gradual change must
be laid out and followed, because any radical
change, even for the better, is dangerous to the
standard product on the market. The public will
not accept it
". The "New Yorker" line was noted
as exemplifying this philosophy, being selected
Architectural Forum as the "1940 plastic
expression of contemporary radio
". His views
must have resonated with the public mood too,
for some 120,000 of the sets were sold.

This radio has occupied precious shelf space in
my display room for the past several years. I was
originally drawn to it by its modest, elegant aes-
thetics. But as I have recently researched its
roots I have come to appreciate its fascinating
history too.
RCA Model 5Q56 Ivory Bakelite Table Radio (1939)
"beautiful streamlined cabinet in ivory ..molded plastic, reflects the
dynamic vigorous lines of New York architecture ... giving it a beauty of
appearance entirely befitting its splendid performance"
"customers will be able to keep in "on-the-spot" touch with European
affairs no matter where they go this summer"
"Most Modern in Style, Most Advanced in Performance. ..plastic cabinet of
simple, sweeping modern lines"
RCA Model 5Q56 Ivory Bakelite Table Radio (1939)
The RCA 5Q56 in ivory painted bakelite and
5Q55 in walnut (brown) bakelite are 5-tube
domestic-type three-band receivers. The 5Q5
was the export version featuring a universal
power transformer. Tube line-up is 6SA7 (1st
det/osc), 6K7 (IF), 6SQ7 (2nd det/AVC/1st AF),
6F6G (output) and 5Y3G (rectifier). Tuning
ranges are band A: 540 - 1720kcs (standard
broadcast), band B: 2.3 - 7.0mcs and band C:
7.0 - 22.0mcs. The sets featured an "
lighted straight-line dial
" and rear connection
for a Victrola. Maximum audio output rating is
Schematic courtesy of NostalgiaAir.
131/2" (W) * 87/8" (D) * 93/4" (H) (depth to extreme front edge of dial)
Daily Gleaner, Kingston,
Jamaica, Sept 19th 1939
Radio & Television Retailing, June
1939 p.34
Daily Gleaner, Kingston,
Jamaica, Dec 1939
Ironwood Daily Globe, Sept 20th 1939
Ad for RCA 5Q5 from Daily Gleaner Aug 5th 1939
Daily Gleaner, Kingston jamaica, Aug 5th 1939
Radio Retailing, Sept 1939
Ad above, aimed
at American re-
tailers, is for one
of the later 4-
band "New York-
er" models.
"A molded plastic cabinet of unusually smart design will find the radio
a prominent place in the home of commercial and amateur flyers"
"Radio News", Nov 1939, p16.
"A radically new circuit design worked out in the RCA Victor Laboratories
fitted the "New Yorker" for its original mission as an extremely sensitive and
selective table model radio to overcome the difficulties of shortwave
reception in the tropics"
"Radio News", Nov 1939, p16.
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