A breif history of New York City's radio and electronics district known as "Radio Row"
With the invention of radio (first known as "Wireless") and its increasing popularity with experimenters and the public in the 1920s, a warehouse section in New York City began filling with distributors
and storefronts specializing in radios and parts. Through the 1930s this section of New York grew in size and became a concentration of radio stores in what's still remembered today as "Radio Row".
Encompassing a large section on the West side of Manhattan, several blocks of Cortlandt Street, Liberty, and Dey Streets were filled with storefronts piled high with radios,
parts, and electrical appliances. Their wares often covered the sidewalks. Radios, speakers, and boxes of vacuum tubes and radio parts of every brand and variety were stacked
and left sitting in open boxes on the sidewalks. Inside the cramped storefronts, radios and electronics were often piled to the ceilings in what was described as organized chaos.
Throughout Radio Row's existence, broadcasts of music, news, and sports blasted from it's storefronts. The sound was so loud at times, people could hear the crescendo of noise in the
subway a block away. Listeners gathered in large groups on the sidewalks and spilling into the streets when breaking news was broadcast over the air such as the announcement
of the end of World War II and President Kennedy's assassination.
Radio Row, 1929
Times were tough for the Radio Row businesses during World War II. Radios were produced strictly for the war effort and not built for or sold to the public. Radio stores scrambled to make a living
without radio sales. Since new radios were not available during the war years, many shops got by doing repair work. At the end of the war the electronics business rebounded and along with it, the shopkeepers of Radio Row.
Through the 1950s and into the 1960s, televisions, record players, just about any other appliance that could be plugged in, along with radios, parts, and every new electronic
gizmo of the day could be found in the Radio Row section of New York City.
In the early 1960s plans were formulated by the State and City to change the face of Manhattan. What we now know as the World Trade Center would eventually take just about
every city block encompassing Radio Row. The radio row business owners put up a fight in the courts but eventually lost their battle in 1963 and the Port of New York Authority took several
blocks for the World Trade center project. A few stores and distributors relocated but most just shut their doors forever. By the end of 1966 "Radio Row" in New York City no longer existed.
Airex Radio was located on "Radio Row" at 78 Cortlandt Street in 1934. They later moved to 85 Cortlandt Street.
The Airex catalog at left shows thet types of radio items available in a typical Rario Row storefront of the 1930s.
View the entire 1934 Airex Radio Catalog:
Radio Trading Company was near Radio Row on Broadway. Here is their complete 1932 number 25 catalog, 100 pages of radios, parts and various other electrical items.
View the entire 1932 Radio Trading Company Catalog:
The Manhattan Electrical Supply Co. was one of the largest electrical suppliers in the early 20th Century. They were located at 32 Cortlandt Street. In this MESCO catalog published around 1913, you will find everything from early electrical appliances, light bulbs, batteries, wireless apparatus (radio), telegraph equipment, early telephones, and much more.
View the entire 200+ page MESCO catalog: