Allied Radio  

1929   1960 1990   3rd Floor Addded in 1967  

  From Harry N9CQX

Here is part of an article I did for the ARCI News in 2005...  (page opens in new browser window)

Growing up in the 1950's I often made the pilgrimage to 100N. Western Ave as well as did many other radio/electronic enthusiasts, young and old. This was the new home of Allied Radio Corporation after they relocated from 833 W. Jackson Blvd. I still have some of my old Allied catalogs from the Jackson Avenue address sometime between 1952 and 1956. Other catalogs reveal that Allied was located at 1903 W. Pershing Rd. and at 711 W. Lake St.

The "Ultra modern" facilities at Western Avenue and Jackson Blvd. boasted of now having 187,000 square feet of floor space. The size of the 1956 catalog is 50% larger than the 1952 issue; from 210 pages to 322 pages. I could hardly contain myself when I approached the building and rounded front entrance proclaiming A-L-L-I-E-D in large vertical script. This was my candy store and even today the thought of my visits there can evoke feelings of sentimental pleasure.

Passing through the foyer, I would first turn to the right and enter the Ham Shack. The Ham Shack was configured differently throughout the years and was manned by various ham operator, licensed salesmen. A couple of the ham shack salesmen whom I fondly remember are Joe Gizi W9HLA and Jim Sommerville W9WHF. Why did I say fondly? Because they did not treat me like a young kid with nearly empty pockets, who asked dumb questions, any differently than an adult customer. I was rarely able to afford any significant purchases at Allied. I did load up on flyers and the Allied catalogs. I also purchased manuals for transmitters and receivers and I guess that was my way of being part of something I couldn't afford. Some manuals were only ten cents. There was one ham who worked at Allied in 1955 who I don't recall seeing in ham shack. His call was W9IVJ and Irael Treger became better known later as the grumpy owner of Trigger Electronics, at 7361 North Avenue in River Forest.

Before leaving the store I passed back through the foyer and entered the sales room on the south side of the building. (There also a second floor and I remember taking ham radio classes up there.) I remember seeing record albums and reel-to-reel tapes on sale. There were rows and rows of other items but I have a faint recollection of what was being offered. I think maybe components, TV antennas, tools and electronic supplies for the repairman or do-it-yourselfer. I also remember the audio showrooms along the along the north wall. Maybe Allied invented that concept. I remember sitting in a comfy chair in one of the audio showrooms while a salesman would switch various speakers into various Hi-Fidelity components for my listening pleasure. When stereo came out I remember hearing sound effect records; a ping-pong game, airplanes and trains (steam engines, of course) I think the friendly salesman was practising his "money back guarantee" and "easy payment plan" for a real customer.

I seem to remember a bargain table and maybe a kit-building demonstration. Many electronic suppliers of the day featured kits for home construction and Knight-Kit was the famous name of the Allied line of kits. At the store you could order a kit or anything out of the Allied catalog. A salesman wrote up the order on a form which filled out in detail. If you waited for your order he would check off the "WC" box at the bottom and send it to the warehouse area through a pneumatic tube. A little while later your item would arrive on a conveyor belt to the will-call (WC) area. Someone there would call you to a large counter that ran across the rear of the sales room. I participated in that process a few times. I can remember standing anxiously awaiting the arrival of my newly ordered Knight-Kit. It could have been the $15 Space Spanner or $9 Wireless Broadcaster. Whatever the treasure was, it was all packaged in a neat Knight-Kit box sealed with Knight-Kit paper tape and I couldn't wait to get it home. The guy at the counter stamped the large white Allied receipt with "ORDER FILLED, DATE AND TIME" and then you were on your way. After exiting the store, I would cross Western Ave. to catch the north bound bus. Near the bus stop, right across the street from Allied, was Olson Electronics a drunk who couldn't pass by a tavern, I was pulled into this warehouse containing all sorts of electronic gadgets that I didn't know I needed until I saw them. I remember having to buy plenty of inexpensive kits and parts in there. They always had a bargain area, too. One time bought a beautiful "Tokyo Rose" style, crystal microphone for just a couple of dollars.

The bus ride home always seemed longer. I remember tearing the wide paper tape that sealed the box and the smell the emanating from the parts within. There are certain things you don't forget which can also trigger those nostalgic visits to a time not yet quite altogether lost. The smell of a new Knight-Kit waiting to be constructed is certainly one. I have to mention another odor which was part of my electronic coming-of-age. Now days every time I use a soldering iron, I shudder to think about the fumes that I was not concerned about years ago. There were times that I even held the solder in my mouth in an effort to gain an extra hand for those tight assembly manoeuvres. I now work with proper ventilation and wash my hands after handling lead solder. Well I could go on with a kit building story but you either did it yourself or you didn't. The way I see it I am going to get the Space Spanner off the shelf, grab a par of 'cans' and hook 'em' up cause it's been a while! The old Wireless Broadcaster is already being used for playing the old radio shows into vintage sets around the house.

  From Bob W9RAN  

I found the very good article on Allied Radio that appeared in Monitoring Times a few years ago, and it included the unknown-to-me history of the founder, Simon Wexler. If that name has a familiar ring, it's probably because his son, Haskel Wexler, was an Oscar-winning cinematographer ("Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf", "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest", and 67 other films. Jeffery Simon Wexler, his grandson, was an Oscar-nominated sound engineer. The timing of starting his new company in 1928 might have been better, but after Simon Wexler made it through the Great Depression it must have seemed easy from then on.

I sure envy you guys who were able to personally visit the Temple of All Things Radio at 100 N. Western Ave. I'm sure I wouldn't have recognized the Taj Mahal or Parliment building or other famous structures in 6th grade, but I could have drawn you a pretty fair sketch of the Allied Radio building just from the picture in the catalog.

I remember being at Allied's new facility in Ft. Worth in the 90's and seeing the display of all the old catalogs, but now (and I have no idea who finds the time to do this) they've all been scanned and are available for browsing online at Allied Catalogs.  (page opens in new browser window)

I still prefer my paper ones, especially the '62 copy that spent most of it's early life smuggled inside one school notebook or another.

73, Bob W9RAN

  From George K9GDT

My experience is similar to Harry's. It was during during Christmas break of 1960 when dad asked my sister and me if we were interested in an upcoming Novice course being offered at Allied Radio. I was halfway through the seventh grade and the class seemed like a good way to keep busy during a slow time of year.

The primary instructor was W9BHD. He was often called "Big Hound Dog" behind his back. I was puzzled about why such a kind gentleman was being described this way. He wasn't that big and he didn't seem like the character depicted in the Elvis song!

A quick side-story. . .

  • My radio background was limited to a Remco crystal set I received from Santa in the fourth grade. Years later, it was a single tube 25-in-1 electronics lab and an old car radio I used at home to DX the broadcast band with an outdoor wire antenna. BTW, collecting BCB QSL cards was great fun!

    A word about that Remco crystal set It actually had a profound influence on my life. It could pick up only one station - WJJD at 1160kc. It was one of two stations in Chicago specializing in the new Rock 'n Roll music adults found so appalling in the mid-1950s. The other was WLS at 890kc. It's transmit site was south of Chicago. There wasn't enough signal coming to the northern suburbs for a simple crystal radio to receive its programming.

    The new music inspired me to play the guitar. I paid my way through school by teaching music and playing wedding & lounge gigs. While my friends graduated with student loan debt, I had a lot of fun and a few bucks in my pocket. Thanks, Remco!   Now back to the Allied story.

The course was held in Allied's second floor employee cafeteria. Upon completion, the Novice class test was given. My sister, who was the best at Morse Code, decided that radio was a males-only endeavour and skipped the test. Dad and I passed. I remember anxiously waiting several months for the ticket to arrive from the FCC.

Meanwhile, dad purchased a Drake 2A receiver and a Hallicrafters HT-40 transmitter from Allied. He put up a Hy-Gain 14AVS vertical with a single radial for each band. Having dad become a ham was a real advantage. My grade-school friends were using regenerative or Hallicrafters S-120 class receivers. Later, dad purchased a Hallicrafters HA-1 "TO Keyer" and Vibroplex paddle. (Jim Ricks W9TO was my neighbor years later when I lived in North Evanston, IL. He was a competent engineer, homebrewer, CW OP, musician and serious drinker!)

I spent a month or so "reading the mail" to learn about radio procedure before ever transmitting. It was then I realized that "Big Hound Dog" was a phonetic, not an insult!

My primary interest in radio was homebrewing equipment, I was able to scrounge parts on the way home from grade school raiding the trash cans of a local TV repair shop. (This explains the wire cutters and other tools visible in my pockets during school hours!) Another source of parts were generous hams who took pity on this kid. I still have many .001µf 1KV disc ceramic capacitors left from the enormous bag I was given. (Did you know a .001µf capacitor with ¼" leads is series resonant at 50MHz? ...ideal for bypassing!)

Although homebrew projects were well supported by my parts inventory and generous fellow hams, there were times I needed to purchase components. Being an energetic youngster, I had no patience for the mail order process, which could take up to a month. So I used public transportation to travel from the north suburbs of Chicago to 100N Western Ave, often to spend only 5₵.

During this time I never revisited the Allied Ham Shack. I went to Allied only for parts. So I spent a lot of time at the rear counter and looking around the main floor waiting for my paltry parts orders to be filled. Fond memories indeed!

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