The Crosley Radio Corporation, which was the largest manufacturer of table-top radios in the United States, was based in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Crosley Radio was headed by Powel Crosley, Jr., a pioneer of affordable radios, appliances and housewares. The foundation of the company began when Crosley attempted to purchase a new crystal set radio for his youngest son, although at that time such a unit cost over $100. Disappointed by the high price, Crosley instead purchased The ABC’s of Radio for 25 cents and assembled his own crystal receiver.2 The ease of the assembly and the cheap parts led Crosley to introduce the first low-priced, mass-produced radio, the Harko, in 1920.1 The unit was a success and within a year, Crosley had become the largest manufacturer of radios in the United States.

Birth of the WLW

In July 1921, Crosley installed a 20-watt transmitter at his residence in College Hill, a suburb of Cincinnati, and began broadcasting his collection of phonograph records via 8XAA, his personal amateur radio station.2 He received a license from the federal government in March 1922 and he went on the air as the WLW, “The Nation’s Station,” with an unprecedented 50-watt signal. That signal was increased to a staggering 500-watts in 1923 to expand the range of the reception,2 and as a token to his influence, he awarded a box of candy to the first listener from each state that sent a telegram to the station. He received entries from 42 states and 3 Canadian provinces.

The Crosley Radio Corporation was founded shortly after by Powel and his brother, Lewis, in a small brick structure along Arlington Street.2 The spread of low-cost radios was so great that the company soon became the largest radio manufacturer in the world.1

In 1925, the WLW signal was increased to 5,000 watts. An addition to the headquarters was completed in the following year, and in 1927, WLW gained sole control of the 700 kilocycle frequency, becoming the nation’s first “clear channel” station.

In 1929, an eight-story manufacturing and broadcasting center was constructed along Arlington Street,2 and the WLW’s studio was moved to the eighth floor. The studio was the largest outside of New York City. During this time, Crosley Radio was manufacturing 2,000 radios per day and employed over 3,000. By 1930, it had fallen to fifth place in terms of total sales due to increased competition. This hardly deterred Crosley, who instead introduced products that such as the Crosley Icyball, the first refrigerator that operated without electricity, the first car radio, an airplane and the first mass-produced electrically-based refrigerator.1

Manufacture of items relating to World War II consumed much of the space in the Crosley manufacturing center, and in 1942, the WLW studio were moved to a new facility in downtown.2

In 1946, Crosley sold WLW and the Crosley Corporation to the Aviation Corporation(AVCO). This allowed Crosley to focus his attention on his inventions. Three years after the sale, Crosley invented the concept of disc brakes for the automobile and the first portable television.1 He also built a small car, the Crosley, that was ultimately a business failure.2

The Crosley nameplate was removed as a brand name by AVCO in 1956, when the radio line was closed down due to a lack of sustainable profit.1 AVCO closed the Arlington Street factory four years later, and the plant was subsequently sold and used for industrial storage and manufacturing.2 In 1970, the Crosley Corporation purchased the rights to Crosley from AVCO, and began rebuilding the brand with the reintroduction of a line of appliances and vintage products.1 Multimedia, Inc. purchased WLW in 1975.2

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  1. Giglierano, Geoffrey J., Deborah A. Overmyer, and Frederic L. Propas. “Crosley Building.” The Bicentennial Guide to Greater Cincinnati: A Portrait of Two Hundred Years. Cincinnati: Cincinnati Historical Society, 1998. 259-260. Print.