|| MYSTERY CONTROL HISTORY |
|HOW IT ALL CAME ABOUT
It's the late 1930's. Radio manufacturers are recovering from slack sales during the depression years. The radio has evolved into a fairly sophisticated device by now and many top radio manufacturers are looking to boost sales. Marketing departments were flooding all the weekly magazines with ad after ad touting various features of their radios.
By now, many radio manufacturers were using some form of remote control on their deluxe and high-end models. Three types of remote control were prevalent in the 1938-39 season: wired (a tethered control box), wired radio control (similar to carrier current radio over the AC house wiring) and true wireless radio control, which is the method Philco employed.1
...Most Thrilling Invention since Radio Itself!...No wires...No Plug-in...No cords of any kind! It's truely unbelievable! It's mystifying! That's why it's called Mystery Control!2 The first radios Philco designed for the Mystery Control were the two top of the line sets for the 1939 model year; the Model 39-116RX and the 39-55RX, a smaller version of the big brother 116. These models were large deluxe floor consoles. Both had hi-fidelity audio circuitry and impressive operational features as well as good looks.3
Starting in 1940, Philco also designed radio-phono models that employed Mystery Control (see table). In these models, the record changer could be operated either manually or using the wireless remote control. When using the remote, the changer could be started and stopped, records rejected and volume adjusted, in addition to the normal station selection functions.
Once the Mystery Control became popular, Philco continued to offer it in various models from 1939 through the 1942 model years. The novelty seemed to be wearing off, however. Referring to the table above, only two Mystery Control models were offered in 1941. Finally, 1942 was the last year the Mystery Control was offered.
The Philco marketing department spared no expense when it came to promotional items for not only their dealer network, but also for the listening public as well. The Haynes Radio Log of Chicago4 combined their local and international station log booklet with Philco Mystery Control promotions with a pictorial section of 144 radio celebrities, announcers and band leaders of the day. This was most likely a store give-away to promote the new sets and also given to customers with their new purchases. A typical salesman's lapel pin is shown here as yet another promotional item created for the new Mystery Control radios for the coming 1939 model year.
Philco dealers also held live demonstrations for the new radio line with in-store demo areas. One enterprising dealership in Philadelphia had a demonstration in the front window of the Philadelphia Record newspaper office. Traffic was all but stopped. A salesman carried the control box (far left in picture, holding control box) out to the sidewalk and extension loudspeakers were placed on the building's marquee.5 These "wireless remote" demonstrations were very unique for their time. Many other manufacturers had radios with other forms of remote control (Philco included) such as a wired or tethered control box or a remote box with a small built-in converter/receiver that fed the main set. No manufacturer up to this time had a completely wireless remote. Initially, the 1939 Philco dealer catalog claimed the Mystery Control did not use a "radio beam," when it fact it was.3 The control box sends out RF pulses to a special receiver in the main radio cabinet.
Here is an excerpt from an Oak Manufacturing Company publication, from the 1938 chapter. Oak was subcontracted by Philco to manufacture the Mystery Control.6 "..In the following year we [Oak Mfg. Co.] were successful in securing a contract from the Philco Corporation for the Mystery Box. This box contained a pulser assembly for remote control of the deluxe line of Philco radio sets. The Mystery Box was the forerunner of remote control units for radio and later for television sets, and was a good production item for us [Oak] until World War II a few years later."
"The Mystery Box, incidentally, was the largest product in physical size that Oak had ever manufactured and probably the most costly. However, this distinction was not to be long-lived. We were shortly to be manufacturing record changers."
Bibliography & Credits
1. National Radio News, Vol. 8, No. 6, Dec-Jan 1938-39
2. Collier's Magazine, October 1, 1938 and November 12, 1938
3. Philco Radio 1928-1942, by Ron Ramirez
4. Philco 1939 Star Album, Copyright, 1938 by Hayne's Radio Log, 161 W. Harrison, Chicago
5. Philco Serviceman, October, 1938. Copyright 1938, Philco Radio & Television Corporation
6. The Why and The Many Who, page 35, 1938 History, by Robert A. O'Reilly, Oak Electro/Netics Corp.
Crystal Lake, IL., Copyright 1969. Published by Worzella Publishing Co., Steven's Point, WI.