Exploring Albany's inglorious past and dubious future

The Raven Radio Company and Frank A. Raven

raven radio collage

Radio was all the rage in the early 1920’s. Frank A. Raven, Albany Commissioner of the Municipal Department of Public Works, came to his job with an engineering background (he’d consulted for Albany Felt and Ludlum Steel) and an abiding interest in the new world of radio. In 1922, he bought a part of the old Rathbone-Sard property, at 8 Learned Street, between North Ferry and Thatcher Streets, and opened Raven Radio, Inc.

Raven made radio kits for the hobbyist, including what was then the smallest superheterodyne set on the market. There were five or six different models, and they sold individual parts as well.

raven radio

The company expanded rapidly, acquiring a New York office and an additional manufacturing plant in Cobleskill. Raven left his city position in 1924 to devote more time to the business (more about that in a second).

raven radio 7
Competition in the radio world grew like a house ablaze, and within a few years the thousands of tinkerers and entrepreneurs who’d sprung up in its infancy were plowed under by large, well-financed manufacturers. In January of 1926, Raven Radio filed a petition of bankruptcy in Federal court in Utica, and its remaining stock was liquidated by vendors on New York’s Radio Row.
raven liquidation 1926

Raven Radios were handsome and solid performers, and today are scarce and highly prized among collectors.

Now back to Frank A. Raven. An appointee of Mayor Hackett, Raven brought a no-nonsense approach to his office. He “hit an unpopular chord” when he demanded every man in his department give 8 hours work for 8 hours pay, a shocking concept for the Democratic machine. Ward leaders, whose power stemmed from the gifting of cushy patronage jobs, were outraged. The situation came to a boil when he installed in his office the city government’s first time clock, eliciting howls of protest.

The problem was, Raven was also very good at his job. He created Albany’s first municipal purchasing department, and its first municipal garage. He created the Rocky Ledge swimming pool, and had an old park Avenue gas tank converted into a community swimming pool. He added radio concerts to band concerts in Washington Park. A vocal advocate for playground funding and Albany’s children, Raven became very popular among the city populace, much to the chagrin of the ward leaders, powerless to publicly oppose him.

The knives, however, were being sharpened. Albany’s Democrats cooled their heels until the 1923 election was over; then they forced him out of office. He left his commission in January, 1924, citing a need to pay more attention to his business concerns. After his radio company went bust, Raven returned to his engineering consultancy, overseeing the construction of Central Warehouse, among others. Even out of office, he continued to be a thorn in the city’s side, alleging in a 1928 Times Union story that the Albany Port District Commission lost a $50 million construction deal because one of the port commissioners could not be promised a directorship.

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