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From the Shure Archives: The Model 99 Radio Modulator

The Model 99 Radio Modulator and Shure Model 33N Two-Button Microphone.
The Model 99 Radio Modulator and Shure Model 33N Two-Button Microphone.

With thousands of treasures to choose from in the Shure Archives, it’s impossible to say which are the most important. Each has a story. In this series, I’ll share with you some of my personal favorites, including the Model 99 Radio Modulator.

Meet Michael Pettersen, Shure Director of Corporate History

Since 1976, I have worked at Shure on teams from sales to product management to applications engineering. Music performance and history were passions. In 2016, these worlds coalesced when Shure President/CEO Christine Schyvinck decided the company needed a corporate historian. She asked me if I was interested, and I accepted without hesitation.

My involvement with documenting Shure history dates back to 1995. The company’s 75th anniversary was looming in 2000. To commemorate it, I suggested a book celebrating the company’s history. Much of the content came from a small, crowded archive closet.

Today the Shure Archives have a climate-controlled space of their own. Senior Corporate Librarian & Archivist Julie Snyder maintains the collection. Together, we preserve the history that Mr. Shure and Mrs. Shure held so dear.

“Every Radio Set a Public Address System:”The Model 99 Radio Modulator

In 1933, the Model 99 Radio Modulator made its first and only appearance in a Shure product catalog. The Modulator, boasting “1,001 uses,” was capable of transforming any AM radio set into an “efficient and low priced Public Address system.” Designed to operate with the Shure Model 33N Two-Button Microphone, the Modulator setup was as easy as plugging in the device, connecting it to the mic, attaching two wires to the aerial and ground terminals of a radio set, and tuning the radio to “about the middle of the dial.” By flipping a switch on the Modulator, a customer’s radio was returned to its normal receiving function.

By the mid-1930s, two-thirds of Americans owned radio sets. The year that Shure offered the Modulator, an estimated 60 million Americans tuned in to hear FDR’s first Fireside Chat. Shure identified multiple potential customers for the Modulator, including radio dealers to sell or use the device to demo radio sets, merchants and small clubs for an affordable amplification system, and home radio users appreciative of its faux grained walnut finish. While we don’t know whether any of these applications had traction at the height of the Great Depression, we do know that the Modulator did not appear in a Shure catalog again.

By World War II, there were many low-cost PA systems on the market. At that time, metal objects like the Modulator were routinely melted down for armaments. Our Modulator, which we acquired from an online auction site, may be the only one in existence.

For every SM57 or SM58®, there were other products that failed to get off the ground. Some were leap-frogged by newer technologies. Others, like the Modulator, may have been ahead of their time. Without the aid of Shure product catalogs that date back to the late 1920s, the stories of interesting but unsuccessful Shure products would be lost to history.

We’re always interested in adding historical Shure products to the archives. In addition to auction sites, people who stumble upon old Shure products when cleaning out a basement or garage are sometimes the source of items in our collection. If this happens to you, let us know in the comments. You might be the source of the next great Shure Archives find.

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