Tuning in a look at transistor radios

When a product is easy to use and revolutionary in concept, it will have an immediate impact on consumers and

When a product is easy to use and revolutionary in concept, it will have an immediate impact on consumers and a legacy rarely seen. The transistor radio was one of these inventions.

In the mid-50s, the first commercially available transistor hit the market. The Regency TR-1 was relatively small and easy to carry, but it was panned by critics and consumers alike because of the poor sound quality. One newspaper review even said, “the idea that the transistor will ever be successful is laughable”. In a second attempt, the Raytheon 8-TP-1 was released. It was bigger than the TR-1 because it was more powerful and gave a much better quality sound. It was a success, and soon many companies began selling similar units. Even the reviews were good with a review in Consumer Reports stating “The transistors in this set have not been used to build the smallest radio on the market, and good performance has not been sacrificed.”

While they were popular, it would take two things to make them the “must have” item that they would become. The first was that car manufacturers include them in cars, Chrysler was the first to do this as a $150 optional extra. The second had nothing to do with the radios themselves. It was the mainstream appearance of Rock’n’Roll.

The radios size and power meant that they could be taken where the young people were, and the music didn’t have to stop. When movie stars started carrying them around in the films, that was it they were part of culture.

In the 70s transistors would become the hot item to use for marketing. They would appear as golf balls, food related packaging, and almost every popular cartoon character of the time. A hugely popular and valuable novelty radio was the Mork & Mindy Eggship radio which goes for almost $200 online these days.

Transistor radios were the first taste of individual freedom for many young people as they got to listen to the music they wanted when and where they wanted to hear it.

#transistorradio #recordplayer #oldstuff #nationalpanasonic

A video posted by Adhiraj Singh (@adhiraj_s) on

When did you get your first transistor radio? Did you have a novelty one? Do you still use one?

  1. My first transistor Radio was a beautiful AWA 7. My parents gave it to me when I was 14 and it changed my life. I could listen to Rock at a time and place that suited me, in an era when the major teen classics were brand new. Hits from Elvis, the Beach Boys, Roy and so many more.
    I liked the radio so much, many years later I morphed it into other uses, like one of the first ever push-bike radios seen in Australia, with a handlebars case and driven by the bike’s dynamo. Then I built it into an equally rare home-made portable record player for the beach.
    It was to be the foundation for my career. At 17 I saw an advertisement for work at PYE Telecommunications, so that started a career in Electronics.
    Finally the radio became one of those things I’d thrown out, but could not remember when and where. It was exciting to find an identical one in near new condition in an antique shop in recent times, so now it is on display in my lounge-room.
    This also led to joining the Historical Radio Society of Australia and my current position as Vice President. Plus the establishment of the Australian Radio Museum. Our members have more than 30,000 vintage radios, many restored to work and look like new.

  2. Frank  

    I recall using one of those ‘first’ Regency type transistors – I remember the sound being terrible.

    For me the transistor radio is a story of SONY – US universities invented the transistor – and the transistor radio – but a young Japanese guy visited the US and figured he could make it cheaper – the rest is history.

  3. The Regency and even the Sony were rare here, as they were aimed at the US market.

    The best transistors were large National Radios, though Kriesler Australia made a very nice powerful sound mantel transistor. We did a lot of research investigating who made the first fully Australian transistor radio. Brands like Philips made transistor radios here, but used a considerable amount of imported parts, or even fully imported.

    Nobody was able to say from memory which was the first Australian Transistor, so we relied on advertisements from AWA stating they produced the first Transistor Radio.

    Many quirky transistor radios were made, including the National “Wrist Twist”, also known as Toot-a-loop. I made a page on the radio here .. https://spark.adobe.com/page/9012bdf3-6643-4256-ade7-f281971cf675/

  4. Gary Anderson  

    I was a member of the production team that built the first Bell Transistor Radio manufactured in New Zealand
    in 1958 or 1959.That was fun. Quality was a lot to be desired.


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