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.