Fifties Transistor Radios

The Transistor Radio

by Christine Sostarich

Although radio had its beginnings in the late 1800ís when Guglielmo Marconi invented the wireless telegraph, it really didnít become a widespread technology until the 1920ís. The first radios were made with valve receivers and it was mostly the well to do that could afford them. People bought radio kits that they put together themselves to save money. Soon large tabletop models were produced, beginning a new form of family entertainment. When the transistor was invented in the early 50ís, it was the beginning of a new era for radio. 

The very first commercially available transistor radio was produced by Regency Electronics. They made the Regency TR-1 and was on the shelves for Christmas in 1954. Raytheon came out with one in 1955.  1956 is a common year stated for the manufacture of the Regency TR-1G, the successor to the Regency TR-1. ( source: www.radioexpo.org  )

As with any new technology, the price was very high for this new radio. Within a few years, the prices of transistor radios had fallen and the market began to explode. In 1956 Regency Electronics began to offer transistor radios in black, white, red, and gray. Later new colors were introduced and some were offered at a higher price simply because of their unique colors.

Japan jumped into the market in the late 50ís and the Sony company began to rake in their share of the sales. Sony had the advantage of cheaper labor and they used their marketing skills and technology to take over the lionís share of radio sales. Sony remained a dominating force in technology from then on into the 80ís. 

Early transistor radios were detailed and painstakingly decorated. A technique known as reverse painting was used, especially by the Japanese companies. The plastic components for the case of the radio were often made with a base of clear plastic which was then engraved on the inside and painted. This technique insured that the markings would not be rubbed off and the radioís decoration would remain intact indefinitely. 

The potential for using the radio as an early warning device for the public was realized and some early radios were marked with the letters CD on a certain section of the dial. The Civil Defense marks were used to show people what station to tune into in case of an air raid or attack which were big fears during this period.  

Radios became smaller and smaller and the quality of their construction began to take a nosedive as companies used cheaper materials to make them more accessible to everyone while turning a greater profit. Transistor radios could be listened to with headphones and families began to turn away from the tradition of sitting around the radio as each family member listened to their own programs on personal radios. Rock and Roll edged radio along even further as young people all needed to be able to listen to the latest songs. 

Today, transistor radio collections are very popular. Since so many radios were produced it is often easy to find older radios at flea markets, garage sales, and even on E-bay. You may even be able to find one of the original Regency transistor radios for less than a hundred dollars. Many of the old transistor radios are even still operational if you are able to locate the proper batteries.  

Christine Sostarich is a freelance writer and mother of four living in the Pocono Mountains of Eastern Pennsylvania. She is also a poet and editor of a small literary journal.

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