A Brief History Of The Transistor Radio

by PS on December 3, 2011

in Articles


The transistor radio is a device that was commonly used up until the mid-1970s, due to the fact that it was portable and allowed the owner to listen to it wherever they went. They were probably the biggest factor in changing the listening habits of a generation of music lovers, as billion were manufactured in order to fulfill the world’s desire to listen to their favorite station while on the go.

The first transistor is widely acknowledged to have been developed in 1947 by Bell Laboratories, but there is some confusion regarding who actually developed the first radio incorporating this feature. The most likely candidate for this honor is a company called Intermetall, who demonstrated a model that was superior to tube radios at the 1953 Dusseldorf Radio Fair in Germany. This was just a prototype however, and was never mass produced.

The first commercially available transistor radio was created by two companies working in partnership with each other – Texas Instruments and Industrial Development Engineering Associates. They called their product the Regency TR-1, and it was released in November 1954. After just one year the product had sold over 100,000 units, making it a huge success for the business and heralding the arrival of a whole new industry to the world.

There was no significant competition for the Regency TR-1 until the following year, when Raytheon released the 8-TP-1 to the market. This used four more transistors than the Regency TR-1 and therefore represented a huge leap in the sound quality that was available to buyers. After this a huge number of companies began to get in to the market, including many that are still worldwide brands to the present day.

One massive impact of the transistor radio on the United States was the emergence of far more Japanese products being available to buy. One of the biggest players that Japan exported was that of Sony, who – in 1955 – became the first company in the world to build a whole transistor radio. Previously companies had purchased the transistors to go in to their products. Sony didn’t crack the American market until their third release in 1957 however, with the introduction of the TR-63…

The TR-63 has an interesting story behind it, as Sony marketed it as the world’s first pocket sized radio. This is a matter for debate however, as many believe that Sony had special shirts made for their salesmen with oversized pockets, in order to make the buyer think that the radio was pocket sized. However underhand the marketing tactics may have been, it didn’t affect the American appetite for Japanese radios though – by 1959 the United States was home to over 6 million Japanese transistor radios.

With transistor radios firmly cemented in the national consciousness, companies began having to adapt to draw customers to their product. One way that many did this was through the production of novelty radios, which often looked quirky and a lot different from the traditional model. Companies from outside the radio market also tapped in to the craze, producing novelty radios that bore their trademark or slogan on them. This realization of the power of radio really cemented their popularity amongst the whole nation.

The market for transistor radios remained steady throughout the 1960s, but when the 1970s came around companies were starting to offer alternatives and the design became out of fashion and slightly redundant. Boom boxes and other portable music devices moved in on the transistor radios’ territory and by the end of 1970 the last American maker of these radios ceased production.

There are still places in the world where transistor radios are made, with the most notable being China. They are now, however, only sold in quantity in poorer countries, as the rise of digital radio and MP3 players has made the need for them diminish.

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