Transistor Radios

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Transistor Radios

Small, portable, and convenient, transistor radios did not offer excellence in sound quality, but they did provide another important feature—privacy. American teenagers saw the pocket radios as a way to listen to the driving beat of rock and roll (see entry under 1950s—Music in volume 3) music, away from the judgments of their parents. The first transistor radio (the Regency TR-1) was produced by Regency Electronics in cooperation with Texas Instruments in 1954.

The magazine Popular Mechanics had published instructions for building a do-it-yourself pocket radio, using a wooden glove box for the body, in 1925. The invention of the transistor in the early 1950s paved the way for a mass-produced pocket radio. A transistor is a small device, about the size of a pencil eraser, that generates and amplifies electric signals. It could be used instead of the bulkier vacuum tubes to control the signals that sent radio (see entry under 1920s—TV and Radio in volume 2) broadcasts through the air.

Japanese manufacturer Sony exported its TR-63 transistor radio to the United States starting in 1957. Sony quickly became the market leader as American teens fast became eager buyers of the compact radios. In 1957, one hundred thousand transistor radios were shipped to the United States. By 1959, the number had risen to six million, over half of all the pocket radios manufactured in Japan. By the 1960s, transistor radios were even more popular as people became accustomed to hearing their favorite music, sports, and news wherever they went. By the 1970s and 1980s, the Walkman (see entry under 1970s— Music in volume 4) essentially replaced the transistor radio, due to its superior sound quality and ability to play cassette tapes.

—Tina Gianoulis

For More Information

Fitch, Richard D. "Portables." Radio-Electronics (Vol. 58, January 1987): pp. 74–79.

Schiffer, Michael Brian. The Portable Radio in American Life. Tuscon: University of Arizona Press, 1991.

Stein, Mark V. Machine Age to Jet Age. Vol. 2. Baltimore: Radiomania Books, 1997.

"The Transistor." DigitalAmerica. (accessed March 11, 2002).