I can’t remember exactly how old I was, but I was probably eight or nine. My father had a friend who regularly traveled to New York City. Dad asked him to buy me one of America’s new hot items … a transistor radio.
Until I researched background information about transistor radios like the one I got, I mistakenly thought they came from Japan. In fact, the first transistor radios in America were produced through a joint venture by Texas Instruments from Dallas, Texas and Industrial Development Engineering Associates from Indianapolis, Indiana. That radio was the Regency TR-1. It was released in October 18, 1954, and it cost $49.95 (equivalent to $439 today). The Regency TR-1, and competitors’ versions, including Sony’s TR-63, introduced in December 1957, soon became the most popular electronic communication device in history, with billions being manufactured during the 60s and the 70s.
The Regency TR-1 received AM stations only, measured 3” x 5” x 1 ¼,” and initially came in black, ivory, Mandarin red and cloud gray, but were soon joined by mahogany and forest green. The Sony model was ¼” narrower and ½” shorter. It came in lemon, green, red and black. The radios had a small speaker and produced a really tinny sound. The Regency TR-1 also had an earphone jack, and its optional earphone retailed for an additional $7.50. Three months after the radio’s introduction, the first aftermarket leather case was available for $3.50.
Three social forces made transistor radios successful. Baby boomers, disposable income and rock ‘n roll music. Finally, teenagers could listen to their own music, when they wanted, without disturbing their parents.
A Regency TR-1 is on display at Washington DC’s Smithsonian Museum.
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