October 18, 1954: Texas Instruments (TI) and Industrial Development Engineering Associates (I.D.E.A.) announce the breakthrough Regency TR-1. The Dallas, Texas Company partnered with their friends in Indianapolis, Indiana to produce the first transistor radio. Texas Instruments’ business model had them supplying instrumentation to the oil industry and locating devices to the US Navy. I.D.E.A. built home TV antenna boosters. In May, TI designed and built a prototype of a transistor radio in the hopes of a new market for their transistors. None of the major radio makers (RCA, Philco, and Emerson) were interested. Ed Tudor, president of I.D.E.A., took the chance and predicted 20 million units would be sold in the first three years.
Announced on this day, the small radio went on sale in November. Billboard reported the new radio had only four transistors. While the size was remarkably handy, the sound quality left something to be desired. One year after its release, sales were approaching 100,000 units. In February 1955, Raytheon 8-TP-1 was introduced by Raytheon. It was larger and included a four-inch speaker with double the number of transistors used. The Raytheon 8-TR-1 still had just four transistors. Consumer Report gave a promising review in July, noting that while not the world’s smallest radio, the sound quality was much improved. Once the way was paved, Zenith, RCA, DeWald, and Crosley jumped on the bandwagon and added their own versions for sale.
Today, the cost of an iPod is about $150-190 for a 16 GB unit. The Regency TR-1 cost $49.95 when released. That is about $440 today. The reason for this was the difficulty in making transistors. At the time, only one if five transistors actually worked as expected. With only a 20% success rate, the costs were extremely high. The Raytheon 8-TR-1 cost about $80 or $700 in today’s dollars. By November of 1956, radios were small enough to be worn on the wrist and cost only $29.95. The first all transistor radio for a car was developed by Chrysler and Philco. It was called Mopar 914HR and was available as an option in the fall of 1955. The radio added $150 to the cost of the car or $1,300 in today’s currency.
In 1952, Masura Ibuka, founder of Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering Corporation was in the US and found AT&T was about to make licensing available for the transistor. Japan purchased a license for $25,000 ($220,000 today). In August 1955, the Japanese company now called Sony introduced their first five transistor radio model in the US. The first two models were not very successful. But the December 1957 version, TR-63 was smaller, came in four colors, and used a nine-volt battery. This battery size would become the standard. Not immediately successful, by 1959, six Japanese transistor radio manufactures had models for sale in the US which represented $62 million in revenue.
You don’t need to know this – but here goes: due to some acquired infantilism, I feel compelled to fall asleep listening to the radio. On a good night, I’ll push the frail barque of my psyche off into the waters of Lethe accompanied by the midnight newsreader – on a bad one, it’s the shipping forecast. – Will Self
If the education of our kids comes from radio, television, newspapers – if that’s where they get most of their knowledge from, and not from the schools, then the powers that be are definitely in charge, because they own all those outlets. – Maynard James Keenan
Mass communication, radio, and especially television, have attempted, not without success, to annihilate every possibility of solitude and reflection. – Eugenio Montale
If it weren’t for Philo T. Farnsworth, inventor of television, we’d still be eating frozen radio dinners. – Johnny Carson
Also on this day: Le Bateau – In 1961, Henri Matisse’s painting was hung at the Museum of Modern Art – upside down.
Not the Essex – In 1851, Moby-Dick was published in England.
Church of the Holy Sepulchre – In 1009, the church was destroyed.
Terrorism – In 2007, a suicide bomber attacked Benazir Bhutto.