Flashback 1954: The Transistor Radio Is Born

Portable audio existed decades before Apple introduced the iPod in 2001—it even predates Sony’s iconic Walkman cassette player by 25 years. Yes, long before both of those milestones there was the transistor radio, a fantastic pocket-size “music player” that for the first time made it possible to tune into your favorite AM radio station no matter where you were.

The Regency TR-1, the world’s first commercial transistor radio—went on sale this week in 1954 and was quite the novelty for its convenience, small size, and steep price of $50 (the equivalent of $449 in 2016 dollars!). It didn’t matter that it sounded horrible—it was all about convenience. (Sound familiar?)

One of the original advertisements (above) proclaimed: “We’re pioneering again with another first in radio design. Tiny transistors have replaced bulky vacuum tubes, will last indefinitely. This Regency operates on a single hearing-aid battery at less than 6¢ an hour playing time. . . cheaper than larger, more expensive units.”

Within a year of its introduction, the TR-1 had sold upwards of 100,000 units, setting the stage for what would become one of the most popular electronic devices of all time with billions manufactured and sold throughout the ’60s and ’70s.

Are you old enough to remember transistor radios? Or maybe you collect them... Share your story!


Flashback 1950: Transistor Receives U.S. Patent

To Have and Have Not

John_Werner's picture

As a kid the smallish transistor radios were absolutely the first portable music players we later, somewhat generically called "Walkmans" (perhaps both to the delight and chagrin of Sony). Who born in a time such as myself can't remember sneaking your portable AM transistor radio to bed with the single in-ear crystal earpiece and trying to listen to WLS or whatever station scratched your itch? These devices were a literal "shot over the bough" and became ubiquitous assuring successive generations of music players each becoming more advanced with the A&K iterations breaking any sensible price barrier. It started here it should be noted! Since we're revisiting the past I've got a question: Why is there no digital archive of all the past Stereo Review magazines? I certainly gobbled up my share failing to realize I should save them only to realize this is an issue no one has addressed...at least in an accessible way. Could you possibly look into this and report back?