Saturday, October 18, 2014

On This Day In History - October 18. 1954

Texas Instruments announced the Regency TR-1, the first commercial consumer transistor radio.

Today, transistors that would be used in an AM radio are silicon, but in the early 1950s (and for another 15 to 20 years) another element, germanium was used in making most transistors.  TI had been making germanium transistors but the market had been slow to respond, comfortable with vacuum tubes.  A vacuum tube portable radio was a large thing to lug around.  The typical portable tube radio of the 1950s was about the size and weight of a lunchbox, and was powered by several heavy, non-rechargeable batteries. A transistor radio could fit in a pocket, weigh half a pound, and be powered by a single, small, 9V battery.
With these pros in mind, TI’s executive vice president Pat Haggerty “decided that the electronics industry needed a transistor wake-up call and that a small radio would provide it,” according to TI’s Web site

TI started down the path to the TR-1 in the spring of 1954.  Although they had made transistors for a few years, individual transistors were hand made(!) and radios made with them frequently needed manually selected parts, due to the varying parameters in the production transistors.  TI partnered with Regency Electronics, where engineer Richard Koch developed a feedback circuit that accommodated the variation in the transistors.  With this circuit, it was possible to open the floodgates of manufacturing, stuffing printed wiring boards with miniature parts to make the pocket-sized receiver.

The new transistor radio would be introduced in New York and Los Angeles by mid-October to take advantage of holiday sales. The 5×3×1¼-inch radio used four TI transistors and a TI subminiature output transformer.  When it went on sale on November 1, the Regency TR-1 cost $49.95. Although its price was high in terms of 1950s dollars, nearly 100,000 of the pocket radios were sold in a year.

Transistor radios were more than a new market, they became a cultural icon and gave rise to much of the music-centered culture of the 50s and 60s, from Elvis to the Beach Party movies of the late 50s/early 60s to the Beatles, the Beach Boys and beyond.  It has been estimated that over seven billion transistor radios have been manufactured.  


  1. "Whatever happened
    To Tuesday and so slow
    Going down to the old mine with a
    Transistor radio.
    Standing in the sunlight laughing
    Hide behind a rainbow's wall,
    Slipping and a-sliding
    All along the waterfall
    With you, my brown-eyed girl,
    You, my brown-eyed girl."
    -- Van Morrison, Brown-Eyed Girl

  2. I had one of those, a hand-me-down from my big sister.

    Wish I still had it today, as they're worth a tidy sum!

  3. I had a little GE transistor radio my parents got me for Christmas/birthday 1959. Reception wasn't great, so I got up on the roof, mounted two trertles from my train set about ten feet apart, and ran bare (lacquer-coated copper) wire back and forth between them five times (IIRC). I dropped one end down the roof to my bedroom window and poked it through the wax around the internal antenna (copper wire around a rod at the top of the radio).

    I didn't know a damn thing about how to size the wire length properly, but the radio worked a lot better that way.