60s Transistor radios
If there was one object that defined the sixties, it was the transistor radio. The sixties was the decade of pop music, and pop and the transistor radio went hand in hand. Young people used transistor radios to listen to pop music outdoors, in the street, in the park or on the beach and drew criticism from the older generation wherever they went. By the end of the sixties, the transistor radio helped people throughout the world, from the poorest to the richest, to keep in touch with news and opinions.
The transistor was invented in 1948. It replaced the thermionic valve, or tube, as an electronic component that could amplify sound. The transistor made the first shirt pocket sized radio possible. Texas Instruments marketed the Regency TR1 in the US in time for Christmas 1954. Japanese companies were not far behind and a few years later Sony established itself as the market leader. The Sony TR-610 became a best seller in the US.
The UK market was more sheltered from the Japanese invasion and UK manufacturers dominated the market in the late fifties. Their offerings differed little from the portable valve sets of the early fifties In some cases they looked exactly the same, but weighed considerably less. By the early sixties, British radios were smaller in size. They were split into portable radios, such as this Dansette 111 from 1961, pictured left, and personal radios which could fit into a pocket.
In 1961, the British public bought two million transistor radios. They were rapidly becoming part of day to day lives. The small size and weight of the transistor radio meant it could be carried anywhere. Many young people listened to music on the move, but unlike today's MP3 players and earlier Walkman cassette players, listening to music on the trannie was far from a personal thing. Few made use of the tiny earphone provided with the set and proudly blasted out their favourite pirate radio hits for everyone to hear.
This behaviour drew criticism from the older generation. In May 1961 a journalist complained that there were no bands playing in London's parks; instead visitors had to put up with transistor music blaring from every second teenager's radio. It was not only the young that could cause annoyance with a transistor radio. In 1962 in St Helen's in Lancashire, postmen were banned from taking a transistor radio on their rounds. In Capri, transistor sets were banned from the beaches and all public places. There was also concern that criminals were using transistor radios to tune into police radio. The transistor was well and truly here and making its presence felt.
By the mid-sixties, the transistor radio became a standard accessory for the Mod movement. It was as essential as a scooter, mohair suit or parka. Transistor radios also found their way into high office. Harold Wilson was pictured with one on his desk.
Very soon it was the Japanese transistor radio that set the standard in the UK as well as the US. This Sharp model, pictured left, is typical of the better Japanese radios available. They were usually supplied in a leather case giving the impression of a valuable scientific instrument.
Japanese imports were soon joined by cheaper products from Hong Kong and the Soviet Union. British manufacturers struggled to compete in the middle years of the sixties.
By the end of the sixties, the transistor radio had become an essential item in most peoples' lives. There was one in every kitchen and people listened to them at work. Even in places as remote as Afghanistan there was a radio service. People in almost every country in the world wanted a transistor radio to listen to the BBC World Service or local broadcasts.
Your comments on the transistor radio
"I own a Sharp TR- 185 and have never, ever seen another. Does anyone out there own one or know someone who might? If so, please get back to me. Peace, " Edward....