Let The Transistor Radios Begin!!

The History of Zenith transistor radios began almost a year after the introduction of the first transistor radio called the Regency TR-1. While this Website is devoted to Zenith transistor radios, it is worth taking a moment to talk about the first commercial transistor radio in the United States. In 1954, Texas Instruments wanted to introduce a transistor radio to the public to demonstrate viability and potential of its transistors and transistor development. That year, Patrick Haggarty, TI Executive VP, contacted many major radio manufacturers about making a transistor radio that would use TI’s transistors. Major American radio manufacturers showed little Interest. Most companies were beginning their own product development. Also, tube portable radios had been dismal market failures in the past. For additional reading on this topic, there is an excellent resource: The Portable Radio In American Life by Michael Brian Schiffer

Texas Instruments made contact with Ed Tutor, President of the Industrial Development Engineering Associates—I.D.E.A. Corp. The company offered to make Regency TR-1 transistor radio using 4 T.I. Transistors to hold down manufacturing costs.

Regency TR-1 was officially announced for public sale on October 18, 1954, just in time for Christmas shopping season. The first TR-1's were manufactured in four colors, —black, cloud gray, mandarin red and ivory. The price introductory price was $49.95; the radio featured 4 transistors, and used a 22.5 V. battery. Later the radio was available in seven colors. The radio was marketed as the Bulova 250. Evaluated by Consumer Reports®, they blasted the radio's poor performance and recommended that consumers wait for further improvements to be made before purchasing a transistorized radio.

In an interesting side note, Thomas J. Watson, Jr., President of IBM, bought several 100 Regency TR-1’s. Watson decided that IBM would make no more tube products after June 1, 1958. Watson gave a TR-1 to any engineer who came his office convinced that the future was not in solid state electronics. By 1960, IBM was ringing up $200 million in semiconductor purchases from Texas Instruments.

On October 4, 1957, Soviet Union launched the first orbiting earth satellite, Sputnik 1. This was the cold war era. This technological achievement rattled Americans. This event was to become a huge catalyst to accelerate change, already underway, in the American electronics industries. With the competition in space, there would be many new lucrative military and aerospace electronics contracts for American companies. Why try to compete in a market for $40 transistor radios, when so much money could be made elsewhere. Gradually, over the next few decades, all consumer electronics would be manufactured overseas, many under their American Corporate name, such as GE, Motorola, Zenith, RCA and most others.