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Stovebolts ... modern luxury business jets ... The U.S. Army in World War Two ... your cell phone... the truck in the graphic right above ... They all share some fascinating history. Read on and see how it's all related to ...

The Car Radio
A Short History of Car Radios
Thanks to Ron Peterson and Fred "Truckernix" Nixon (our Radio Bench Forum Moderator) for finding this little goodie to include in the Stovebolt History Section
The following story is reprinted, with permission, from “Uncle John’s Fast-Acting Long-Lasting Bathroom Reader”. Published by Bathroom Readers’ Press, Ashland, Oregon
July 29, 2013

Car Tunes

Radios are so much a part of the driving experience, it seems like  cars have always had them. But they didn’t. Here’s the  story.

One evening in 1929 two young men named William Lear and Elmer Wavering drove their girlfriends to a lookout point high above the Mississippi  River town of  Quincy, Illinois, to watch the sunset. It was a  romantic night to be sure, but one of the women observed that it would  be even nicer if they could listen to music in the  car.

Lear and Wavering liked the idea.  Both men had tinkered with radios – Lear had served as a radio operator  in the U.S. Navy during World War I. It wasn’t long before they were taking apart a home radio and trying to get it to work in a car.  But it wasn’t as easy as it sounds: automobiles have ignition switches, generators, spark plugs, and other electrical equipment that generate noisy static interference, making it nearly impossible to listen to the  radio when the engine was running.

Signing On

One  by one, Lear and Wavering identified and eliminated each source of electrical interference. When they finally got their radio to work, they  took it to a radio convention in Chicago. There they met Paul Galvin, owner of Galvin Manufacturing Corporation. He made a product called a “battery eliminator” -- a device that allowed battery-powered radios to run  on household AC current. But as more homes were wired for electricity,  more radio manufacturers made AC-powered radios.

Galvin needed a new  product to manufacture. When he met Lear and Wavering at the radio convention, he found it. He believed that mass-produced, affordable car radios had the potential to become a huge  business.

Lear and Wavering set up shop  in Galvin’s factory, and when they perfected their first radio, they  installed it in his Studebaker. Then Galvin went to a local banker to  apply for a loan. Thinking it might sweeten the deal, he had his men install a radio in the banker’s Packard. Good idea, but it didn’t work –  half an hour after the installation, the banker’s Packard caught on  fire. (They didn’t get the  loan.)

Galvin didn’t give up. He drove his Studebaker nearly 800 miles to Atlantic City to show off the radio  at the 1930 Radio Manufacturers Association convention. Too broke to  afford a booth, he parked the car outside the convention hall and  cranked up the radio so that passing conventioneers could hear it.

That  idea worked – he got enough orders to put the radio into production.

What's in a Name?

That  first production model was called the 5T71. Galvin decided he needed to  come up with something a little catchier. In those days many companies in the phonograph and radio businesses used the suffix “ola” for their names – Radiola, Columbiola, and Victrola were three of the biggest.  Galvin decided to do the same thing, and since his radio was intended for use in a motor vehicle, he decided to call it the  Motorola.

But even  with the name change, the radio still had  problems. When Motorola went on  sale in 1930, it cost about $110 uninstalled, at a
time when you could  buy a brand-new car for $650, and the country was sliding into the Great  Depression. (By that measure, a radio for a new car would cost about  $3,000 today.) In 1930 it took two men  several days to put in a car radio – the dashboard had to be taken apart  so that the receiver and a single speaker could be installed, and the  ceiling had to be cut open to install the antenna.

These early radios  ran on their own batteries, not on the car battery, so holes had to be  cut into the floorboard to accommodate them. The installation manual had  eight complete diagrams and 28 pages of  instructions.

Hit the Road

Selling  complicated car radios that cost 20 percent of the price of a brand-new  car wouldn’t have been easy in the best of times, let alone during the  Great Depression. Galvin lost money in 1930 and struggled for a couple of years after that. But things picked up in 1933 when Ford began  offering Motorolas pre-installed at the factory.

In 1934 they got  another boost when Galvin struck a deal with B. F. Goodrich Tire Company to sell and install them in its chain of tire stores. By then the price  of the radio, installation included, had dropped to $55. The Motorola  car radio was off and running. (The name of the company would be  officially changed from Galvin Manufacturing to “Motorola” in  1947.)

In the meantime, Galvin  continued to develop new uses for car radios. In 1936, the same year that it introduced push-button tuning, it also
introduced the Motorola  Police Cruiser, a standard car radio that was factory preset to a single  frequency to pick up police broadcasts.

In 1940 he developed the first handheld two-way radio – the Handie-Talkie – for the U.S. Army.

A lot of the communications  technologies that we take for granted today were born in Motorola labs in the years that followed World War II. In 1947 they came out with the  first television to sell under$200.(see the next paragraph). In 1956 the company introduced the world’s first pager. In 1969 it supplied the radio and television  equipment that was used to televise Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the  Moon. In 1973 the company invented the world’s first handheld cellular phone. Today, Motorola is one of the largest cell phone manufacturers in  the world. And it all started with the car  radio.

The flagship, the 1949 Chevy 3800 you see on just about every page on the web site, is an artifact with some interesting history tied to the early days of Motorola.

Whatever happened to ...

The  two men who installed the first radio in Paul Galvin’s car, Elmer Wavering and William Lear, ended up taking very different paths in life.  Wavering stayed with Motorola. In the 1950’s he helped change the  automobile experience again when he developed the first automotive alternator, replacing inefficient and unreliable generators. The  invention lead to such luxuries as power windows, power seats, and,  eventually, air-conditioning.

Lear also  continued inventing. He holds more than 150 patents. Remember eight-track tape players? Lear invented that. But what he’s really  famous for are his contributions to the field of aviation. He invented radio direction finders for planes, aided in the invention of the  autopilot, designed the first fully automatic aircraft landing system. In 1963 he introduced his most famous invention of all, the Lear Jet,  the world’s first mass-produced, affordable business jet. (Not bad for a  guy who dropped out of school after the eighth grade.) 



Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.
~~ Thomas Edison

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