Evolution of Technology – The Transistor Radio

KRLA Album with 40-year-old Hitachi Transistor Radio

AKA Bruce’s Guide to the Evolution of Technology and His Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby, Part One*

I so vividly remember my first portable radio.  It had such an exotic name for the day – a transistor radio!  For many of us, this changed our lives.  Portable music.  What a radical concept!

This will be the first in a series of reflections on the evolution of technology from this baby-boomers memory, which I will readily admit has many holes in it.  But, there have been those moments that stick with me, as with others, whether it be where I was when I learned of JFK’s assassination and the days that followed, or seeing The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show for the first time, or in technology terms seeing that NBC peacock for the first time in color and thinking it looked sort of lame after all the hype of color television.  This series, however, will focus on technological memories.

The first BIG technology toy I got was my transistor radio.  I really thought it was as space age as they came.  I wonder if any kid today even knows what a “transistor” is?  Heck, I still don’t even know what a transistor is?  I knew there were tubes in our old radio and TV, but transistors?  All I knew is it took it didn’t take time to warm up, like our big old radio in our house.  But, what made my Hitachi transistor radio so cool, and it was really cool, was that the speaker in front, was the dial!

AND, it was portable!  Portable – I could take it with me!  I could listen under the covers in my bed, in my room!  I carried that transistor radio around like it was the holy grail.  It truly was a marvel to me.  I’m not sure, but I think it only received AM radio.  FM was not on our radar at all, when I was growing up.  That came later, in college.

Our kids don’t remember how we had to listen to music.  In the living room, either on the big family radio or on the family record player, which doubled as a substantial and heavy piece of furniture.  They weren’t called stereos until sometime during the mid-sixties after, I believe, The Beatles released “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”  Even then, Stereos didn’t become common-place for several years thereafter.  So, us kids were stuck listening to our parent’s music (Patti Page, Lawrence Welk, Big Bands, Roy Rogers, and maybe if we were lucky and our parents had some taste: Sinatra, Dean Martin, or some Jazz).

We’d get to sometimes listen to our 45’s or LP’s and, of course, watch our favorite rock ‘n’ roll acts on The Dick Clark Show and The Ed Sullivan Show on the one Black and White television set in the house, in the living room. For The Ed Sullivan Show, it meant enduring opera, jugglers, other circus acts, Topo Gigio, etc. before The Animals, The Mamas and the Papas, The Doors, Paul Revere and the Raiders, and the like finally came on to lip-sync their one or two numbers.

My beloved Hitachi surrounded by some of my old 45s - recognize any?

But, the portable radio, the transistor radio changed all that.  We were freed.  We were released.  We were on our own.  It was unbelievable.  It was liberating and magical.

AM Radio and 45 RPM Singles were “it” for me and my friends.  There was a local record store we’d hang out at called “The Frigate.”  Everyone had their local record store, I’m sure, whether they lived in a big city like Los Angeles as I did or smaller towns all over the United States and elsewhere.  In my youth, my circle of existence pretty much was as far as my legs could pedal my Schwinn bicycle, so for all practicality it was a small town to me.  I would pick up the Top 30 list from KHJ each week, the competitor to KRLA, and feverishly study the new hits on that list.

But, that Hitachi.  It was glued to my ear, my side, my pocket much the way our kids have their tech toys attached to themselves today.  Only, with me, it was this one battery operated transistor radio.  It was just as important to me as any smart-phone, iPod, GameBoy, or other portable device the kids take with them these days.  No, it was more important because it was first and it changed our lives. I cherished it.

Do you remember your first transistor radio?  I can picture it today, though I can’t remember the name of a single teacher, picture the face of a single teacher from elementary through high school (for real), but I can totally remember almost every detail of that Hitachi radio.  I’m not sure what that says about me?

If you’re so motivated, you are welcome to share your memories, as so many of you did in the Typewriters to Texting article with such terrific reflections.  I know I’ve forgotten many of those technological marvels we lived and waited for during our youths in the fifties, sixties, and seventies, so don’t hesitate to fill in the holes!  By the way, do you remember where you were when JFK was assassinated?  Or where you were when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon on July 21, 1969 and said, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Other technology to be covered in this series will be the 8-track, car-stereos, those amazing stack record players that dropped the LPs, reel-to-reel tape recorders, 8mm movie cameras, movies, and home editing machines, home dark-rooms, junior high science fairs, the first Sony Walkman, record stores with listening booths (in Hollywood), as well as your suggestions.

Postscript: As it turns out, after I wrote this article, I was able to find both that original Hitachi transistor radio in my memorabilia boxes and also a cool record LP from the same time, released by one of our local radio stations in Los Angeles, KRLA, both pictured above.  It was a Transistor 6 Hiphonic – Model TH -600. Used s 9-Volt Battery.  Yeah, you guessed it.  I couldn’t resist.  Got one.  IT STILL WORKED!  The first station I found was an Oldies Station and the song playing was “After the Loving” by Engelbert Humperdinck!

Does Hitachi exist anymore?  Anyone know?  Those 21 “Solid Rocks” on that KRLA album included, “Dirty Water” by The Standells, “Psychotic Reaction” by the Count 5, “Farmer John,” by the Premiers, “Little Latin Lupelu,” by the Righteous Brothers, “You Turn Me On,” by Ian Whitcomb, “The Duck” by Jackie Lee, and “Keep On Runnin'” by the Spencer Davis Group.  How many of those songs do you remember?

*an homage to Tom Wolfe’s first collected book of essays, published in 1965

  • Bobkane

    Wow! I can’t believe the radio’s back then only got AM stations! And that the bands lip synced on the Ed Sullivan Show?!


  • Moondustwriter

    What’s a transistor radio? LP???

    Nicely done Bruce. We have seen alot of changes in technology.
    I remember going to japan; our aircrew were buying up walkmans (now extinct)
    the transistor was such a necessity – no surprise that our kids are hooked like a lifeline to ipods

    ~ MDW

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      Are you telling me you were a stewardess Ms. Leslie? I can’t believe it! I want photos! Thanks for the comment. Did you have a transistor radio glued to your ear?

  • http://twitter.com/HHTales House Husband

    I made a little transistor radio with one of those 101 electronic project kits with the little springs and the just too short wires. The first piece of electronics I bought myself was an original Walkman. Lasted me quite a number of years.

    Other Ideas: First cars, those big laser disks with movies.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      Wow, I forgot all about those laser disk movies! I used to rent them. I had a movie fanatic friend who collected them and had a room full. Yipes, what he must have spent on that collection! Appreciate the memories HH!

  • http://wwwjackbenimble.blogspot.com/ The JackB

    I still have a couple of transistor radios out in my garage.

  • http://twitter.com/CuteMonsterDad CuteMonster

    Thank you for this first trip down your own personal technology memory lane. As a child growing up in the 70s, I too had my own transistor radio but it was both am and fm. In the 80s, my teenage years were all about my Sony Walkman, my portable radio aka a Boom Box the size of Rhode Island, as well a couple of turntables and a microphone for my party DJ’ing days. The 12 inch single vinyl record was king during that era. One didn’t need a gym membership at the time since carrying “borrowed” milk crates filled with records was the means of transporting one’s music collection. Quite comical considering you can now “carry’ 10000 or more songs in a tiny hand held device.

    I look forward for further insight into the tech you grew up with and learned to love. It’s fascinating how dear we hold these inanimate objects and yet, much like your transistor radio, I’m sure kids today will look back nostalgically at their ipods and maybe even their smartphones as well. The future predicted in movies such as Kubrick’s 2001 was most likely 20 years ahead of it’s time. With talk now of “cloud computing” as well as breakthroughs in manufacturing materials, the trip to the imagined future is not far off at all. Exciting times lie ahead.

    Thanks for sparking the imagination Bruce!

    Vincent | CuteMonster.com

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      You are the comment KING Vincent! Love reading your comments almost as much as I love writing my articles! Yeah, I guess our kids will fondly look back at their toys as much as we do ours. Hard to believe, but it’s likely inevitable. I remember using my first Sony Walkman while skiing and thinking I’d re-invented the wheel — skiing to Disco! Boy, was that amazing!

      This will be the first of many more walks down that Tech memory lane while at the same time we’ll be keeping up with everything new coming up in Tech land on BTT. In fact, my partners, Linda and Ray, are on their way to the CES (the biggest Tech show in the world – Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas, this weekend, and will certainly report back on the hottest new Tech things coming up.

      That’s the fun we like to have here with technology. Looking back and forward.

  • Anonymous

    So I’m 32, born in 1978 and remember the Walkman cassette-player as a portable device. (@MDW, yes I think Walkman still exists, Sony made that line into a portable mp3 player) Transistor radios, LP’s, 45s and 8track were all before my time.

    The best I can say is that I have a 3rd generation iPod, a huge, clunky and full-sealed looking thing. (http://ow.ly/3ytoC0) circa 2004. This can no longer sync with any modern operating system or software drivers that I know of and so it’s basically bricked as a relic. I have another speaker set that it plugs into and together, they serve as a time capsule for me of all the music and audiobooks initially “shared” through Napster. Well, only as long as we still have the same type of power-source to plug into.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      Garick, I love your comment because it perfectly illustrates how every generation will (obviously) have their own particular memories and nostalgia! You look at that first iPod as a “brick” yet to me it is still a marvel of technology! BTW, your ow.ly didn’t seem to work…would love to see that “brick.” Thanks for the comment – so appreciated from the “younger generation!”

      • Anonymous

        This image: http://img.engadget.com/common/images/7828361058313561.JPG?0.21271248445049418

        from this article:

        And sure, it’s all a wonder of technology! I sit in the car as a passenger and wonder about how just a few generations previously would marvel at the speeds that we normally get now. Or what about airplanes up in the sky? Everything seems to be happening so fast!

        #Lulz about the “younger generation” though as I’ve last worked as a career advisor at a design college. Being in contact with the 18 or 19yr olds makes you realize that it’s actually common for them to have anywhere between 3K to 5K contacts on Facebook and actually know all of them.

  • http://www.RegainYourRelationship.Com Terez

    Wow Bruce, talk about a trip down memory lane! Being born in 1969, my formative years were the 70s and 80s. I remember my Mother listening to Chaka Khan, The Jackson 5, Marvin Gaye, Isaac Hayes, Earth, Wind & Fire, Tina Turner (when she was still with Ike then solo!), Motown artists, and many others. For me, historic moments included the tragic space shuttle Challenger accident, Lady Diana marrying Prince Charles and musically, the introduction of the Walkman plus the release of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” album. Michael was our pop icon, and the Walkman enabled us to listen to his music anywhere! In fact, when MTV first premiered (when it actually played music videos), it struggled. I remember it’s first slogan, “I want my MTV!” Problem was, at first, people didn’t know what to think about it. Also, not many black artists were showcased on the network in its early years. However when Michael began producing his landmark music videos, which actually were like mini-movies, MTV wisely decided to air them and the rest is history. Music was, and still is, a large part of my life. Thanks Bruce for helping me unearth some fond memories I haven’t thought of in quite a while.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      You mean MTV actually played Music Videos? How shocking! And, you mean some of them were even sort of stories and creative and imaginative like “Thriller?” I believe it cost something like $6,000,000 at the time and was directed by an old friend of mine, from my showbiz days, John Landis (bit of trivia…I was an extra in his FIRST movie, “Kentucky Fried Movie”). MTV, I assert, changed television and movies. At first for the better, but later, I sadly think for the worst. I wrote about it in one of my “A Dad’s Point-of-View” columns “Do Your Kids Say They’re Bored,” (http://bit.ly/KidsBored). Anyway, Terez, love your walk down memory lane. Thanks for sharing and thanks so much for your continued support buddy!

  • http://www.daddoes.com Dan Dad Does

    Hey Bruce,

    Good stuff! Since I am soooo incredibly young, a mere 42 – I have some slightly different technology moments. I was into trying to build radios – that was fun. I also remember the first video game system we got – a Magnovox Odyssey. You actually had to put gels on your TV to change the games – it was awesome!

    The big music moment for me was my first Sony Walkman – that was amazing. Same deal as you say with a portable radio – you could take your music anywhere. The idea of being outside and listening to music – very cool.

    Okay, I am getting ready to go to CES – I need to start thinking in the future and not the past! Great post!

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      Dan, boy you are young. Had no idea someone so smart could still be in diapers! Can’t wait to hear about CES. Say hi to Linda Sherman and Ray J. Gordon while you’re there (my Boomer Tech Talk partners). I’m sure they’ll be easy to spot among the 100,000+ attendees! Seems the Sony Walkman is going to deserve its own “Evolution of Technology” story. I’m not sure I have one for an image for that story so I’m going to have to solicit one from a friend! Thanks for the comment young fella!

  • Aaron Bock

    Bruce! I’m finally here!

    Either way, I really do love this article… It’s amazing to see the similarities in the way technology is accepted into peoples lives between today and yesteryear….
    It must come down to who we are as humans, reacting to the “magic” that is new tech. It’ll always stay the same, while the tech constantly changes.

    On a seperate note, I loved the pic, and I hope I’ll get a chance to listen to that radio!

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      Thanks Aaron – I’d love to know your first Technology memory?

  • http://twitter.com/CleverKibitzer Kathi Browne

    OH you bring back memories! My first (and coolest EVER) radio was in the shape of hairspray can. My sister’s was a campbell’s soup can. We would gingerly turn the “cap” to tune in a station. Ahhh. Those where the days.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      Boy, would I like photos of those! You don’t happen to have them somewhere do you? They’d be so fun to post! Thanks so much for sharing…just in words, those images are fantastic!

  • Terry Malloy

    I was born in 1952, so I remember the onset of transistor radios as well as the bulkier “desktop” (to import a computer-era word!) radios powered by vaccuum tubes. My father had the one transistor radio in our family and it was more or less a sacred object, removed from its closet shelf to be used only for listening to sports events (primarily Dodger baseball games).

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      “Vacuum Tubes” – wow…I also remember when a computer took up a whole room when I was a freshman in college! At least one thing has been the same Terry – Vin Scully as the announcer for the Dodgers!

  • http://lifeonprint.wordpress.com Cindy H

    hhmm…The Good ol’ days :) my memories were at tad bit different, but just as vivid. I do not remember ever having a transistor radio..I remember 8 track tapes… laying on the back seat of my dads van (without a seat belt) with huge headphones that were plugged into the tape deck via a long, thick coiled cord…listening to The Doors and The Rolling Stones singing out loud as we drove.
    I also remember the record player/stereo system we had up in the room that looked out over the street, in our house down by the beach, it was the music/fish tank room..it was ever so cool. I would open the window at night, put on my Elvis record and sign as loud as I could out of that open window, with nothing but the light of the fish tank to illuminate me…what I would give for a streets eye view of that now…I actually thought I sounded just like him..heehee…and in my mind I did. Thank you for the walk down memory lane…I love thinking about those carefree days..I often wish that my children could live the life I had back then, so carefree..so simple. :)

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      Thanks Cindy for your walk down memory lane. Did you know that I’m an avid Elvis fan. You don’t happen to remember which Elvis record that was or which particular song was top of your mind when you remembered that time?

      • http://lifeonprint.wordpress.com Cindy H

        Don’t remember which record, off hand..my dad might, but I know that ” Are You Lonesome Tonight” and “It’s Now or Never” are 2 of the songs that were included in my nightly concert 😉

        • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

          We should duet sometime! My favorite is still his Vegas version of “Can’t Help Fallin’ In Love” – kills me every time!

  • Garethdart24

    At 35, I am just old enough to have owned vinyl (as a normal way to listen, not as a DJ), and I was even enough of a nerd as a kid to solder my own transistor radio together from a kit. OK, so it didn’t work (except as a paperweight), but I was proud of my achievement nevertheless & still use the soldering iron (just as inexpertly) today.

    The best thing about transistor radios was their on & offness: these days I’m never sure if my phone is on, off, on standy or secretly reporting my movements to a government agency. An old radio, on t’other hand, had a satisfying click to let you know when it was on or off, and one of those dim orange power-on bulbs they just don’t make anymore: an unarguable indicator of powered-ness. If it went wrong, you could open it up with a normal screwdriver & have a go at fixing it (sometimes you might even succeed). Try that with an ipod & see how far you get. 😉


    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      Love your soldering comment. I immediately got the whiff of that smell just reading your comment! Thanks Gareth! Funny.

  • http://www.facebook.com/crusadefighter Virag Dhulia

    Old is always gold.

  • http://www.facebook.com/crusadefighter Virag Dhulia

    Old is always gold.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      Except when it’s happening to me! Thanks for checking in on our site, Virag, all the way from India! Love it!

  • Gabriel Hapsburg

    Did a tour in ‘Nam ’71-’72 with the U.S. Army. My old man gave me a transistor radio before I left. He tells me, “Keep er dry, and if you need new batteries, write me and I’ll send um.” In country picked up Armed Forces Radio and some Vietnamese stations. Useta “rent it” to buddies for can of C-rat peaches, pack of smokes, and such. Once, to set up a fake LP, hung the radio, turned on, on a tree limb. Hoped NVA would think that was location, as we dug in a few metres west. That little ol’ transistor was part of my fire team, boss! Thanks for the post. Oh, when JFK assassinated, was in 6 grade gym class.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      Gabriel, I was in 6th Grade also when JFK was assassinated. My mom came and picked me up and her demeanor was clearly very upset. Thanks so much for sharing your ‘Nam story. It really rang not only true, but felt so palpable and real.

  • Sayunkle2

    My first memory of my first electronic device was a very, very small radio in the shape of an apple I remember correctly.

  • http://twitter.com/suzanneec Suzanne C

    Not sure exactly what age I received my first transistor radio, had to have been grade school, but remember it well I do. A pale sickly yellow one that only played AM. I was devastated when I could not bring it to school with me, knowing full well it would have been confiscated by one of the teachers. But I remember listening to The Monkees! Oh, how I loved The Monkees.

    I guess the transistor radio was my introduction to gadgets with buttons.

    My 45’s collection included The Archies as well as The Monkees (I was such a dork).

    My memories of the JFK assassination are vague except for a few things, my mom crying and the funeral on tv. I was four but have a distinct memory of John-John saluting and how sad “the baby” looked.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      Thanks for your comment Suzanne. I have a great Monkees story which I’ll be sharing later, in another article. Nothing to apologize for as they had some real talent and some great songwriters writing for them (Neil Diamond wrote “I’m a Believer” for example). The Archies, on the other hand, well…what can I say except, “Sugar, Sugar!”

      • http://twitter.com/suzanneec Suzanne C

        I won $10.00 once for writing a letter to “Archies” magazine. First place was a big deal to me. Shame I never saved that magazine!

        • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

          I wonder if you could find that magazine on Ebay? Might be worth looking? My son, Aaron, who does our “It’s a Tech World After All” cartoons, used to be a total Archie addict. I think he still likes them, but now he’s 14 so he’s a bit less interested in Jughead, Archie, and Veronica!

  • Jeff

    Bruce, I also remember fondly my first transistor radio. For me, it wasn’t about music but about baseball games. I listened to every Cub game and loved bringing it when my Dad and I went to Wrigley. . .Great post; Great memories!

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      Jeff, your comment reminded me of my Dad listening to his transistor radio when he first took me to Dodger Games. He had those one ear, ear-phones, and the look on his face as he listened to Vin Scully was so intense. I miss him. Sorry to get melancholy on you. Appreciate the comment!

    • http://twitter.com/Karen5Lund Karen E. Lund

      Your experience matches mine except… Cubs?! No way! I was a Mets fan from the start, still am. I remember being “asleep” with the transistor radio under the covers and an earphone in one ear, listening to West coast games late at night. (Killed a lot of batteries that way when I fell asleep. The old 9V kind.)

  • Bill Draeger

    I remember my first transistor radio in the mid-50s when I was about 8 or 9 years old. It was an RCA 6 transistor model and was small enough to fit in my shirt pocket. My younger brother got a Hoffman 7 transistor radio at the same time but it was bigger than a shirt pocket, so I think mine cost a little more even though it one less transistor. My parents took us to the Fedco store on Slauson Ave in Los Angeles to get it.

    I was a big baseball fan and before the transistor radio, I used to have to listen to games on a crystal set radio located by my bed, which was not portable. In those days there were a lot more day games and all of the world series games were played during the day. The transistor radio gave me the ability to listen to baseball games while I was away from home.

    However, the radio did get me in trouble once during a school assembly. I was trying to sneak a listen without an earphone and one of the teachers heard my radio. After that I got blamed for anytime someone played their transistor in an assembly, even though it wasn’t me. Can you imagine nowadays a school trying to keep kids from listening to their iPods?

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      Wow, your comment was very evocative of the time Bill. Seems we have a divide in the comments between music and baseball, but complete agreement about the freedom the transistor radio gave us.

  • David_hammar

    My memory is just like CuteMonster’s — after Kennedy and the Beatles, but no Walkman until I was a teen. My first transistor was AM/FM and had that stylized “76” logo that was ubiquitous around the Bicentennial — I got it when I turned 8 or 10. Loved to listen to KFRC (San Francisco). It lasted until my first Walkman in 1980, then it was all over! I still have several old Walkmans (Walkmen?!) but I’m not sure they even work. Gotta have something in case I want to listen to one of my dusty old cassettes, right?

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      Thanks for the comment David. I carted around my old cassette tapes for years but finally dumped them. Good riddance. But, I did find my original Hitachi transistor and that still worked, over 4 decades later! Very cool!

  • DavidKap

    I really miss my old radio and the simplicity of those days. Thanks for the trip, Bruce!

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      Sometimes, pretty often actually, so do I (miss the old days). Mostly, I miss the innocence of “youth.” And, we were pretty darn “innocent” compared to kids today. I just wish the train of time would slow down…instead, it just keeps going faster. Appreciate the comment, David.