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Thread: History of the car radio

  1. #1
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    History of the car radio

    A friend sent this to me recently, I don't know who wrote it. It appeared on a number of bulletin boards back in 2012, with no reliable attribution (possibly it came from this Studebaker site). I found it quite interesting though, and fact checking it against other sources it appears to be mostly correct (there are many other claims for being "first" of course, but the Lear/Wavering/Galvin collaboration seems to have been the first real commercial effort to make a car radio-- and you can't argue with their ongoing success.
    No woodworking content at all, but we all seem to like cool devices and cleverness.

    =============================================
    HISTORY OF THE CAR RADIO

    Seems like cars have always had radios, 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 served as a radio operator in the U.S. Navy during World War I) and 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 easy: 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.


    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. 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.



    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, with 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 Handy-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 for under $200. In 1956 the company introduced the world's first pager; in 1969 came the radio and television equipment that was used to televise Neil Armstrong's first steps on the Moon. In 1973 it 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.



    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, and in 1963 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.



    Sometimes it is fun to find out how some of the many things that we take for granted actually came into being. And, it all started with a woman's suggestion!

  2. #2
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    That is fascinating, I share my birth year with the Lear Jet! Thanks for an informative post.

    Forwarded to my two brothers, who married sisters. Daughters of the founder of Mo-Com the Motorola shop in our town.
    Last edited by Maurice Mcmurry; 05-03-2022 at 7:40 PM.
    Best Regards, Maurice

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    Really interesting ! Thanks for the post

  4. #4
    I'm old enough to remember when car radios had "viberators" in them to produce the high voltage need for the tubes to work.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bruce Wrenn View Post
    I'm old enough to remember when car radios had "viberators" in them to produce the high voltage need for the tubes to work.
    The early ham/police/cb were all powered by vibrator circuits. Then tube linear amps were used, requiring more power, so many were powered by a dynamotor generator. Key the microphone and a 12v motor spun a small generator, powering the amp.

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    Wonder if Galvin invented the Galvanometer, Which the Nazi's used as a lie detector, measuring skin moisture, later used by Scientology people.
    Rick Potter

    DIY journeyman,
    FWW wannabe.
    AKA Village Idiot.

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    Thank you...very interesting !

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rick Potter View Post
    Wonder if Galvin invented the Galvanometer, Which the Nazi's used as a lie detector, measuring skin moisture, later used by Scientology people.
    Named for Luigi Galvani the Italian scientist who discovered in 1791 that electric currents caused frog leg muscles to contract. It was named by Ampère who built some of the first instruments and worked out the math to calibrate them. They are based on the observation by Hans Christian Ørsted made in 1820 that an electric current would deflect a magnetic compass needle.

    We tend to call them ammeters now.

  9. #9
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    I'm 50 years old and cars have had digital tuner radios for most of my life. The first car I can remember my parents owning had an analog tuner, but subsequent cars all had digital tuners.

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    This same story has been published in Uncle John's Bathroom Reader. Not sure which volume as there are a few in my reading room.

    I recall the early days with vibrators to make it so the battery's Direct Current could be fed through a transformer to step up the voltage for the vacuum tubes. Learned to work with tubes. Then things changed to transistors. Learned to work with transistors. Then everything changed to integrated circuits. Learned integrated circuits among many other things then retired.

    There may still be an old tube manual or two among my stuff in storage.

    jtk
    "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."
    - Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

  11. #11
    I worked as a radio and TV technician part time during high school. Changed a lot of radio vibrators in cars. We could usually reach the vibrator under the dash without removing the radio. Since I was young and limber, I got that job most of the time.

    Often, if you tapped on the vibrator with something like a screwdriver, it would start working. It just got stuck.

    Mike
    Go into the world and do well. But more importantly, go into the world and do good.

  12. #12
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    Did you know they made phonographs for cars as well as radios?
    Bill D

    https://www.hagerty.com/media/automo...-audio-part-2/

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    A bit off topic but I wonder if anyone has made solid state ‘tubes’ that you can plug into a tube radio.

  14. #14
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    I enjoyed reading that. Thanks!
    Please help support the Creek.


    Where we have strong emotions, we're liable to fool ourselves.
    - Carl Sagan


  15. #15
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    Very interesting. I'm surprised that Quincy doesn't promote that bit of history. I only live 35 miles from there and it's the main place we go for shopping and healthcare when we want or need something more than is available locally. There is a Moorman-Wavering Park that I'm sure is from the generosity of Elmer Wavering. Motorola had a manufacturing presence in Quincy for many years. I don't recall when they closed the facility. Motorola is still at the core of communications with their systems and technology.

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