This Day in Tech History

On This Day . . .

Rock and Roll Helps Drive TR-1

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November 1, 1954: First Transistor Radio Goes on Sale

The Industrial Development Engineering Associates (I.D.E.A.) company begins selling the Regency TR-1, the world’s first commercial transistor radio. Texas Instruments designed and developed the transistor technology who then partnered with I.D.E.A. to design and manufacturer the completed radio. The TR-1 sold over 100,000 units, ushering in the commercial transistor industry.

Regency TR-1

Regency TR-1

In the not so distant past people couldn’t take their music with them.  Following their development in 1954, transistor radios became the most popular electronic communication device in history, with billions manufactured during the 1960s and 1970s. Their pocket size sparked a change in popular music listening habits, allowing people to listen to music anywhere they went.

There are many claimants to the title of the first company to produce practical transistor radios, often incorrectly attributed to Sony, but Texas Instruments and the Regency Division of I.D.E.A., were the first to offer a production model.

TR-!

TR-!

Two companies working together, Texas Instruments of Dallas, Texas and Industrial Development Engineering Associates (I.D.E.A.) of Indianapolis, Indiana, were behind the unveiling of the Regency TR-1. In May 1954, Texas Instruments had designed and built a prototype and was looking for an established radio manufacturer to develop and market a radio using their transistors. None of the major radio makers including RCA, Philco, and Emerson were interested. The President of I.D.E.A. at the time, Ed Tudor, jumped at the opportunity to manufacture the TR-1, predicting sales of the transistor radios at “20 million radios in three years”.

One year after the release of the TR-1 sales approached the 100,000 mark. The look and size of the TR-1 was well received, but the reviews of the TR-1’s performance were typically adverse.

Prior to the Regency TR-1, transistors were difficult to produce. Only one in five transistors that were produced worked as expected (only a 20% yield) and as a result the price remained extremely high. When it was released in 1954, the Regency TR-1 cost $49.95 (equivalent to $435 today) and eventually sold about 150,000 units.

Pocket transistor radio, late 1960s to 1970s view with back open

Pocket transistor radio, late 1960s to 1970s view with back open

Following the success of Sony’s TR-63, transistor radios continued to become smaller.  Japanese transistor radios began selling for as low as $25. In 1962 American manufacturers dropped prices of transistor radios to as low as $15 (equivalent to $116 today).

Transistor radios were extremely successful because of three forces – a large number of young people, Baby Boomers, a public with disposable income, and the growing popularity of rock ‘n’ roll music.  Rock On!

Cir-of-TR

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