Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Auto Radio

Sound systems are one of the most important aspects of today's automobile experience. Yet how many folks know about the history of auto radio, and the rather long and continuous number of improvements that took place since the first radios were installed in automobiles beginning around 1930? What follows is the early history of the auto radio -- a more recent account of the 8 track will follow.

One technology that offered to transform the car into a home-like environment was the radio. Surprisingly, perhaps, there is not one scholarly essay that explores how two dynamic technologies were brought together beginning in the 1920s.Early on, the main technological bottleneck centered on multiple battery power supplies that were compatible with existing tube grid and filament voltage requirements. In 1929, based on the work of William Lear, the Galvin Manufacturing Corporation introduced the first successful car radio, the Motorola Model 5T71.
In November 1929 and in the wake of financial failure, Paul Galvin, the owner of a Chicago radio manufacturing company that made nine tube “private label” sets, decided to make an automobile radio. The first Galvin manufacturing Company radios left something to be desired in terms of convenience and performance. One of the first – credited to Hank Saunders -- although it is likely that Galvin and associate Bill Lear helped design it – was mounted in the rumble seat of a Model A Ford. An Atwater-Kent chassis, it was shielded in the rumble seat from electrical interference caused by the electrical system. Inside the body of the car was a large “B” battery. The antenna was an ingenious modification, employing chicken wire. The chicken wire was normally used on the top of an automobile roof to support a covering of fabric; steel tops were still not commonplace in American automobiles until the mid- 1930s. Isolated from metal body parts, and held in place with laced butchers twine, this chicken wire antenna was connected to the radio by two leads. One early problem was simply the sheer size of the three key components of the early automobile radio – the batteries, the radio itself with its large vacuum tubes and capacitors and resistors, and the loud speaker. The Galvin Radio was introduced at the Radio Manufacturer’s Association of America annual convention in 1930, and a few dealers became interested after seeing demonstrations of Galvin’s crude prototype.
A critical problem that had to be solved was that of tuning and volume control, normally placed on the steering column, and that was solved by the use of flexible, bi-directional shafts. And after a few hundred radios were installed, the notion of hearing radio broadcasts while driving was accepted by consumers. After several early failures, Galvin’s persistence in creating the Motorola radio would make him rich.
A year later, other manufacturers entered the fray; for example, the Crosley Corporation introduced its first car radio, the “Roamio.” In 1932 Mallory and other manufacturers produced several new power supplies, and four years later Ford was the first to install a radio tailor-made for the dashboard. It was claimed that among other advantages, the radio in a car would ensure that one could listen to favorite shows without missing them. “When it’s a quarter before Amos ‘n’ Andy or Lowell Thomas and you’re in the ol’ bus, far, far, from home and radio, is it a tragedy? Or you can tune in right where you are?” Thus the home was again extended to the car. This was also one theme among several that was employed in advertising. For example, a 1934 Philco auto radio ad asserted, “Enjoy Philco in your car . . . as you do at Home! You wouldn’t be without a radio at home – why be without one in your car? Just as a PHILCO brings you the finest radio entertainment in the comfort of your living room, a PHILCO Auto Radio gives you the most enjoyable radio reception in your car."

Contrary to other technologies discussed above that stressed the safety angle, in 1939 psychologist Edward Suchman argued that listening to the radio distracted the driver from the road. Suchman’s applied psychological study was a response to a long-standing criticism of the radio in cars, for when introduced in 1930 several states refused to register vehicles with radios, although apparently this was never enforced.

1 comment:

  1. I was playing games online however for reading this post more interesting thanks for the share please do keep it going great job....Loveing this.


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