|History of the Car Radio|
Seems like cars have always
had radios, but they didn't.
Here's the true 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)
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 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.
One by one,
Lear and Wavering
identified and eliminated
each source of
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.)
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
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 Motorola's 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
In 1940 he developed with
the first hand-held 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.
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 it invented the world's
first hand-held cellular phone.
Today Motorola is one of the largest
cell phone manufacturer in the world --
And it all
started with the car radio.
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
The invention lead to such luxuries as
power windows, power seats,
Lear also continued inventing.
He holds more than 150 patents.
Remember eight-track tape players?
Lear invented that.
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!