The History of the Car Radio

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Not many people enjoy long car journeys, especially if the weather is roasting hot and there’s nothing much to see out the window! What better way to pass the time than sticking on the radio and tuning into your favourite station? It hasn’t always been so easy to catch some tunes in the car, though. Can you imagine having to face a massive road trip with no radio to listen to? Well, that’s exactly how it used to be until William Lear and Elmer Wavering decided in 1929 that they’d love to be able to listen to music while on the road, so embarked on a quest to create a radio that would work in their cars.


The problem at the time was that cars had many things that could interfere with the radio (like switches, generators or spark plugs) and make it difficult to listen to while the car engine was running. One-by-one, they eliminated all sources of interference and decided to take it to a radio convention in Chicago when it was ready. Their idea was picked up by a man called Paul Galvin, owner of Galvin Manufacturing Corporation. They first installed the radio in Galvin’s own car, then went to the bank for a loan and installed one in the car owned by the local banker to try sweeten the deal! The radio in the banker’s car then caught on fire shortly afterwards, meaning Galvin didn’t get the loan he needed to mass-produce the car radio!


Undeterred, Galvin went to the 1930 Radio Manufacturers Association convention and parked his car outside it with the radio blaring (he couldn’t afford a booth!), where he managed to attract enough orders to start mass-producing the radio. The first mass-produced car radio was called the 5T71, but Galvin decided to change it to the Motorola as it was a catchier name! Initially, the Motorola ran into problems where it cost too much to buy and took too long to install. This all changed in 1933, when it was picked up by manufacturing giant, Ford, and was offered as a pre-installed radio at the Ford factory. Over time, the car radio has become absolutely essential in all family cars across the globe and we’re lucky enough to be in a time where they’re in pretty much every car on the road!


Inquiry – Digging Deeper

As you can see, we certainly have it easy compared to the folks who drove around before 1929! The sound coming from a radio transmitter is made up of radio waves, and you can learn all about these in the video! If you’d like to learn more about the different types of sound waves, check out our post on Spectacular Sound (LINK).