I was born in Indiana in the 1950s and grew up/lived there through college, but until recently I was totally unaware of my birth state’s pivotal role in the development of transistor radios. Until the early 1950s, radios were powered by bulky and rather sensitive vacuum tubes. In 1954, Indianapolis based Industrial Development Engineering Associates (IDEA) – later and better known as Regency Electronics, teamed up with Texas Instruments to design, produce, and market the Regency TR-1. Their product went on sale in November of 1954 as the world’s first transistor radio (pocket design or otherwise).
Today, finding a Regency TR-1 is like discovering a vein of gold, as a vintage TR-1 easily can claim hundreds if not thousands of dollars. During 2012, the PBS show History Detectives broadcast a fascinating episode about a man who thought he might have the oldest known (lowest serial number) remaining TR-1. You will need to watch the episode to find out the answer, as I don’t want to spoil the fun.
But the importance of Indiana to radios did not stop with just the Regency TR-1. It also includes Magnavox building radios in Fort Wayne, RCA on the east side of Indianapolis (closed in 1974), and my personal favorite Hoosier radio brand – Arvin building its fleet of mid-century marvels in beautiful Columbus, Indiana after its founding in Indianapolis.
One of my all time favorite museums anywhere was the Historic Indiana Radio Museum in Ligonier. Located in a tastefully restored gas station, it was the best source of radio history I have ever seen. Sadly it was closed in 2008 after the death of the owner and the collection was sold off – what a terrible tragedy for Indiana’s radio legacy.
Even P.R. Mallory, once headquartered in Indianapolis produced the Duracell batteries for transistor radios and other products. Not too far away were Zenith and Motorola in Chicagoland. One could have safely ascribed the moniker of “Transistor Valley” to this notch of the Midwest during the 1950s. Probably explains why I enjoy collecting pocket transistor radios so much!
Sadly, the Hoosier State’s transistor radio boom was short-lived as by 1960 most production had shifted to Japan following the success of the Sony TR-63. However, Indiana’s sterling legacy will always remain among historians and collectors. The boom may have faded, but it has never been tuned out.
UPDATE: A reader on reddit.com noted that RCA had a facility in Bloomington too. Thank you for the reminder!
Below is the video of Queen’s famous ode to radio – “Radio Ga Ga.”