The spirit of the ‘transistor’ radio


One of my all-time favorite songs by Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees Rush is “Spirit of the Radio” from their 1980 album entitled Permanent Waves.  This great Canadian rock band captures the free spirit of radio in its heyday, but they also note the dark side of the radio industry – in many ways the lyrics could apply to television, internet, and other media which are now dominated by a blizzard of advertising. The lyrics to this modern musical masterwork are the following:

“Begin the day with a friendly voice

A companion, unobtrusive

Plays the song that’s so elusive

And the magic music makes your morning mood

Off on your way, hit the open road

There is magic at your fingers

For the spirit ever lingers

Undemanding contact in your happy solitude

Invisible airwaves crackle with life

Bright antennae bristle with the energy

Emotional feedback on timeless wavelength

Bearing a gift beyond price, almost free

All this machinery making modern music

Can still be open-hearted

Not so coldly charted it’s really just

A question of your honesty, yeah, your honesty

One likes to believe in the freedom of music

But glittering prizes and endless compromises

Shatter the illusion of integrity, yeah

Invisible airwaves crackle with life

Bright antennae bristle with the energy

Emotional feedback on timeless wavelength

Bearing a gift beyond price, almost free

For the words of the prophets were written on the studio wall

Concert hall

And echoes with the sound of salesmen

Of salesmen, of salesmen.”


While Rush’s song is about the radio industry’s loss of innocence, transistor radios have long-held a soft spot in my heart due to the appeal of early cutting-edge technology, artistry, and the innocent days of one’s youth. This mid-20th century technological wonders were my generation’s equivalent to the iPhone, Gameboy, Palm Pilot, or Walkman. Back in the day when the World Series was still played during the day, I remember listening to the games on my pocket transistor radio during elementary school recess.

More recently, I have shepherded my enjoyment of transistor radios to collecting them, particularly handsome and artistic designs (not novelty ones) and those from my geographical roots of the Great Lakes region. During the 1950s, the Great Lakes region was the epicenter of transistor radio technological innovation, design, and production with my birth state of Indiana being at the heart of the epicenter. Sadly, this had dramatically changed by 1960 as production shifted to Japan. Here is a list of some of the better known radio manufacturers from the region:

  • Admiral – Chicago, Illinois
  • Arvin – Columbus, Indiana (also made Silvertone radios for Sears)
  • Heathkit – St. Joseph, Michigan
  • Magnavox – Fort Wayne, Indiana
  • Motorola – Chicago, Illinois
  • RCA – Indianapolis and Bloomington, Indiana
  • Regency Electronics (maker of the world’s first transistor radio) – Indianapolis, Indiana (only about 10 miles from where I grew up)
  • Zenith – Chicago, Illinois

Here are some images of my favorite pocket transistor radio designs from the Great Lakes’ Golden Age of Radios!

Arvin 61R13 and 16 - Source:

Arvin 61R13 and 16 – Source:

Regency TR-1 - Source:

Regency TR-1 – Source:

Zenith Royal 50 - Source

Zenith Royal 50 – Source

Zenith "Owl" 500 - Source

Zenith “Owl” 500 – Source

Admiral 7M12 - Source

Admiral 7M12 – Source

Magnavox AM5 - Source:

Magnavox AM5 – Source:

Motorola 7X25P - Source"

Motorola 7X25P – Source”

Arvin 61R35 - Source:

Arvin 61R35 – Source:

Admiral Y2063 - Source:

Admiral Y2063 – Source:

RCA 1-TP-1HE - Source:

RCA 1-TP-1HE – Source:

Silvertone (Arvin) 4203 - Source

Silvertone (Arvin) 4203 – Source

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1 Response to The spirit of the ‘transistor’ radio

  1. Jenny Knox says:

    Use of air signal only radios (AM/FM) have declined in popularity with the rise of portable digital audio players , which allow users to carry and listen to the music of their choosing and may also include a radio tuner . This is a popular choice with listeners who are dissatisfied with terrestrial music radio because of a limited selection of music or other criticisms. However, transistor radios are still popular for news, talk radio , weather, live sporting events and emergency alert applications.


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