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volume 25
october 2022

A radio for youngsters


  The influence of the transistor radio
by Hans Knot
  In the 1950s, the transistor made its entry in the world of electronics. From there it entered the sphere of everyday life and, especially by its use in the production of small portable radios, changed the routines and relations of family life. With that device, young people could retreat to their own spaces to listen to their own music. And so they did. Hans Knot tells us more about the impact of the device.
1 Right: The Regency TR-1, the very first transistor radio for the general public

Gathered around the radio. I imagine an average family in the middle of the 1950s. Only a few people owned a television set. Nevertheless, there was often a joint form of spending leisure time, for example the Saturday evening. The curtains were drawn early, the big table lamp above the table was switched on and the beautiful woolen tablecloth for that evening was covered with table plastic, which was sold by the meters. This prevented unnecessary stains. Father, who took an old newspaper from the newspaper basket and laid it over the plastic, and mother who spread the roasted peanuts, still in their shells, over the newspapers. At the ready stood lemonade for the children and coffee or tea for both parents.

Everyone gathered around the table and the radio in the oak cupboard was switched on. A wonderful tube radio that started slowly but then produced a warm sound. Whether it was a musical lecture, a book review or a film review, people listened and discussed together. Afterwards, a game was played to win peanuts, which were then shelled and eaten. A warmer joint family evening was hard to imagine. But, change was coming and the radio, be it in quite another form, would be instrumental in it.

2 The invention of the transistor. For this we'll have to go yet a bit further back in time to the year 1947, and to a place called New Jersey in the USA, where the Bell Telephone Company laboratories were located. For years, three scientists had been searching for an alternative to the use of vacuum tubes to control a variety of electronic devices. In order to find an alternative they used numerous substances such as silicon and germanium.
  On 16 December 1947, the great breakthrough came when Walter Brattain and John Bardeen succeeded in sending an electric current through gold wires on a plastic triangle, which they held above a germanium crystal. They noticed that this made the power of the crystal almost 100 times stronger. It would not be long before the gentlemen went public, for on 23rd of December of that year they gave a public demonstration, which is generally regarded as the day of birth of what later went down in history as the "transistor".
  Then there was a third scientist — William Sockley — a colleague of the aforementioned two, who a few weeks later carried out another experiment by putting three layers of germanium on top of each other, which made the transistor even more efficient. Many decades later, Patrick Dewilde, professor Electrical Engineering at the Delft University of Technology, stated that the invention of the transistor was actually the first big step towards the digital revolution in many fields.
  At a certain point, it was decided to use silicon as the chemical element for making transistors. Not only was this element cheaper than germanium, but it also worked better at higher temperatures. Moreover, it was not so difficult to obtain as silicon could be extracted from sand. In 1956, John Bardeen, Walter Brattain and Wiliam Shockley jointly received the Nobel Prize for their invention of the transistor.
3 Left: The Veronica transistor radio complete in box (Photo: Juul Geleick, 2022)

A portable radio for youngsters. In the early years, the transistor was mainly used as a sound amplifier. In 1952, the first transistors were used in hearing aids and next followed radios. Transistor radios were immediately much smaller than the so-called tube radio. They were also cheaper to produce and lasted much longer. But it was not until 1954 that the first transistor radio appeared on the market. This was the Regency, the first pocket radio with no less than four transistors. The device worked on batteries and could therefore easily be taken anywhere. To stimulate sales it was put on the market during the Christmas period for the price was very high for that time: 49.95 dollars. Even so, it was to be bought a lot.

The portable radio had made its appearance, but buying a transistor radio was still a costly affair. Moreover, the development was still in the experimental phase and the sound quality was still poor. But the rise of rock and roll music in many countries meant that young people wanted their own device. Japan followed in August 1955 with the TR-55, a product of Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo Ltd, a company later to be renamed into Sony.

  But not everyone could afford to buy one. As mentioned, the purchase price was quite high and you also needed batteries to keep the power going, which certainly was not cheap to buy either. In time, however, the contraption became enormously popular. Behind the house, in the park, on the beach, wherever you wished to go, the portable radio was your friend. Especially when transistor radios became widely available at the end of the 1950s and the beginning of the 1960s, this new radio device could be seen and heard almost everywhere.
  The rising popularity of the transistor radio also meant increased production at a certain point, which made the devices more affordable and also enabled the youth of that time to get their own transistor radio. Demand was stimulated by manufacturers and retailers, who for instance used well-known artists for the promotion of their portables. For example, it was Cliff Richard who recommended the Coronet Pocket transistor radio in 1961 with the words: "It's a honey for the money." That same year, an appendix was added to the magazin Wireless Electrical Trader, listing the transistor radios already available, which by that time added up to no less than 160 models.
  The transistor radio was given a further boost by the arrival of the so-called offshore radio stations — Caroline, Veronica and later RNI — who aimed their programmes directly at the musical tastes of the young. In the heydays of the offshore radio stations, the beaches were a feast of recognition because the transistor radios were mainly tuned to these ofshore stations. The devices were often also sponsored by the stations. You bought them with their tuners fixed to the frequency of your favourite radio station. The Veronica transistor radio, that worked with a 9 volt battery block and could be bought for the reasonably low price of 22.50 Dutch guilders, for instance stood tuned to 1562 kc.
  Advert for the Veronica transistor radio on the July 1, 1967 Top-40 list; click on the image to see the complete page
4 A popular pastime. Each of the over-70s has his or her own story about listening via transistor radio. They often mention that they listened in bed with the earplugs on and the transistor radio under the pillow, when they were supposed to be in the land of dreams. I share those memories. In our house, there was a tube radio in the living room, while there was wire broadcasting in the hairdressing salon, which was also located in the same building as the house. In the first half of the 1960s, the first transistor radio was added, which my eldest brother Jelle got as a caretaker.
  It was purchased through a promotion of a soap powder brand, which, after saving the necessary receipts, allowed you to get a hefty discount when buying the device, a Sharp. Light blue in colour with a large dial at the front. This was used to change the frequency and the device also had two simple buttons on the right side. The first one was a kind of on/off button and the second one served to control the volume. The device did not have a scale, which meant that the names of the stations were not mentioned on the tuning disk.
  In the evening Jelle used to listen to Radio Luxembourg and AFN on his bedroom, which was also my bedroom, and during the day the offshore radio stations were popular. Especially when Radio London had seen the light of day, the 266 meter became very popular for listening. Dashes in various colours were put where the name of a station would normally be. The 299 metres was taken up by Radio City and I remember to this day that a black stripe was placed in front of it so that 'The Tower of Power' could be found quickly in the afternoon after returning from school.
  The reason was listening to "The Five by Four Show", in which a Beatles and Stones record was played each time. It was the time when listening to the radio had become a party because more and more great music was being released. It was just a matter of waiting until the new songs of your favourite artist(s) could be heard for the first time on your transistor radio.
  The influence of the transistor radio was gigantic. Suddenly, as soon as a youngster owned one, there was a lot less to do with other members of the family. A kind of isolation followed, so that one could listen to one's own favourite programme or station. And by now there were enough stations that were much more satisfying than the programmes from Hilversum. Veronica, Luxembourg and AFN took the lead.
5 Left: The packaging of the Veronica transistor radio (Photo: Juul Geleick, 2022)

A medium for advertising. Via a number of stations, it was not only the sounds of popular music but also those of the enormous diversity of commercials. Commercials were not only aimed at the mother in the family, who, after all, bought most of the groceries, but also included spots designed to influence the buying behaviour of the youth of the time. After all, financially things were much better in the 1960s and more and more could be bought.

Obviously, there are plenty of examples. Listening to the Dutch-language service of Luxembourg through your transistor radio, you were for instance encouraged to become a member of the friends' club where you regularly received the Magazine van Radio Luxemburg. Full of news about the station as well as the programming. My magazines have been in the basement of Beeld en Geluid in Hilversum for decades. A visit to Luxembourg for a VPRO programme 'OVT' with Gerard Leenders at the beginning of this century showed that little or nothing had been done about archiving by the organisation itself. And what about the printed copy of the Veronica Top 40, which could be obtained from your favourite record dealer. Commercials urged you to buy one of those awesome T-shirts with the name and logo of your favourite station on it.

  But there were also many companies and publishers trying to drew attention to their products through the commercial stations. Entire lists of commercials are available in my archives, but only mentioning a few is enough to make you think twice: music magazines like Muziek Express, Muziek Parade and PopTelescoop, petrol from Shellina Premix, camara's from Kodak, chewing gum from Stimorol, mopeds from Puch, the BP Action at the pump with Herman Emmink, the various cigarette brands, care products and more.
  A remarkable thing that attracted the attention of young people in 1971 was the marketing of a totally new concept in the Netherlands. That year the very first restaurant of the hamburger giant McDonald was opened in the Zaanstreek and the deejay team of Radio Noordzee was invited for the occasion, which attracted attention via the 220 metres. It could not have been better. But the arrival of the various Orange dance events, drive-in shows and performances in the country were also heavily promoted. So many things come to mind that you never thought about before. Special products were promoted to combat youth pimples, but also buying the magazines filled with posters of pop artists, to be plastered on your bedroom walls.
6 Right: The interior of the Veronica transistor radio (Photo: Juul Geleick, 2022)

Good memories. The popularity of the transistor radio continued until around 1987, when the Walkman increasingly gained ground over the "pocket radio". The advantage of a combi device was that you could listen to a cassette with your own favourite music while you could also listen to a favourite station and the device could just be put in your inside pocket.

Looking back, owning a transistor radio has been a great joy for me and I cherish the ones I have kept, which have found a nice spot in the reading room, near two old tube radios. In the course of the past decades, I have collected some 1,700 songs in which the radio is lovingly sung. In that collection the transistor radio certainly takes its rightful place, whether or not in comparison with the love of a special woman.

  • Edwards, Chris (1995), "Walking down the street with your transistor radio." In: OEM, nr. 103, December 1995.
  • Knot, Hans (2020), "De eerste transistorradio." In: Hans Knot, 100 Jaar Radio. Groningen: SMC/Freewave Nostalgie, 2020.
  A slightly different version of this article
was previously published in the journals
Aether , no. 145, October 15, 2022;
British Vintage Wireless Society, volume 47, 2022;
Freewave Nostalgie, October, 2022;
Offshore Echos Magazine, no. 209, September; 2022,
Radio Journal no. 11-12, 2022;
RadioVisie, October, 2022.
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