Bring the Noise

The evolution of portable audio

By Matthew McKinnon
The pocket transistor radio, 1954
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The pocket transistor radio, 1954

The marathon starts with a sprint — Electronics firms Raytheon, Regency and Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo compete to bring the world’s first pocket radio to market. All hope to use transistors, the new hotness in mid-century technology.

Regency wins the race. Its TR-1 costs $49.95 US (or about $350 US in today’s greenbacks), weighs a dozen ounces and has a battery that lasts 20 hours. The unit measures bigger than most actual pockets, but small enough to move music out of the den and into the streets.

TTK joins the fray in 1957, though the Japanese firm has two concerns. (1) Its radio, while better sounding than Regency’s, is barely smaller. Solution: Company salesmen wear shirts with oversized pockets. (2) Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo is a mouthful in any tongue and another company owns the TTK copyright. So, Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo Westernizes its name by merging the Latin word for sound, sonus, with the North American phrase “sonny boy.” Result: Sony.

The pocket transistor is a sensation, every teen’s most-wanted soundtrack to North America’s post-war boom. Music rattles over sidewalks. Rock begins to roll.

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