It seems that cars have always had radios, but that’s not the case. I can remember when there was an option or extra charge for a car with a radio and heater. Certainly air conditioning wasn’t available then.
Since these items are now standard, it’s really hard to imagine a car that doesn’t have all of them. When I was young, it was hot in the summer and cold in the winter in our cars.
Since it was not available through the factory, in the early1960s my father had an air conditioner installed in the front seat of one of his cars. It was the size of two VCRs sitting on top of each other and was situated at the bottom of the dashboard in the center of the front seat, right under the cigarette lighter. Oh yes, we still have a place for lighters in our cars, but mostly those are used to charge cell phones.
The invention of the car radio began in the late 1920s and the story goes like this. “One evening, in 1929, two young men named William Lear and Elmer Wavering drove their girlfriends to a lookout point high above the Mississippi River town of Quincy, Illinois, to watch the sunset. It was a romantic night, but one of the women observed that it would be even nicer if they could listen to music in the car. Lear and Wavering liked the idea. Both men had tinkered with radios (Lear served as a radio operator in the U.S. Navy during World War I) and it wasn’t long before they were taking apart a home radio and trying to get it to work in a car.”
This was not an easy task since automobiles have ignition switches, generators, spark plugs, and other electrical equipment that generate noisy static interference, making it nearly impossible to listen to the radio when the engine is running. Lear and Wavering identified and eliminated each source of electrical interference. When they finally got their radio to work, they took it to a radio convention in Chicago. There they met Paul Galvin, owner of Galvin Manufacturing Corporation, and teamed up to mass produce affordable car radios.
Lear and Wavering set up shop in Galvin’s factory, and perfected their first radio, then installed it in his Studebaker. Galvin went to a local banker to apply for a loan. Thinking it might sweeten the deal, he had his men install a radio in the banker’s Packard. That was probably a good idea, but it didn’t work because one hour after the installation, the banker’s Packard caught on fire, much like the Samsung phones of today. They didn’t get the loan.
Galvin didn’t give up. He drove his Studebaker nearly 800 miles to Atlantic City to show off the radio at the 1930 Radio Manufacturers Association convention. Too broke to afford a booth, he parked the car outside the convention hall and cranked up the radio so that passing conventioneers could hear it. That idea worked – he got enough orders to put the radio into production.
That first model was called the 5T71. Galvin decided he needed to come up with something a little catchier. In those days, many companies in the phonograph and radio businesses used the suffix “ola” for their names – Radiola, Columbiola, and Victrola were three of the biggest. Since his radio was intended for use in a motor vehicle, he decided to call it the Motorola.
The big problem was when the Motorola radio went on sale in1930, it cost about $110 uninstalled. This was at a time when you could buy a brand-new car for $650, and the country was sliding into the Great Depression. (In today’s prices, a radio for a new car would cost about $3,000.)
In 1930, it took two men several days to put in a car radio. The dashboard had to be taken apart so that the receiver and a single speaker could be installed, and the ceiling had to be cut open to install the antenna. But things picked up in 1933 when Ford began offering Motorolas pre-installed at the factory.
By then the price of the radio, with installation included, had dropped to $55. The Motorola car radio was off and running. Today Motorola is one of the largest cell phone manufacturers in the world. And it all started with the car radio.
The original inventors, Elmer Wavering and William Lear, ended up taking very different paths in life. Wavering stayed with Motorola and invented such luxuries as power windows, power seats, and, eventually, air-conditioning.
Lear also continued inventing. He holds more than 150 patents. Remember eight-track tape players? Lear invented that. But what he’s really famous for is the Lear Jet (not bad for a guy who dropped out of school after the eighth grade.)
So, from the AM car radio, they went on to FM, then stereo, cassette players, CD players and now my favorite – XM radio. When traveling in a car, it’s perfect because you never lose your station and there are hundreds of choices. Yes, there’s a monthly cost, but it is low.
Now, as the man said, you know the rest of the story!
(Melanie Behrens- firstname.lastname@example.org)
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