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CAR RADIOS...and more

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  • CAR RADIOS...and more


    Seems like cars have always had radios,
    but they didn't.

    Here's the story:

    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 to be sure,
    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.

    But it wasn't easy: 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 was running.

    One by one, 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.
    He made a product called a
    "battery eliminator", a device that allowed battery-powered radios to
    run on household AC current.

    But as more homes were wired for electricity, more radio manufacturers made AC-powered radios.

    Galvin needed a new product to manufacture. When he met Lear and Wavering at the radio convention,
    he found it. He believed that
    mass-produced, affordable car
    radios had the potential to become
    a huge business.

    Lear and Wavering set up shop in Galvin's factory, and when they perfected their first radio, they installed it in his Studebaker.

    Then 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.

    Good idea, but it didn't work –
    Half an hour after the installation,
    the banker's Packard caught on fire. (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 production 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.

    Galvin decided to do the same thing, and since his radio was intended for use in a motor vehicle, he decided to call it the Motorola .

    But even with the name change,
    the radio still had problems:
    When Motorola went on sale in 1930, it cost about $110 uninstalled, at a time when you could buy a brand-new car for $650, and the country was sliding into the Great Depression.
    (By that measure, a radio for a new car would cost about $3,000 today.)

    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.

    These early radios ran on their own batteries, not on the car battery,
    so holes had to be cut into the floorboard to accommodate them.

    The installation manual had eight complete diagrams and 28 pages of instructions. Selling complicated car
    radios that cost 20 percent of the
    price of a brand-new car wouldn't
    have been easy in the best of
    times, let alone during the Great Depression –

    Galvin lost money in 1930 and struggled for a couple of years after that. But things picked up in 1933 when Ford began offering Motorola's pre-installed at the factory.

    In 1934 they got another boost when
    Galvin struck a deal with
    B.F. Goodrich tire company
    to sell and install them in its chain
    of tire stores.

    By then the price of the radio, with installation included, had dropped to $55. The Motorola car radio was off and running.
    (The name of the company would be officially changed from
    Galvin Manufacturing to
    "Motorola" in 1947.)

    In the meantime, Galvin continued to develop new uses for car radios.
    In 1936, the same year that it introduced push-button tuning,
    it also introduced the Motorola Police Cruiser, a standard car radio that was factory preset to a single frequency to pick up police broadcasts.

    In 1940 he developed the first
    handheld two-way radio
    -- The Handy-Talkie –
    for the U. S. Army.

    A lot of the communications
    technologies that we take for granted today were born in Motorola labs in the years that followed World War II.

    In 1947 they came out with the first television for under $200.

    In 1956 the company introduced the world's first pager; in 1969 came the radio and television equipment that was used to televise Neil Armstrong's first steps on the Moon.

    In 1973 it invented the world's first handheld cellular phone.

    Today Motorola is one of the largest cell phone manufacturers in the world.

    And it all started with the car radio.

    the two men who installed the first radio in Paul Galvin's car?

    Elmer Wavering and William Lear, ended up taking very different
    paths in life.

    Wavering stayed with Motorola.
    In the 1950's he helped change the automobile experience again when
    he developed the first automotive
    alternator, replacing inefficient and unreliable generators. The invention lead to such luxuries as power windows, power seats, and, eventually,

    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 are
    his contributions to the field of aviation. He invented radio direction finders for planes, aided in the invention of the autopilot,
    designed the first fully automatic
    aircraft landing system,
    and in 1963 introduced his
    most famous invention of all,
    the Lear Jet,
    the world's first mass-produced, affordable business jet.
    (Not bad for a guy who dropped out of school after the eighth grade.)

    Sometimes it is fun to find out how some of the
    many things that we take for granted actually
    came into being!

  • #2
    Thank you! I knew most of this, but you have provided much detail.

    My ex-BiL had a 1937 Oldsmobile coupe with a radio. I ended up installing that radio in my 1949 Mercury coupe. I didn't realize that that 1937 radio was that early in car radio production. I sold the Mercury in about 1959 with the radio still working.
    Gary L.
    Wappinger, NY

    SDC member since 1968
    Studebaker enthusiast much longer


    • #3
      "Installed it in his Studebaker"!!! It's got Studebaker content...

      Champion V8
      4d sedan


      • #4
        Thanks for sharing. I had seen similar articles but always nice to remember.


        • #5
          Reminds me of a story.

          During the 90s and 00s, I served as executive secretary to a number of expert study panels for the Navy. These panels were composed of outside experts donating their time for the good of the country. "Executive secretary" means I arranged for the meetings, took the notes, and wrote the first draft of the final report. On a couple of them, Robert Galvin, the son of the founder of Motorola, and the then-president of the company, served as chairman. He was a courtly, patriotic gentlemen who really devoted himself to the task at hand and never asked for special favors. Motorola had an office in DC, and he hosted one of the meetings there. Under federal law, Motorola had to charge us for the lunch and coffee -- but just chose to charge each of us $5 a day for the munchies. I'm sure those sandwiches and cookies cost a lot more than $5.

          On one occasion, our meeting at a rather remote laboratory location ran late, and I offered to drive Mr Galvin to National Airport, rather than wait a long time for a cab. Instead of dropping him off at one of the usual terminals, he told me to take him to the corporate aircraft hanger at the north end of the airport, an area that I had never been to before. As I was helping him get his bag out of the trunk of my car, I said I hoped that the late meeting wouldn't cause him to miss his plane. He said, "They better wait for me -- I own the plane".

          Skip Lackie