Collectible Transistor Radios – Still Hot!

Rock and Roll and transistor radios – kind of a chicken and egg scenario and both benefited from the other, but which came first? 1954 seems to be the trigger year…

From Wikipedia:
“A transistor radio is a small portable radio receiver using transistor-based circuitry. Following their development in 1954 they became the most popular electronic communication device in history, with billions manufactured during the 1960s and 1970s. Their pocket size sparked a change in popular music listening habits, for the first time allowing people to listen to music anywhere they went.”

and

From Wikipedia:
“In 1951, Cleveland, Ohio disc jockey Alan Freed began broadcasting rhythm, blues, and country music for a multi-racial audience. Freed, familiar with the music of earlier decades, used the phrase “rock and roll” to describe the music he aired over station WJW (850 AM); its use is also credited to Freed’s sponsor, record store owner Leo Mintz, who encouraged Freed to play the music on the radio. Based on his success in Cleveland, Freed was soon hired by New York station WINS; upon arrival in 1954, his show was either simulcast or rebroadcast in more than forty markets. While the phrase “rock and roll” was in use years before, it was Freed who popularized the term with mainstream audiences.”

Regency TR-1The first transistor radio was the Regency TR-1, manufactured by Texas Instrument and Industrial Development Engineering Associates. Texas Instruments had built a prototype in May 1954, but couldn’t find an established radio manufacturer such as RCA, Philco or Emerson to develop and market a radio using their transistors. The Regency TR-1 was announced on October 18, 1954 by the Regency Division of I.D.E.A., was put on sale in November 1954, and was the first practical transistor radio made in any significant numbers.

Today they are popular collectibles, and their condition and rarity is more important than whether they actually work, although that certainly adds to their trading value.

Things to watch for:

  • The most collectible transistor radios were made between 1954 and 1963 and can be identified by the appearance of Civil Defense markings (“Conelrad”) on their dials. Look for symbols such as triangles, dots or arrows between the 6 and 7 position at the low end of the dial and just before the 16 at the top.
  • AM only – FM appeared much later than the more desirable versions, although there a few collectible models that have a marine or short wave band included.
  • Manufactured in the U.S. or Japan.
  • Smaller is generally better.
  • Condition, appearance and color versions rather than black or white.

Models to watch for:

  • Regency TR-1
  • Raytheon STP-1
  • Sylvania Thunderbird
  • Bulova 250
  • Sony TR63

Brands to watch for:

  • Bulova
  • Crown
  • Global
  • Hoffman
  • Mitchell
  • Raytheon
  • Regency
  • Sony
  • Toshiba
  • Zephyr

Some recent auction results in the last 2 weeks (as of Dec 2 2010) from eBay:

  • Regency/TI vintage transistor radio(circa 50’s) – $687.00 (we saw one go for $1500 a few weeks back)
  • Mitchell 1101 (Regency TR-1) Transistor Radio – $445.00
  • Toshiba 6TP-304 Coffin Transistor Radio – $385.00

Some current live auctions for transistor radios on eBay:

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