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The transistor radio was cool in its day

on Wednesday, 25 April 2018. Posted in Columns, Opinions

By: Brenda Harrison

I don’t remember if it was for Christmas or my birthday, nor do I remember the year, but sometime in the late 1950s or early 1960s, my parents gave me a transistor radio. This neat little portable device was about the size and shape of a man’s electric razor. It came with a leather-looking case and had one ear plug.

The transistor radio was the hottest ticket in electronics half a century ago, and my friends and I were drawn to those protected and cozy in their “leather” cases.

We could take them anywhere – in the backyard to listen to music while sun tanning or snuggle up with them in bed at night.

I can’t recall the maker of my radio, but I remember it was purchased from the B&G Firestone Store on East Evans Street in Florence. This store was where my parents purchased bicycles for me and my siblings, as well as some of our toys, because of their friendship with the owners.

A couple of years ago, I enjoyed an exhibit at the South Carolina State Museum in Columbia featuring their acquisition of a collection of transistor and short wave radios.

The collection was the gift of Columbia radiologist Dr. Sam Friedman. As a child in the 1950s, he developed an early fascination with these cutting edge tools for communication, and he started collecting, according to the museum’s director of education Tom Falvey.

The idea that you could carry a radio – often a huge piece of furniture from the 1930s to the 1950s, and was still table-top sized into the 1960s – in your pocket was absolutely revolutionary, he said.

With shortwave, one could listen to music or information from across the globe. News, sports and culture from Hong Kong to Rio de Janeiro could be plucked from the air.

If you remember the single ear pieces and the quasi-leather cases, you would enjoy the nostalgia from these artifacts, Falvey commented. Today‘s teens however would probably be stunned that anyone would carry around something that ‘big.’ It just shows how times have changed, he continued.

On the transistor side, the whole idea of portability was very cool in the 1960s. The transistor radio was probably the first, and maybe the most famous, product that introduced the space-age concept of transistors to the popular culture. It is one thing that will always have ‘transistor’ attached to its name, noted Falvey.

I just remember how cool it was to listen to top 40 hits while relaxing in a lawn chair in my backyard.