Transistor radio, plastic / metal, made by Regency Division IDEA Inc, America, 1954-1958
Regency shirt-pocket transistor radio
Up until the 1920s most commercially made radios were imported into Australia but after this date increasing numbers were manufactured locally. All of these were battery-operated until the introduction of mains-operation in1928 while the number of broadcast transmitters increased from eight in 1924 to 31 by 1930.
Some of the first truly compact radios produced in Australia at this time were to be found in cars but they were virtually unusable while moving due to interference from the engine and electrical system. Other problems included bulky valves, overheating and high power demands which could drain the car's battery. In the 1930s and 1940s solving these problems saw the size and power consumption of car radios decrease while the introduction of the ferrite rod aerial also had an impact on the size of portable radios.
But a major development came in 1948 when William Shockley, Walter Brattain and John Bardeen invented the world's first solid-state amplifier, which they named a 'transistor'. It replaced the valves used in radios and opened up new possibilities for decreasing the size of radios.
In July 1954 the Texas Instruments and Industrial Development Engineering Associates (I.D.E.A.) companies embarked on a six month project to produce a pocket sized radio for the Christmas market. The result was the Regency TR-1, the world's first pocket transistor radio. Over one hundred thousand were sold during its first year of manufacture and they were produced in a range of colours.
The radio, designed by the firm of Painter, Teague and Petertil, was an excellent reflection of modernity and space age design at the beginning of the 1950s. Aside from its sleek simplicity of lines the other standout feature was its distinctive grill which was copied by almost all pocket radios that followed the TR 1. The design was recognised by the Industrial Design Society of New York, and in 1955 the radio was included in the American Art and Design Exhibition in Paris.
By 1956 it was still extremely difficult to get hold of a Regency TR-1 and as a result the museum contacted the Agent General of NSW in London to purchase four Regency TR-1 transistor radios in different colours. These were sent back to the museum along with their original packaging and earphones at a cost of around 80.00 pounds.
The Regency TR-1 radios still held by the museum are amongst the very earliest to appear in Australia. These transistors are significant for the way they combine design, science and culture and represent a major step in the development electronics and radio in Australia.
Handy, R., Erbe, M., Antonier, A., 'Made in Japan, Transistor Radios of the 1950s and 1960s", Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 1993
Musico,W., T., 'Australian radio; the Technical Story, 1923-1983', Kangaroo Press, 1984
Geoff Barker, March 2007