Turn Down That Noise! The History of Car Radios

Stereo Tape Deck Record Changer
Driving while listening to the radio is an iconic American pastime – a way to catch up with news, sports, weather, and music while getting from Point A to Point B. But did you know that car radios weren’t always so widely accepted and embraced? When early automobiles were first introduced to a wide audience, many lawmakers and concerned citizens wanted to ban car radios for being too noisy and distracting for drivers.

Car Radio History

The first car radios were used by Chevrolet in the early 1920s. They were very expensive at that time and incredibly bulky, with huge batteries, speakers, and antennas that barely fit into and onto a car. Motorola radios of the 1930s were less awkward and innovators quickly began adding button and dial features to make them more accessible for drivers and passengers. The cost of car radios dropped dramatically in the 1950s, and a majority of new cars were installed with them by the mid-1960s.

Radio Bans in the 1930s

Laws to fully ban car radios were proposed in Massachusetts and Missouri in the 1930s. Legislators in New York, New Jersey, Ohio, and Illinois proposed steep fines for car radio usage during that time as well. People who supported these bans argued that radios caused accidents because drivers listening to them were too distracted to pay attention to the road. They further argued that some types of programming actually lulled drivers to sleep behind the wheel.

Arguments to Keep Radios in Cars

However, the Radio Manufacturers Association argued that car radios actually helped people become better drivers. They pointed out that radios informed drivers about hazardous road conditions that lie ahead and weather conditions that may disrupt their travel. Supporters of car radios also said that radios actually helped to keep drivers awake when they became drowsy.

Comparing Car Radios and Mobile Devices

Some modern driving enthusiasts have contemplated the comparison between car radio use in the 1930s and mobile device use in the 2010s. Over the years, studies have proven that listening to the radio is an unlikely cause of car accidents, but distracted driving is an undeniably huge cause of them. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, approximately 421,000 drivers were injured in accidents due to distracted driving in 2012 and 3,328 more were killed by distracted drivers that same year.

This story shows that as far back as the 1930s, many drivers were already becoming attached to their in-car technology and unwilling to give it up without a fight. Laws that ban technology use of any kind while driving are difficult to enforce. So the best way to stay safe is by reprogramming our habits and focusing on safety skills and common sense. To avoid adjusting the radio while driving and putting yourself at unnecessary risk, choose a single station to listen to during your journey or enlist your passenger to be the DJ. Enjoying your favorite tunes and programs while driving is a privilege and should be treated as such even today!


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