For many drivers, flipping on the radio is nearly as instinctive as powering up the engine or adjusting the in-car air temperature. But car radios weren’t always so widely embraced. In the early days of the car radio, some safety-minded legislators wanted to ban car radios for being too distracting and dangerous for drivers.
But have you ever wondered who dreamed up the idea for the car radio and how it came to be such an important part of the American driving experience?
The Role of Radio in the early 1900s
Before there was television and the Internet, there was the radio. American families in the early 1900s relied upon the radio for news, entertainment, and music. Classic movies often depict families huddling around the living room radio during times of war or inclement weather as their link to the outside world.
Paul Galvin’s Idea
Paul Galvin is credited as the man who first recognized the potential of the car radio and capitalized upon Americans’ fascination with radio for motor vehicles and while on the go. He worked with engineers to build and install the world’s first commercially successful car radios. Around the same time, Galvin and his brother started a manufacturing company in Chicago to enable home radios to operate on household electric current instead of batteries.
The Role of the Economy
After the stock market crashed in 1929 and sent the U.S. economy into a tailspin, he and his brother needed a relevant product to keep their electronic device company alive. Even though the economy had plummeted, the market for radio technology and radios was steadily growing. With the help of a radio parts company, Galvin transitioned his company to manufacture affordable car radios. Elmer Wavering, an Automotive Hall of Fame inductee, contributed his expertise to the car radios’ technical issues as well.
These men quickly discovered that car radios must be durable enough to withstand long journeys and treacherous roads, yet portable enough to conveniently fit inside. Galvin drove his Studebaker 850 miles from Chicago to Atlantic City, New Jersey in 1930 to demonstrate how well his car radio worked.
The radio was enormous by today’s standards, and the various parts were positioned both inside the car and under the floor. But ultimately, it fit inside the vehicle and Galvin’s long journey was a success. Since Galvin hadn’t registered for the Radio Manufacturers Association Convention in Atlantic city, he parked his car outside the event with the radio blasting loudly and returned to Chicago with an impressive number of sales orders.
The Emergence of Motorola
Most of us are familiar with the modern technology and electronics company, Motorola, which is a term that Galvin created to combine the words “motor vehicle” and “victrola”. The Motorola brand produced one of the world’s most successful car radios and made drivers see their automobiles as a second home with modern conveniences to match. Motorola is still a leader in modern communications equipment, and radio lovers have Galvin to thank for the tunes that play each time they get behind the wheel.