Memories and transistor radios

Magnovox 1R 1203I’ve always had an affinity for pocket transistor radios.

The Realistic Model 23-464.

The Realistic Model 23-464.

My first one was an AM-only model: a Realistic Model 23-464. It was about the only new pocket radio I could afford–and purchase locally–when I was a kid.

It was surprisingly sensitive on the AM broadcast band, but the dial was a far cry from accurate. At some point, I either gave this radio to someone or lost it. Last year, I happened upon one on eBay and purchased it for $9 shipped. Its plastic body shows signs of wear, but it works and reminds me of my childhood.

My grandpa's Magnovox 1R 1203

My grandpa’s Magnovox 1R 1203

Another pocket AM/FM radio that brings back a flood of memories is the Magnovox 1R 1203. It belonged to my dear grandpa, who also shared and conveyed a love of radio. When I was a kid, we would sit around on his front porch on hot summer days and listen to local AM stations on this little radio, cicadas whirring in the background.

I still have his Magnavox–it sits here in my radio room and brings back memories every time I look at or listen to it.

Am I a nostalgic fellow? You bet!

Anyone else have memories associated with pocket radios? Please feel free to comment and share!

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24 thoughts on “Memories and transistor radios

  1. Neuro Domo

    Different neuro pathways encouraged by listening to radio that are our generations artifacts.
    What a great radio discussion omelette.
    Listening works the imagination in different ways less and less populated today.

    Reply
  2. Jason

    Thanks for the link to Jay’s article. As a result of reading it I’ve purchased a Sangean SR-35 which cost $40 in Australia. I’ll see how it performs. I previously had the Sony ICF-S10 MK2 that I used to carry around to the football for many years, but it’s broken now. It’s a shame that Sony’s replacement model (in Jay’s view) is a step backward.
    I might pick up the new Sony one of these days to try it.
    Sony have been doing this a bit. They discontinued my DAB+ bedside clock radio recently and replaced it with a less capable model with fewer features.
    I also used to have the Panasonic RF-P50 (also broken, keep dropping these pocket radios) and agree with Jay that it’s performance isn’t that great.

    Reply
    1. Joe

      I have the new Sony (ICF-P26). I wouldn’t let Jay’s review put you off. Although I don’t have the ICF-S10 and thus can’t compare it to the new model, I find the latter a good performer in its own right. It does have a disadvantage compared to the Sangean SR-35 in that the antenna swivels only up and down rather than in all directions, but it makes up for this deficiency by being more sensitive, more selective, and easier to tune than the Sangean. (Having said that, I suspect that there’s a lot of sample variation with radios, so it’s probably dangerous to take the impressions of one person – whether Jay Allen, myself, or whoever – as the final word.)

      Reply
  3. Pingback: Arvin Model 68R05: John’s 1967 transistor radio | The SWLing Post

  4. Michael Black

    I had a crystal radio that fit in a pocket, alligator clips to connect it to an “antenna”.

    But for some reason, pocket radios never got my attention, maybe because I was younger. Thir orime seems the sixties, when they were new, and everwhere. I was given one at some point, never using it really.

    We had a the radio in the living room, with a shortwave band. I can’t remember if I noticed it myself, or read about “DXing” (I think in Canada’s magazine about scouting, “Canadian Boy”) first, but suddenly I was aware. I got my first shortwave radio at 11, 1971, the horrible Hallicrafters S-120A, the transistorised one, which is when I started listening to local radio.

    What I do remember being intrigued by, kind of overlapping, was the multiband portables. Again, I can’t remember if I noticed them before or after a deeper interest in radio. A friend’s father had one, with a rotatable loop and a longwave band. But thy also has them at the “corner store” where I got my candy and comic books, intriguing things way too expensive (though because of the location, surely these would have been cheap multiband). I can’t fully remember the appeal, except. maybe a world that I was just getting into (the world in general, but hobby radio too). Like the dial on the Hallicrafters with labels like “Antarctica”, the multiband portables suggested a very interesting world, even if likely most of the police stuff would have been mundane.

    Michael

    Reply
  5. Guy Atkins

    My first AM radio was actually a kit, the Radio Shack “Science Fair Two Transistor AM Radio”, catalog #28-102.

    Surviving, unbuilt original Science Fair kits are sky-high in price now, but there is one firm building reproduction kits of this radio and other Science Fair kits. Here’s an auction for the two transistor radio kit repro:

    http://www.ebay.com/itm/2-Transistor-AM-Radio-Shack-receiver-Science-Fair-unbuilt-electronic-kit-P-BOX-/291836412675

    Reply
  6. James Patterson

    I go for the much older,earlier AM only, pocket transistor radios.FM are no good to me,orthough the older AM are getting very hard to find these days and I usaly see at market places FM/AM pocket radios made of far cheaper materials of course.The first ever genuine AM pocket radios and those slightly larger,hand bag size are realy the only ones that interest me.They are like “Gold” to me.I found one at a beach years ago,all corroded and full of sand.I brought it home dismantled what I could then soaked it in an engine cleaner,just to see if it would clean up.I taped up the tuning condenser,so that it would stay dry.Well to this day that old pocket radio still works fine.

    Reply
  7. Ed McCorry

    The first transistor radio that I remember was a Lafayette 15 Transistor. I think I paid $16 for it (many weeks of allowance). It was just AM, no FM in those days. The sound quality was excellent, it didn’t have that tinny sound that many of them had. We used to carry the radios around like everyone carries their phones today. I too would hide it under my pillow at night and use the single earphone to listen to Cousin Brucie at WABC in NYC every night.

    I remember when I was going to Catholic school we had to wear sport coats and you could put the radio in the inside pocket and run the earphone through your sleeve and lean with your hand and earphone on your ear and listen to the ballgame. If you were called on you just let the earphone slip into the sleeve. I sometimes wonder if we were really fooling the nuns. Fond memories, thanks for the post.

    Reply
    1. Thomas Post author

      That’s great, Ed! I think many of us used to do that and, like you, looking back I question if I really fooled anyone. I’m having Deja Vu…seems like I may have even mentioned that before…

      Ha! Found it!
      https://swling.com/blog/2015/10/peter-recommends-the-sony-srf-s84-and-srf-18-ultralights/

      Thanks for reminding me of that! I remember in fifth grade, I even scored a seat at the back of the classroom, next to a huge double-sided shelf that was pushed *almost* against the wall. I used to hide my contraband in that shelf (radio, bubble gum, GI Joes, etc.). Good times!

      My main problem that I was even aware of at the time was that I have a one-track mind. While listening to the radio through the earpiece, I’m sure I didn’t hear a word the teacher said. It’s amazing I never got caught.

      -Thomas

      Reply
  8. Jim Milholland

    My first radio of my own was a Viscount 6 transistor. I saw it in a store in Charlotte, picked it up and putt it down again, because I knew $20 for a radio was too much. My mom saw me looking at it and drove the 40 miles back to Charlotte the next day while I was in school just to buy it for me for my birthday. That was before interstate, so a major effort. I loved it. So did my sister. She borrowed it to take to the beach, dropped it and it never worked again. Recently I saw one on eBay and snatched it up. I have other radios now for listening, but I just like to look at the old Viscount and remember how happy it made me.

    Reply
  9. Chuck Ermatinger

    I could go on and on…I started collecting and experimenting with pocket transistor sets early on. Also early on I found the magic of nighttime DXing with them. I even found that by disconnecting one of the ferrite antenna leads and adding a wire antenna, a transistor set would pull in part of the shortwave spectrum. Hours of fun. Amazing that some of these old pocket radios still work. I don’t have any of my original sets today, but have been bitten by the collecting bug later in life. It’s just as interesting to me today. Luckily we have several AM locals that play country and pop/rock oldies – that adds to the fun!

    Reply
  10. Clint Gouveia

    Hi Thomas, really enjoyed your post! My first ever radio was bought for me by my Grandmother for my birthday when I was 6 or 7 years old. I think it probably originated from Hong Kong, AM only with a bright yellow plastic casing. There were many varients sold by different consumer electronics companies, but essentially they were identical, just a different logo on the front panel. I just found one on eBay…and I am tempted lol! Like you, I’m very sentimental about radios I’ve owned in the past and seeing this on eBay takes me way back!

    http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Vintage-Harvard-1970s-Battery-Pocket-Radio-Very-Nice-Cosmetic-Condition-Working-/351817156830?hash=item51e9efc8de:g:GLUAAOSw9NdXuvmr

    Reply
    1. Thomas Post author

      I love that design! Kind of looks like a soap-on-a-rope! 🙂 RadioShack/Realistic also carried a line of pocket radios (AM only) in multi-colors.

      Reply
  11. Robert Gulley

    Nice Post, Thomas!
    My main memory of a pocket radio was being able to put in under my pillow at night and listen to “The Big Red Machine” era baseball games. When they were over, I would then try to get as many DX AM Broadcast stations as I could. Loved that little thing! Of course I was supposed to be asleep, but what mom couldn’t see/hear . . . hee hee!

    Reply
    1. Thomas Post author

      Many nights as I fall asleep, I put in earphones and tune around the MW and SW bands with a portable at the bedside. ‘Course my wife could care less and appreciates that she doesn’t have to listen to the static. 🙂 I keep that all to myself!

      Reply
  12. Joe

    I bought a Sangean SR-35 last year based on the results of Jay’s previous pocket portable radio roundup. I can’t understand why he rates its performance so highly. Here in New York City I can receive Columbia University’s WKCR-FM clearly on several other radios, but not on the SR-35. As a pocket FM receiver, my Tecsun ICR-100 both is considerably more sensitive and sounds much better through its speaker, plus it plays in stereo through earphones, unlike the SR-35. Also, the ICR-100’s attached hand strap antenna is much easier to deal with than the whip antenna on the SR-35, particularly on the go.

    Reply
  13. rtc

    Check out Jay’s link to Radio Shack…it works
    but the new owners seem to just be selling
    off remaining NOS.
    Kind of a weird surreal afterlife for a great
    company.

    Reply
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