The sound for the road: The car radio turns 100

For more than 100 years, the car radio has developed from a bulky tube receiver to a multimedia information center.

The sound for the road: The car radio turns 100

For more than 100 years, the car radio has developed from a bulky tube receiver to a multimedia information center. To do this, it had to radically change and reinvent itself again and again. In the most recent innovations, it is then also incorporated into a multimedia unit. So far it has been an exciting journey.

The car radio will celebrate its 100th birthday this spring. In the early days of mobile radio reception, ridiculously oversized devices were installed in vehicles. Listening pleasure on the go was also reserved for hobbyists and the super-rich.

But entertainment technology soon became a mass phenomenon and the radio by far the most sought-after extra equipment, without which cars could no longer be imagined for decades. But with the current triumph of mobile internet, the once indispensable radio in cars could become obsolete.

George Frost is considered the inventor of the car radio. As an 18-year-old student and at the same time president of the Lane High School Radio Club in Chicago, he developed a portable portable radio that he installed in the door of a Ford Model T. The sources are not entirely clear, but probably at the beginning of April or May 1922 the fusion of radio and automobile was accomplished. A photo survived from the period showing the tinkerer at his Model T with a sign in the windshield advertising the first radio-equipped car.

A start had been made, but it was another eight years before Galvin Manufacturing Corporation (GMC) launched the first commercially successful car radio, the 5T71 model, in 1930. Although the device cost the equivalent of at least 1600 euros by today's standards, it soon sold like hot cakes. The Americans came up with a made-up word from the elements motor and ola to designate the device - the latter stands for sound, wave. In the late 1940s, GMC renamed itself Motorola.

In Europe, the development began a little later. Autospur 5 was the name of the first radio model from the Ideal company in the early 1930s, which later changed its name to Blaupunkt. The 15-kilo behemoth with its five electron tubes could occasionally overwhelm the on-board electronics of vehicles with its high power requirements. In view of the solution, which by today's standards costs several thousand euros, the Autospur remained an absolute luxury object.

In the post-war period, the devices became more compact and cheaper, but for the time being they remained luxury rather than normal. However, the number of providers of inexpensive devices and the number of technical innovations increased rapidly. One of the first examples that could be fully integrated into the dashboard was the Becker AS 49, which was available as an option for the Mercedes 170 S from 1950. Other milestones were the Blaupunkt A53KU from 1954 with automatic station search or the first transistor car radio from Philips in 1961. At the same time, portable radios also became popular outside of cars. Some manufacturers combined both ideas and developed portable car radios that could also be operated outside the vehicle.

The first radios still received signals in the AM band, but in the 1960s ultra-short waves appeared, which allowed high-quality sound ("high fidelity") with less noise and two-channel stereo transmission. Technology made its way into cars in 1969 with the "Frankfurt Stereo" from Bosch. Digital broadcasting has now replaced its terrestrial predecessor. In addition to the even better sound quality, the DAB standard offers better reception and a wider range of special offers.

Listening to the radio alone was soon no longer enough for drivers. As early as the late 1950s, turntables for mounting under the dashboard came onto the market, but they were never able to establish themselves due to their mechanical irritability. In 1968, Philips introduced the first car cassette player that didn't stutter even on bumpy roads. Another helpful innovation in 1974 was the introduction of automatic recognition of traffic reports via the ARI system.

From the early 1980s, there were already signs of the beginning of the digital age. During this time, radios with LCD mini displays came into fashion, which displayed radio frequencies digitally. The major innovations of this period included the Dolby button for noise reduction and anti-theft protection via a number code. The latter made life at least a little more difficult for car radio thieves, who were particularly busy at the time.

In the early 1990s, when the cassette was still the undisputed number 1, automatic station search and the technology for traffic announcements improved. However, the approaching end of the cassette was already evident in the mid-1980s, when the first CD players were fully integrated into car radios or CD changers were connected. Another revolution from the 1990s was the use of double DIN devices, which were then also able to show colored navigation maps on displays. The aforementioned DAB radio followed in 1997, and from 2001 the first devices with MP3 reading technology.

In the noughties, the former radios were transformed into multi-talented multimedia devices with large touchscreens, which were also equipped with radio reception rather incidentally. With a USB connection, DAB, touchscreen, DVD drive, 30 GB hard drive and dynamic navigation, what was once a radio was soon transformed into a digital all-rounder.

The digital revolution brought many other innovations in rapid succession, such as Bluetooth connections, WLAN hotspots and voice control. In the 10s, devices came into fashion that finally dispensed with analog buttons and instead relied on gesture control and also allowed the integration of smartphones. Thanks to this connectivity, the Internet has now become a constant companion in automobiles, which means there is great potential for further technical developments. This also includes doing without radio receiver parts, such as in the basic version of the Fiat 500e. There is only one audio system here, which only obtains the acoustic input via connected smartphones, which can, however, continue to transmit linear radio via the Internet if desired.


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