Tag Archives: Westinghouse Electric Company

The Car Radio is 100

Commercial radio was born in November of 1920. The first OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) car radio came along in 1922 designed by the Chevrolet Motor Company and manufactured by Westinghouse. This first car radio was heavy, cumbersome and expensive; costing $200. In today’s dollars this would be the equivalent of $3,347.00. A 1922 Chevrolet, Superior 5-Touring automobile was priced at only $860, so you can see how expensive it was to buy one with a radio installed.

The good news is the radio worked and would then birth 100-years of innovation in the automobile dashboard.

The 1920s Car Radio Sales Pitch

With a radio in your car, your family could drive anywhere within a hundred miles of a radio station while being entertained, informed and educated.

It’s hard for any Baby Boomer to imagine not having audio entertainment as standard equipment in their dashboard.

1930s

It was radio engineer Paul Galvin that would pioneer more affordable car radios which he manufactured and sold through his new company, called Motorola.

1940s

Midway through the 40s, it is estimated that nine million cars now had radios in their dashboard and people were becoming concerned that they were leading to distracted driving thereby causing more auto accidents. Both broadcasters and radio manufacturers made the case for how having a car radio was useful in emergencies and alerted drivers to bad weather conditions.

Today when the topic of distracted driving comes up, it’s usually about handheld cellphones being used by drivers. But back then, Radio-Craft Magazine told of the battle being waged between state legislatures and radio manufacturers: “Ever since auto-radio installations became popular, a controversy has been going on…as to whether auto radio presented an accident hazard or not.”

The president of the Radio Manufacturers Association made the case that car radios were safe saying:

“Radio is not distracting because it demands no attention from the driver and requires no answer, as does conversation between the driver and passengers. Motor car radio is tuned by ear without the driver taking his eyes off the road. It is less disconcerting than the rear view mirror.”

Several states proposed steep fines for drivers, while others considered making installing a car radio a crime.

The Princeton Radio Research Project was created to study the effects car radios were having on automobile safety. In a paper published by Edward A. Suchman for that project, he reported that his small study found no link between car radios and traffic accidents.

1960s

In 1963, Frequency Modulation (FM) radios were introduced into the automobile for the first time. Radio penetration in cars had now reached 60%.

Along with FM radios, the 60s also gave birth to both eight-track tapes and car stereos, primarily due to the use of transistors, instead of vacuum tubes. Solid state transistors were smaller, drew less power and emitted very little heat.

1970s

If the 60s belonged to the 8-track tape player, the 70s would belong to the stereo cassette tape player. Recording tape manufacturer Maxell promoted these cassettes as nearly indestructible.

1980s

While the Compact Disc (CD) would be introduced in the 80s, it didn’t really become ubiquitous until the late 90s, coexisting with compact cassette players in automobile dashboards for two more decades.

21st Century

Probably the biggest disruption to the automobile dashboard came with the advent of Bluetooth allowing smartphones to interface with a vehicle’s entertainment system.

In 2011, automobile manufacturers stopped offering cassette tape players in their new cars, soon followed by the elimination of CD players/changers.

Today’s new cars come equipped with access to Satellite Radio, and an automatic interface with your smartphone allowing you the ability to stream anything you want to hear into your car’s entertainment system.

In fact, my first article for this blog in 2022 was “Why I Stream ALL My Radio Listening,” which diagrammed how my car radio audio systems are now programmed by my iPhone.

“Radio is not going to be Numero Uno in the dash any longer.”

-Fred Jacobs

AM/FM radio will most likely coexist with other forms of audio access for a period of time, but the writing is on the wall.

The definitive answer to how long over-the-air radio will continue to be used in the automobile really depends on broadcasters and whether or not they offer compelling and attention-getting content that audio consumers demand to hear.

AutoStage

Xperi’s newest in-dash experience is AutoStage. It was demonstrated at CES2022 and it should be noted that this system comes with the following pre-sets: SiriusXM, FM, AM and TuneIn Radio.

I use the TuneIn Radio App for most of my radio listening, but why was it chosen by Mercedes Benz? Turns out the answer is, “TuneIn’s radio stations can be accessed worldwide in 197 countries on more than 200 different platforms and devices.” TuneIn says it “provides the displaced radio listener a connection to home with local, national, and international stations anywhere they go and on any device.”

In other words, why would any audio consumer need DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasting), DAB+, Digital Radio Mondiale, HD Radio, AM or FM when they can receive any radio station in crystal clear audio via streaming?

With the exception of the proprietary content offered by SiriusXM, everything else is available via streaming at no charge.

Waxing Nostalgic

Car radio has come a long way from the day William Lear and Elmer Wavering drove their girlfriends to lookout point high above the Mississippi River town of Quincy, Illinois to watch the sunset and their dates told them how much better this romantic evening would have been had they been able to listen to music in the car.

Lear and Wavering shared their girlfriends’ comments with Paul Galvin who would go on to make Motorola car transistor radios, and then AM/FM radio would dominate the dashboard for the rest of the 20th Century.

So, now moving further into the 21st Century, radio broadcasters really need to follow the advice of Steve Jobs in order to survive and thrive, and that is to:

Think Different

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Commercial Radio’s 100th Birthday

Election night at KDKA November 2, 1920

On Tuesday, October 27, 2020, commercial radio will celebrate it’s 100th birthday. It was on this day in 1920 that “the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Navigation, which served as the radio licensing agency of the day, issued the first radio license ever to KDKA,” as told on the station’s website.

Radio Call Letters

Ironically, those famous Pittsburgh call letters – KDKA – don’t stand for anything. They were simply assigned to the station with its broadcast license from a roster maintained to provide identification for ocean going ships and marine shore radio stations. KDKA just so happened to be the next set of call letters up for being assigned with a broadcast license.

WJJW

This story is analogous to what happened at my college back in the 70s. I graduated with my bachelor’s degree from North Adams State College in 1974. During my four years at NASC, I helped to obtain the college’s FCC FM broadcast license and become its first general manager. I vividly remember standing in front of a classroom blackboard with my fellow college broadcasters trying to decide what call letters we wanted the FCC to assign to our station. During this meeting a knock came to the door, and the person who knocked handed me an important letter from the Federal Communications Commission in Washington, DC. I anxiously opened the envelope to find that the FCC had granted our request for an FM broadcast license and had pulled the next set of unassigned call letters off the roster to go with our license. Those call letters would be “WJJW.” And like KDKA, they would stand for absolutely nothing and there again, never changed.

Call Letters

Some of the radio stations I listened to over the years had call letters that represented something, like WLS & WCFL in Chicago. WLS owned by Sears, chose call letters that stood for “World’s Largest Store” and WCFL, chose call letters that stood for “Chicago Federation of Labor,” the name of their union. WCFL proudly called itself “The Voice of Labor” at the top of every hour when it was required to give its call letters and city of license.

Do you know what the call letters for WKBW in Buffalo and KHJ in Los Angeles stood for? WKBW’s call letters meant “Well Known Bible Witness” and KHJ had call letters that stood for “Kindness Happiness & Joy.” Neither radio station would mention the origin of their call letters during their Top 40 days.  

Radio stations I worked for and managed also had call letters that represented something:

  • WBEC – Berkshire Eagle Company (the local newspaper)
  • WBRK – Berkshires
  • WUPE – Whoopee Radio
  • WFPG – World’s Famous PlayGround (Atlantic City)
  • KOEL – the first three letters of its city of license, Oelwein, Iowa
  • WLAN – Lancaster, PA
  • WSUS – Sussex, NJ
  • WOND – WONDerful Radio (Atlantic City)
  • WNNJ – Northern New Jersey

Call letters today tend to have been replaced by other forms of identification, like “Kiss,” “Froggy,” or “The River,” with the only problem being that they’ve lost their unique, one-of-kind identity that call letters branding gave them.

When I say KHJ or WBZ, you immediately know I’m talking about a radio station and that the station is located either in Los Angeles or Boston. When I say “Kiss” or “Froggy” you have no idea of which Kiss or Froggy radio station I’m referring to nor where it is located.

KDKA Covers Its First General Election

Shortly after receiving its commercial broadcast license, KDKA began planning its coverage of that year’s general election results to begin at 6pm on Tuesday, November 2nd, 1920.

Four men would climb to a little shack on the roof of one of the Westinghouse Electric’s buildings in East Pittsburgh to report on the results relayed to that shack via telephone. Leo Rosenburg delivered the results, becoming radio’s first announcer on the first licensed American radio station. You can hear a recreation by Leo of that broadcast HERE

About a thousand people tuned in to hear the broadcast and they would be some of the first people that year to learn that Warren G. Harding had beat James Cox to become the next President of the United States.

Election Night 2020

One hundred years later, election night will be quite different. People will most likely learn of the results via their smartphone, and probably not until all the votes have been counted. Due to COVID-19, we can expect that the vote counting process will take days, or even weeks, before a victor is declared.

Remember, your vote is important. Many recent elections have been decided by the thinnest of margins.

Do your civic duty and please VOTE.

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