Began in 1922 within the Ford T – 100 Years of Automotive Radio: The Sound of the Street

Car radio will celebrate its 100th birthday this spring. In the early days of mobile radio reception, ridiculously large devices were installed in vehicles. The enjoyment of on-the-go listening is also reserved for hobbyists and the affluent. But soon entertainment technology became a mass phenomenon and radio became by far the most sought-after additional equipment, without which cars could no longer be imagined for decades. But with the current triumph of the mobile internet, the indispensable radio in cars could become obsolete.

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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 radio that he installed in the door of a Ford Model T. The sources are not entirely clear, but perhaps at the beginning of April or May 1922 the radio and automobile were combined. A surviving photo shows his Model T tinkered with a sign in the windshield advertising the first car equipped with the radio.

From today’s perspective, early car radios were clumsy devices.

It was the start, but another eight years passed before Galvin Manufacturing Corporation (GMC) launched its first commercially successful car radio, the 5T71, in 1930. Although the device cost the equivalent of at least €1,600 by today’s standards, it quickly What sold like hot cakes. The Americans came up with a synthetic word made up of the elements motor and ola to denote the device – the latter symbolizes the sound, the wave. In the late 1940s, GMC renamed itself Motorola.

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In Europe, development began a little later. The Autospur 5 was the name of the first radio model from Ideal in the early 1930s, which later changed its name to Blaupunkt. The 15-kilo giant with its five electron tubes can sometimes confuse on-board electronic devices with high power requirements. In view of the solution, which by today’s standards costs several thousand euros, Autospur remained a completely luxury object.

In the post-war period, the devices became more compact and cheaper, but for the time being they remained luxurious rather than ordinary. However, the number of inexpensive device providers 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 has been available as an option for the Mercedes 170 S since 1950.

Automatic channel search has been available since 1954

Other highlights were the Blaupunkt A53KU from 1954 with automatic station search or Philips’ first transistor car radio in 1961. At the same time, portable radios also became popular outside of cars. Some manufacturers have combined ideas and developed portable car radios that can also be played outside the car.

The first radios still received signals in the AM band, but in the 1960s ultrashort waves appeared, allowing high-quality (“high fidelity”) sound with less noise and two-channel stereo transmission. The technology made its way into the automobile in 1969 with the “Frankfurt Stereo” from Bosch. Digital broadcasting has now replaced its terrestrial predecessor. In addition to better sound quality, the DAB standard provides better reception and a wider range of stations.

Since the 1980s, car radios have become increasingly digital.  At the time, a cassette drive was standard, and code technology was a tried and tested anti-theft protection at the time.

Since the 1980s, car radios have become increasingly digital. At the time, a cassette drive was standard, and code technology was a tried and tested anti-theft protection at the time.

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Soon, listening to the radio alone was no longer enough for drivers. As early as the late 1950s, under-dash mount turntables appeared on the market, but were not able to establish themselves due to their mechanical irritation. In 1968, Philips introduced the first car cassette player that did not stutter even off-road. Another useful innovation in 1974 was the introduction of automatic recognition of traffic reports via the ARI system.

Since the early 1980s, there have already been signs of the beginning of the digital age. During this time, radios with small LCD screens to display radio frequencies digitally appeared. Key innovations in this period included a Dolby button for noise reduction and anti-theft protection via a digital code. The latter made life at least a little more difficult for car radio thieves, who were especially busy at that time.

In the early 1990s, when the cassette was still the undisputed number one, automatic station search and traffic advertising technology were improved. However, the approaching end of the cassette was already evident in the mid-1980s, when CD players were fully integrated into a car radio or CD changer. Another revolution from the 1990s was the use of dual DIN devices, which were also capable of displaying color navigation maps on displays. The aforementioned DAB radio followed in 1997, and beginning in 2001, the first devices had MP3 playback technology.

In the 1990s, radios blossomed into a multimedia ubiquitous.

In the 1990s, radios blossomed into a multimedia ubiquitous.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, earlier radios were transformed into multi-talented multimedia devices with large touch screens, which were also equipped with somewhat radio reception. With USB and DAB connectivity, a touch screen, DVD drive, 30GB hard drive, and a dynamic navigation system, what was once a radio was quickly transformed into a digital multifunctional device.

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The digital revolution brought many other innovations in quick succession, such as Bluetooth communications, WLAN hotspots, and voice control. In the ten years, 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 connection, the Internet is now a constant companion in cars, which means that there is great potential for further technical developments. This also includes dispensing with radio receivers, as in the base version of the Fiat 500e. There is only one audio system here, which only gets audio inputs via connected smartphones, which can, however, continue to transmit linear radio over the Internet if desired.

RND / Mario Homen, SP-X

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