The Sony case, most succinctly presented by Christensen, is a complex case that should be analyzed in more detail.
The Innovation of Transistor Based Radio Receptors
First of all we should point out that Sony was not the first manufacturer of transistor based radio receptors. It was in fact Texas Instruments that, in May 1954, presented the first prototype of a transistor based radio receptor which was also portable.
Initially, RCA, Philco and Emerson –leaders in radio device manufacturing– rejected the production and sale of the receptor proposed by Texas Instruments. At that point in time their top priority was the development, manufacture and sales of radio receptors and most particularly of television sets based on vacuum valves.
Shortly after, Texas Instruments reaches an agreement with “Industrial Development Engineering Associates” (I.D.E.A.). I.D.E.A. assigns the project to Regency, its radio receptor division.
In addition to the traditional adult consumer, Regency’s management sees great potential for the product in a new market: “the young”, based on:
- The increasing numbers of young people as a result of the postwar Baby Boom.
- The improved standard of living and the growth in disposable income.
- The Rock & Roll music boom.
Regency’s investment plan forecasted the sale of 20 million radio transistor sets for the first three years. The design and launch of the new product focused on the needs and tastes of this new market niche.
Regency TR-1 is publicly announced on October 18, 1954 and is launched into the market on November, 1954 (see NY Times, Oct. 18, 1954, p.35)
Its design is very modern (picture 1) and the radio set uses four transistors. Its dimension are 3″ x 5″ x 1.25″, it weighs 12 ounces, uses a standard 22.5 volt battery (picture 2) and it is offered in a wide range including basic colors very youthful, and sophisticated pearlescent finishes (picture 3). It is advertised as the first “pocket radio” (Holiday Magazine, June, 1955, p.123: see picture 4).
At the time, “portable” radio sets based on vacuum valves already existed, but they were heavy, the size of a lunch box, they used expensive 45 or 90 volt batteries and, when in operation, even small blows would damage them. The Regency TR-1 fits inside a pocket and is light weight; it uses standard batteries and is blow resistant. Even though the sound quality is inferior, it was very well received by the young.
The initial sale price was $49.95 for the basic version conceived for the young and $54.95 for the mother of pearl finish version designed for adult consumers. Considering these amounts are equivalent to 23-25 work hours, these are high prices, but the product sells very well. During its first year more than 100,000 units were sold.
In mid 1955, the National Association of Manufacturers recognizes the importance of the Regency TR-1 producing a film showing its assembly process. Click here to view film.
The second transistor based radio receptor was Raytheon 8-TP which was launched in January 1955. It boasts an elegant design with a leather finish (picture 5), was initially priced at $79.95 and it offers improved sound quality thanks to its 8 transistors and a bigger size speaker. However, the Regency TR-1’s (basic version) youthful design and price are unbeatable.
At the time, Raytheon was already a leading company manufacturing electronic equipment for the military industry. Raytheon then decided to create a small division to produce consumer electronic equipment.
In August 1955, Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering Corporation, using the Sony brand, introduced a portable tabletop radio transistor, TR-55 (picture 6), into the USA market. It is estimated that total production of TR-55 was between 5,000 and 10,000 units only. Later that same year the Japanese company launched TR-7, a tabletop radio which was also a failure.
Industry Leaders Market Entrance
Following the success of Regency TR-1 and Raytheon 8-TP, the top manufacturers of vacuum valve based radio equipment, such as Zenith, RCA, DeWald and Crosley, flooded the market with radio transistors
Having recognized the achievement of Texas Instruments and Regency as market introducers of the transistor based radio receptor, in our next post we will continue to present our research on Sony’s success story.
Thanks to Dr. Steven Reyer, Professor Emeritus of Electrical Engineering at the Milwaukee School of Engineering, for sharing the results of his extensive research on Regency TR-1.
1960s. Chronicle Books. ISBN 0-8118-0271-X.
Donald L. Stoner and L.A. Earnshaw (1963). The Transistor Radio Handbook: Theory, Circuitry, and Equipment. Editors and Engineers, Ltd.
David Lane and Robert Lane (1994). Transistor Radios: A Collector’s Encyclopedia and Price Guide. Wallace-Homestead Book Company. ISBN 0-87069-712-9.
John Nathan (1999). SONY : the private life. Houghton Mifflin Company. ISBN 0-395-89327-5
Quentin R. Skrabec (2012). The 100 Most Significant Events in American Business, Greenwood Press. ISBN 0313398623
Michael Brian Schiffer (1992). The Portable Radio in American Life, University of Arizona Press. ISBN 0816512841