The tale of the transistor radio and the wayward teddy bear


One of the things I love most about being a fan of antiques and collectibles is the way average, every-day “things” have the power to take me back in time to a specific adventure, experience, or simply a state of mind. That’s exactly what occurred when I read the cover story of our Oct. 2 issue of Antique Trader magazine, Tuning Into Transistors.

Lifelong collector of transistor radios Michael Jack takes us on a unique journey through the history of the transistor radio, complete with a glimpse at various transistor models made in the U.S. and Japan. While the earliest transistor radios played a role in U.S. communications during the height of the Red Scare in the 1950s and ’60s, for many people these handy little devices were the first wave of portable broadcasting. Which

vintage transistor radio

Sony TR-6 green, Japan, 1956, sold mainly in Japan when Sony’s corporate name was still Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo (Sony was the brand name for electronic products); rare – only a small number were manufactured and few have survived. $900-$1,300
Photo courtesy Michael Jack and Steve Locke

meant you could tune in to your favorite music or news channel while you were out in the garage, at the park, or any place else you wanted to get your fill of music and news while remaining on the go.

My memories of our family’s transistor radio are tied to my dad, who didn’t go very many places without his radio. During the summer when my dad was in the dugout coaching the local men’s fast-pitch softball team, we were responsible for keeping up with the happenings of his favorite major league baseball team with help from the transistor radio. Since most summer weekends were spent in one ballpark or another, we covered a lot of miles and caught a multitude of play-by-play reports courtesy of the little black transistor radio.

Since my dad was the coach of the team, he and the players would often drive ahead and start warming up, especially during away games. That meant my mom, one of my sisters and I would come along a bit closer to the start of the game. Being a wee lass and inquisitive to boot, I would often sit in the back seat of our silver Buick Riviera playing with my teddy bear and the transistor radio.Well, one fateful day, after being warned several times about playing too close to the window, my favorite teddy bear was swept out of my hands and out the car window. Much to my horror my mom, who often played the role of ‘bad cop’ in our house, told me we were not going to turn back for the bear, as we were already a bit late for the start of the game, and she had warned me repeatedly not to play too close to the open window.

Similar to the antique teddy bear I had as a child, and lost out an open car window.

Similar to the antique teddy bear I had as a child, and lost out an open car window.

As I mourned the loss of my dear teddy, which included and was not limited to, pouting, dragging my feet, sniffling and expressing the tragedy of it all to anyone who would listen, my mom held her ground and ushered us to our spot on the bleachers. After settling in, a man who played ball with my dad’s team came up holding my teddy. He was driving behind us, and saw the teddy bear soar out the window and land on the side of the highway. He thought it best to rescue the wayward teddy. After a number of thank you’s, my mom said I could sit nicely with my teddy bear and be grateful someone stopped to help. Sitting still and being grateful wasn’t exactly the easiest thing for me to do – and so in the process of organizing my space to include room for teddy, I accidentally knocked the transistor radio off the bleachers, and watched as it tumbled down to the cement below.

No sooner had I gasped at the fallen radio, did my sister leap down and scoop it up – dusting it off with the blanket and setting it back on the bleacher. Just then my mom finished speaking to a friend, and she grabbed the transistor to tune in the game – but not before pausing to look at the case and say “does something look strange about the radio.” To which I said nothing and my older sister said, nope, it looks good and works fine. Good thing that wasn’t the thing that went flying out of the window on the way here, huh, Mom? My mom laughed and said, yes, a teddy bear is one thing, but your dad’s transistor radio is another thing all together.

That transistor radio outlived my dad, saw my sister and I both graduate from school, and served as the source for family sing-along sessions when my sister had her children.

Tuned in indeed – a little transistor radio and a whole lot of memories.