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BBHQ Boomer Essays:

The Transistor Radio

Our Boomer-In-Charge at BBHQ, Hershel Chicowitz, writes about boomer memories and current events... from a boomer’s perspective. He is sometimes funny, sometimes provocative, some-
times a little of each. We hope you get a kick out of our Boomer Essays.

There were a few “portable” (cordless) radios available back then. They had batteries about the size of a car battery today... and they were just as heavy. So they were actually about as portable as a table-top portable television. My dad was a ham radio operator and electronics enthusiast, and he was eager to see how the much smaller, transistor radio worked. So when we heard that transistor radios were available, we hopped on down to Best Buy and picked up one. Oh, wait – there was no Best Buy in 1959! Or anything like it.


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Picture it: Cleveland, 1959. The big rage that winter was the gas-powered snow-blower. But what excitement was there in that? Lemme tell ya; absolutely none!

But bubbling up from inside the mad scientists’ laboratories was this new, electronic gizmo called the transistor. It had been around for a few years; the first product for the masses to make use of the transistor was the portable, battery-operated radio. We already had a radio or two in the house. The “brains” of the radio was the vacuum tube, which used a lot of energy, generated a lot of heat, took up a lot of space, and died right about the seventh inning of the ball game. The radio in our living room was about the size of a ’57 Chevy.

(A vacuum tube might be 2-3 inches tall, or maybe as large as 8 inches. They weighed... maybe a half-pound. A transistor was about a half-inch tall, and weighed less than an ounce. The transistor required a lot less juice to run, so the battery could be much smaller. Today, an electronic circuit board for a TV, computer, or smart phone, for example, contains the equivalent of several thousand transistors.)

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