THE TRANSISTOR TURNS 50
Figure 4. The TR-1 chassis,
the week and year that the capacitor was made
(see Figure 5). It can be assumed that the
capacitor was assembled into the radio shortly
afterward. The number is at the top right and, in
our example, is “505.” The first number is the
year, and the following two numbers are the week
of the year. So, 505 translates to the fifth week in
1955 or about four months after the introduction
of the TR-1. The serial number shown in Figure 4
reveals that almost 60,000 TR-1s had been
manufactured by the spring of 1955.
When released, the TR-1 came in a simple yellow
and black box. Regency quickly realized that the
box could be used to advertise attributes of the
radio and a new box was quickly designed (see
Figure 6). Meant to be displayed on a counter, the
radio was nestled in the box surrounded by the
words “NO TUBES — ALL TRANSISTOR.” Other marketing
ploys included manufacturing TR-1 radios with clear backs
to demonstrate the solid-state nature of the radio (see
Figure 7). A few completely clear models were also made.
These demonstration models are extremely rare today.
Figure 5. The date code for the
capacitor is the number at upper right.
showing the tuning capacitor at
the upper left, earphone jack at
the upper right, transistors and
transformer cans in the center,
with the open frame speaker and
battery clip toward the bottom.
earphone. Unlike later
radios, these accessories
were extra cost options,
with the case retailing for
$3.95 and the earphone
for an astounding $7.50!
The radio was designed using components of the day.
The circuit is quite simple (see Figure 3), but it took up a
lot of room, as the components were not the miniaturized
ones we expect today. Figure 4 shows a view of the
chassis. A large, open air tuning capacitor is visible, as are
the large, open frame speakers and various transformers.
Note the oval-cased transistors. These early NPN
transistors were germanium and of an early design known
as “point contact.” Each one is color-coded by type as to
where it was to be installed. You can also see the setscrew
on the tuning capacitor that required the dimple in the case.
Dating TR-1 Manufacture
The tuning capacitor can be used to approximately
date the construction of each TR-1. Stamped into the
back of the capacitor is a three-digit number that states
The TR-1 was a tremendous sales success, even though
Consumer Reports derided it for poor sensitivity and sound
quality. Other manufacturers, astonished by the marketing
success of the TR-1, quickly began making their own radios.
Some makers — like Bulova and Mitchell — decided to
market the TR-1 under their own names and, in some cases,
new packaging (see Figure 8). These radios used an identical
chassis to the TR-1, but all lacked the earphone jack. All of
these “clones” are more rare than the original TR-1.
Beginning in 1955, a flood of American-made radios
began to hit the market. Even Japan was getting on the
bandwagon. Sony Corporation produced its first transistor
radio — the TR- 55 — in 1955, but it was not marketed in
the US. The first Japanese radio to hit US shores was the
Sony TR- 63 in 1957. Japan, with its lower manufacturing
Figure 6. Later, more common TR-1 packaging.
NUTS & VOLTS
The Portable Radio in American Life, by Michael Brian Schiffer.
1991, University of Arizona Press.
Collector’s Guide to Transistor Radios (Second Edition),
by Marty and Sue Bunis. 1996, Collector Books.
The Regency TR-1 Family, by Eric Wrobbel.
1994, privately printed.
Made in Japan: Transistor Radios of the 1950s and 1960s,
by Handy, Erbe, Blackham, Antonier. 1993, Chronicle Books.
Transistor Radios 1954-1968, by Norman Smith.
1998, Schiffer Publishing, Ltd.