The invention of portable radios marked a significant milestone in the way people interacted with technology and music. The period from the 1950s to the 1980s saw a tremendous evolution in portable radios, turning them from a novelty into a common household item.
Portable radios date back to the early 20th century, it was only in 1954 that the first transistor radio, the Regency TR-1, hit the market. Using transistors instead of vacuum tubes was a game changer as it allowed the radios to be miniaturized and made more durable… and smaller and more durable meant they were more affordable, too.
The newfound mobility offered by portable radios was a huge selling point, because people could carry music and news with them wherever they went.
By the 1960s and 1970s, portable radios were ubiquitous, especially among the younger generation. With fun shapes and colors, they were not only functional, but could even become a bit of a fashion statement — like the vintage Toot-A-Loop & Panasonic’s other wacky portable radios from the 70s, to getups like this radio and purse in one:
Over the decades, portable radios saw all kinds of technical and design advancements, and new features like FM/AM switching, better battery life, and improved sound quality made each new version even more enticing.
By the 1980s, however, portable radios began to face competition from emerging technologies like the Walkman, and thousands of the simple older devices ended up on junk heaps.
Fast forward to the 21st century, and vintage portable radios are now collector’s items, with enthusiasts and nostalgia-driven individuals hunting for these classic pieces. What’s more, several different companies have come out with retro-style models — some of which we have featured below.
Scroll down to take a look at how a simple invention could so significantly impact the societal and cultural milieu.
Westinghouse vintage portable radio – Compact & powerful (1952)
Gayest companion you’ve ever had, this new Westinghouse Portable Radio will provide entertainment wherever you go. Weighs only 5 pounds… yet so loaded with power it pulls in distant stations even when you’re miles from anywhere.
For “reach,” power, tone and carry-ability, you can’t beat this new portable. Plays instantly on AC, DC or batteries.
Choice of Robin Hood Green or Desert Brown. $39.95 less batteries at your dealers. (Slightly higher West and South).
Early vintage portable radios from the 1950s
Brands shown include GE (General Electric), RCA Victor, Admiral, RCA, Capehart, and a small CBS radio
See some old-fashioned 1950s portable radios
Brands include Westinghouse, Admiral, GM Sportsman, Philco & General Electric
Vintage Crosley portable clock radio (1950s)
Be the first in your group to own this exciting portable clock radio! Have music wherever you go — lolling in a hammock, out camping, or down by the seashore!
Leave your expensive watch at home; this Crosley portable has its own accurate clock. Set it — and your favorite program comes on automatically. Take a sunbath; a special bell alarm calls you any moment you say.
And although it’s scarcely bigger than a book, the speaker is two and a half times larger than most personal portables. You know that means far better tone.
An Indoor-Outdoor Switch gives you greater clarity outdoors. And you get more playing time. Thanks to a special Power-Saver Switch, one set of batteries will last through an entire season with average use! The Crosley “Skymaster” is a beauty! Five dazzling colors Red, Black, Chartreuse, Blue, Green.
Crosley “Skymaster” has its own genuine cowhide carry case.
Cleverest carry case ever designed, Lets you reach the dials — tune the radio as it lightly swings from your shoulder. Made of genuine top-grade leather with a costly “hand-stitched” look, in fashion-right rich russet shade. Available at slight extra cost.
Look at the new Motorola Portables – Citation AM radios (1955)
The handle is a rotating antenna — You just turn the handle (not the radio) for stronger, clearer reception. Because it’s three times as big as other portable antennas, and turns to face signals head-on, you bring in stations you’ve never heard before on a portable.
Sets use AC, DC current or batteries. Shatterproof steel cabinets are covered with scuffproof, stain-resistant miracle fabric. See them — hear them — at your Motorola dealer.
Citation comes in charcoal, green, red or blue, with clear plastic and gold front. $34.95
Small vintage portable radios
Brands include RCA Victor, Admiral, General Electric, Westinghouse, Philco & General Electric
Vintage Luxtone portable transistor radios from the 1960s
Radio in the Round – Portable purse/transistor radio (1968)
THE AM PORTABLE FOR THE “TUNED-IN” GIRL
This is the “FLIRT” … Sears latest sound happening. A solid state AM mini-tube that packs a very maxi-sound (there’s a big 2-3/4-in, speaker and powerful 10-transistor chassis).
It also packs your makeup, mad money, keys or whatever in its built-in stash-away compartment.
Cabinet measures just 8 inches high, 3-1/2 inches across. Made of break-resistant plastic that’s tough enough to “take it.” Trimmed with a vinyl covering that’s flower power at its prettiest.
Swing it over your shoulder or in your hand — the carrying strap adjusts. Built-in antenna sharpens reception. Includes battery and an ear-phone for private listening. (Beautifully boxed for “gifting,” too.) Colors: White with hot orange — White with cool blue
- The roomy stash-away compartment — it even has a mirror in the lid
- Outside, it’s a giant tuning dial with a clear viewing “window” for easy station selection
- The center band turns the radio on and off and adjusts the volume
- Big 2X-inch speaker is mounted on this end
The Blue Max. It’s a radio. (1970)
4-1/4″ high and futuristic. This see-through beauty is so intriguing, people can’t keep their hands off it.
Inside lights up. Top-firing speaker. Wrap-around tuning ring. Earphone jack. At $14.98, a great gift for anybody.
Multi-band radio with FM, AM & short wave (1970)
About the only thing this radio can’t pick up is television. And a public service band (148-176 MHz) that challenges radios costing twice as much.
Powerful reception of police, fire, marine, US weather, rescue operations, ship-to-shore, snow warnings. There’s a lot more to radio than you thought. $64.98. General Electric.
ALSO SEE: Vintage CB radios from the 1970s
“Charlie the Tuna” transistor radio (1970)
“Now I’m a tuned-in tuna!” – For just 3 Star-Kist labels and $4.00
Vintage R2-D2 Star Wars portable AM radio (1977)
“Artoo-Detoo” (R2-D2) AM radio – From Star Wars
Big Bird Sing-A-Long Band AM Portable Radio (1977)
Strike up the band! Dixieland’s the theme, but Big Bird, Bert & Ernie will play all of your favorite tunes.
Take the condenser mike out of its holder and Sing-A-Long…Your voice is amplified over the speaker right along with the AM radio broadcast! Flip a switch and the unit becomes a PA system.
Colorful Sesame Street characters are molded in soft, squeezable P.V.C. plastic. Ten-foot microphone cord stores in rear of base. Unit has rotary Tuning and Volume Controls, slide Mix/P.A. Switch and handy Carry Strap. Operates on 4 penlite batteries (batteries not included).
Vintage Disney Mickey Mouse 70s portable radio for kids – Transistorized
Fun novelty shaped vintage 80s portable radios (1981)
It’s a bug… It’s a burger… It’s a RADIO!
- Race Car rolls on 4 plastic wheels
- Stuffed poodle with plush rayon coat. Collar, carrying chain
- Ladybug’s wings open up as volume increases
- Wrist radio with vinyl leather-look wrist band
- Mock stereo cassette player with carrying handle
- AM/FM holder for tissue (not incl.). Attaches to wall with adhesive tape (incl.)
- Coca-Cola Can/Model with AM/FM radio
- Hot dog with carrying strap
- Cheeseburger with carrying strap
- “LOVE” Letters
- Skate rolls on 4 plastic wheels
- Athletic Shoe
- Pepsi Bottle
Below: Headphone-style radios
Boom boxes: Portable radios with cassette players (1985)
Red Hot boom boom box — Catch it with the latest in mini mania! This Mini gives you the music you want to hear, thanks to the instant 15-program automatic selection system.
Style with sound to match! Ruby red mini Boom Box lets you select up to 15 songs you want to hear most.
LED indicators, record mute button, one-button recording and tape counter for indexing. Battery/record and FM stereo LEDs. All these great features come thru as great stereo sound from two 4-A. woofers and two 3/4-in. tweeters.