Old portable radios were marvels of technology from the 1950s to the 1980s

Vintage portable radios from the 1950s to the 1980s

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Starting back when vintage portable radios were finally small enough to be carried in the 1950s, through when they got almost too big to carry in the 1980s, here’s a little sound retrospective of AM & FM radios (which, yes, you can still buy today!) from the days of transistor radios onward.

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.

Vintage 1950s Regency TR-1 transistor radio (Photo by Joe Haupt-CC)

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:

Vintage 60s AM portable Radio in the Round for girls (1968)

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).

Vintage green Westinghouse portable radio (1952)

Early vintage portable radios from the 1950s

Brands shown include GE (General Electric), RCA Victor, Admiral, RCA, Capehart, and a small CBS radio

Old portable radios from the 1950s

See some old-fashioned 1950s portable radios

Brands include Westinghouse, Admiral, GM Sportsman, Philco & General Electric

Early vintage portable radios from the 1950s

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.

Vintage Crosley portable clock radio (1950s)

ALSO SEE: 50 vintage television sets from the 1950s: Wonders of the world in black & white

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

ALSO SEE: How Bill Haley & His Comets rocked around the clock when rock ‘n’ roll was brand new

New Motorola Portables - AM radios (1955)

Small vintage portable radios

Brands include RCA Victor, Admiral, General Electric, Westinghouse, Philco & General Electric

Vintage portable radios from the 1950s

MORE: Old CBS Radio shows from the 1950s & 1960s had news, comedy, sports, serials and more

Vintage Luxtone portable transistor radios from the 1960s

Vintage Luxtone portable radios from the 1960s

Radio in the Round – Portable purse/transistor radio (1968)


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.

ALSO SEE: 50+ cute vintage mini dresses & miniskirts from the ’60s & ’70s

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

Radio in the Round - Portable radio for tuned-in kids (1968)

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.

The Blue Max. It's a radio. (1970)

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

Multi-band radio with FM, AM and short wave (1970)

“Charlie the Tuna” transistor radio (1970)

“Now I’m a tuned-in tuna!” – For just 3 Star-Kist labels and $4.00

ALSO SEE: What is the difference between AM and FM radio? 

Charlie the Tuna transistor radio (1970)

Vintage R2-D2 Star Wars portable AM radio (1977)

“Artoo-Detoo” (R2-D2) AM radio – From Star Wars

Vintage R2-D2 Star Wars portable AM radio (1977)

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). 

Sesame Street radios (1977)

Vintage Disney Mickey Mouse 70s portable radio for kids – Transistorized

DON’T MISS: See Vintage Disneyland, from when Walt Disney’s magical theme park in Southern California opened in the ’50s

Vintage Mickey Mouse portable radio for kids

Fun novelty shaped vintage 80s portable radios (1981)

It’s a bug… It’s a burger… It’s a RADIO!

  1. Race Car rolls on 4 plastic wheels
  2. Stuffed poodle with plush rayon coat. Collar, carrying chain
  3. Ladybug’s wings open up as volume increases
  4. Owl
  5. Wrist radio with vinyl leather-look wrist band
  6. Mock stereo cassette player with carrying handle
  7. AM/FM holder for tissue (not incl.). Attaches to wall with adhesive tape (incl.)
  8. Coca-Cola Can/Model with AM/FM radio
  9. Hot dog with carrying strap
  10. Cheeseburger with carrying strap
  11. “LOVE” Letters
  12. Skate rolls on 4 plastic wheels
  13. Athletic Shoe
  14. Pepsi Bottle

Below: Headphone-style radios

ALSO SEE: Vintage Toys R Us catalog of Christmas gifts: ’80s Out of this World Toy Book (1986)

Fun novelty shaped vintage radios (1981)

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.

Boom boxes: Portable radios with cassette players (1985)

MORE: See the vintage Toot-A-Loop & Panasonic’s other wacky portable radios from the ’70s

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Comments on this story

2 Responses

  1. One striking thing about the 1950s radios is their price. The Crosley radio sold for $39… which would be the equivalent of about $400 today! These were definitely not inexpensive items.

    Everyone in the 1970s had their share of novelty radios (I remember the combo radio and toilet paper roll), but how could you omit the funky Sony radios??? They were the must-have accessories, and you weren’t cool unless you had a bracelet or ball radio!

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