First-Hand:Early Development and Implementation of Transistor Radios in Automobiles


Submitted by Walter Schweiss

I was fascinated by hearing music from my uncle's headset connected to a crystal radio. Owning few toys, it was only natural to play with mother's sewing paraphernalia. These items were wooden spools, yarn, string, rope, rubber bands, and popsicle sticks. Later, rusty nails and fruit boxes/baskets provided the materials to build handmade go-carts, roller scooters, wooden toys, playhouses, and so forth.

School also exposed me to manual trade classes and music training that created many interests. Hobbies followed with some zeal in old battery radios gathered from neighbors' attics.

Reading newspaper articles about building one's own short wave radio receiver intrigued me immensely. These were the first instructions I gained in the understanding of electronic components. As a radio enthusiast, and becoming a member of the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), a radio ham station evolved very quickly.

Serious interests developed during high school by way of my electrical shop training from Mr. Chambers and electrical machinery training from Mr. Thomas. They both gave me extra assignments to instill further interest in electrical theory. Dr. Greenwood, the mathematics instructor, became a great inspiration in my learning at an early age. Technical know ledge was also gained through the Olney Amateur Radio Club, which my friends and myself organized.

My career coincided with my training as a project engineer at the Philco Corporation. The responsibilities required leading a group of engineers and technicians to provide prototype radio models for each production year of the Mercury automobile: 1956, 1957, 1958 and 1959. These radios were designed as hybrid models, i.e. applying transistors and vacuum tubes to the circuit design. For economic reasons, only power circuits used transistors. The radio signal circuits used vacuum tubes.

The Philco Corporation formed a Solid State Study Group under the directorship of Mr. William Forster from Harvard University. At the group meetings, assignments were given to the various participants. As a regular member, it was my responsibility to review Dr. William Schockley's Bell Laboratories research notebook on solid state circuit theory. My assignment was under the guidance of Dr. James B. Angell and Mr. F.P. Keiper. Their theory of circuit applications of surface barrier transistors was developed and I was able to fabricate and test these circuits successfully. This resulted in producing the first all transistorized radio for the 1956 Chrysler Imperial automobile.

Philco's release of the all transistor automobile radio for the 1956 Chrysler Imperial (a quantity of one thousand radios) caused quite a stir with General Motors (GM). Prior to Philco's delivery of the radio, it was publicized in a full page announcement in The New York Times. There was a rebuttal by the GM company vice president stating that Philco was premature by two years and could not accomplish this goal. Since the Chrysler Corporation had confidence in Philco, the Chrysler president offered to deliver the new Chrysler Imperial automobile to GM including the transistor radio prior to production if GM was willing to pay the full cost of the automobile. As a result, Philco delivered and GM subsequently released their transistor radio for their Cadillac model car the following year.