A red kmart branded portable radio with a wrist strap.
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The Invention of the Transistor Radio

Radio 100: The Invention of the Transistor Radio

When the transistor radio emerged, it revolutionised culture. Its arrival coincided with the rise of rock'n'roll, the emergence of the teenager and a new era of Top 40 radio in Australia. The portability and ubiquity of the transistor links it to the music streaming playlists of today. 

This feature is part of the NFSA's Radio 100 celebrations.

 

A Cultural Phenomenon

'The transistor radio meant that radio went from being a family group listening experience to a personalised individual listening experience. You could take it into your bedroom, the bathroom, you could take it to parties, you could take it to the beach. You could take it anywhere – instantly music was accessible everywhere.' 

Radio 100 curator Simon Smith

In 1947 the transistor radio was invented, shrinking bulky valves and vacuum tubes into a pocket-sized plastic wonder powered by compact batteries. But the transistor was more than just clever tech – it was a cultural phenomenon.

The transistor was affordable and portable. And crucially, its commercial release in 1955 was perfectly synchronised with the rise of rock'n'roll.

For the generation newly dubbed teenagers, the transistor became an emblem of freedom, a conduit through which they discovered their voice – and their soundtrack.

 

Top 40 Time

As the transistor radio became a cultural icon, radio stations adapted to cater to a voracious teen appetite for music.

The Ampol Show, hosted by 'Mr Radio' Jack Davey, exemplified this shift. In episode 301, Davey interviewed rock'n'roll stars Gene Vincent, Little Richard and Eddie Cochran, showcasing the changing tides in youth culture.

Australian Top 40 radio emerged on 2 March 1958, when 2UE introduced the format as a daily feature, complemented by the release of a weekly chart.

By 1964, most radio dramas had migrated to television, paving the way for the dominance of music-focused programming.

These selected Spotify playlists capture the hiss and clamour of Top 40’s pivotal years, recalling a time when the transistor was a permanent fixture of pillows, passenger seats, pockets and beach towels. Enjoy.

 

Top 40 songs in Australia 1955
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Top 40 songs in Australia 1955
(Spotify playlist)

 

 

 

Top 10 Australian songs 1966
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Top 10 Australian songs 1966
(Spotify playlist)

 

 

 

Top 40 songs in Australia 1966
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Top 40 songs in Australia 1966
(Spotify playlist)

 

 

 

Top 10 Australian songs 1967
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Top 10 Australian songs 1967
(Spotify playlist)

 

 

 

Top 40 songs in Australia 1967
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Top 40 songs in Australia 1967
(Spotify playlist)

 

 

 

Top 10 Australian songs 1968
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Top 10 Australian songs 1968
(Spotify playlist)
 

 

 

 

Top 40 songs in Australia 1968
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Top 40 songs in Australia 1968
(Spotify playlist)

 

 

 

Top 10 Australian songs 1977
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Top 10 Australian songs 1977
(Spotify playlist)

 

 

 

Top 40 songs in Australia 1977
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Top 40 songs in Australia 1977
(Spotify playlist)

 

 

 

Top 10 Australian songs 1981
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Top 10 Australian songs 1981
(Spotify playlist)

 

 

 

Top 40 songs in Australia 1981
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Top 40 songs in Australia 1981
(Spotify playlist)

 

Return to Radio 100 Chapter 3

 

Main image: Kmart Solid State portable transistor radio, c. 1980