Entertainment to go
After three decades of commercial dominance, a new cultural phenomenon was poised to take radio’s place as the centerpiece of 1950s-America’s living rooms—the television set. Still, radio was a dominant force for entertainment and information sharing. The rise of the TV changed the way radio broadcasters shaped their content, and, ultimately, what Americans wanted to hear when they tuned in.
The invention of the commercial transistor radio in 1954 made radio accessible and portable in a way never possible before. The first transistor radio, the Regency TR-1 model, was half a pound and could fit into your pocket. It was powered by a nine-volt battery—a now-standard kind of battery that was originally developed specifically for the transistor radio. Now, listeners didn’t have to sit in their living rooms to hear their favorite music or news program. These new portable radios also created the expectation for easy access to news and entertainment while on the go. Soon, radios were being installed in automobiles for wireless audio on the road.
Radio broadcasts began to localize and increasingly concentrated on music programming over other entertainment programs, like dramas or comedies, which were popular throughout the early-to-mid twentieth century. Radio was cost-effective and drew in listeners. Between records, stations aired blocks of commercials, as well as live commentary. The radio networks enjoyed the advertising revenue, while the disc jockeys became popular radio personalities. (A 1954 case alleged that DJs were getting more than just notoriety—they were getting paid off by record companies to promote certain albums.) By the end of the 1950s, "Top 40" radio had debuted, and the now-big-name acts in rock-and-roll and pop were finding their first audiences on the airwaves. By the mid-1970s, there were still more than 4,000 AM stations and 3,500 FM stations broadcasting across the United States. Though the television had changed the landscape, radio had evolved with it.