The August 7, 1955, is a very important date for the history of radio and, more generally, for one of the most important technology companies of all time: that day, in fact, a Sony portable radio, from what was originally known as Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo KK
This will have a decidedly important impact on the market, as it will be able to establish itself, especially with the subsequent model, in the American territory with what will be called the first real pocket radio and portable to the world, then setting a sort of standard for the future and for the competitors who will try to keep up over the years.
The birth of Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo
The postwar period left many wounds, both physical and economic, in Japan in the late 1940s. There was a craving for ransom, especially towards the United States, which was very important, which led many inhabitants of the Rising Sun to start projects and invest in new technologies and inventions. So it was that in 1946the Japanese engineer Masaru Ibuka decided to open an electronics store in Tokyo, with eight employees and an initial budget of 190000 yen (the consideration of about € 1500 at the current exchange rate), to prove to himself and to all of Japan that he could start over.
A few years later, the association with the physicist began Akio Moritawith whom he will decide to transform the simple shop into a real company called Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo (literally translated “Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering Corporation”), increasing the number of employees and, certainly, the ambitions.
The advent of the Transistor and the birth of the first TR-55
The so-called transistor it is nothing more than a miniaturized device, capable of conduct electricity and widely used in digital and analog electronics. The duo Morita-Tsushinwhile designing rice kettles and tape recorders, had a revolutionary idea in mind: to use this technology to create portable radiosso that anyone could use them where and how they wanted.
So it was that the August 7, 1955after countless tests and experiments, the company launched its first portable radio model on the Japanese market: the TR-55, of the very small size of 14cm x 8.9cm x 3.85cm. A curious fact about this device is that, despite the company’s name being Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo, it was branded with the logo Sony.
The name change
To make its products attractive, the Japanese company decided to use the acronym TKK, to be more immediate and more captivating. However, that abbreviation was already used for the railway company Tokyo Kyuko and would therefore have created confusion.
Morita, therefore, began to think of a name that did not exist anywhere, of a word that had never been pronounced in any language: thus the name was born. Sonyfrom the union of the Latin term Sonus (which means “sound”), from English Sunny (which means “sunny / sunny”) and from the expression of the Japanese jargon Sonny Boys (used to indicate those young people with a rosy career).
Although the new name had already been used and imprinted on the TR-55, the company officially adopted it only several years later, in 1958, after rejecting alternatives such as “Sony Electric Industries” and “Sony Teletech”. All this to avoid that the name of the company was linked to a particular industry. Taking a leap forward, it was definitely far-sighted, considering the sheer breadth and variety of products Sony has on the market today.
The ransom to the United States
After the incredible success of the TR-55 (just think that only 10000 units), it was time to expand the horizons of the company and to propose Sony’s portable radio also to the US market.
In the’Autumn of 1955Morita met a representative of the Bulova, a New York-based watchmaking company, which would produce and distribute 10,000 units on the US market, as long as its logo was engraved on it. An offer that few would have refused, but the founder of the Japanese company politely refused, because the company name it had to be visibleeveryone had to know that it was Sony that produced the first transistor radio, especially to establish itself outside Japan.
Some time later, fortunately, Morita managed to sign an agreement with a New York importer, Adolph Gross, to deliver an improved and more compact model suitable for the US market. Thus in 1957 the TR-63the first transistor radio produced by Sony to be sold on the American market, even smaller than the previous one, because of the size of 11.2cm x 7.1cm x 3.2cm and can be used with a headset.
A curious peculiarity of this new model was that it was not small enough to fit in the pockets of the shirts then on the market in the United States; so the company decided to distribute models with much larger pockets to all sellers, so that they could demonstrate that the product was, in all respects, the world’s first pocket transistor radio.
The cultural and technological impact
Unlike previous tube radios, certainly more expensive and much more uncomfortable although portable, Sony’s transistor radios they cut production costs and, above all, of purchase, allowing even the less well-off to be able to listen to music and radio programs in complete tranquility, on every occasion and using only 4 standard batteries.
In addition, the different varieties of colors (yellow, green, red and black), made each model captivating and suited to the tastes of each individual, so much so that it came to sell, as far as the TR-63 model is concerned, more than 100,000 specimens. Even more important is the fact that it also led the way for direct competitors, making portable transistor radios the dominant electronic technology of the late 1950s
Between 1950 and 2012, it is estimated that they were sold globally overall several tens of billions of transistor radios and, it can be safely said, that if it weren’t for the little girl TR-55 and for the intuition of Masaru Ibuka and Akio Moritawe would probably have seen a very very different evolution of portable radio entertainment.
We could even get out of balance, thinking that many current inventions, such as the MP3 player, could not have existed without the advent of the first Sony portable radios.