Tuning in to the evolution of car radios

It’s the perfect “California Dreamin'” fantasy: Riding in a Mustang down Sunset Boulevard with the car radio going. Almost from the beginning, the radio has been our traveling companion, playing the song of the open road, or helping pass the time when the road isn’t so open. From pop hits to preachers, and pretty much everything in-between, the car radio has been part our lives for almost 100 years.

“Radio is still this common experience in the car,” said Bob Pittman, Chairman and CEO of iHeart Media, owner of more than 850 radio stations across the country. “I think if we weren’t listening to the radio we’d felt isolated. We love other people, and we can’t be away from people too long.  Radio keeps us connected.”

The first official car radio wasn’t invented until 1930, and after the transistor came along in 1947, the car radio would soon be a standard feature.

“After World War II, that’s when you start seeing a more middle-class approach to radio,” said radio historian Donna Halper. “Not only does the cost come down, but there’s more of a demand, because you have more people with leisure time.”

Sitting in the car listening to songs, Halper said, “It was the DJ that really spoke to me.”

DJ’s like Wolfman Jack and Bruce Morrow, better known as “Cousin Brucie.” Now 83, he’s been on the air for more than 50 years.

“There’s nothing as exciting and free as sitting behind that wheel [and] turning that radio on,” he told correspondent Nancy Giles.

You can still ride with the broadcast pioneer pretty much anywhere today, on SiriusXM. “Radio changed; technology changed,” Morrow said. “Did I know what the future was going to hold? No. I’m flying out of satellite. I’m on the satellite!  What is next?”

Good question! As the future moves to driverless cars, anything goes for how passengers may pass the time in a car, from touchscreen windows, to a video gamer’s virtual reality paradise.

But for now, no matter what we drive, or how we drive it, chances are we’ll always be tuning in, looking for that connection.

For more info:

  • iHeartMedia
  • Donna Halper, Lesley University, Cambridge Mass.
  • Bruce “Cousin Brucie” Morrow on SiriusXM
  • Larz Anderson Auto Museum, Brookline, Mass.
  • Classic Car Club, New York City

Story produced by Amy Wall and Gabriel Falcon.

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