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Saturday, January 26th, 2013

As you cruise along listening to your Toyota audio and infotainment system, a fabulous musical artist like Beegie Adair playing, thank a couple of eager Guys who were  ready to tackle any project no matter where the idea came from and how their harvesting of one startup idea, one destination postcard, a car, and a radio led to so much more along the way.

Two Guys With An Idea

It was an evening in 1929 and two young men, William Lear and Elmer Wavering were driving their girlfriends to a high lookout point to watch the sunset.
It was a romantic night and one of the young women observed that it would be even nicer if they could listen to music in the car.

A lightbulb went on! Lear and Wavering, looking over at each other, knew they liked the idea. Both men had tinkered with radio in the U.S. Navy during World War One . It wasn’t long before they were taking apart a home radio and trying to get it to work in a car. It wasn’t as easy as it sounds… automobiles with ignition switches, generators, spark plugs, and other electrical equipment that generate noisy static interference, made it nearly impossible to listen to a radio with the engine running.

Not discouraged, Lear and Wavering identified and eliminated, one by one, each source of electrical interference. When they finally got their radio to work, they took it to a radio convention in Chicago.

There they met Paul Galvin, owner of Galvin Manufacturing Corporation. He made a product called a “battery eliminator” a device that allowed
battery-powered radios to run on household AC current. But as more homes were wired for electricity more radio manufacturers made AC-powered radios, thus eliminatring the need for the “battery eliminator”.

Galvin needed a new product to manufacture. When he met Lear and Wavering at the radio convention, he found it.

He believed that mass-produced, affordable car radios had the potential to become a huge business. Lear and Wavering set up shop in Galvin’s factory, and when they perfected their first radio, they installed it in his Studebaker. Galvin went to a local banker to apply for a loan. Thinking it might sweeten the deal, he had his men install a radio in the banker’s Packard.

Smart idea, but it didn’t work… Half an hour after the installation, the banker’s Packard caught on fire…Half an hour after that, they didn’t get the loan.

Galvin didn’t give up .He drove his Studebaker nearly 800 miles to Atlantic City to show off the radio at the 1930 Radio Manufacturers Association convention. Too broke to afford a booth, he parked the car outside the convention hall and cranked up the radio so that passing conventioneers could hear it. That idea worked — He got enough orders to put the radio into production.

Name Branding is nothing new. Turns out it was alive and thriving in 1930! That first production radio model was called the 5T71. Galvin didn’t like it. He decided he needed to come up with something a little catchier. In those days many companies in the phonograph and radio businesses used the suffix “ola” for their names – Radiola, Columbiola, and Victrola were three of the biggest. Galvin decided to do the same thing, and since his radio was intended for use in a motor vehicle, he decided to call it the “Motorola”. Clever, but even with the name change, the radio still had problems.

When Motorola went on sale in 1930, it cost about $110 uninstalled, at a time when you could buy a brand-new car for $650, and the country was sliding into the Great Depression. By that measure, a radio for a new car would cost about $3,000 today! In 1930 it took two men several days to put in a car radio. The dashboard had to be taken apart so that the receiver and a single speaker could be installed, and the ceiling had to be cut open to install the antenna. These early radios ran on their own batteries, not on the car battery, so holes had to be cut into the floorboard to accommodate them. The installation manual had eight complete diagrams and 28 pages of instructions!

Selling complicated car radios that cost 20 percent of the price of a brand-new car couldn’t be easy in the best of times, let alone during the Great Depression. Galvin lost money in 1930 and struggled for a couple of years after that. Things soon got better.

In 1933 things picked up when Ford began offering Motorola’s pre-installed at the factory.
In 1934 they got another boost when Galvin struck a deal with B.F. Goodrich tire company to sell and install them in its chain of tire stores. By then the price of the radio, installation included, had dropped to $55. The Motorola car radio was off and running and the Galvin Manufacturing Company officially became “Motorola” in 1947.

Galvin continued  to develop new uses for car radios.

  • In 1936, the same year that it introduced push-button tuning, it also introduced the Motorola Police Cruiser, a standard car radio that was factory preset to a single frequency to pick up police broadcasts.
  • In 1940 he developed the first handheld two-way radio, The Handie-Talkie, for the U. S. Army. A lot of the communications technologies that we take for granted today were born in Motorola labs in the years that followed World War II.
  • In 1947 they came out with the first television to sell under $200.
  • In 1956 the company introduced the world’s first pager.
  • In 1969 it supplied the radio and television equipment used to televise Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the Moon.
  • In 1973 it invented the world’s first handheld cellular phone.
  • Today Motorola is one of the largest cell phone manufacturer in the world. It all started with the car radio.

What about the two guys who installed that first radio in Paul Galvin’s car, Elmer Wavering and William Lear? Well, they took very different paths in life. Wavering stayed with Motorola. In the early 1950’s he helped change the automobile experience again when he developed the first automotive alternator, replacing inefficient and unreliable generators. The invention led to such luxuries as power windows, power seats, and,eventually, air-conditioning.

Lear also continued inventing holding more than 150 patents. Remember eight-track tape players? Lear invented that. But what he’s really famous for are his contributions to the field of aviation. He invented radio direction finders for planes, collaborated on the invention of the autopilot, and designed the first fully automatic aircraft landing system. In 1963 Lear introduced his most famous invention of all, the Lear Jet,
the world’s first mass-produced, affordable business jet. Not bad for a guy who dropped out of school after the eighth grade.

Oh, One more thing my wife insists that I not leave out… You may recall, It all started with a woman’s suggestion!!