Japanese shirt pocket radios 1957-1963

Japanese shirt pocket sets are the most loved of all the transistor radios produced during the golden era: 1954-1963.They not only sparked a techological revolution which changed the way people regarded radio but also started a complete new era of glamorous design and style which is still regretted by many to-day.

Within this category surely the most striking examples are the early shirt pocket sets made under the trade names of SONY, SANYO, TOSHIBA, NATIONAL, NIPCO, NEC, NANAOLA, FLEETWOOD, STANDARD, CROWN, MITSUBISHI, CANDLE, GLOBAL, YAOU, HITACHI, AIWA, MARVEL, WILCO and REALTONE.

The ones which are in every collector heart are definetely the ones made by SONY and their model TR-63, like the first love, surely has a particular place in mine.

The TR-63 was the first (1957) Japanese shirt pocket radio ever and the first one exported all over the world. Contrary to the REGENCY TR-1, its American counterpart, it used all miniature components and SONY succeeded in fitting all of them into the smallest (112x71x32 mm.) cabinet available at the time. I will always remember the excitement of opening it and find inside that incredible variable condenser which was not like anything that I (or anybody else who had not seen a TR-6, their earlier coat pocket model) had ever seen before.

But the real killer of a radio was the second shirt pocket from SONY: the TR-610. This was and is the most typical of all transistor radios ever made. Its design and pleasant lines set the standard by which all the others were going (and are) to be compared with. Consumers liked it and SONY sold 436,952 of them. Most of them were bough by young ones who used them to listen to their favourite Rock & Roll music on the move.

About the same time (1958) SONY brought out model TR-86 an 8 transistor fatter shirt pocket which did not enjoy much success and later a shirt pocket (model TRW-621) which incorporated a SEIKO watch and the TR-65 a beautiful, but rather unsuccessful, development of the TR-63. On the contrary the TR-714 of 1959, SONY's first attempt in making a shirt pocket two band (AM and SW) radio enjoyed a relevant commercial success (245,938 were made) and besides, it worked very well (I know I had one!). I have never seen such a clean, compact and proportionate short wave set up to nowdays.

The natural successor of the TR-610 was the TR-620 which SONY produced in 1960. It was even smaller than the previous ones mainly due to the reduced size of the components used in its manufacture. After another couple of limited commercial successing sets (the TR-630 and the TR-623) the final historic pocket model by SONY (model TR-650) was produced in 1962 ending a family of design that was never going to be repeated again.

By then many other Japanese manufacturers were producing their own version of the pocket portable. From what I can remember the most popular ones, apart from the SONYs, were the SANYO 6C-022 with its nylon body and large front grille, the FLEETWOOD NTR-150 with its beautiful stylized front wings, the clean looking WILCO 360 and the incredible GLOBAL GR-711 with its attractive reverse printed dial.

Other less popular models were the STANDARD SR-F410, the CROWN TR-680, the CANDLE PTR-60S, the HITACHI TH-640 and the MITSUBISHI 6X-515.

STANDARD which did refrain for a while to market significant examples of shirt pocket models did found a niche of its own by producing the smallest sets of them all: the MICRONIC RUBY which during the early sixties were made in a bewildering variety of models and styles. They ranged from the diminutive model SR-G430 (the original one) to the larger model SR-Q460F (but with AM and FM waves). NEC, SHARP and REALTONE did have a go at producing micro-radios but were somehow left behind in size and style. SONY did not attempt to make a micro-radio until 1963 when it produced the TR-8 a striking and unusual set shaped like a micro camera.

Between the two extremes (the shirt pockets and the micro radios) AIWA, MARVEL, SONY and TOSHIBA managed to produce very small shirt pocket with a very good design. I can remember their model AR-665 (AIWA), 6YR-15 (MARVEL) and 6TP-394 (TOSHIBA) as sounding very tinny but great to handle and look at. The SONY TR-730 which belonged to the same category managed to sound much better mainly because it used an oval speaker which run for the entire lenght of the cabinet.

When the American manufacturers realized that was impossible to produce comparable transistor sets at a similar price, size and style of the Japanese ones many turned to having their products made in Japan and badged them with their trade names. BULOVA, CHANNEL MASTER, LAFAYETTE, MOTOROLA, WESTINGHOUSE, RCA are just a few of the American brands which chose to have some (or all!) of their models made by their former enemies.

Other brands made in Japan adopted a deceptive strategy giving their product American sounding names (Trans-American and Americana being the most obvious ones).

Many other manufacturers produced shirt pocket sets both in the States and elsewhere but the Japanese sets can be regarded as the most representative of the lot and the ones which contributed to mark a period of the development of the transistor radio which can rightly be called historic. Copyright @1997 by Enrico Tedeschi

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Enrico Tedeschi, enrico@Brighton-UK.com

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