Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Boy Toy

QUESTION: I was going through some old boxes of junk and discovered an old transistor radio among the items I had as a kid.  The words “Boy’s Radio” are embossed in the plastic on the back of the case. Can you tell me if this is collectible or should I just toss it out with the rest of the junk?

ANSWER: You might want to hold back from throwing out that old radio. Depending on its condition, it could be very collectible. The Boy’s Radio was a Japanese product running on two transistors instead of the usual six or eight found in American models.

The invention and development of the transistor radio in 1954 changed the way people looked at and used their radios. The Boy's Radio was a cheap  personal radio wanted by the average American boy, at a price his parents could afford. And although American radio makers considered them merely as toys designed for a small niche market, the Japanese exported over two million of them to the United States in 1959 and 1960.

Although cheaply built with a simple design, these two-transistor radios were powerful enough to pickup local radio stations and as well as power a small speaker. They were small enough to fit into the breast pocket and budget of a typical high school student and cost about $10-15. The radios even had Boy's Radio pressed into the plastic case, usually near the hidden battery compartment.

As stripped-down versions of the more expensive, multi-transistor coat pocket portable radios marketed at the time, the Boy’s Radios had a stylish and colorful design that appealed to the younger generation. They were simply the right product, at the right price, at the right time.

Since manufacturers designed Boy's Radios to be sold at a fraction of the price of larger transistor radios, they were concerned about manufacturing costs. To cut costs, makers decided to produce the Boy’s Radio in a limited variety of styles and cases. The standard cases had a vertical design, with the lower front reserved for a chrome or colored speaker grill, and the upper half designed to house the tuning and volume controls. While manufacturers glued their label onto the case, they pasted the model name and/or number onto the box the radio came in, making it hard for collectors to identify the over 100 different variations of Boy’s Radios once a boy unwrapped the unit.

Another major difference between the expensive multi transistor radios and the cheaper Boy's Radio was the design of the radio circuit. The more expensive radios usually employed a variation of the radio design, called the Superhet, used in modern tube radios, while the cheaper two-transistor Boy's Radio used a much simpler reflex circuit.

Even more confusing to collectors is the host of imitations and look-alikes spawned by the successful marketing of these small radios. The strangest of these look-alikes were the radios designed to use miniature tubes in a transistor Boy's Radio case. Some of these radios, although meant to have two transistors, weren’t two-transistor radios at all. A good example is the Star-lite radio, which had "Boy's Radio" pressed into its case and has "2-TRANSISTOR" displayed on the radio's front, but had six transistors inside the case.

And while Boy's Radios got their popularity from being a shirt pocket radio, manufacturers also made them in coat pocket and even tabletop radio cases.

Today, Boy's Radios can sell from as little as $10-$20 to as much as $100. And if you’re wondering if there was a Girl's Radio—claimed to be pink—it seems that it’s only a rumor.

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