Transistor Radios Around the World

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Before '54 --- US --- Western Europe --- Japan --- East Europe and USSR

Eastern European transistor radios
(Czechoslovakia, DDR, Hungary, Poland):

The first Eastern European transistor radio appears to have been Czechoslovakia's 1958 Tesla T58 2800B, though some would say Hungary came first with its 1957 Tunde experimental set using Telefunken transistors. Tesla's first transistor radio, however, was made using transistors developed and produced by Tesla itself. Also produced in 1958 was a 2-tube/5-transistor hybrid radio, the Stern 1, the first radio made in the DDR incorporating transistors, manufactured by VEB Stern-Radio (Sonneberg and Berlin).

The DDR's first all-transistor radio was the very stylish and colorful 1959 Sternchen plastic coat pocket radio, manufactured by VEB Stern-Radio (Sonneberg and Berlin) — this model had a production run lasting up until at least 1963, and the transistors used in this model's many iterations varied over the years. The DDR's transistor production plant, Werk für Bauelemente der Nachrichtentechnik (WBN), began production of junction transistors in 1959, but Stern definitely had to rely on transistors from Western European manufacturers to complete its sets during its first several years of transistor radio production.

Poland's first transistor radio was ZRK's retro-stylish 2-band MW/LW coat pocket Eltra MOT-59, employing five Common European Type transistors, the earliest MOT-59 examples using transistors made by Telefunken and later examples using Philips transistors. Poland's 1961 Eltra Koliber MOT-601 also most likely made use of transistors from a Western European manufacturer, probably Philips. Poland's own TEWA semiconductor manufacturing plant didn't begin producing transistors until 1960, and then only AF transistors for the first year or two — it's likely that the 1963 Eltra Koliber 2 was the first Polish transistor radio to routinely employ Polish-made transistors.

During these early transistor radio years, Tesla appears to have been the only radio manufacturer in Czechoslovakia, VEB Stern appears to have been the only radio manufacturer in the DDR, and EMV appears to have been the only radio manufacturer in Hungary. In Poland, several different manufacturers were in operation at the time (Eltra, Diora, Omig), and it’s unclear to me how soon they were grouped together under the Unitra label, whether in the early 1960s or the late 1970s. But it is clear that each of these Eastern European countries originally had numerous private radio manufacturers and not long after Soviet hegemony those separate companies were consolidated under a single manufacturer name in each Eastern European country.

What I like most about these Iron Curtain radios, whether "Modern" or "retro" in design, is that many of these East European sets equal or surpass their West European counterparts in cabinet design. Poland's first transistor radio, the 1959 Eltra MOT-59 is classic 1950s "retro"-looking design, while at the same time the DDR's first all-transistor radio, the 1959 Sternchen displayed a modern design backed up by a large number of cabinet colors, several of them translucent.

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