It’s a tough concept to visualize, but it’s very true. Early automobiles were void of any in-car entertainment, to include radios, and yet people still dreamed of owning one.
Today radios have become more than just radios. They are concierge services, diagnostic dashboards, web browsers and movie theaters. LED-this and TFT-that are becoming standard interior appointment descriptors. Just yesterday a salvo of press releases filled inboxes alerting the automotive media to a motoring breakthrough – Apple integration in the car.
As the world postulated on what greatness would come of iOS-in-the-car I decided (once again) to turn back the pages of history to see if America also lost its shit when cars received radios.
My conclusion – they did not. Early “receiver sets” for “motor service” were limited in range, required a DIY antenna and often failed due to “exhausted” batteries.
According to Alexander Johnston 1922 was “the dawn of the radio age” and soon “radio equipment on the car would be almost as common as a heater in winter.” Johnston was spot on.
In a Washington Times article dated July 2, 1922, titled “Radio on the motorcar is an accomplished fact” Johnston shares with his readers “hints” on installing an apparatus (antenna) on their motorcar. Radios, or ‘receiving sets’ as they were referred to during this era, were becoming more and more popular yet many required people to rig up a DIY copper antenna.
Johnston says the availability of the receiver set made it “possible for the motorist and his guests to enjoy a noonday concert as they lunch by the roadside.”
There were many ways to attach an apparatus to a vehicle.
One method involved attaching copper lines from a hood ornament up to the roof. This was known as the four-wire aerial. This method did have limitations. Imagine driving a motorcar with a metal fence draped across the windshield. Reception is great, visibility sucks.
An alternative and more common method of affixing a mobile apparatus was to install four points on the roof and wrap lines of copper around each corner. This created what looked like a copper fence luggage rack. I’m shocked this hasn’t become a passé trend among euro tuners.
When a vehicle was stopped the challenge of mounting an apparatus was easy (see lead photo). All you needed was a receiving unit, a stone, a 100-ft of copper and a tree. Tie one end of the copper line to the stone, throw it over a tree limb and crank it up. You’re ready to host a wild and crazy “picnic concert.”
The Driver and The Signal
Ninety years-ago we struggled to figure out how to receive signals while moving; now we’re debating how to display those signals. We’ve come a long way since throwing copper lines over tree limbs, yet the debate over driver and signal has only just started.