By on February 6, 2012

Even though I write a lot about old cars, I still think they were actually pretty terrible. If you’re over 35, you probably remember how broken-down cars with the hood up were once an every-half-mile sight on the shoulders of American highways during heat waves… and then there’s the crummy— yet expensive— sound you once got from car audio systems. Let’s take a tour of Radio Shack’s car-audio accessories for the 1966-1986 period, shall we?
Yesterday, I was thinking about the inherent terribleness of AM radio, and that reminded me of the scrawky 9-volt-battery-powered transistor radios you used to see all the time during the 70s, which led to a recollection of (and inevitable Google search for) Radio Shack’s brightly-colored “Flavoradios.” From there, it was just a quick jump to the amazing Radio Shack Catalogs website, which has scans of just about every page of just about every Radio Shack catalog going back to 1940.
We’ve become accustomed to electronic equipment being quite cheap, but it was not always so. In 1986, for example, Radio Shack’s best 30-watt(!) AM/FM/cassette stereo sold for $299.95. That’s $615.61 in 2012 bucks! Nowadays, even the most desperate crackhead won’t bother to bust your car window to steal a CD player, much less a cassette deck.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

Recommended

87 Comments on “Another Reason the Old Days Weren’t So Great: Car Audio...”


  • avatar
    MRL325i

    Gosh, remember Kraco?

  • avatar
    jimmy2x

    Sure the electronics were expensive then – they were made in the USA by American workers that actually made a living wage. Imagine that!

    If one goes back to the 50’s most stuff was relatively more expensive, which is why my folks did not accumulate a lot of junk. In 1951 a ladies Elgin compact started at $5.00. We were pretty solid middle class and my Mom would not have thought to spend so much money on something so trivial. If she ever had one, I guarantee it was a present from my Dad.

    I’m really not waxing nostalgic here. A few things were better in the 50’s, but many important things were much worse. Those of us who were alive then can remember the ingrained racism embedded in most of society, along with charming things like polio. The world has changed and we are better for it – but maybe not in all ways.

    • 0 avatar
      4-off-the-floor

      No, the car audio in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s was made in Japan.

    • 0 avatar
      skor

      Yes, almost all consumer electronic stuff is made in China where workers are paid 75 cents an hour, but the biggest reason why prices have dropped so much is because of advances in manufacturing technology.

      Those mid 60’s transistor car radios were constructed out of discrete components — individual transistors, resistors, capacitors, etc. Keep in mind that even in the mid 1960’s individual transistors were quite pricey, yields at the semiconductor plants were still kind of low.

      The components were loaded on bored through printed circuit boards and soldered in standing solder wave machines. There was still some point-to-point wiring that needed to be done by hand.

      Today, IC’s have taken over and the the boards are dual or triple layer surface mount. Except for testing and packing the stuff into boxes, almost the entire operation is automated and very efficient.

      That’s why the prices have dropped and it no longer pays, or is possible, to repair most consumer electronic stuff.

  • avatar
    mechimike

    There’s an AM radio station here in Greenville, SC I listen to religiously. 1490 AM. It’s an indie station that’s essentially some dude’s mp3 player continuously cranking out a random mix of blues, country, reggae, and old standards, with a smattering of obscure 60’s rock. They play the minimum number of federally required station ID’s every hour.

    They claim to be “AM Stereo”, but the sound quality still hearkens back to the 1950’s. Fits the music, though.

    Remember the Pioneer “Supertuners”? I had one of those in my first truck. Awesome cassette player. Try finding a decent dual shaft deck for an old car anymore. Few out there.

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      Indeed they were. In 1984 I would regularly use my Supertuner III equipped head unit to tune in SFO’s KMEL station in the evening – while living on the island of Maui. Love that atmospheric skip phenomenon. When I finally sold the car it was in and parted out the lovely 4-speaker, 2-amp Pioneer/Alphasonik system, the head unit and front loudspeakers ended up in an old man’s pickup truck – and they outlasted him.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        I had a Supertuner II that I installed in my first car. A very good radio, but a marginal tape deck as high frequency petered out at 12kHz. Replaced that with a Nakamichi TD-700 and a host of discrete components. That was a moonshot leap forward. Frequency response up to 21kHz, it was amazing. If you made a tape on a home Nakamichi and played it in the car, it blew away any prerecorded POS tape out there. By the way, Radio Shack equipment sucked ass. Overpriced and horrible, horrible performance.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

      My Benz had an AM Stereo cassette deck in it, that I pulled and replaced with a Becker/HarmonKardon TrafficPro. AM Stereo actually existed!

    • 0 avatar
      oldwheelsnewyork

      I listen to a ton of AM oldies here in NY/NJ — 1250 AM, http://www.wmtram.com. I had the same issue..sounds weak and lo-res…later found out from a friend of mine in radio that to save money, sometime in the early 80s AM stations voluntarily reduced their bandwidth. Costs less to broadcast I guess?

      I was always astounded by the times I would hear old songs in context on AM radios in movies…they always sounded so good! And I never knew why…But is this true? I’m born in ’78 so I don’t really have any context… do you Boomers remember how AM sounded back in the day?

  • avatar
    200k-min

    In early 2000 or maybe ’01 I had a car window busted for an aftermarket CD deck. It was the cheapest one Best Buy was selling and I only had it installed as the old OEM cassette deck died. I was pi$$ed that fixing the window cost more than the entire CD player had cost me only about a month prior.

    Back in the mid-90’s I remember a lot of friends getting car stereos stolen. Then again most vehicles at the time didn’t have CD players and amongst young adult males it was a big deal to have that aftermarket CD deck. I know I paid $300+ for one at the time.

    • 0 avatar
      JCraig

      This happened to me around the same time, early 2000’s. I replaced the stock radio in my nearly new Tacoma with a cheap cd player. Didn’t think much about leaving the face on. Somebody busted my window and tried to pry out the unit with a crowbar. He ruined the dash when all it took was a simple philips screw driver and ended up leaving the ruined cd player in the dash while stealing the face.

      • 0 avatar
        KalapanaBlack

        Hah! Buddy of mine in high school had a ~1984 Corolla. It was in remarkable shape. Junior year, someone broke TWO windows out and stole the factory AM radio out of the dash! We laughed about it, but he was also rather angry. He got some replacement windows somehow and from then on played music through a Discman with two computer speakers (he bought them at a yard sale for like $2) hooked up that we Velcro’d to the dash. He left it unlocked whenever he parked it, hoping they wouldn’t smash anything and just take the player and/or speakers. Nobody ever stole anything out of it again.

  • avatar
    windsormarxist

    This is the reason that car manufacturers charge $500+ for a factory radio of middling mediocrity- they still think its 1986 and that’s what they cost. ‘Peak Radio’ happened somewhere around 1993- when the ‘delete’ option for the AM radio in a domestic car was somewhere around $150, which was the same price as a JVC or Blaupunkt head unit and some $30 speakers from Best Buy. Unfortunately, although stereos got cheaper aftermarket, the car makers didn’t notice and they continued to get more expensive. What was the solution? Make them ovoid (thanks 1990s Ford) in order to prevent cheap aftermarket fitment. Now? make them part of the ‘control unit’ for the entire car.

    Although I will admit that many systems on modern cars are better than those of decades past, the thing I detest most is the fact that systems are now tied together through a screen that was once only found on such dead ends as the Toronado “my mamma was a Calais” Trofeo. When any part of the system goes- and my mate’s BMW proves this includes the trunk ajar sensor, the entire car won’t work.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    Ah the good old days of equalizer power boosters, 8-track tape players, whizzer cone drivers, and Jensen Triaxial speakers.

    Radios had two knobs except for them furrin’ cars and then they all had nice rectangular openings for radios, equalizers, et al.

    Today you can’t change the head units in most cars and the stereo is integrated into the GPS, alarm system, AC, and engine management.

    It’s speakers, amps and do dads like bluetooth and HD radio which go through USB interfaces. Amps today are ungodly cheap and far better than 20 years ago when a decent Mosfet amp would set you back 400 dollars and have all of 50 watts. Speakers are dirt cheap and last a long time, even the stock drivers in most cars are pretty decent. The electronics have matured greatly and most cars have a decent head unit that just needs better drivers and a powered subwoofer to come alive.

    I don’t miss the ridiculous bass wars of the 90’s, with back seats being removed for 4 18″ drivers and 4000 watts of power.

  • avatar
    340-4

    Installing this sort of stuff in your 60’s car was practically a rite of passage when I grew up. Hours spent pulling interiors to hide wires, and the horror of cutting door panels for a pair of 5 1/4’s… and the ease with which these things could be quickly stolen, let’s not forget that either.

    The aftermarket autosound industry will die soon as more cars go to systems that are totally integrated into the dash trim and cannot be removed or replaced.

    All that will remain are speakers, as decades of vehicles get crushed and replaced or the older ones are too valuable to cut up for new sound systems.

    • 0 avatar
      JKC

      Yep. I remember one afternoon spent breaking jigsaw blades cutting holes for new speakers in a 65 Buick Skylark. Those back parcel shelves were made of pretty heavy gauge sheet steel.

    • 0 avatar
      GS650G

      I agree autosound is in trouble as a business. About all that is left is subwoofer systems and integration tricks with handhelds like iphones. Even the CD is nearly dead as a medium, USB sticks are taking over.

      • 0 avatar
        LeeK

        As the integration of all electronic vehicle functions into the head unit marches on its inevitable path, speakers will be the only realistic thing that will be upgradable. Even then, the manufacturers make it difficult with balanced systems that make tapping into the signal much more trying. My Pathfinder’s Bose system had 0.5 ohm impedance speakers that made replacing them only possible by scrapping the entire unit. Now, with systems like Ford’s Sync system or BMW’s impenetrably obtuse arrangement running the show, people are just going to have to accept whatever crap comes from the manufacturers, mediocre sound (which is still depressingly the norm) be damned.

    • 0 avatar
      Crabspirits

      You never know, this whole thing may be a silver lining for the audio aftermarket. Things like steering wheel control interfaces for a new radio aren’t free. For every audio engineer at an OEM, there can be his counterpart trying to undo everything he has done. The way the industry works with fly-by-night engineers these days, it can even be the same guy.

      Worst case scenario, we will still have speakers with a wire going to them for the foreseeable future. The OEM head unit can stay in place, while a remote mounted aftermarket unit can be installed in the console or really anywhere.

      A friend of mine tired of getting his cd deck ripped off once a month during the mid-90’s. He reinstalled his beat OEM tape deck, and also installed a new detachable face CD head unit that was hidden. The CD player was controlled by the face, which he installed on the visor, a Tandy computer ribbon cable made the remote connection. To play a CD, you slipped it into an unassuming slot in the dash trim.

    • 0 avatar
      Bryce

      Yes I recall installing a cassette player worth more than the POS I was driving

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Murilee, you are too doggone young to recall how it used to be! vacuum-tube AM radios – the basic ones like my 1961 Bel-Air had wasn’t even push-button! The AM radio, up at least through the mid-70’s were a $75.00 option! One 6×9 speaker, but by the mid-’60’s, at least, they were transistorized. You could always either get the optional rear speaker in the deluxe models, or add your own and spend $30-50 bucks for a reverb, which, when done right, didn’t sound all that bad. If you wanted FM, buy an FM converter for another $30 bucks (in 1969), or steal someone’s AM/FM deluxe car radio!

    They used to even make under-dash 45 rpm record players! Not recommended. No, I didn’t have one of those.

    I had a 4-track tape player in my ’61 for a while.

    Next, 8-track. When in the service in 1972, I bought a nice under-dash pull-out Panasonic tape player with an FM radio cartridge that worked famously! The tape player locked into a bracket that you could remove and lock the unit in the trunk for safe-keeping. $42.00 in Okinawa. $85 in the US. I used to even record my own tapes via a 3M Wollensak player/recorder I bought. That worked well, too. Blank tapes from Radio Shack were 80¢ for an 80 minute tape. Biggest problems with 8-track was cross-talk and the annoying track change “click…pause…click” right in the middle of “White Bird” or any other favorite song!

    In-dash after-market stereos were very expensive – if you could find one, especially an 8-track and the hump-mounted and under-dash units got to be pretty elaborate. When cassettes finally overtook 8-track, they ate lots of tape whether in-dash or under.

    Radio Shack and others sold a line of equipment -Automatic Radio – AR for short (not to be confused with Acoustic Research) which were quite fancy, but among the most expensive units available, but they made everything – reverb, under-dash FM stereo radios, 8-tracks, cassettes, in-dash – you name it. Nice chrome/polished aluminum-and-wood grain contact paper-covered units. The AR FM radio was $50 bucks on base – the last thing I bought before getting out in 1973.

    The AM radios – tube in dad’s ’60 Impala and transistor in dad’s ’66 Impala sounded good for the time.

    EDIT: Anyone out there notice how lousy some store-bought CDs and factory CD palyers have become? My Impala’s CD player generally works great, but I wish my Impala had a USB plug-in or AUX input…

    • 0 avatar
      nikita

      Ah yes, 4-track. I had a Muntz Blue Light all chrome one under the dash of my ’65 Impala.

      In the RS catalog pages there is an AM/FM just for VW’s. I bought the Sears unit for my ’67. It had a 6v/12v switch on the back. FM Rock stations like KMET had just started up in Los Angeles, so FM was no longer just Symphonies.

      • 0 avatar
        Zackman

        Ha ha! In 1967 when rock started showing up on FM (KSHE-95 in St. Louis), my first car in 1968 was a 1952 Chevy. I wanted FM radio. What to do? My portable AM/FM radio was 6V, so I bought a speaker, antenna, and wired it up! It worked – kind of…

        Those were the days, my friend!

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      I wouldn’t be surprised to find a dumbed-down DVD transport in modern automobile CD players. The high end market now has its own supply of high quality straight Red Book CD transports to use after a brief crisis brought about by the drying up of supplies a decade ago.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m not too young to remember 8-track. Several cars I bought in the early 80s came with 8-track players, and I was too broke to buy new cassette decks (or even junkyard ones). I used one of those barely-functional cassette-to-8-track adapters to play my X and Motörhead cassettes.

    • 0 avatar
      supremebrougham

      I might have a solution for you! My 1995 LeSabre came with just a cassette player, and while I was glad, I also wanted a CD player. A search on ebay found me a Buick CD/cassette radio that a stereo shop was selling, and, they custom installed an aux-in jack on the face plate. It works wonderfully! So I would recommend that you find a stereo shop that could install one for you. I would say replace the head unit, but with the invention of GM’s Theftlock, it’s almost impossible to swap out headunits.

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      Don’t forget, back on those late ’50’s/’60’s Chevy Impalas (coupes and convertibles, anyway) you had that neat little chrome grille center top in the back seat. That was where the optional rear seat speaker for the (mono) radio went. And a fader switch in the radio to go between dash and rear seat.

      My favorite track change moment on an 8-track was in the Grand Funk Railroad live album. You’d switch between tracks 3 and 4 just in the middle of this throbbing, obnoxious, bass solo.

      The real killer is how cheap the AM radios have become in cars. When I first moved to the Richmond area, I lived about 35 miles northeast of Richmond (Bumpass, VA). It used to drive me nuts not getting WRVA (1040, the oldest, main AM station in Richmond) well – until the day I took Patti’s ’64-1/2 Mustang out and got the station unbelievably clear. Back when AM radio was almost the only choice, they did circuitry that mattered.

      In the evenings, to listen to Richmond Flying Squirrel games, I use a 45 year old Westinghouse seven transistor AM (with the Conelrad) markings on the dial. It puts everything more modern to shame for reception.

      • 0 avatar
        Bryce

        I just dug out the 5kg 12/6 volt transistor radio from 1959 I pulled from my Hillman 2 knobs 1 speaker the only accesory the car had (no heater) must one day see if it goes Ive got a CD player to replace it but that car hasnt even got a dash cutout for a radio I have to hang it from the instrument cluster.

  • avatar
    Spartan

    I rembember the days when you could actually install a head unit in a car. In most newer cars, they’ve essentially destroyed the aftermarket head unit industry due to console designs.

    Some cheaper compacts still allow for the installation of a DIN head unit, but midsize or better, not a chance.

  • avatar
    I've got a Jaaaaag

    Anyone else remember add on FM Tuners? My father had one mounted under the dash of his 74 Country Squire a Dealer Demo car that had almost every option available in 1974 except AC and upgraded radio. When he sold that car in 1980 and bought an Impala wagon with FM and the Olds Diesel Engine, he took it out and installed it in his 79 International Scout.

    • 0 avatar
      blppt

      Oh yeah! I had forgotten all about the add on FM adaptor my parents had mounted under the dash in their ’79 Volare wagon. I forget what brand it was, but you pressed a button on the unit, and voila—the wonderful world of FM fidelity burst forth from that awesome single dash speaker, LOL. Thanks for that bit of nostalgia. =)

      I remember when the parents replaced the Volare with an 88 Reliant, the 4 speaker stereo with 2 5x7s in the back and *2* dash speakers sounded like a concert hall! First song I ever heard in that car riding back from the dealer was Aerosmith’s “Rag Doll”—thats how much better that stereo was—the experience still sticks with me to this day!

  • avatar
    Zombo

    Bought a 1977 Pioneer Supertuner under the dash unit and it was worth every penny of the $160 bucks or so it cost new back then . Hook it up to some decent 6×9 coaxial speakers and you couldn’t beat the sound for the price . Also from the late 70s to mid 80s Sanyo made some feature packed high power in dash units that sounded awesome for their low price – below $200 . If anyone was wasting money on garbage from Radio Shack instead of doing a little research (yes it was possible without the internet!) to see where you could get the most audio bang for the buck it was their own fault .

    http://www.vintage-original-ads.com/Pictures/displayimage.php?pid=1275

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      I loved Sanyo’s Ultrx line, but when I helped friends and acquaintances with that model, I warned them against letting any Pioneer users near the head unit. By the time Ultrx was sporting their soft touch full logic control system, Pioneer’s cassette head units were equipped with an all-gear auto-reverse system which required a more forceful approach to insertion of the cassette and activation of the buttons. Using the same levels of force on an Ultrx would damage the internal “fingers” which would grab the cassette and load it into the mechanism. It was easy enough for me and others to see the brand name on the face plate and make the appropriate switch in behavior, but long time mid-80s Pioneer cassette users tended to remain in gorilla-grip mode no matter what radio was in the car they were using.

  • avatar
    stroker49

    In my Cadillac STS I have a nice Bose system with nice speakers. But I have a radio and CD-exchanger! The screen with a mediocre GPS-system cost something like 7000USD!! Why don’t the just put an I-pad there? Then I can stream music from internet and get updated GPS-navigation for a fraction of the cost. Cadillc must really believe that all there customers are +90yo!

  • avatar
    GS650G

    A factory AM radio in a 1963 Ford was 51.00
    A Factory AM radio in a 1980 Ford was 51.00

    And I have the invoices to prove it. I was amazed the AM radio was the same price after all those years.

  • avatar
    tonyola

    In the summer of 1976, I drove 11,000+ miles all over the US and Mexico with nothing more than the factory AM radio in my 1965 Mustang. I still wince whenever I hear “Silly Love Songs”, “Afternoon Delight”, or “A Fifth of Beethoven”.

    As for the technology, I say go modern and leave the old stuff behind! Even inexpensive OEM systems nowadays outperform pricy setups from 20 years ago. Not to mention that there’s no more futzing about with 8-tracks, cassettes, or even CDs. It’s now so easy to carry about a massive dream music collection on a single USB flash drive, and even the monster 128GB thumb sticks are now approaching the $150.00 mark.

  • avatar
    Allen

    My ’57 MGA had a factory (or dealer) installed Motorola AM radio, tubes no less. My ’67 GTO had factory AM/FM with a Vibrasonic installed. But my ’67 BMW 1600 (best car ever) didn’t come with a radio. If I recall correctly, BMW didn’t have a factory radio up through the ’70’s. I was told this was because the Germans thought radio was a very personal choice and so left it up to you.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    I remember a lot of the things mentioned here. I had a 69 Torino back in the early 80’s and I met a young woman who the same car, but hers was green. What made me green with envy was the fact that her Torino had a 200 Watt stereo in it that would about blow out the windows. At that time, it was tough enough paying for college, an apartment, car insurance, gas money and trying to keep my kit up to snuff for gigs when they came along.

    I really wanted to upgrade from my factory AM radio with Radio Shack FM converter and single speaker in the dash. In the end, she was a lot more trouble than I wanted to deal with. I did like that car stereo, though. ;)

    Now, you can get a 200+ Watt stereo on quite a few cars from the factory. For me, there’s nothing I want to hear on the radio. Most terrestrial stations are corporate radio, i.e., classic rock is the same 90 songs in the top 150 markets, or endless talking heads blathering on about something or another.

    I’m not in the car during the day to really use satellite radio. Internet radio always assumes you have a connection, and HD radio seems to be going the way of AM stereo.

    I mostly listen to radio for traffic reports. I really don’t care all that much about radio anymore.

    For my next car, give me a way to plug in my phone/music player/mobile wi fi device/mental telepathy port and I’m good to go. I just need the amp and the speakers, I’ll provide the head unit.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      @geo: Tag! You’re it!

      I couldn’t agree more – terrestrial radio stinks and I stopped listening to music on the radio in 2000. I either listen to WLW for traffic reports or if the PM drive show is any good. Otherwise I listen to CDs or MP3s through a little player I recently bought that plays over the radio through the antenna – not so good, but it kinda works… What I really want to do, however, is listen to jazz/standards on the internet radio station I listen to all day at work and at home on my wifi radio – http://www.martiniinthemorning.com. Love this stuff! Some day, perhaps, as I refuse to get a smart phone and pay for internet service twice.

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        Hey Zackman! I have the opposite problem you have (at least for the time being), that my commute is short, @ 10-15 minutes w/o traffic. In “drive time” times of the day, I listen to commercials almost all the way to work. I find myself turning off the radio if the traffic is clear and just listening to the car itself.

        It must be our shared occupation, but I find myself listening to a lot of jazz, too. I listen to attention span radio on live365.com. It’s a lot of fusion/rock/jazz stuff. I’d love to get it on my car radio as my Android can get the website and stream the music, but I can’t count on a solid signal as I travel underneath the bridges and etc., on my commute.

        Most days, the Quad4 makes better music anyway… ;^)

  • avatar

    Weird mix of old and new: my ’69 Wagoneer had what looks like a pretty good set of speakers, subs and an amp installed by the previous owner, but didn’t come with a head unit.

    Rather than drop a bunch of cash on that, I’ll just run the output of my Droid straight to the amp. FM/MP3/Pandora with no ugly head unit to deal with. Win.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    I have a minidisc deck and a MD changer. Really rare today. I always liked the format and have a large collection of discs. People really look at them and seem bewildered by the disk.

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      For a couple of years I mulled over whether I wanted to import and install one of Pioneer’s Carrozzeria high end MD units and changers. The biggest “what if” centered around the FM radio bands, as there is a tiny bit of overlap on the frequencies used between Japan and North America. When I realized the only stations I listen to in my area are all within 4 full points of the bottom of the dial, I knew I wouldn’t be missing anything.

      The inconvenience of that horrible SCMS circuitry did in my love for the format, but not before I added a last hurrah NetMD to my collection.

      As their representation was severely limited in the USA compared to the variety offered overseas, let me congratulate you on your Sony head unit and MD changer.

      • 0 avatar
        GS650G

        There were switches inside to make the US compatible. Some required a jumper to be moved

      • 0 avatar
        Felis Concolor

        Oooh, bonus! Sadly I no longer use the format, but it’s nice to know about that sort of detail. I still visit the Japan-specific sites to see just what sort of nifty tech is not being pushed for this market.

        For a year or so during my visits back to the islands to visit with mom and friends I noticed a radio station which catered to the Japanese tourist trade, with lots of current J-Pop hits and requests being aired. There was even a promotional rear view mirror radio offered for $20, which had a dedicated frequency lock button for that particular radio station plus a tuning dial which covered the full US/Japan FM spectrum, the better to use it upon one’s return home.

      • 0 avatar
        GS650G

        With the switch to digital TV, the Japan FM band is now smack dab in the middle of another use spectrum. Previously TV channels 5 and 6 occupied the 76 through 96mhz band with some overlap with US stations. Now that is in digital territory.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    …Nowadays, even the most desperate crackhead won’t bother to bust your car window to steal a CD player, much less a cassette deck…

    If that was only true.

    Just had my Zune 80, yes a Zune, stolen out of a rental car. I was gone less than 20 seconds to take a picture, the car was out of line of sight for maybe five seconds, max, while I looked in the camera view finder.

    That took balls of steel man and who the Hell steals a Zune???

    • 0 avatar
      skor

      Zune 80 in good used condition will bring at least $100 on eBay. I’d give a crackhead up to $20 for one.

    • 0 avatar
      kvndoom

      Tape deck? No. CD player? No. Portable GPS, MP3 player or smartphone? Absolutely.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      Your crackheads must be much less desperate than ours…

      My car has been broken into for pocket change left in the console! It couldn’t have been more than $4.00! At least they destroyed only my passenger door lock cylinder with a screwdriver.

      Most often, the thieves just smash the window and chop out whatever’s in the dash.

  • avatar

    My favorite factory radio was the one in my ’72 Coupe DeVille. It was an AM/FM analog unit with SEEK. Seriously. You could hit SEEK and a servo actually moved the dial until the next clear station came in.

    The magic part was when it got to the end of the dial: the needle folded up and snapped back into NPR territory.

    That was my first car with electric seats as well. It was fun to hold out your finger and advance the seat until you hit the SEEK button, then slide the seat back again. Hours of entertainment.

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    When Radio Shack was actually making their stuff in-house, they had some excellent offerings available for automobile and home use. When I saw their RCA bookshelf speakers, themselves descendants of the outstanding Minimus-7 line, on final clearance, I knew I should no longer darken their doorway.

    And having experienced high quality sound on a decent budget in the 70s and 80s, I know better than to listen to all the “weren’t they terrible” claims from those who just didn’t know how to obtain good performance with minimal input. A pair of decent 3-ways in the rear deck, bouncing highs and mids off the rear glass with the trunk space as an infinite baffle for the long-throw woofer meant you didn’t need triple-digit power output to drive the loudspeakers to dangerous levels.

    Got a pickup truck? Can’t fit anything of decent size in the kick panels or front doors? Time for an EQ/power booster w/4-way capability, some high quality 4″ 2-ways up front, and a pair of 8s or 6X9s mounted to a 3/4″ plywood baffle in back. Just make sure it’ll fit wall-to wall, cut out a notch for the drive shaft hump and other protruberances in the sheet metal, and mount the speakers right around the small of your back. Install the baffle, letting the speaker magnets clamp everything to the back of the cab and there’s your bass performance sorted.

    • 0 avatar
      GS650G

      Clarion made some of their units, and Clarion is still around today. RS actually had good stuff back then.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        What years are the “good” years? Not meaning to be offensive at all, but from my first foray into audio (car and home) being 1980, nothing at The Shack could even remotely compare to, say, Yamaha as an example. RS car speakers were rated at 8 ohms when the vast majority of car audio was 4 ohms. Why? To be able to advertise twice the power handling. A car head unit delivered half the power due to double the impedance. Amplifiers rated as peak power, or “music” watts gave numbers that were not possible with a push-pull transistor arrangement and 12 volts. Again, bogus ratings designed to fool those who did not understand the ins and outs of audio. THD ratings of 20%!! I could go on, and I will certainly admit to being a bit of an audio snob, but the facts were pretty clear at that time. Maybe RS once offered quality, but not from the time frame I remember…

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      I actually have a Realistic stereo receiver. I used it when recording LPs to my computer and then turning them into MP3s.

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    That top unit, the one that sold for $299.95 had a feature that many car buyers would kill for in late model cars, a 1/8″ line-in jack. You can hook an iPod up to that thing. If you have a “modern” unit with a CD player and radio only, and no input jack, you have to listen to your iPod through an FM adapter, with much worse sound quality.

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    Craig Auto-reverse Cassette players.

    Panasonic 6 x 9 dual cone speakers with a co-axial tweeters and mid-range booster, mounted on the “flip down” panel between the trunk and the back seat.

    Mounted in the dash of my ’73 Mach1. Had to get resistor plugs to reduce the engine noise coming in through the speakers.

    But, Oh…pop the trunk, crank the tunes to WRIF, crack open a Michelob, and commence waxing your ride at Elizabeth Park on a Saturday afternoon, with perhaps some of the best Columbian on tap for the pipe, for later…like, ya know, when the sun started to go down.

    Bliss….. “Oh, the Wheel in the Sky keeps on Turnin’. Don’t know where I’ll be tomorrow!”

    Sure it was expensive. But what ELSE were we gonna spend our money on, man?

    • 0 avatar
      Trend-Shifter

      Hey Mark,

      You might have seen my red 1962 Mercedes 190SL at Elizabeth Park.
      It had a Corvette 327, Muncie 4 speed, Thrush side pipes, and looked more like a Cobra than a Mercedes. If I wasn’t driving that I was driving a stock midnight blue 1952 Ford. It sure had a deep waxed finish.

      Myself I hated WRIF. They wrecked the Detroit FM scene by playing the popular songs and went totally commercial. I liked the old WABX, WKNR, and CJOM days.

      Best regards,

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      Speaking of Panasonic, anybody remember the Panasonic Cockpit audio system? Everything was in an overhead console. Don’t know how it sounded but it looked so cool!!!

  • avatar

    I worked in a stereo store 77-79. Jensen was the first good aftermarket in car unit. (not to be confused with anything by that name today) The 15 watt version was very expensive, $400 or so at that time. You needed external amps for front and rear to get up to 50 or so watts. Fronts were usually 6 inch coax, back was a big 6×9 with a tweeter. Bi-amped systems were rare.

    I’m just upset that in 90% of OE cars, the stereos still sound like crap, even with more “gadgets”. OE stereo speakers are still a joke, paper cones that haven’t changed since grand-dad’s AM radio in a Buick, and the mistake that THUMP THUMP means audio quality. The OE makers still spend nothing on car audio unless you spend $2.5k on some silly option “package”, so you still have to go aftermarket most of the time.

    I love the mp3 and ability to carry a thousand songs…no one misses cassette tapes or gak, 8 tracks.

    It is sad that audio quality has not improved since that time, even though the technology is there.

    • 0 avatar
      tced2

      I had one of those Jensen aftermarket units installed about 1979 in my new Olds Cutlass. It was very good. It was so good thieves stole it twice. It got very expensive for my insurance company to replace the whole dashboard (which was ripped up when prying the head-end out). The thieves never got the amplifier unit. The police told me the thieves probably got $5 for the head-end.

  • avatar
    fredtal

    I put some of those $14.95 speakers in a plastic case in my 63 Chevy parcel shelf. They melted the fist hot day.

  • avatar
    Trend-Shifter

    The old cars with metal dashes were great for hanging stereo gear. I had so much it was stacked hanging down! CB radio and linear amplifier too!

    Did you ever hear of “Mindblower” speakers? They were amplified 6x9s. They were awesome, especially if mounted in the package tray with a big ole trunk as your bass cabinet. I would even add a bass port. It had real deep organ tone bass, not that thump, thump you hear today.

    I had four mind blower speakers with a REAL quadraphonic 8-track system. Different sound came out of each speaker. Not synthesized. Ahhh, but the drawback was a limited selection of tapes. It looked extra cool with my two color organs!
    ELP live in quad was the ultimate channel separation with the sound going around & around.

    Next I upgraded to the underdash Pioneer Super Tuner. It had separate bass and treble controls, loudness switch, and cassette. I then added an equalizer and kept the “Mind Blower” speakers.
    It still rivals anything I have heard today for power, clarity, and a full dynamic sound range. It even looked better than what I see today.

    Later I experimented with using home stereo speakers and cross-overs after aftermarket amplifiers became available.

    I could then make my own cassette tapes using my home stereo system. I had a Pioneer Spec-4 amp, Spec-1 Preamp, Dynamic Processor, and an equalizer. The Pioneer cassette recorder fidelity was great using TDK tapes if you kept the heads clean. The processor really brought everything out. I still have the same tube Pioneer system today and it out performs all the recent solid state junk. Some things do not get better.

    And then there is all the compression in CDs and electronic file formats. It is NOT better than before. Bring back the good ole days for fidelity. I had read recently where Neil Young was working with Steve Jobs on a system to create higher fidelity electronic files and play with corresponding equipment. I guess it will go nowhere now because the new generation doesn’t even know what they are missing.

    Today I have one of Kenwood’s finest in my Audi 5000 with the Ipod/Iphone USB port. It is handy, but the fidelity is not there even using the better file settings during recording. Even with an amp for the rear speakers and an amp/sub-woofer it does not equal the old days. Sure it thumps, thumps very strong if you want it to, but I want that smooth deep organ bass, bright highs, and crystal clear mid range.

    Being an old audiophile always keeps you searching for that perfect sound, it’s like a drug addict chasing that perfect high.

    I think the automakers are missing the boat. Technology today changes so fast that in a few short years your automobile consumer electronics is old news or obsolete. They need to develop a modular dash arrangement and work with the aftermarket instead of developing proprietary in-house set-ups. That way the system can be upgraded while lowering your R&D and design costs.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      ……..And then there is all the compression in CDs and electronic file formats. It is NOT better than before. Bring back the good ole days for fidelity……..

      Finally, somebody gets it!!! Downloadable music has traded convenience for quality. Bring back the half speed masters and Telarc discs….

  • avatar
    JMII

    I’ve been installing car audio gear since the mid 80s and its a dying industry thanks to all the integrated systems these days. For example in my wife’s ’08 Volvo the HVAC and audio system is all together. Thus the only thing you can do is add an (expensive) aftermarket integration unit like a JBL MS-8 or JL Audio Clean Sweep and upgrade from there. The day’s of swapping out your radio in the dash quickly and cheaply are LONG gone. Ironically in some cases this has made things easier since these integration units have tons of features you could never put into a simple radio alone like time alignment and digital EQ and crossover control.

    Funny thing about the 90s and the rise of CD players – I actually had a Sony ADD-ON tape deck, it allowed you to play tapes thru an expansion port on the CD player. This was during the time in which most tape decks came with a connection for a trunk mount 10 or 12 disc CD changer.

    The thing that pisses me off the most regarding recent audio systems: touchscreen controls! Who though this was the best way to control a radio? Just because it works for modern smart phones doesn’t mean that’s the way all UI (user interface) should be handled.

    The only good thing that has come out recently: Class D amps. These days you can get 500 watts of power for under $300 and it will not drain your battery, get hot, or take up alot of space. Unfortunately the art of making efficient subwoofers has gone out the window, thus you need a 500 watt amp just to drive one 8″ woofer. Seems like a conspiracy to me.

    • 0 avatar
      kvndoom

      Efficient subs have less power handling, and try telling a kid that Brand X 150W 8-ohm sub is better than Brand Z 1000W 2-ohm sub.

      In America, BIG NUMBERS sell. That’s why so many cheap products advertise “max” or “PMPO” wattage ratings, which are actually meaningless. It’s not really a conspiracy, just an effect of a shift in thinking where a bigger number must mean better product.

  • avatar
    tbp0701

    I was a music major in the late 80s. When taking a trip longer than an hour, we’d load up a boom box with fresh batteries and strap it in the back seat.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      I did that, too! Back in the late 60’s, I had a 7″ reel-to-reel tape recorder with built-in speakers that either took standard AC plug-in wall – or – are you ready? EIGHT “D” CELL BATTERIES! I believe I had one of the first boom boxes! I took it on the school bus and blasted the music I recorded from my 45rpm and LP collection and drove around with it on the back seat of dad’s car as I cruised around!

      That thing – a Columbia Masterwork – must have weighed 20 lbs! It looked like a suitcase, complete with handle, black with a snap-off hinged lid that you could remove. It was really cool, too. You could play 7″ reels with the lid on. You could also play it flat or upright, as long as you used little rubber caps that fit over the spindles on top of the reels so they wouldn’t fall off.

      I sold it to a buddy in 1976 – it still worked very well.

  • avatar
    supremebrougham

    I have sitting in my closet a Delco UU6 headunit that I had in my 1987 Cutlass Supreme. Five band eq, built in amp (the Loud button)and auto reverse cassette. That car had lovely sound, and if a tape got jammed in the deck, I could have the whole thing out, taken apart, fixed and back in the car in around fifteen minutes! I still think that the interior of that car was well designed for quality sound. People used to ride in it and claim that it just had to have a sub in the trunk-it didn’t.

    When I sold the car I kept the radio. Why? Because I knew that my cousin that bought it from me wouldn’t appreciate it. Some day I’m going to find a way to have that radio turned into a home unit…

  • avatar
    charliej5

    Reading all the comments reminds me that all opinions are not equal. I worked for 43 years as an electronics technician. Ten years for Radio Shack from 1978 to 1988. They had it all from cheap junk to very good high end equipment. Radio Shacks high end home stereos were made by Pioneer. The first Radio Shack CD home players were made by Sony. As far as car audio, most of Radio Shacks units were good middle class equipment. After Radio Shack I had my own business for 25 years, working on all things electronic. Car audio was not my favorite during this time. Too many people with $500.00 cars and $3000.00 worth of car audio. I helped a tech from another shop with a problem of his 1987 CRX occasionally dying while driving. He had a very large amplifier wired so that a high bass note would drop the voltage low enough to kill the car. Rewiring direct to the battery cured this. People take audio too seriously. It is for entertainment, it does not make you a better person or even a more desirable person. It is just entertainment.

    • 0 avatar
      kvndoom

      I used to be a big Shack fan… and I did work there for 1.5 years between 1989 and 1990. Certain pieces of gear they sold still hold a place in my heart:

      SA-150 & TM-150 amp and tuner combo… those babies were sweet!
      STA-20 was a 5wpc mini receiver with really good FM quality
      Pro-70 headphones (Koss made many of their headphones too)
      SCT-84 tape deck… it was an AWESOME piece of gear
      10 band EQ with tri-color spectrum display and IMX expander

      I owned all of those at one point or another. There was a lot of junk, but you had to know your products to weed out the best stuff. The Mach 2 and Minimus 7 speakers were great too, but I never owned them.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    It’s just a car so it don’t need space imaging or a 30 band EQ especially when I’m driving with the windows partly open. Just a mid grade amp to the factory CD player. Something with hi and low pass filters is a must but then the RCA jacks are free to add an 1/8″ plug to RCA splitter cable so I can then play from any hand held device, iPad, iPhone or laptop straight to the amp.

  • avatar
    obbop

    Quadraphonic for the win.

    The groovy “light bar” in the passenger footwell of the 68 Roadrunner.

    Panasonic “component” system tuner/cassette player/amp mounted atop the semi’s dashboard for access while driving with Rad Shack Minimus 7 metal-cased speakers sitting in the sleeper that could be easily moved to the cab when in the sleeper.

    Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds among many.

    Cases full of tapes.

    Sansui QRX-9001 for quad Nirvana bought used in later years.

    NPR radio for news and commentary nowadays if radio listened to at all.

    CDs latest music technology in conveyance and shanty but seldom used.

    Off the dirt and weeds, whippersnappers.

  • avatar
    FJ60LandCruiser

    I remember pulling the “high power” Marantz “designed in the USA, made in Japan” cassette deck from my Cruiser. It had a whopping 8 watts per channel to the paper speakers and the little tape deck flap had literally melted off in the Alabama heat. I also remember how I had to replace it with a DIN CD receiver from Crutchfield and all that nonsense. I recently put in a newer Bluetooth enabled receiver that doesn’t even have CD and I didn’t even bother hooking up to the radio antenna because all I wanted was to stream music from my smartphone…

    Technology.

  • avatar
    kenzter

    Ah good times. I haven’t messed with a OEM setup since I bought my first new vehicle in 1993. Not being a huge audiophile, the factory setup was always adequate. Until last week.
    I picked up a ’69 Cadillac Sedan Deville. It has the original factory AM/FM radio (not stereo, that was a $288 option.) The 6×9’s in the rear are shot, and the single front 4×10 sounds terrible. I want to keep the car as original as possible, so have been looking for dual shaft stereos with a factory look. There are a few out there, but apparently they are crap. My solution, keep the factory radio intact. Get an small amp with input for my phone. Hook that up to new rears, and a dual-voice coil 4×10 in the front. It sounds great, nothing to steal, and is totally hidden.
    Funny part is, of the three cars in my household, only the 43 year old Cadillac has AUX input for my phone.

  • avatar
    smallenginesmakemesad

    The self-seeking AM radio in my 1959 Cadillac cost $165. That’s over $1.200 in 2012 dollars. My 2005 Mercedes has a better stereo than my living room. technology moves on.

  • avatar
    hootbot

    $300 for that cassette player in 1986 is around $600 in todays money. Imagine paying $600 for an am/fm car radio with cassette.

  • avatar
    keoni_

    Are you sure you lived in the 80’s? Stereos were great, you just had to know what you were building. Granted the Radio Shack stereos and the base model speakers sucked. The absolute must have key to a great system though was a Radio Shack Power Booster. Without one of those powering your system in the 80’s I don’t care what you had it was second rate, bar none, that’s it, last word. Cant remember the names but you didn’t want the cheaper one of the two they sold throughout the 80’s and basically just changed face plates periodically. One was a 40 watt and the other an 80 watt. The 80 watt was basically an 80w amp with a 7 band equalizer built in that you mounted under your dash. 80 watts doesn’t sound like much by todays standards but a Pioneer Supertuner III, four Jensen 6×9 triax’s in your rear deck for the base(Yes Jensen!! They were also a must, nothing but the 6×9 triaxs though) two Pioneer TSX-9’s on each side of the rear deck and a pair of 6″ Pioneers in the front would make your GM A-body the envy of the school. I built basically that same system in half a dozen A-body Muscle Cars I had owned throughout the 80’s and I swear when I fired up that Radio Shack power booster usually with some old school Van Halen you could see the glass bowing back and forth from the base and the Pioneers could almost shatter it from the highs. That little Radio Shack unit was awesome. They need to still be making them. Simple to install, quick and easy to tune perfect. To heck with the new stuff, Bridged reversed subs, 50 band equalizers, seperate tweeters, gain knobs, 19lbs of wire spider webbing your car, sure the modern stuff sounds great but you need to be a NASA electrician to figure it all out. I’ll take an old school powered system any day but with a modern flat screen, iPod and GPS capable deck of course.

  • avatar
    punkybrewstershubby aka Troy D.

    In 1988, in my then brand-new Nissan Hardbody truck, I installed a Harmon Kardon cassette deck with Dolby “B” and “C” with a pair of Infinity KAPPA 3-way speakers in both doors. The sound quality was really second to none, especially with TDK cassettes recorded in HX Pro.

    Upgraded to a Soundstream CD unit that also pulled out of the dash. Remember the days when you carried your tape deck/cd player with you in that carrying case with a zipper.

    Yes, the not so good old days.

    (And yes, I worked p/t for Radio Shack and also installed Radio Shack car audio and cellphone units, and yes RS stuff was junk, overpriced junk).


Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • Corey Lewis: My tip is to avoid the first year GS 300. That was the only year for that engine before they switched to...
  • maui_zaui: I actually like the funky styling of the Kona. They managed to pull off the “these aren’t...
  • FreedMike: This guy took Metrolink to the airport in St. Louis and lived to tell the tale. I’m impressed!
  • Fordson: Interesting how nobody has made the obvious comparison here – that if your president threatens to...
  • Arthur Dailey: Southern Ontario/GTA resident. Back in the days of big domestic v8’s the truism was that the...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Staff

  • Contributors

  • Timothy Cain, Canada
  • Matthew Guy, Canada
  • Ronnie Schreiber, United States
  • Bozi Tatarevic, United States
  • Chris Tonn, United States
  • Corey Lewis, United States
  • Mark Baruth, United States
  • Moderators

  • Adam Tonge, United States
  • Corey Lewis, United States