Standing in front of a Radiola, Ericsson’s legendary radio set, you can almost hear the songs of yesteryear streaming forth from the perfectly preserved and highly polished cabinet of dark and light birch. Like big band jazz, the radio seems like it was made for those kinds of memories of times long-gone and a simpler world.
Leafing through the brochures for the old Radiolas, however, makes it very apparent that little has changed over the past 60 to 70 years. People still need to relax, and dreaming of the future remains a popular pass time. The first radios sold in Sweden were marketed with virtually the same arguments being used today to sell the Internet and broadband services.
According to an ad from 1931, a radio gives you “a free ticket to the week’s theater, music and recitals.” Another brochure from the late 1930s introducing the first portable radio heralds the following benefits for the consumer. “No antenna. No ground wire. No cords. Just turn the dial and hear all of Europe. Whenever you want. Wherever you are.”
The first radio broadcasts took place in the US in the 1920s. May 1923 marked the start of the first broadcasts in Stockholm produced by Svenska Radioaktiebolaget (SRA). This was a pioneering company started by several Swedish industries, including Ericsson, which during the 1920s also gained a majority ownership in the company.
In 1925, when Radiotjänst assumed responsibility for broadcasting operations in Sweden, SRA set its sights on becoming the leading Swedish manufacturer of radio receivers. The Radiola brand was thus born. Radiola remained a household word in Swedish homes for several decades. Products included the first broadcast receiver in 1922 and the first commercially manufactured TV introduced in the market in 1954. Radiola was associated with outstanding quality and advanced technology. Production of radios and TVs ceased in 1964, when SRA decided to focus its resources on communications radio.
Studying Radiola’s marketing campaigns over the years reveals much about how attitudes and values have changed. In the 1940s, energetic copywriters with gleaming smiles and a style reminiscent of Swedish sportscaster Sven Jerring enthusiastically described advances in technology that initially were aimed at women, who were the ones considered to have spare time.
In the Radiola world, the difference between the sexes was crystal clear and indisputable. There were housewives who baked cakes and needed diversion during the day, and there were pipe-smoking husbands who spent their days at the office and needed to relax when they came home in the evening. Toward the end of the 1950s, however, with the introduction of the transistor radio and rising popularity of rock and roll, teenagers broke with the values of an older generation, and a new society began to take shape.
Advertisements for the first portable radios also put today’s perceptions of large and small in the world of mobile communications into perspective. In one ad, a new Radiola model was described as follows: “Imagine a radio that is no larger than two telephone books and that is no heavier than it can be carried anywhere.” This was a far cry from today’s mobile phones.
Not all advances in technology are progress, however. The portable radio from the 1930s described above was advertised as having an operating cost of “3 öre per hour” and a battery life of “several months”.
Author: Jan Gradvall