Today, the most frowned upon activity to pursue when driving is texting. Although some still do it, we all know that texting takes your eyes and mind off the road; a situation which can lead to accidents or even death. Ready for some déjà vu? This situation is almost identical to the time when car radios were first developed. As you will read, some states actually had "anti-radio laws" on the books.

The history of car radios

Our technical consultant at Leckner Chevrolet of Woodstock, VA, was proud to tell us that the first car radio was introduced Chevrolet in 1922. It cost a whopping $200 and this was in a time that a car cost from $695 to $795. And it was enormous. The 1922 Chevrolet radio had an antenna that covered the car's entire roof and large dry cell batteries that barely fit under the front seat. Plus, two large actively-driven speakers were attached behind the seat and the head unit was a massive metal box that hung under the dash.

By the early 1930s, the less cumbersome built-in Motorola radios were common features in American cars. By the late 1930s, push-button presets were developed that helped drivers to select stations without taking their eyes off the road.

By 1946, radios in cars were quite common. Thanks to the transistor, both size and price came way down, so that by 1963, 50 million cars – over 60 percent of the cars on the road – were outfitted with radios. By then, over one third of America's radio listening occurred in the car, not at home!

The early days

But when they were first introduced, radios were controversial. In 1930, laws were proposed in Massachusetts and St. Louis to ban radio use while driving. This meant they could be used when the car was parked but not while driving. According to automotive historian Michael Lamm, "Opponents of car radios argued that they distracted drivers because tuning them took a driver's attention away from the road. Not only that, soft music could lull a driver to sleep." In 1934, even the New York Auto Club agreed. A poll of their members resulted in 56 percent deeming a car radio a "dangerous distraction."

Arguing the other side was the Radio Manufacturers Association, who pointed out that car radios had definite advantages too. They could be used to warn drivers of inclement weather and bad road conditions, as well as keeping drivers awake when they got drowsy.

Anti-radio laws

And what about those anti-radio laws? They were enacted by a just few small municipalities in the 1920s and the whole furor died out just a few years later. Today, anti-texting laws are different. The process of texting requires much more concentration, and this obviously isn't a smart use of one's time when piloting a car. Unlike the early anti-radio laws, anti-texting laws are likely to stay on the books, and they should.

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