TBT: Ford’s Radios Evolve with Consumer Trends, Add to the Driving Experience

May 25, 2023
Ford radio Click to Enlarge

The summer driving season is upon us. That means driving with the windows (or convertible top) down and the radio on. The time before driving and radio were perfectly paired may be as hard to imagine as streets crowded with horse-drawn buggies. Consequently, it's no surprise that Ford, the company that put the world on wheels, also put its ears on the airwaves by introducing radios to its automobiles early on and continually refines the technology offered to this day.

Radios were introduced in Ford vehicles in 1922. Click to Enlarge

The first car radios were installed by 1922, just two years after Pittsburgh’s pioneering KDKA radio AM radio station transmitted the first scheduled broadcast. These portable units were notorious for picking up interference from automotive ignition systems. That problem was solved in a short time through the use of suppressors, and Ford began experimenting with car radios as early as 1929. By 1932, provisions for the installation of an AM radio were made in the original Ford V8 and Lincoln V12 models. Ford then introduced one of the first integrated car radios in 1933, but it was installed in the glove compartment, much to the dismay of motorists who couldn’t access the equipment while driving.

1941 Ford accessory Click to Enlarge

Car radio technology matured fast and furiously through the 1930s and 1940s — with the radios’ configurations, functions and location constantly in flux. By 1949, Ford had introduced a push-button system with dials on the left and right side and the tuning bar in the middle. This appearance stayed consistent across the industry for about four decades.

For the 1958 model year, Ford introduced a standalone FM tuner due to the increasing popularity of the higher-fidelity frequency band. The 1961 model year brought full transistorizing; a factory-installed AM/FM receiver came in 1963, stereo 8-track tapes in 1966 and AM/FM stereo in 1967. Quadrasonic (a form of surround sound) 8-track came in 1975, while cassette functionality was added to AM/FM stereo in 1977 — the same year Ford offered a built-in CB radio option.

The 1980s brought the company’s first branded premium audio system, co-created with JBL and introduced with the 1985 Lincoln Continental. The 12-speaker system featured a 140-watt amplifier and an Excursion Control Amplifier. The system was soon rolled into such Ford products as Thunderbird and Taurus, as well as the Mercury lineup.

 Ford was the first domestic automaker to add a factory-installed compact disc player as an option on the 1986 Lincoln Town Car. Other technologies have been integrated into the radio since — MP3, portable audio devices, satellite radio — and today, streaming audio via SYNC, which integrates the radio and puts smart and connected features at an owner’s fingertips.  

While you’re planning your summer playlists, let us know in the comment section which type of media has been your preferred listening format and why.

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