The Motorola Model VF103 television of 1949 also offered several features that the Droid phone couldn’t match, including FM and AM radio, a “hand-rubbed” wooden cabinet, a record player “and roomy record storage space.”
“Make no mistake — this is the finest — and at a price less than many sets with television alone!” burbled the ad, which appeared in nationwide magazines this Christmas season six decades ago. “Test it, compare it — and you’ll never be satisfied with any other.”
Unfortunately, the only “web” connections that Motorola’s products offered in 1949 were from spiders if the sets weren’t cleaned often enough.
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Also, while the TV and the Droid phone had about the same retail price, they don’t cost the same in constant dollars, because $575 in 1949 is roughly equivalent to $5,222 today!
Taken another way: According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average family income in 1949 was $3,569. A Motorola VF103 thus represented more than two months’ income.
If $575 seemed a little pricey, then Gimbels on Smithfield Street, Downtown, offered a TV-only set for “only” $283, or a “portable” (weighing a hefty 33 pounds!) for $152.
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If you were in PBRTV-Land when any of those sets first went on sale, you could see exactly one channel at most. In Pittsburgh, that was WDTV, Channel 3, which had signed on Jan. 11 of that year.
Johnstown-area viewers could see WJAC-TV on Channel 13; that station signed on just two months earlier, on Sept. 15, while Erie viewers could watch WICU-TV, which began service on Channel 12 on March 15.
It doesn’t hardly seem worth the money, does it? (Youngstown wouldn’t get its first station, WKBN-TV, until 1953.)
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The Motorola company was founded (as the Galvin Manufacturing Co.) by Paul Galvin in Chicago in 1928 to make battery eliminators (basically, AC adapters) allowing the early DC-only radios to operate on home electrical current.
Two years later, Galvin demonstrated the world’s first practical car radio. He coined the name “Motorola” for his car radios by combining “motor” (as in “car”) with the “ola” suffix of the popular “Victrola” brand radios and record players made by RCA.
Motorola soon branched into police radios, home radios and television. Beginning in 1946, it began offering mobile telephones, though they were heavy, expensive and required operator assistance — nothing like the cell phones we have today.
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Motorola hasn’t manufactured televisions since 1974, when it sold that business to Panasonic’s parent company. Instead, it focused on that fast-growing car phone business, bringing its first cell phone to market in 1983.
For years, it was the number one company in the cell phone industry, but it lost its leadership position to Nokia in 1998 and has never recovered.
After a group of executives defected to Apple, Motorola’s share of the cell phone market was down to just 6 percent this year. There have been calls for the company, which is still based in the Chicago area, to cut its losses and dump the cell phone division altogether.
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Still, there may be signs of a turnaround for Motorola’s cell phone business. The cell phone division made a profit during the second quarter of 2009 for the first time in years, and early reviews of the Droid are positive.
PC World calls it “solid” and “snappy” with “excellent call quality,” adding that the phone “lives up to its promises and does a lot of things the iPhone doesn’t.” Engadget says it’s “an excellent smartphone with many (if not all) of the features that a modern user would expect, and if you’re a Verizon customer, there probably isn’t a more action packed device on the network.”
Yes, but does it offer a record player and a hand-rubbed wooden cabinet? Maybe next time.
If you’re thinking about Motorola these days, it’s probably in connection with wireless services, including the new “Droid” phone.
Mr. Monday-Morning Nostalgia Fix hasn’t seen a Droid phone yet, but it’s apparently a formidable competitor to Apple’s iPhones. Sold through Verizon Wireless stores, the Motorola Droid runs the new “Android” operating system developed by Google and a quarter-million were sold during it’s first week on the market.
Even at prices of almost $600 (without a contract — it’s under $200 with a contract), Droid phones sound like hot gifts for Christmas on this “Cyber Monday.”
Exactly 60 years ago, Motorola was selling a different kind of gadget as a hot gift. It also cost about $600 (actually, $575). Like a Droid phone, it offered streaming video and audio, and the screen wasn’t much bigger.