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Radio Makes a Fashion Statement

Market Sees a Rebirth of Stylish, High-Performance Consumer Receivers

Market Sees a Rebirth of Stylish, High-Performance Consumer Receivers

(click thumbnail)Bose Wave

(click thumbnail)Etón e1XM

(click thumbnail)Etón Porsche Design P7132

(click thumbnail)Cambridge SoundWorks’ SoundWorks Radio CD 740

(click thumbnail)Sangean U-1

(click thumbnail)Tivoli Audio Model Satellite Radio

(click thumbnail)Tivoli Audio SongBook
There was a time when radios were built not just for the ear, but the eye as well. Whether enthroned inside furniture-quality wooden cabinets, or armored in colorful Bakelite plastic and chrome, these radios were more than entertainment devices; they were public testaments to their owners’ sense of style and taste.

As television eclipsed radio in the latter half of the 20th century, home receivers ceased being status symbols. As a result, consumer radios became utilitarian devices – at best, decked out in lights and dials in an effort to appear high-tech, but not certainly not High Fashion.

Thankfully, radio’s dowdy days seem to have come to an end. Today manufacturers such as Bose, Boston Acoustics, Cambridge SoundWorks, Etón, Sangean and Tivoli Audio are making radios that put new emphasis on visual appeal.


What’s behind the renaissance in radio style?

“I think everyone’s trying to make a fashion statement, in order to catch the consumer’s attention,” said Bob Crane, proprietor and president of C. Crane Company, a high-end electronics retailer. Its custom-designed CCRadio Plus has helped raise the bar for quality AM/FM portables.

“Each one has their own approach,” Crane said. “For example, Tivoli Audio makes clean-lined, functionally simple radios with astounding sound, while Etón makes some consumer/shortwave hobbyist receivers that are arrestingly beautiful.”

However, Passport to World Band Radio Editor-in-Chief Larry Magne worries that the current revival in radio style doesn’t just help products stand out from the pack, it also masks a lack of progress in new radio R&D.

“It’s like what has happened with new cars,” Magne said. “Basically, the fundamentals of car technology were figured out decades ago. This has prompted car manufacturers to increase emphasis on style and looks while future technologies are being developed.”

Still, many manufacturers that are making stylish-looking radios are incorporating new technologies in them too. For instance, Etón’s new e31XM push-button digital semi-portable radio receives AM, FM, shortwave/world band and XM Satellite Radio. Meanwhile, Tivoli Audio’s Model Satellite Radio handles AM, FM and Sirius Satellite Radio in an aesthetically simple, easy-to-use tabletop.

Over at Boston Acoustics, the company is adding the small yet powerful tabletop Recepter Radio HD (AM/FM/HD Radio) to its lineup. It will continue to sell the original AM/FM version, said Stephen Shenefield, director of product development.

“The reasons are price point and features,” he said. “The Recepter sells for $149, but the Recepter Radio HD will sell for $499, and adds HD Radio, input and headphone output, and an included second speaker for stereo.”

Style revival

So again we ask: What’s behind the renaissance in radio style?

The answer is renewed awareness among manufacturers that appearance matter, especially when it comes to consumer electronics. If radio makers are to cash in on the public’s craze for jazzy-looking technology, their products must match the colors and pizzazz of the latest iPods.

This is not lost on Ryan Giordano, Etón’s sales manager.

“When it comes to personal technology, consumers want to customize the products they buy, be it iPods, cellphones or radios,” he said. This is why Etón is selling radios that are yellow, blue, pearl and even cranberry red, in addition to traditional electronics’ silver.

This change couldn’t come fast enough for Bob Crane. “Please give me anything but silver radios,” he said. “I’m so sick of silver.”

Along with consumers’ desire for customization is a backlash against high-tech, hard-to-navigate home electronics. A case in point: Bose’s elegant WAVE radio has been designed “for people who want high-quality audio, but who really don’t want to play around with electronics,” said Santiago Carvejal, senior product manager. “This is why we made the WAVE’s user interface as simple as possible.”

Size also matters in today’s stylish radios – small size, that is. For instance, Cambridge SoundWorks offers the SoundWorks Radio 730 tabletop that squeezes high-performance AM/FM audio into a very small package.

“We produce radios that are sleek, compact, appealing and extremely high quality,” said Fred Pinkerton, product manager. “We’ve always wanted to make the nicest small FM-based music systems as possible.”

Sometimes the push to create radios that are different results in innovative new products, such as Sangean’s U-1 utility radio. In contrast to its other consumer radios, which are styled “to fit with people’s decor,” said Selwyn Wynstock, Sangean America’s vice president of sales and marketing, the U-1 is a yellow plastic-shelled AM/FM radio “of super durable construction” designed to be used outdoors. Suited to camping and construction sites, it can also accept a microphone and serve as an impromptu PA system.

What’s next

Does style help sell radios?

“Tivoli Audio is a small company, yet we’ve sold 1,000,000 radios,” said Tom Devesto, founder and CEO. “The demand for quality radios that are visually appealing is definitely out there.”

Meanwhile, Etón’s Grundig FR-200 – a windup portable that fulfills the public’s hunger for an alternative-powered emergency radio – has sold over 1 million units to date, Giordano said. Etón’s willingness to promote the FR-200 in large ads in the Wall Street Journal has definitely helped drive sales.

So what’s next?

Etón previewed two Porsche Design radios at the 2005 CES show; they are due for commercial release this year. Tivoli Audio has designed a new minimalist travel portable called the SongBook, available in six colors. Bose has rebuilt the WAVE to incorporate a flat CD player without expanding the radio’s form factor, a feat that has been matched by Boston Acoustics’ MicroSystem CD and Cambridge SoundWorks’ “SoundWorks” Radio CD 740.

As mentioned, Boston Acoustics has its Recepter Radio HD, and Sangean has come up with a wooden-cased tabletop radio called the WR-1.

What’s happening in the consumer radio space is summed up by Etón’s slogan “Reinventing Radio.” Having taken a back seat in design to other home electronics categories for decades, radio style is back with a vengeance.

“Radio isn’t going away,” said Ryan Giordano. “We wouldn’t be able to sustain the growth we have as a radio-only manufacturer if radio wasn’t alive and kicking.”