Futuramic Slimline Design!

Powerful as a Radio 10 Times its Size!

Futuramic! Nice use of vernacular improvisation from the atomic age and it rather aptly describes this radio. The above was taken from a 1961 ad in the Hutchinson News. These two Realtone ‘Comets’, model number TR-1088, were manufactured in Japan circa 1960. They are great examples of the fine art of transistor radio design. The Comet was on the market for at least six years. The earliest example I’ve seen was sold on the 14th of December 1960 and they were still being sold in April 1966! (1a). This has to be one of the longest production runs for any Japanese radio from this era.

Realtone Electronics was co-founded in 1956 by hardworking brothers Saul and Ely Ashkenazi. Saul was born to Mexican parents living in Louisiana on July 4th 1920 and Ely was born two years later. Shortly after his birth Saul’s parents made the decision to move their family back to Mexico. They remained there for a number of years until the Great Depression when Saul’s father was injured in a machinery accident. Aged just 14 and 12 at the time, Saul and Ely began searching for work in order to support their family and move them back to America. Eventually they did return across the border and settled in Arkansas before moving on to Texas where Saul and Ely worked as peddlers. They struggled to make sales due to their lack of proficiency in the English language but soon chanced upon a Mexican neighborhood and prospered. From Texas, Saul’s family moved on to Georgia and then North Carolina where he and his brother managed a retail and wholesale business. The brother’s strict work ethic was really beginning to pay off and in the mid 1950’s they set up offices on Fifth Avenue in New York and began importing transistor radios and cigarette lighters from Japan. They re-branded and sold the radios as Realtone and the lighters as ‘Realite’ (1b). Realite lighters sold for a buck and apart from traditional designs they also featured some with racy 'ladies' posed on them.

By 1956 there was a music revolution taking place. Rock n Roll had entered the American consciousness and young men and women all over the country were going crazy for artists like Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis. They wanted to bop and hop on the go; they wanted to carry their new music heroes with them everywhere, to be able to listen to them day and night and tiny new shirt pocket transistor radios finally gave them the means to do so. Rock n roll artists were on the rise and so were the brothers Ashkenazi. The young entrepreneurs ditched the cigarette lighters and began concentrating on meeting the growing demand for portable music players.

Realtone Electronics quickly established themselves as innovators in a new and highly competitive market. They introduced a number of impressive new transistor radios with an emphasis on modernistic design influenced by popular culture and America’s growing fascination with the ‘Space Race’.  The company went from strength to strength; it was incorporated in 1959 and in 1961, in order to support its growth initiatives, it went public for the first time on the American Stock Exchange (1c).

The Investment Dealers Digest, 1961 gives an insight into Realtone Electronics from an industry perspective stating that the company was formed to “engage in the marketing and distribution of consumer electronic products manufactured for it in Japan and elsewhere”. The digest adds that “sales now consist of portable, transistorized radio receivers in a variety of types and models including standard, multiband and AM/FM broadcast reception and related items. Nationwide distribution is effected usually under the registered trademark 'Realtone' (1d).

In 1963 Realtone launched the Soundesign brand to market more upscale audio products including clock radios, and stereo systems. In 1968 it was noted in the SEC News Digest that the company "designs, imports and distributes transistor radio receivers and other related products manufactured for it in Japan and Hong Kong. It maintains facilities for the design, engineering and evaluation of its products in Tokyo" (1e). This answers the age old question as to whether Realtone had any input into the design of its radios and emphasizes that they were a true multinational manufacturing company and more than just a clever importer and re-brander.

In 1968 the company changed its name to Soundesign and through the 1970’s and 1980’s they survived in the cutthroat world of electronics by making clocks for Timex that sold in drugstores and by creatively combining devices. Soundesign made the world’s first cassette tape player-clock radio and the first telephone-clock radio (1f). In 1994 the company changed its name to SDI Technologies. That same year Saul and Ely were honoured at the Consumer Electronics Association’s 50th Anniversary for their historic achievements in the industry (1g). SDI now makes Apple compatible audio products and in 2012 they reintroduced the Realtone brand as clock radios and headphones.










As far as I know the Realtone badge first appeared in 1958 starting with the vertical TR-501 and the horizontal G-401 transistor radios. I’ve seen an example of this radio with the Realtone badge on the front and Kobe Kogyo KT-6 stamped on the back indicating that it was Kobe Kogyo who manufactured it. When they first started out it is possible that Realtone used more than one Japanese manufacturer to make their radios. Over the next few years Realtone rolled out a succession of innovative and exotic looking radios with space age names such as Galaxy, Constellation, Electra, Venus, Voyager, Pioneer, Satellite, Valiant and Comet.

The advertisement on the right appeared in the June 14th 1962 edition of the Harrisonburg Daily News Record.

Collector Bob Davidson points out that Realtone were one of the few Japanese manufacturers who managed to create outstanding radios without the use of reverse painted plastic. The Comet features a prominent gold medallion in the shape of an 8 framing the ‘eye glass’ tuning dial. The dial lens is magnified and the 8 stands for eight transistors of course. Other highlights include the shield like face beneath the Realtone badge and an additional ‘8 TRANSISTORS’ badge separating the face and the large round speaker grill. It has a tilt stand on the back for lounging.

These Realtone Comets can be found colored black, red, turquoise and ivory. They can also be found branded as a Valiant with the same model number.




The advertisment below is the earliest that I can find for any Realtone radio. It appeared in the June 17th 1958 edition of the Charleston Daily Mail and is for the G-401. It also makes mention of the six transistor G-601. This particular radio can also be found branded as Million, Realistic 'Hi-Fiver' and as its maker, Kobe Kogyo.


A turquoise Realtone Comet is featured on the cover of the collectors book Made in Japan by Handy et al. It is 'actual size' and mine looks just as good on the cover too...





I have seen a number of different prices in Newspaper advertisements for the Comet from $21.88 in 1961 down to $6.66 in 1966 (a lot of sixes in that!). The Comet was also advertised on occasion with a large Realtone auxiliary speaker for an additional $4.98.

The popular, retro looking Beach Boy radio released in the mid 1990’s was modeled on the Realtone Comet. It's nowhere near as cool as the real thing though!




The advertisement below appeared in the Hutchinson News, June 30th, 1961. Transistor radio manufacturers from this era were notorious for making outlandish claims in their advertising and trying to get one up on the opposition. This ad for the Realtone Comet is no exception. I doubt very much that it is as powerful as a radio 10 times its size. It is futuramic though!




The leather case for this Realtone is a good likeness of the radio with the big 8 cut out of the front.



Inside the layouts look similar but with different electrical components in use. Both Realtone's use 8 NEC transistors.





Special thanks to Isaac J. Kassin, the Grandson of Saul E. Ashkenazi for allowing me to reference ‘The Stewardship Report’ and use a photo of his Grandfather. For more in-depth commentary on the life of Mr Ashkenazi refer to ‘The Stewardship Report’.

(1a) Saint Charles Journal April 28th / (1b) Isaac J. Kassin ‘The Stewardship Report’ / (1c) SDI Corporate History – About Us / (1d) The Investment Dealers Digest Volume 27, Part 4, 1961 / (1e) Securities and Exchange Commission Digest July 2nd 1968 / (1f) New York Times August 8th 2010 - Docks For Apple Gadgets Help A Business Survive by Eric A Taub / (1g) Twice News August 9th 2011