Upon it's release in June 1956 the American made Roland 'All Transistor' 66 was touted as the worlds smallest transistor radio with 'bi-fidelity' (push/pull audio system). It was the first transistor radio manufactured by Roland Radio Corporation of Mount Vernon New York and was marketed with the catch phase 'Aristocrat of Radios'. It was offered in two colors; tan or ebony and was housed in a 'reflex camera' style leather case. It was sold at Jewelers, Drug Stores and Electronics Dealers and was marketed to mid-century audiophiles and the well-to-do for $59.95. This was a hefty sum when you consider that in 1956 the average American wage was $85.00 per week. 

At this time Roland Radio Corporation was not a big player in the newly formed  transistor radio industry. They were essentially a boutique American manufacturer making radios in limited quantities. The company was formed in 1952 by Steelman Phonograph & Radio Co as a subsidiary to manufacture table and portable radios and radio-phonographs (Ref 1A). Steelman Phonograph & Radio Company was formed in 1950 by Morris J Steelman, former head of Steelman Radio, L Herold, former head of Herold Manufacturing and Roland J Kalb (hence the brand name 'Roland') (Ref 1B). They manufactured radios out of Mount Vernon, New York. 

In 1957 Roland released their second transistor radio; the 'All Transistor Bi-Fidelity 4TR' a plastic cased model that resembled a tube portable. Over the next 3 or 4 years they released at least six more models. See advertisements for these radios here. They also had some sort of arrangement with Firestone Tire & Rubber Co as I've seen at least three of their models re-branded as 'Firestone' including the 'All Transistor 66'.

To the left is an older Roland logo from 1954. It still features the knights head and looks like a coat of arms or family crest.

It does not appear that Roland manufactured transistor radios for very long before either re-branding or going out of business. Their designs were quite conservative and expensive at a time when the majority of transistor radios were being purchased by young Americans caught up in the rock n roll revolution.
They wanted this latest technology to be symbolic of their independent carefree hipster lifestyles and it needed to be 'cool' and affordable aka; the Japanese transistor invasion was on the horizon... However, in this day and age products made by the Roland Radio Corporation are scarce, highly collectible and I daresay ''very very cool'

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This sturdy Roland 'All Transistor' 66 came to me in 2013 from Avon Lake, Ohio, population 22000. Not too many of these radios have survived; having a leather clad case is inherently risky as the leather drys out and cracks, the stitching comes apart, they're prone to staining, not particularly waterproof and they generally just degenerate quickly if they're not looked after. I use a leather shoe conditioner on these radios to spruce them up. It is common to find the leather strap missing on this model. 

This radio features a large chunk of under-painted plastic crowning the genuine leather cowhide case. It is quite impressive and rare to find this on American made transistor radios. Roland used this feature on several of their later radios to great effect as did Emerson - their model 555 features an entirely reverse-painted back! A few Zenith and Emerson tube portables also incorporated this feature. The reason for reverse painting plastic is to give it a unique perspective of depth and color; it really pops! It looks particularly regal in gold. Many collectors mistakenly believe this was an exclusively Japanese manufacturing technique as so many of their stunning radios were made with this feature.  

The volume and tuning dials are comprised of a brass disc bordered by plastic. There is a knight motif under-painted between the two dials - this is after all the 'aristocrat of radios'! The tuning dial has the two civil defense triangles that regulations stipulated must be on all radios manufactured between 1953 and 1963; during the early days of the cold war. In an emergency all United States television and FM radio stations were required to shut down. The AM stations that remained on air would transmit on either 640 or 1240 kHz for several minutes and then go off the air and another station would take over the frequency in a repetitive chain. This was to confuse enemy aircraft who might be navigating using 'radio direction finding'. 

The Roland 'All Transistor' 66 measures 4.75 x 6.25 x 2.62 inch  / 121 x 159 x 67 mm. It has an earphone jack on the left side. The leather carry straps are attached to brass hinges and directed through two slots on the side of the under-painted plastic crown. This design feature has probably contributed to the loss of these straps as this is where they rub and deteriorate the most. The speaker grill is cut directly into the leather with sparkling silver cloth behind it. This is matched on the back of the radio where there is a second smaller grill cutout using the same silver material. 

When this little coat pocket radio was sold in 1956 the world was a very different place. Transistor radio design was heavily influenced by the space race, fashion and automobile manufacturers. The rapidly evolving transistor radio industry was given a boost by the rock n roll revolution that was now in full swing! Elvis had just released Heartbreak Hotel and embarked on a nationwide tour. Other chart toppers included Chuck Berry (Roll Over Beethoven), Little Richard (Rip It Up), Fats Domino (I'm In Love Again), Carl Perkins (Blue Suede Shoes) and The Platters (One In A Million). Perhaps this radio was purchased at a Drug Store by a hardworking young man or woman who then drove to the riverside in their families Plymouth Belvedere before sitting under a tree and listening to the latest tunes with their friends. I would like to think that all of those artists mentioned above played on this radio sometime during their heyday. 

Other noteworthy events of 1956 included: 

  • The marriage of movie icon Grace Kelly to Prince Rainier of Monaco.
  • Heavyweight Boxing World Champion Rocky Marciano retires with a perfect record of 49 & 0.
  • The first computer hard drive was invented by IBM. It weighed a ton and stored 5MB of data.
  • The Federal-Aid Highway Act was signed into law by President Eisenhower. 

More Roland 66...

The advertisement below appeared in the June 18, 1956 edition of Sports Illustrated magazine. It does a great job of selling this radio. "Enjoy a full year of radio listening without changing batteries". The Roland 'All Transistor' 66 uses 6 penlight batteries so it should certainly play for a while. Roland really highlighted the fact that they used quality components in their high fidelity (HIFI) systems. This was apparent whether they were advertising radios or phonographs; they wanted their customers to know that they were getting the best quality for the price. 

The advertisement below for Roland and its parent company Steelman appeared in Billboard Magazine on the 28th of July 1956.

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Special thanks to transistor guru Bob McGarrah for lending his technical expertise to this page. Bob formerly ran a website called "Bob's Virtual Transistor Museum & History". Now I’m not a ‘tech guy’ being primarily concerned with cabinet design and the cultural impact of the transistor radio so my commentary on chassis design is rudimentary (some would say primitive) at best. In saying that, there is culture and history in transistors and Bob’s enthusiastic commentary on the inner workings of the Roland 66 is a testament to that! 

On the use of GTC Transistors: “After removing the chassis from its case I discovered a collectors dream from my point of view. Not only is the 6TR (66) hand wired with socketed transistors, but the transistors are not the typical "big name" jobs. Roland of course did not make transistors and had to purchase them from one of the available suppliers at the time. I believe this was Roland's first transistor radio and they happened to choose to use devices made by another company which was a minor producer; General Transistor Corporation (GTC). GTC was among the early commercial transistor manufacturers and their products showed up in some pocket style hearing aids as well as a very few radios like the 6TR (66). GTC chose not to use the more typical RETMA "2N" numbering scheme for some reason, but for me this is actually another collecting "plus"". 

On the electronic design and chassis components Bob states: “The Roland 6TR is a typical super heterodyne design and uses six transistors, three PNP RF and three PNP AF. Roland used a combination of miniature and conventional sized components to produce the most compact and efficient layout that they could. The whole thing is just a bit over 4" square (excluding the control shafts). No doubt in 1957, just two years after the transistor radio era began, it was close to being state of the art construction”. 

I’ve not removed the chassis from this example as I fear damaging the leather case. With regards to chassis design, Bob points out that some of the wiring on the Roland 66 is shielded by a metal tube, he says “This is the first transistor radio I've seen which uses such a design. It is more typically applied to high end audio equipment. I'm not sure what the engineers were thinking here, but it's a nice touch”. 

Bob finishes his commentary on the Roland 66 by saying “It is a fine example of a first generation transistor radio which proudly carried the label "Made in U.S.A." I heartily agree.

The name Gary C Cameron is written inside the case along with what looks like a phone number. I hope Gary got plenty of use out of his Roland 66. Imagine the stories this radio has to tell, the tragedies and triumphs witnessed whilst in the company of Gary...

This basic schematic diagram covers the entrance to the chassis. 


  • (1A) - Television Digest 1952 Number 8
  • (1B) - Billboard Magazine March 25th 1950