A Short History of the Walkie Talkie


From its wartime roots to its playtime present-day, here’s the story of the walkie talkie.

“[O]nly the bounds of human imagination will place a limit on the usefulness of the ‘walkie-talkie.’ Its value will prove incalculable in reaching physicians while en route in automobiles to patients’ homes, in providing contact for hunters with a central lodge, in directing delivery trucks while they are in transit. All these services and many more are assuredly going to make life both more efficient, enjoyable and in many instances downright fun.”

— New York Times writer Jack Gould, describing the excitement around walkie-talkie rulemaking on the part of the Federal Communications Commission around 1945, at the tail end of World War II. Much like drone technology in recent years, the interest in walkie-talkies was such that the public was outpacing federal regulators, leading to situations where consumers would purchase and use the devices well before regulations were fully set.

Early on, radio technology was an area full of excitement, as inventors would come up with novel uses for the airwaves that would create new ways of thinking about how people interacted. (Of course, a lot of behind-the-scenes lobbying for spectrum followed.)

The portable two-way radio, eventually known as the walkie-talkie, was the perfect example of this in action. Before the cell phone, it changed the dynamic of communication into something where you could talk to someone a long distance away while still having the flexibility of mobility.

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  1. I bought a new 4 watt, 40 Channel CB radio just recently and the channels are empty. I don’t even hear police on channel 9.

    CB radio has gone the way of the turntable. Cell phones and GMRS radios have pretty much replaced them and truckers use GPS instead of asking for directions on CB.

  2. Not sure about CB, but vinyl record sales are booming and last I checked they require turntables to play them: https://www.forbes.com/sites/jordanpassman/2017/01/12/vinyl-is-officially-booming-the-new-billion-dollar-music-business/#51a9784b4054

  3. Well Walkie Talkies are know as handhelds and HT’s in the amateur radio community.

  4. Nick,

    I attribute that to nostalgia. The people buying vinyl records have a lifestyle where they like holding a record envelope in their hand but I’m done buying expensive phonograph needles every two weeks just to listen to an LP when I can fit 25 or more CD’s on my MP3 player and other people subscribe to streaming services so they can listen to whatever they want and the music does not take up room in their house. I think there is something to that approach.

    The Amiga community is still alive and writing programs because they feel that computer was that good but it is unlikely to be a viable platform in the future because of cost and being able to get control of the intellectual property for commercial use.

    I have a 90 year old neighbor who does not want to learn how to use a modern television with remote controls. I think Adafruit should create a retro TV remote using rotary encoders to operate digital televisions for elderly people who say they are unable to understand digital television remotes.

    There are still teachers and professors who hold onto their DOS machines and still have those 8 inch floppy disks with data stored on them.

    I would argue that the early Edison phonograph sounded better on cylinders than LP’s but it is not making a comeback because of price and because there is no appeal for a retro product like that yet. It would take a lot of time to catch on and it would take up a lot more room than LPs.

  5. @Chuckz, Estimated $15B in sales in 2017 alone – nearly double the GDP of Haiti! That’s not retro – it’s now!

  6. [Quote]As Martin Talbot, the chief executive of Official Charts, acknowledges, the consumer-base for vinyl is “still a niche audience”. {End Quote]

    "Given its near-obsolete status until comparatively recently, the technology required to manufacture vinyl has been difficult to access, given that very few factories produce records. Presses have been in short supply because they barely exist. "

    "As a recent Wall Street Journal feature reported, in 2014 90% of raw materials for vinyl production were produced by one company. This means that the future of vinyl production will require considerable investment from record companies in the re-production of expensive technology."


    Retail is uncertain because Amazon is putting the brick and mortar stores out of business and there are even shortages at Wall Mart of all places.

  7. @Chuckz that link is from 2015, which moved ~12 million units; 40 million is projected for 2017! Projected *increase* from the time of your article link – over 200% in 2 years! (Not sure where you’re going with all of this – sales aren’t going down, and vinyl isn’t trending the same as CB radio!)

  8. [Quote]June 4th, 2015 ADVISORY – Getting Worse for Antiques Dealers

    [Quote]The antiques market is not any better now than last year because nothing has changed: Boomers are downsizing and inheriting their geezer parents’ stuff and all of this stuff is going to auction or Goodwill. The abundance and the weak demand are the reason for weakness in the marketplace.

    [Quote]Meanwhile the trailing generations don’t want any of it! They like Crate & Barrel. Second meanwhile, Boomers are selling their mcmansions and are buying something smaller with no stairs, no lawnmower, and a view of something, e.g. lake, park, city lights, etc.{End Quote]

    [Quote]April 20th, 2016 ADVISORY – Curtains for Retailers of Stuff You Don’t Need

    [Quote]The antiques market is not any better now than last year at this time because nothing has changed. If anything, the problem is even worse. The lethargy has spread to retail stuff stores, too (think Pier 1, K-Mart, Sears, etc). Why? Because demand is even weaker and supply is even greater. Why? Because Boomers are continuing to downsize and the trailing generations still don’t want any of it![End Quote]


    The reality is that people want upwards mobility and they are becoming minimalistic which means they don’t want your grand parent’s stuff like records or properties with grass that they mow. These are the new trends and stores like Kmart are feeling it.

  9. OH look vinyl sales increased in multiple countries on three continents over the last decade: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vinyl_revival#Sales

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