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When the Car Radio Was Introduced, People Freaked Out

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Is texting while driving total insanity or just one more inevitable tide of modern life? (Spoiler alert: It's total insanity.) But was the radio met with similar opposition when it was first introduced to the car?

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In 1930, laws were proposed in Massachusetts and St. Louis to ban radios while driving. According to automotive historian Michael Lamm, “Opponents of car radios argued that they distracted drivers and caused accidents, that tuning them took a driver’s attention away from the road, and that music could lull a driver to sleep.”

Even the Auto Club of New York agreed. In their 1934 poll, 56 percent deemed the car radio a “dangerous distraction.” Arguing the other side was the Radio Manufacturers Association, who pointed out that car radios could be used to warn drivers of inclement weather and bad road conditions, as well as keeping them awake when they got drowsy.

A little history on the car radio: The first one was introduced in 1922 by Chevrolet. It cost a whopping $200, and with an antenna that covered the car’s entire roof, batteries that barely fit under the front seat and two mammoth speakers attached behind the seat, it was about as convenient as taking a live orchestra along for a ride.

By the early 1930s, the less cumbersome built-in Motorola radios were standard features in cars. Later in the decade, push-button tuning and presets helped drivers to select stations without taking their eyes off the road. By 1946, 9 million cars had radios. Thanks to the transistor, both size and price came way down, so that by 1963, 50 million cars – over 60 percent – were outfitted with radios. By then, over one third of America’s radio listening occurred in the car.

And those anti-radio laws? Though a few were signed in small municipalities, they mostly went nowhere. Unlike the current anti-texting laws.

Thirty-five states and the District of Columbia have now banned text messaging while driving. And the tickets are already piling up. In New York last year, over 5,000 texting tickets have been written (each carries a $150 fine plus two points).

Common sense tells us that texting while driving is hazardous. Since it is a relatively new phenomenon, its correlation to accidents is still under study. But here are some statistics that you may find more OMFG than LOL:

According to tests at the University of Utah, a driver is 4 times more likely to cause an accident while driving drunk or talking on a cell phone. And 8 times more likely to cause an accident while texting.
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A 2009 study conducted by Car and Driver magazine measured two drivers’ reaction times to the onset of a simulated brake light on their front windshields. The unimpaired driver took .45 seconds to brake and traveled 4 feet before stopping. The texting driver took .57 seconds to brake and traveled 41 feet before stopping.
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According to statistics compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 5,870 people died in texting-related car crashes in 2008.
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The same texting-related statistics revealed that 515,000 people were injured in various car crashes in the United States. Around 28 percent of all crashes in 2008 were caused by drivers in the age group of 18 and 29, who admitted to texting while driving.
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But it’s not just young people. The texting-while-driving statistics in 2010 compiled by Pew Research Center revealed that 47 percent of adults resort to texting as compared to 34 percent of teenagers. The same stats revealed that 75 percent of adults resort to phone conversation while driving as compared to 52 percent of teenagers.

Stats aside, is it even relevant to compare car radios and texting? You could argue that for the average American back in the 1930s, operating an automobile was as involved and treacherous as flying a plane. Levers, buttons, gauges, stick shift. Add the extra ball of a radio into that attention-juggling equation, and you were asking for a fender bender.

Eighty years on, the car radio is just another part of the dashboard. But to some, it remains suspect. In 2002, the NHTSA blamed 66% of the 43,000 fatal car crashes on “Playing with the radio or CD.”

Still, there’s a big difference between tuning a radio dial and texting. The first requires one eye and a split second. The other requires both eyes, and several seconds or more. Plus most of your attention.

That so many of us believe that we can handle texting while driving (and full disclosure, I stupidly tried to do it once and nearly rear-ended the car in front of me) is tied to the myth of multi-tasking. Scientists have shown that the brain cannot really focus on multiple tasks simultaneously. What it can do is shift from one to the next with astonishing speed. But car accidents can also happen with equally astonishing speed. Plus, there are many factors beyond our control, not the least of which are other drivers and pedestrians who may also be distracted by anything from drinking coffee to having a conversation to texting. Suddenly, we’re in a world of Mr. Magoos.

With momentum hurtling us toward a federal ban on texting while driving, all of this may soon be beside the point. But knowing of the varied range of Mental Floss readers in age, interests and beliefs, we’d like to know . . .

What do you think?

Note: The original introduction to this story was about me noticing someone texting while they were driving. It described a typical scene, one that I encounter a few times a week. But three days after I turned in this piece, I was nearly killed by some guy who was texting while driving. It was 10 o’clock in the morning. I was returning from the gym. Driving on a side street, I saw the car coming towards me swerve gradually, then fully, into my lane. Though we were both going about 30 mph, it all seemed to be happening in slow motion. As the car got closer, I saw the young guy who was driving, holding his cell phone up on the steering wheel with one hand, while with the other, he was typing. He didn’t see me, or the road in front of him. I laid on the horn, and skidded onto someone’s front lawn to avoid a head-on collision. The guy swerved back into his lane and drove away. It was a case of life imitating mentalfloss.com. Well, better life than death.

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10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
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Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.

1. ON SCIENCE

"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.

2. ON NASA FUNDING

"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles

3. ON GOD AND HURRICANES

"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole

4. ON THE BENEFITS OF TECHNOLOGY INVENTED FOR USE IN SPACE

"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles

5. ON THE DEMOTION OF PLUTO FROM PLANET STATUS 

PBS

"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

6. ON JAMES CAMERON'S TITANIC

"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole

7. ON DEATH BY ASTEROID

"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles

8. ON THE MOTIVATIONS BEHIND AMERICA'S MOONSHOT

"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

9. ON INTELLIGENT LIFE (OR THE LACK THEREOF)

Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html
Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."

10. PRACTICAL ADVICE IN THE EVENT OF ALIEN CONTACT 

A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios
"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole
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40 Fun Facts About Sesame Street
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Now in its 47th season, Sesame Street is one of television's most iconic programs—and it's not just for kids. We're big fans of the Street, and to prove it, here are some of our favorite Sesame facts from previous stories and our Amazing Fact Generator.

Sesame Workshop

1. Oscar the Grouch used to be orange. Jim Henson decided to make him green before season two.

2. How did Oscar explain the color change? He said he went on vacation to the very damp Swamp Mushy Muddy and turned green overnight.

3. During a 2004 episode, Cookie Monster said that before he started eating cookies, his name was Sid.

4. In 1980, C-3PO and R2-D2 visited Sesame Street. They played games, sang songs, and R2-D2 fell in love with a fire hydrant.

5. Mr. Snuffleupagus has a first name—Aloysius

6. Ralph Nader stopped by in 1988 and sang "a consumer advocate is a person in your neighborhood."

7. Caroll Spinney said he based Oscar's voice on a cab driver from the Bronx who brought him to the audition.

8. In 1970, Ernie reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the timeless hit "Rubber Duckie."

9. One of Count von Count's lady friends is Countess von Backwards, who's also obsessed with counting but likes to do it backwards.

10. Sesame Street made its Afghanistan debut in 2011 with Baghch-e-Simsim (Sesame Garden). Big Bird, Grover and Elmo are involved.

11. According to Muppet Wiki, Oscar the Grouch and Count von Count were minimized on Baghch-e-Simsim "due to cultural taboos against trash and vampirism."

12. Before Giancarlo Esposito was Breaking Bad's super intense Gus Fring, he played Big Bird's camp counselor Mickey in 1982.

13. Thankfully, those episodes are available on YouTube.

14. How big is Big Bird? 8'2". (Pictured with First Lady Pat Nixon.)

15. In 2002, the South African version (Takalani Sesame) added an HIV-positive Muppet named Kami.

16. Six Republicans on the House Commerce Committee wrote a letter to PBS president Pat Mitchell warning that Kami was not appropriate for American children, and reminded Mitchell that their committee controlled PBS' funding.

17. Sesame Street's resident game show host Guy Smiley was using a pseudonym. His real name was Bernie Liederkrantz.

18. Bert and Ernie have been getting questioned about their sexuality for years. Ernie himself, as performed by Steve Whitmere, has weighed in: “All that stuff about me and Bert? It’s not true. We’re both very happy, but we’re not gay,”

19. A few years later, Bert (as performed by Eric Jacobson) answered the same question by saying, “No, no. In fact, sometimes we are not even friends; he can be a pain in the neck.”

20. In the first season, both Superman and Batman appeared in short cartoons produced by Filmation. In one clip, Batman told Bert and Ernie to stop arguing and take turns choosing what’s on TV.

21. In another segment, Superman battled a giant chimp.

22. Telly was originally "Television Monster," a TV-obsessed Muppet whose eyes whirled around as he watched.

23. According to Sesame Workshop, Elmo is the only non-human to testify before Congress.

24. He lobbied for more funding for music education, so that "when Elmo goes to school, there will be the instruments to play."

25. In the early 1990s, soon after Jim Henson’s passing, a rumor circulated that Ernie would be killed off in order to teach children about death, as they'd done with Mr. Hooper.

26. According to Snopes, the rumor may have spread thanks to New Hampshire college student, Michael Tabor, who convinced his graduating class to wear “Save Ernie” beanies and sign a petition to persuade Sesame Workshop to let Ernie live.

27. By the time Tabor was corrected, the newspapers had already picked up the story.

28. Sesame Street’s Executive Producer Carol-Lynn Parente joined Sesame Workshop as a production assistant and has worked her way to the top.

29. Originally, Count von Count was more sinister. He could hypnotize and stun people.

30. According to Sesame Workshop, all Sesame Street's main Muppets have four fingers except Cookie Monster, who has five.

31. The episode with Mr. Hooper's funeral aired on Thanksgiving Day in 1983. That date was chosen because families were more likely to be together at that time, in case kids had questions or needed emotional support.

32. Mr. Hooper’s first name was Harold.

33. Big Bird sang "Bein' Green" at Jim Henson's memorial service.

34. As Chris Higgins put it, the performance was "devastating."

35. Oscar's Israeli counterpart is Moishe Oofnik, whose last name means “grouch” in Hebrew.

36. Nigeria's version of Cookie Monster eats yams. His catchphrase: "ME WANT YAM!"

37. Sesame's Roosevelt Franklin ran a school, where he spoke in scat and taught about Africa. Some parents hated him, so in 1975 he got the boot, only to inspire Gob Bluth’s racist puppet Franklin on Arrested Development 28 years later.

38. Our good friend and contributor Eddie Deezen was the voice of Donnie Dodo in the 1985 classic Follow That Bird.

39. Cookie Monster evolved from The Wheel-Stealer—a snack-pilfering puppet Jim Henson created to promote Wheels, Crowns and Flutes in the 1960s.

40. This puppet later was seen eating a computer in an IBM training film and on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Thanks to Stacy Conradt, Joe Hennes, Drew Toal, and Chris Higgins for their previous Sesame coverage!

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2012.

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