90 Years Worth of Sounds in the Cars We Love


Photo Credit: Advance Auto Parts

Happy #Advanceiversary Advance Auto Parts!

Let's go down memory lane and take a look at some of the audio systems that have hit the assembly line over in the last 90 years. Which one do you remember fondly?

The sound systems and satellite radios that come equipped in even the most inexpensive vehicles today didn't start out sounding and looking this way. They have many years of development behind them and have evolved into one of the most important interior features in a vehicle.

Photo Credit: Dawn Gibson-Thigpen


Chevrolet, along with other automotive enthusiasts, used its knowledge and innovative ideas to incorporate radios into vehicles as far back as the 1920s. However, the first commercially successful AM car radio was introduced by the Galvin brothers in the 1930s. The unit cost $130.00, which equals almost $1,800 today, and was the first product to wear the now household name Motorola.

In 1952, Blaupunkt introduced the FM receiver and by 1953 the AM/FM Becker Mexico hit the market and became the vehicle standard.

Some of the greatest hits in the 1930s:

  • Duke EllingtonThree Little Words

  • Guy LombardoYou're Driving Me Crazy (What Did I Do?)

Fun Fact: In the 1930s, Massachusetts and Missouri proposed laws to ban radios in cars. They stated that radios were a distraction and music could put drivers to sleep, which could cause accidents.

In-car phonograph

In 1956, Chrysler introduced the public to an in-car phonograph, called the Highway Hi-Fi. It was designed to only play 7" Columbia records and was mounted below the dash of the vehicles. Needless to say, the device was phased out very quickly because the turntables couldn't withstand bumpy roads.

Some of the greatest hits in the 1950s:

  • The FleetwoodsCome Softly to Me

  • Elvis PresleyA Big Hunk o' Love

The 4-Track / 8-Track Tape Player

The AM/FM radio maintained its popularity until the '60s, when engineer and business pioneer, Earl “Madman" Muntz, invented a system based on 4-track technology that was used in audio recordings, called the Stereo-Pak.

Once he realized that the 4-track cartridge technology didn't skip he took his invention further and developed the car stereo. For the first time ever, drivers had the ability to select their own listening experience.

His idea was so impactful that, soon after, big companies like Ford and Motorola took notice, joined forces, made improvements to his original idea, and in 1965 introduced the in-car eight-track player.

Some of the greatest hits in the 1960s:

  • BeatlesTwist and Shout

  • The Drifters - Under the Boardwalk

Fun Fact: Affluent celebrities, such as Frank Sinatra, had 4-track cartridge tape player units installed in their cars.

Cassette Tape Players

Phillips rolled out the first ever compact cassette in 1964 but the technology didn't gain momentum until Sony invented the Walkman in 1979. This device helped to boost the player's popularity making it the standard — and you could now create your own playlist, which we all did. I remember my junior high boyfriend would have a new mix-tape ready for me every Friday after school.

The tape player's popularity lasted from the early 1970s to the mid-2000s, due to its low cost and simplicity.

A few greatest hits in the 1970s & '80s:

  • Diana RossLove Hangover

  • Michael Jackson Billie Jean

Fun Fact: The invention of the cassette tape helped with the creation of Alpine and Pioneer aftermarket cassette tape players, among others.

CD (Compact Disks)

In 1984 Pioneer created the very first car CD player. It was instantly a hit because the public liked that the sound quality did not wear out over time. I must admit it took me a while to get on the CD bandwagon, but once I did, I was hooked.

It was definitely a new way of listening to your favorite music while road tripping, joyriding with friends, or even going on a solo adventure. By the mid-90s, multi-disc CD changers entered the scene, giving listeners the freedom to switch between multiple CDs at one time. This new feature, along with the improved sound quality and instant track skipping made it feel like life couldn't get any better than that moment.

Some of the greatest hits of the 1990s:

  • The Notorious B.I.G.Hypnotize

  • Santana featuring Rob ThomasSmooth

Bluetooth and Infotainment Systems


Photo Credit: Dawn Gibson-Thigpen

By the early 21st century it was and still is definitely all about digital.

In 2011 manufacturers stopped offering cassette decks in new cars, and as time went on, CD players were added less and less. In today's era, it is all about Sirius XM satellite radio, navigation systems, USB, Bluetooth, hands-free calling, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto.

Where things were not too long ago controlled by the dashboard with only a few buttons, they can now be controlled by the steering wheel or your voice.

Some of the greatest hits in 2000s:

  • AdeleHello

  • Taylor Swift featuring Kendrick LamarBad Blood

As time keeps moving, technology keeps advancing. What was your favorite audio era? Let us know in the comments.

Last updated September 8, 2022