Chapter6   Transistor's number used the suffix "seki"

Transistor's number used the suffix "seki"

By June, the month that the Sendai plant started up, the transistor team that was proving such a strain on the company's finances had progressed and started to build a transistor radio prototype using both point-contact and junction-type transistors.

In October, Japan's first transistor and a germanium diode were announced to a gathering at the Tokyo Kaikan. On the day, Ibuka, Kasahara, and Ibaragi of Mita Musen consulted with each other in a corner of the banquet room. Ibuka was asking Kasahara's advice on what term to use for the new transistor. After giving it some thought, Kasahara suggested they take the latter part of the word "kessho" (crystal), and combine it with numbers, i.e., rokusho for six-transistor, nanasho for seven-transistor, etc. But Ibaragi favored using the word "seki" (stone) as was done with clocks. Ibuka promptly agreed, and from then on transistors were numbered with the suffix "seki." Diodes were not placed in this category, however, to avoid having them fall under some future commodity tax.

Transistors and diodes
manufactured at Totsuko.

At the end of October, the central Tokyo branch of the Mitsukoshi department store held an exhibition and sale of transistors and transistorized products. On display were germanium clocks, the first " germanium transistor-radio" prototype, hearing aids, and more. Type 2T-14 transistors were placed on sale for 4,000 yen, and type 1T23 diodes for 320 yen. There were eager buyers who snapped up these transistors at 4,000 yen each, leaving the surprised sales staff to wonder what they intended to do with their expensive purchases.

"Totsuko" Becomes "Sony"

The market was well-supplied with vacuum tube radios, and there would have been no point in simply duplicating what they could do. Transistor radios could of course be portable, but this would mean adapting many other parts and employing printed circuit boards. Ibuka and his team were to have many headaches before they were through.

Portable battery-powered radios which used vacuum tubes already existed, though they were on the large side. Ibuka's team went around to individual component manufacturers and persuaded them to make parts smaller. For exampl e, Mitsumi Denki made the small variable condensers used in battery-operated vacuum tube radios.

Ibuka requested a smaller component with a good performance. For small speakers they went to Foster. While they were thus occupied, the Totsuko people heard discouraging news. The world's first transistor radio had gone on the market in the U.S. In December 1954 - just in time for the Christmas season - an American company called Regency had brought out a commercial super-receiver, model TR-1, that used four transistors and had an output of 10mW.

Totsuko had tried hard to be first. "If only MITI had issued our permit a little sooner..." thought Ibuka. But Totsuko was also spurred on by this setback to work even harder on developing their own transistors and circuits. In January 1955 Totusko's labors reached fruition. A Totsuko transistor radio produced sound. They had succeeded in building the TR-52 super-receive r prototype using five junction transistors.

Morita was planning a trip to the U.S. and Canada in March of that year to conduct market surveys and business discussions. He was to take the new radio as a sample. Before he left on this second trip to North America, they decided to label all Totsuko products with the Sony brand name. As Ibuka, Morita, Iwama and Higuchi visited the U.S. with increasing frequency, one subject kept coming up. Americans could not pronounce either Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo or Totsuko. It was no use pushing a product with an unpronounceable name. The problem had bothered them for some time, and if they were going to change their company name they wanted to be sure they made the right choice. They wanted a simple name that was easy to read, remember and pronounce in any language.

A two-letter name would be the simplest, but in the Romanized alphabet this was next to impossible. Three letters then. But there were many three-letter company names already, such as RCA, NBC, CBS and NHK. This could become confusing. They thought of taking the initials of Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo and calling themselves TTK, but that was too similar to the TKK adopted by railway companyTokyo Kyuko. That left the possibility of using four letters, and here they tried all sorts of combinations. The crux of the problem was pronounceability. When Ibuka went to the U.S. he was called "I-byu-ka."

"Sony" was the name they arrived at by this process. It crossed the Latin word sonus, from which "sound" and "sonic" are derived, with the English diminutive "sonny,v suggesting, they hoped, a fledgling company o f young people who made up for in energy what they lacked in size.
So now they had their trade name. Morita went to the U.S. in high spirits, carrying his Sony products.

The "UN Building" Radio

The TR-52 transistor
radio shaped like the
United Nations building
in New York.

During his two months in North America, Morita concluded export contracts for 1,000 microphones and ten tape recorders for radio news gathering. In addition, Bulova, a major U.S. watch manufacturer, expressed interest in the sample TR-52 model.

"Yes, your price is okay with us. We'll order 100,000 sets," Bulova said. The deal seemed as good as closed. But there was a catch: "We won't sell them under the Sony name. We'll have to market them under our own brand name. Nobody in this country has ever heard of Sony."

Morita was convinced that he should refuse, but he could not turn down an offer of this magnitude on his own. He returned to his hotel and cabled Japan: "Received order for 100,000 sets, but intend to turn it down due to the condition that they must use their own brand name."

The reply came back smartly: "Order for 100,000 sets is too large to let go. Forget the name, get the order." Morita understood only too well how they felt. But that was not a good enough reason to change his mind. He cabled back: "I want to refuse." At an impasse, Morita ended up phoning the head office and saying, "On no account should we permit the use of their brand name. We have our own, Sony, and we should stand by it. Apart from anything else, Totsuko cannot fill an order for 100,000 sets with our present production capacity." As the phone bill ate into his precious supply of dollars, Morita reasoned with his colleagues. Once he had their consent, he went to inform the prospective client.

Bulova's president was scornful of Morita's lack of business sense. "Whoever heard of Sony? Our brand has a worldwide reputation with 50 years of history behind it." "Fifty years ago, how many people knew your name?" Morita countered. "We are in the same position as you were then, and this is the first of our own 50 years. In 50 years' time we will have made the name Sony as famous as yours. So it's no, thank you. With Totsuko's future to consider, they could not afford to look just at short-term returns. Morita passed up the offer and headed home. It was April 1955.

The TR-52 had been nicknamed "the UN Building," a reference to the white plastic grid on the front of the cabinet. Just after Morita returned from this second overseas trip, a major disaster struck. It was May, the beginning of summer. As temperatures climbed, the front lattice section gradually peeled away from the black cabinet. It was not just one radio that was warped, but nearly all of the 100 sets that were manufactured so far. Ibuka and his team turned pale. The radios were unsalable. Immediately before this first Totsuko transistor radio was due to be officially introduced, they were forced to call off the launch.

The cabinet incident served as a good lesson. Instead of designing a product just based on external appearance and color scheme, Totsuko searched for an attractive yet durable material that would never lose its shape.

In August that year the remodelled TR-55 went on sale. It had the honor of being Japan's first transistor radio.

Twelve Varieties of Circuitry

Much of the credit for completion of the TR-55 must go to the sterling efforts of Yasuda and his circuit designers. The early transistors' yield still left much room for improvement, and their characteristics remained uneven. They would never be commercially viable while the manufacturers were still forced to select the good transistors and discard the defective ones. This was where Yasuda's team came in to play. At that time radio circuits were of the superheterodyne type. The team made as many as twelve different varieties of these local oscillator coils in an attempt to reduce the spread of characteristics. Transistors which were slow to operate would be paired with coils which hastened the effect; conversely, transistors with good characteristics would be coupled with an appropriate coil. Through this matchmaking process, the TR-55 unit would be painstakingly put together.

Of course, the circuits were not the only parts to be improved. The TR-55 was ahead of its time in that it used a printed circuit board. Though today we take printed circuit boards for granted, a large amount of research and improvement went into its design.

The TR-55, Japan's first
transistor radio.

74% of Japanese homes at the time had a radio, and Totsuko received many warnings against trying to enter the radio market at such a late stage. This was the sort of well-meaning advice that only made Ibuka and Morita all the more determined to take part. "The figure is 74% of households," they reasoned. "If we look at the market in per capita terms, there are plenty of opportunities." True, companies such as Silver, Standard, Columbia, National, Empire had their own battery-powered vacuum tube radios for the personal market, but these companies were making no headway. Ownership per person was close to zero, leaving more than enough scope for selling transistor radios.

The TR-55 catalog stated clearly: "The days of radios with cords are over. Why not make the change in your home? Your transistor radio can accomp any you wherever you go."

Prewar radios had nearly all been console types that were slightly lessbulky than a household Buddhist altar. The whole family would gather in the room where the radio was installed and listen to news or a music program, just as they would later do with the television before it too became a "personal" product. After the war, the U.S. forces brought in their portable radio sets. These battery-operated, vacuum tube models were coveted by the Japanese. These radios were quickly imitated, and locally made radios gradually began to shrink in size. However, the title of the country's first truly portable radio went to the TR-55 alone.

Yes, Regency was first in the market, but this company built its radios with transistors that were purchased from Texas Instruments. Totsuko was in fact the first company in the world to manufacture a radio from the transistors on up.

Judge the Daughter by Her Parents

Once Totsuko decided to produce transistors for sale to other companies, the company needed to expand its staff yet again. Shouzaburo Tachikawa, head of general administration, was faced with a sudden request by Semiconductor Department head Kazuo Iwama. "Semiconductor manufacturing will be done by two shifts of female engineers. Hire them and find somewhere for them to live." It was November 1956. How could he hope to recruit new staff now, as the year was drawing to a close, and when most young people would have already signed on with localtextile firms? He went to the District Employment Security Office, but was given a curt response. What hope did a small, almost unknown company like Totsuko have of competing with the spinning mills, whose reputation asreliable employers dated back to before the war? He needed something different to attract competent people. He decided to advertise for "transistor girls," rather than the more commonplace "female factory hand," a name associated with mill work.

From the start, Ibuka and his management had never discriminated between "white collar" and "blue collar" employees. In their eyes everyone who worked for Totsuko, in whatever capacity, was a member of the same family. Thus Ibuka and Morita made a point of calling each staff member by his or her name.
Tachikawa's department went as far afield as Hokkaido in search for "transistor girls." They did not have much success in Sendai and the Tohoku region, but they did find promising candidates in Tachikawa's native Hokkaido. Hokkaido had suffered crop damage due to severe cold that year, and many junior high school girls who might otherwise have gone on to senior high were hesitating to impose this burden on their parents. Hiring was based on a simple written test and an interview. Tachikawa took an unusual interview approach. He had the girls who answered his ad bring their parents along, and had them stand behind the girls. The quickest way to judge the daughter, he felt, was by her parents.

Now that Tachikawa had the staff, he had to worry about accommodation. Since they were to work in shifts, the dormitory had to be close to the plant. Luckily he found the right place across Meiji Avenue and a little down the street, just past Nippon Carburator Co., Ltd. At that location there was a fluorescent paint manufacturer from whom Totsuko was able to buy and renovate their premises. After school graduation in March, Yamanouchi and a number of others traveled around Hokkaido and Tohoku to collect their "transistor girls" and escort them back to Tokyo. They put them on an overnight train which arrived at Ueno Station in the early morning, when Yamanouchi called the head office to report their safe arrival. "The dormitory isn't finished. Can you keep them busy until midday?" Yamanouchi was told. So he took them sightseeing on a Tokyo tour bus. The new employees were delighted, but Yamanouchi was on the edge of his seat wondering if the dorm would be ready in time.
The following year, the company advertised in a regular way for school graduates. At that time, companies hiring personnel made use of the Ministry of Labor's aptitude screening process. In Tokyo the Ministry would take charge of the process, and companies were actually not permitted to handle it themselves. In other parts of the country officials from the local Employment Security Office were supposed to do the same, but in practice they lacked the experience so employers would provide people to assist them. Groups of successful candidates would normally be escorted to Tokyo by a prefectural or district official. Totsuko, however, sent its own staff to bring its new employees to Tokyo. Moreover, the company felt that female workers would prefer female escorts, so male staff sent to meet these groups would always be accompanied by a female employee or nurse. These were the days when companies could not attract staff by the same methods the mills used. The escorts would provide carfare so that the new employees'parents could see them off. The parents would have lunch and wait with the group until it boarded the train. The escorts formally promised, "We'll take good care of your daughter." In this way the parents' minds were set at ease. Such thoughtfulness enhanced the company's reputation, and before lon Totsuko's ads were answered by more and more applicants.