Testing 1 2 3 4 5


Fitting that the first reproduced sound at a drive in theater was accomplished with the help of the Radio Corporation of America.  In an earlier post it was discussed how the Camden Drive In Theatre, and subsequent copy cats, used large speakers mounted on the screen tower to deliver the motion picture sound track to the audience.  Camden had three large horns, developed and manufactured by RCA especially for this new automobile theatre.  RCA was no stranger to Hollingshead, whose company’s facilities were neighbors with that of RCA.  RCAs solution to the problem was given the name “Controlled Directional Sound” but other than a volume slide and the direction that the speakers faced there was little control.  Complaints about excessive noise became the rallying cry against drive ins as they blossomed across the country.  Reacting to this early pioneers of drive in cinema tried to rework the bull horn concept, from smaller units placed in front of each parking space, to blasting the sound through grates upon which the car parked.  None of these proved satisfactory and in some cases exasperated the problem. It seemed that villagers with torches, pitchforks, and zoning laws would put an end to Dr. Hollingshead’s expanding creation. Within 7 years though, the folks at RCA had come up with a lasting solution.

First in car drive in speaker - Thanks once again to Matt of Airking, Many of these ads are from his website. His photos  can be seen at https://www.flickr.com/photos/driveinspeakers/sets/72157629075341509

First in car drive in speaker – Thanks once again to Matt of Airking, Many of these ads are from his website. His photos can be seen at https://www.flickr.com/photos/driveinspeakers/sets/72157629075341509

Technology had progressed and RCA designers came up with a great concept in which the basic configuration would last for years.  A personal speaker for each automobile customer, a hook that could hang over the door window, and a variable control switch for volume solved most comfort and noise issues.  Just as these were being introduced to the market so was the US to the Second World War.  Production of these units and drive in expansion stopped.

Six years later and the end of the war, both Drive Ins and RCA came back with a vengeance.  Drive Ins opened at an astounding rate. RCA speakers were right on their tail.



Rightfully RCA began touting itself as the innovator and of having the best positioned drive in speaker in the field.


Over time they triumphed in their marketing, for sales were comparatively astronomical.  In retrospect and opinion, RCA speakers seem to be the best  option of price versatile vs. quality.  Even now they are the first to be found at swap meets and garage sales.  If one would like to buy a new set, they are still being manufactured through Detriotdiecast.  (link =  http://www.detroitdiecast.com/detroit-diecast-rca-drive-in-theatre-movie-speaker-set-with-junction-box-light.html )

Plastic, really Natalie?

Plastic, really Natalie?

Within a short time the RCA speaker streamlined itself into what has become the iconic drive in symbol.

The question of the day is how great is the RCA drive in speaker and can it hold up to the vintage ad copy which touts it?  That’s what we aim to figure out through a trial, test, a tongue, and a cheek.

First we set the bar with RCAs own ad copy.

Mr. Starlight Himself

Mr. Starlight Himself


Selecting five standards which are highlighted in yellow blocks,  we can proceed with the trial.  Each test performed against the standard has been video recorded.  They then will be  judged for the  actual result versus accuracy of  the ad  claim.

Test 1.


Result –

Ok, this is a given if tested within certain life of use limits.  However finding the right balance of amplitude and the resistance of a degrading potentiometer takes some courage.  Out of 1 point, the score is 0.75


Test 2.



Trials have proved that indeed this unit can be closed up in a car window.  However, closed must be used as a relative term.  Closed to the untrained unscientific eye is ¼” gap between glass and seal. A good windy thundershower can bring in a soaking of rain. To mosquitoes, black flies, and other creepy crawly’s this distance is the Grand Canyon.

Foolproof also depends on the fool. We once hired a fool specialist trained in the scientific method who in fact could pull the knotted wire away from the speaker, or mash the spring loaded volume control knob.  He could also dump a coke though the vents onto the speaker cone, resulting in a muffled sticky scuba noise.  The test was null and the fool promoted to manager.

Out of the 2 points, the score is 1.0    I guess in context, 1.5


Test 3.




No video for this test.  The same upwardly mobile fool  turned on the cameraman  as an added expense.

Within the safety constraints of the speaker post, and the post being unaffected by automobile impact, the speaker unit generally fairs well.  Using the speaker as a tether ball and banging it back and forth around the post with a baseball bat has had some ill effect.  Granted however, the simple yet rugged design itself held up well.

 Out of 1 point,  the score is 0.75

Test 4.


The most interesting and costly test. The majority of the trial was accomplished through sneaking the test by as a subcontract using a specialist with heavy equipment.  The results were surprising.


Impressively the unit did indeed dry out to reproduce again.  Which is great news for the insurer, not so much for the insuree.  If I had to guess, within a year the cones were crumbling, connections corroding, and potentiometers freezing.  Flooding not covered by warranty of course.


However under controlled conditions and the actual claim of the ad, it scores 1 out of 1 point.

Sea of cone life

Sea of cone life


Test 5.



This could have been a very tough test.  After almost 50 years a majority of Starlight finishes look like this and a light reactivity trail would be impossible.


Luck would have it that for 25 cents a mint Starlight replacement front was found at the local resale shop. By placing this front onto a used unit the test can begin.

Fits like a saddle on a pig, but looks great for the test.  No wonder the front was stuck away and never used.


Result –


Sadly, this test was a comparative failure.  However, it would work very well as flounder camouflage on the ocean floor.


Flounder Camo

Out of 1 point,  the score is 0


Total Trials Result –

The final score, out of 6 possible points is….   4.       67% is not too bad considering the fanciful claims of the ad and seriousness of the testing.  In reality the RCA was a dang good speaker, and in the end achieved the greatest amount of sales. It was also the most imitated, a sure sign of success.

2 thoughts on “Testing 1 2 3 4 5

  1. Years ago when I worked the 41 outdoor in Wisconsin the north screen had RCA sound. I could not believe how durable those cones were in the in car speakers. The durable mylar coated cones took the speaker field abuse with pride. Every so often we would lose one to old age. The maniger produced a case of some O.E.M. junk as a substitute. They were “ok” until the first rain storm and then the baking heat of summer warped the cones. I suggested he purchase some krylon ‘clear coat’ to treat the cones. “Great Idea” said Ben, since i’m letting you work here go out an’ buy some! I soon transfered to a indoor theatre.

    1. Great story Paul! I’m sorry that the reply is so late, I rarely come to this site now because I do all the posting on Facebook now.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>