Cold War car radios and the Stations of the Apocalypse


Once thermonuclear weapons made the scary transition from theory to reality in 1952, Americans realized that they had a scary chance of facing Soviet jet bombers armed with megaton-grade H-bombs, not just low-budget B-29 clones carrying quaint kiloton-sized fission weapons. This fear inspired to the creation of the CONELRAD system, which would broadcast emergency nuclear-attack alerts on two AM radio frequencies. By the 1953 model year, car radios sold in the United States had to be marked with the Civil Defense triangle logo at 640 and 1240 kHz. I created a big gallery of my photographs of CONELRAD-ready car radios a few years back, and now I have gathered a few more to share in today’s gallery.

1960 Mercury CONELRAD radio

The 1960 Mercuries had seriously cool-looking radios. Photo by Murilee Martin

Nearly all of these photographs were shot at the Forney Museum of Transportation in Denver, whose volunteers were kind enough to let me photograph car radios in the cars stored in their warehouse. If you’re in Denver, make sure you stop in at the Forney, which has trains, aircraft, and carriages as well as hundreds of fascinating cars.

Murilee Martin

Murilee Martin

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