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Widget Of The Week

National Panasonic R-72S Toot-A-Loop Radio, 1972

While we’re waiting for the much-hyped wearable technology revolution to begin – and it seems like a very long time coming – here’s yet another example of some old-school gadgetry that you can use to adorn your body, this time dating from the early seventies. It’s the National Panasonic Toot-A-Loop, a truly weird and vividly coloured AM radio designed to fit around your wrist or carried like a purse. It’s shaped a bit like a donut and the clever part is the rotating hinge, which allows the radio to twist, split and bend, so you can wrap it around your wrist, or get it to stand, snake like, on a flat surface. Yes, it’s completely daft, but for a short time it was quite popular; we were easily amused back then and there wasn’t much else to do in the seventies…

 

National Panasonic (nowadays just Panasonic) had form with wackily shaped radios and a bizarre ball and chain styled Panapet radio (coming soon), launched in 1970, is an early example. They quickly got into their stride with the Toot-A-Loop, which first appeared in 1972 and this was followed a series of distinctively styled radios, cassette and record players under the ‘Crazy Colour Portables – They even play music’ marketing banner. The unusual shape and bright colours was clearly targeted at the female teenage market, though any teen owning a Toot-A-Loop would either need, or end up developing, fairly strong wrists and elbows; it’s quite a lump to have dangling on your arm. This and most of Panasonic’s other novelty products came with a sheet of decorative stickers and letters, called ‘Crazy Colour Stick-Ons’, so owners could have even more fun customising and personalising their radios. Toot-A-Loops sold in the US and Europe was available in red, white, blue and yellow; in Australia and New Zealand there was a choice of lime and orange and for some inexplicable reason it was known as the ‘Sing-O-Ring’.

 

It’s fairly basic with Medium Wave only coverage and just two controls, for tuning -- the rotary dial is built into one of the ‘split’ ends, and there’s a volume on/off thumbwheel poking out of the outside edge. To be fair the radio is a competent enough 6-transistor superhetrodyne design. The circuit board is impressively small and very crowded; fixing a faulty one will be no fun whatsoever! On the plus side it has a half decent speaker and it doesn’t sound too terrible, though there’s not a lot to listen to on the Medium Wave these days but if you want to keep it personal there’s a mono 3.5mm jack socket for an earphone or headphones. Power is supplied by two AA cells, which fit into a holder located in one of the two horn-shaped halves, along with the speaker. The circuit board lives in the other horn and a set of connecting cables pass through the middle of the hinge. A limit stop prevents it from turning more than around 200 degrees so there’s no chance of straining the wires. 

 

This one found its way into my collection via a car boot sale in deepest rural Surrey. The stallholder wasn’t sure if it was working or not, which generally sets alarm bells ringing as AA batteries are not exactly hard to come by. This sometimes suggests that the seller knows it is a goner and may even have tried to fix it themselves but inside it looked clean and unmolested and since he was only asking £5.00 for it (haggled down to £3.50), it wasn’t much of a gamble. The Toot-A-Loop wasn’t on my watch list at the time but I was fairly sure I had seen basket cases selling on ebay for quite a lot more. It turned out there was absolutely nothing wrong with it and had been very well looked after with no cracks or scratches. The only marks were around the coin slot, used to prise apart the case to replace batteries. This wasn’t at all surprising as it’s fiendishly tight. Fortunately it was fairly easy to tidy up using a scalpel and a fine needle file. A quick squirt of contact cleaner took care of the crackly volume control and following a wipe over with a soft cloth and a squirt of furniture polish it was looking, and sounding, like new.

 

What Happened To It?

Panasonic’s dalliance with trendy and colourful technology turned out to be fairly short lived. By the late 70s it was clear that the brand’s image was being shifted upmarket in order to appeal to more grown up audiences. Cheesy styling and bright colours gave way to more sober designs, and vastly more sophisticated products, prompted by the rapid growth in home audio and video. Even so, it was apparent that there was plenty of mileage left in the teen and young adult markets. Rather than abandon this lucrative sector Panasonic’s parent company, the giant Japanese Matsushita Corporation, took the decision to switch the development and and manufacture of products with a more youthful slant to JVC, another of Matsushita's subsiduaries.

 

It’s hard to say when production of the Toot-A-Loop came to end but it was probably around 1975/6. Even so, it seems that a lot of them were sold in that relatively short time, or they were just so well made that many escaped the rubbish bin, either way they are sought after and there is usually a dozen or more on ebay most weeks, though the majority are in the US. Prices vary enormously; decent working examples routinely sell for between £15 and £30 in the US (plus at least £20 for shipping); there are fewer of them on this side of the pond and sellers tend to be quite ambitious, with £40 to £60 starting prices. If it comes with the original box, instructions and a super rare intact sticker sheet you can easily double or treble that. Occasional bargains do turn up will escape the attention of collectors if they are inaccurately titled or misspelled, so stay alert, prices will go up.


First seen         1972

Original Price  £7.50

Value Today    £30 - £60 (0716)

Features           AM/Medium wave only receiver (525 – 1605kHz), 6-transistor superhetrodyne, donut shaped hinged/twist 2-part design, 55mm speaker, 3.5mm mono earphone jack,

Power req.                    2 x 1.5v AA cells

Dimensions:                  155 x 70 x 25mm

Weight:                         400g

Made (assembled) in:    Japan

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):  8


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