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Metra Electronics Announces Passing of Founder

THE SHOPMetra Electronics announced that its founder, Michael M. Somma, recently passed away. The company provided the following:

It is with great sadness and tremendous respect that Metra Electronics Corporation announces the passing of its founder and innovator, Michael M. Somma. Metra’s president, Bill Jones, offered the following words as a tribute to honor the life of Mr. Somma:

“As Metra is celebrating its 75th year in business, his passing is even more bittersweet. But, we at Metra choose to celebrate his life rather than posting a simple obituary. His life was much more than that. His life was Metra, and thus, if you will indulge me, I’d like to offer you a kind remembrance of a man that meant so much to me and all of us, but especially the industry he helped to father and promote. Michael  Somma was a man of simple means born to a hard-working Italian immigrant family living in the Coney Island section of Brooklyn, New York. He was brought up with six sisters and his father worked at Steeplechase Park from 1913 until its closing in the 1960s. His mother tended to the upbringing of seven children and kept a loving household. Michael Somma was a true pioneer and a genius of the 6volt and 12volt car radio industry. He will be missed by his family, his friends, and the industry as a whole. Somma was 94 years of age at his passing. He saw the tremendous changes in our business since Metra’s founding in 1946 on Coney Island Avenue in Brooklyn, New York.

Somma started out by opening a television sales and service shop with his brother-in-law, Sal Izzo, after serving proudly and with honor in the United States Navy in World War II.  He was a graduate of Brooklyn Technical School, where he learned electrical and mechanical engineering skills. Somma built and sold his first television while attending school, which became his first official TV sale. It must have worked well! After the war, where he served as a radioman, he knew where his passion and interests would be best utilized, and thus, Metra Radio and TV was founded.

In the 1940s, Metra Radio and TV initially focused on selling television sets and home radios more so than car radios, as the demand for TVs was much greater and more lucrative at the time. Nevertheless, they went on to sell and install numerous car radios because cars at this time did not come equipped with a radio and the option from the factory was, as it is now, an expensive addition. Installing a car radio was a time-consuming and complex undertaking. These trials and tribulations gave Somma the idea of standardizing the design and creation of kits instead of tackling each installation one at a time.

Several innovations at the time pushed Metra’s focus more towards automotive. From the beginning, Metra was a Blaupunkt car radio dealer. Blaupunkt made great car radios and was the first to introduce FM to their units. Although not many FM stations existed at the time, the ones that did, offered a clearer and static-free broadcast. Although AM technology was still the rule and FM the exception up until the 1970s, Somma’s forward-thinking saw the potential on the broader bandwidth of FM and its ability to attain Hi-Fidelity sound, as it was called at that time.

Somma’s other innovation was the manufacturing of car radio installation kits, which greatly facilitated an easier installation of car radios.  At the beginning of car radio installations, it could take two men several hours to install the earlier and primitive units. Somma used his considerable mechanical skills to fashion Metra’s earliest kits out of metal and find whatever way he could fasten the radio to the car. As a perfectionist, the installations were always top-notch.

One of the events that genuinely catapulted Metra to its glory was the change in New York regulations by the Taxi and Limousine Commission, allowing taxi cabs to legally have radios in their cabs.  Prior to this, many states and municipalities outlawed radio use as they felt it would be a distraction to the driver. This change led Metra to pre-fabricate kits as their radio and installation business took off!

Soon, the car radio side of the business became more lucrative than selling TVs, and thus was born the new division, Metra Electronics.  As more installations kept coming in, the need for a bigger facility became apparent. The solution was to move to a larger headquarters on McDonald Avenue in Brooklyn. This was the time of the “two Metras,” and the original store remained open and focused strictly on television repair and sales, run by Sal Izzo. Izzo was cautious of betting on just car audio and felt better suited to TV repairs and sales.

As the 1950s rolled on, more and more installations meant fabricating more radio kits. This is where Somma’s talents came into play, thinking of the bigger picture outside of Brooklyn.  He reasoned early on that there were 48 other states going through the same hassle to fabricate brackets and trim panels for radio installations. Metra’s complete car radio installation kit for dealers was born. This is not to say that Metra was the only company thinking the same thoughts. Still, Somma’s boldness led him to eliminate the installation bays and fill them with machinery and equipment to manufacture the myriad of kits required to fit the many different types of cars on the road. He hired engineers and designers, set up a shipping department, and hired a sales and marketing staff to take Metra nationwide. Although it wasn’t always easy, his persistence paid off and Metra Electronics became a great success!

As time went by, Metra went full circle and introduced a line of car radios called MetraVox in the early 1960s that included 4-track players, AM and FM radio, and eventually became a public company in 1969.  It was a highly successful line until the field became very crowded and technology laden. MetraVox’s radios, which were manufactured in Italy and Japan, were discontinued as Somma determined that the true profit center was in the installation kit business.

In closing, let’s not forget the true pioneer who was way ahead of his time. Michael M. Somma ranks up there with Armstrong, Lear, Shalam and the rest,” said Jones. “May he rest in peace, and I hope he is smiling down upon us watching his creation thriving after 75 great years.”

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