Monthly Archives: September 2014

Childproofing the Home: 1944


Assuming he survived childhood, the young daredevil shown here has been drawing Social Security for about six years now. He is shown attempting to poke his fingers into the outlet in the September 1944 issue of Popular Mechanics.  The accompanying article explains how to make the dummy plug shown in the inset.

Just in case mom and dad didn’t figure it out, the article points out that to use the outlet normally, “the dummy plug can be removed and a plug with wires inserted in its place.”

Completion of the Transcontinental Telephone, 1914

TranscontinentalTelephoneA hundred years ago, it became possible for the first time to make a telephone call from coast to coast. The September 1914 issue of Popular Mechanics reports that the line from Denver to San Francisco had been completed on June 17, 1914. On that date, crews working westward from Salt Lake City and eastward from San Francisco met at the Nevada-Utah state line. The lines were spliced together at a pole erected on the state line and “the last splice was accompanied by a ceremony much like that of driving the last spike on a transcontinental railway.”

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Civil Defense Postattack Broadcast Planning: 1963


“Perfectly adequate” civil defense receivers for those close to transmitters. 1962 Radio Shack Catalog.

In an earlier post, we looked at how the Defense Civil Preparedness Agency had been planning for emergency broadcast antennas in 1973. The agency and its predecessors had long recognized the need for dissemination of information by radio, and had commissioned a number of studies on the subject. One which took a comprehensive look at the subject was conducted by Technical Operations Incorporated of Burlington Massachusetts. The study culminated in a report issued on 7 January 1963, entitled “The Civil Defense Role of Radio Broadcasting in the Postattack Period.”

The report began by identifying three distinct phases of the postattack period. The first was the Buttoned-Up Period, during which time the population would be confined to shelter because of high radiation levels or because further attack was anticipated. This would be followed by the Emergence Period when some outside exposure would be possible. At such time as a full workday was possible outside of the shelter, the Recovery Period would begin and recovery would be the focus of the public’s activities. Each of these time periods had distinct requirements with respect to broadcasting, and the report then moved on to discuss the numerous broadcast needs.

The first broadcast information discussed related to fallout, which would need to be broadcast frequently during the Buttoned-Up Period to facilitate planning by shelterees. In addition to general forecasts, these would include warnings of local hot spots, instructions on methods of decontamination and identification of safe foods, and information on the length of time over which shelter supplies would need to be rationed.

Broadcasts would also need to convey a large amount of information as to how the public could access emergency services, and would also serve a role in alerting those furnishing those services. Locations of food and water supplies could be broadcast, along with admonitions to avoid hoarding of those limited supplies. Locations of emergency hospitals and medical supplies could be broadcast, along with pleas for blood donors and volunteers to staff the hospitals. Information as to sources of fuel and power could be broadcast. And if the electrical mains were operative, the instructions might include rationing instructions. If fires were burning out of control, the broadcasts might include calls for volunteers to assist in their control, as well as warnings of fires close to particular shelters.

Much educational programming would be necessary. In addition to broadcasts of food decontamination methods, emergency first aid instructions would need to be broadcast during the Buttoned-Up Period, since no outside medical aid would be available at that time. Since some shelters might be stocked with radiological instruments with no trained personnel, this training could be broadcast as well, along with training on sanitation, shelter management, rationing of supplies, and even disposal of the dead.

During the Recovery Period, a very high civil defense priority would be re-establishment of public transportation. Once again, broadcasting would play an important role, since it could be used to call drivers back to work, as well as to announce schedules.

Even apart from this vital information, radio would be important to the public morale. The report stressed the importance of morale-boosting messages from the President, as well as by state and local leaders. Similarly, to stop the spread of rumors and boost morale, it was deemed important to broadcast news of the attack and counterattack. This would also prepare the people for the conditions they would face upon emergence, and also instill a feeling in the people that this was not a personal disaster, but that the whole population of the nation was included. The report noted that good news is always best, but that even bad news is superior to no news at all, since it helps define the environment and diminish uncertainty. The report noted that any unaffected regions of the country should be kept up to date, in order to properly tailor relief and rescue operations.

Broadcasts should frequently give the time and date, since in such emergencies, people frequently lose track. In addition, program schedules should be announced, in order to facilitate conservation of scarce batteries.

Broadcasting could also play a role to re-establish normal commerce during the Recovery Period. Even during the Buttoned-Up Period, the report recommends that people be informed as to the rules and regulations over such things as “whether the needy will be allowed to take what they require without being charged with illegal looting.”

Radio would also play a role in the care of displaced persons, since stations could broadcast information to reunite families who were separated at the time of the attack. These broadcasts would include locations of camps, shelters, and displaced person centers. In addition, during the nighttime hours, lists of people safe in various shelters could be broadcast for the benefit of their families in other areas.

Evacuation instructions and warnings of another attack would obviously have a high priority for broadcast.

The report notes that broadcast stations would undoubtedly be used to call civil defense personnel and members of the National Guard to duty and provide some instructions. Broadcast stations could even be used to relay civil defense messages from one area to another. The nighttime hours, in particular, might be put to use relaying such official messages, and civil defense officials in other areas could be assigned to monitor broadcasts from neighboring areas.

Finally, the report recommends that some entertainment should be furnished, particularly during the time in which people are in shelters. It notes that “music properly chosen many substantially aid morale in the rebuilding phase.” The report warned, however, that people with battery-operated radios should be advised to conserve batteries by listening to only a minimum amount of non-essential programming.

The overall contents of the broadcast day of a typical local station are shown in this chart:


After identifying all of these needs, the report goes on to a discussion of how these needs can be satisfied. While some other options (such as public address systems) are briefly discussed, the only reasonable method of addressing these needs was with standard AM broadcasts. Virtually all American households had a radio receiver, and a large number had a battery-operated set. The report even notes that “for the really economy-minded, there are crystal sets selling for as little as $1.49,” which would be suitable for receiving local stations with no batteries, but with adequate antenna and ground. The footnote for this assertion is to the Radio Shack catalog, and the price obviously refers to the “Rocket Radio” shown at the top in the illustration at the top of this post.

The report did address many of the practical issues confronting broadcasting in the post-attack environment. Presumably, most information would originate at the civil defense Emergency Operations Center (EOC), and links would be necessary to studios or, preferrably, direct to the transmitter site. Since telephone lines would be vulnerable, mobile broadcast units would be advisable, although the report toyed with the idea of installing AM transmitters directly at the EOC, or the use of mobile or even airborne transmitters. Protection of station staff and equipment was addressed in this and other studies.

The report lamented the fact that the radio industry, even though some personnel served on relevant civil defense committees, largely lacked civil defense plans. For example, even radio station switchboards were poorly suited for civil defense needs. As addressed in my earlier post, vulnerability of transmitter towers to blast damage was a very big issue, as was fallout sheltering for station staff.

Station power was discussed, although the report noted that some stations already had emergency generator capability.

At the time of this report, public shelters were not stockpiled with radio receivers, and the report noted that this oversight should be rectified. This, of course, was never done, apparently the planners going along with the reasoning, “surely some people will bring radios to the shelter.”


More Dancing on the Beach to Radio, 1922

Dancing on the beach to the beat of a radio receiver was a popular pastime in the 1920’s, as evidenced by yet another photo of another young woman doing exactly that. And we see that the fad has spread to the Pacific coast, where Miss Pauline Chambers of Ocean Park, California, was captured in the act by this 1922 press service photo.

Civil Defense Emergency Antenna Instructions, 1973


In 1973, the Defense Civil Preparedness Agency was grappling with the issue of how to keep broadcast stations on the air after a disaster, presumably up to and including nuclear war. It was recognized that a station’s weakest link was its antenna. While most antennas are designed to survive normal environmental disturbances, they are the most exposed element of a station and could be destroyed by extreme disturbances. Therefore, the agency commissioned a study on the subject, the final report of which is available online.

In the report, the engineers propose that expedient antenna kits be supplied to stations, and proposed instructions are included. The report proposed kits for both AM and FM stations, along with instructions for station personnel to deploy them. The cost of the expedient AM antenna kit, a quarter-wave horizontal wire, would be $425.37. The expedient FM antenna kit would be about $1000. Both antennas would require installation at the station, prior to the disaster, the necessary utility poles that would support the antennas.

Recognizing, however, that the government might not want to bear this expense, the report also includes instructions for station personnel to construct an AM antenna using available materials. Once again, the recommended antenna is a horizontal wire, either the length of the destroyed tower or a quarter wavelength. The diagram of the recommended antenna is shown above.

Ideally, the feed point of the emergency antenna would be at the base of the fallen tower, but other options are discussed. A last resort, if the feed line were destroyed, would be to put the feed point of the antenna directly at the transmitter. The instructions caution that “it is possible to construct a transmission line, but don’t try. The performance of an antenna fed at a transmitter without a good ground will probably be better than the performance with a good ground and an improvised transmission line.”

These instructions also presuppose that the utility poles were never installed prior to the disaster. Instead, it advises to use “any existing structures available such as trees, buildings, and utility poles. A step ladder or even an automobile can be used if nothing else is available.”

Improvised antenna insulators.

Improvised antenna insulators.

Since antenna insulators probably aren’t on hand, the instructions suggest some possibilities, shown here, using things that might be found around the radio station, such as the soft drink bottle.

The main idea was to get back on the air as soon as possible. “Time is more important than radiated power, so an inefficient operation in 15 minutes is better than full power in two hours.”


A 1950-Era One Tube Radio


Photo, WS1K

Jon, WS1K, sent me these pictures of a very nice find: A regenerative receiver that he found under a dealer’s table at an antique show in Brimfield, MA. He originally thought it was the receiver from the 1950 ARRL handbook, but after finding this site, he realized that it was closer to the Boys’ Life set that I wrote about earlier.

Photo, WS1K.

Photo, WS1K.

Pictures of his receiver are shown here. In addition to the receiver, he got the AC power supply to replace the A and B batteries. It also came with a schematic diagram, which is shown here:


From the way this schematic is drawn, it looks like whoever drew it copied it from the actual constructed radio, rather than vice versa. This circuit is very similar to the 1950 Boys’ Life set, but there are a few variations. For example, the component layout is different (it’s basically a mirror image of the BL set). It also has plug-in coils rather than the fixed coil in the BL set. (Jon believes the coils are for the broadcast band and about 5-6 MHz.)

Unlike the Handbook version, this set uses a transformer to couple the two stages, just like the BL version. It does have a few minor differences, however. For example, the BL version uses only two of the terminals on the regeneration control. Jon’s version uses all three. Both circuits have the cathodes of the tube hooked to one filament pin. However, the BL version calls for the connection to be made to pin 8, whereas Jon’s version calls for the connection to be made to pin 7. There’s no electrical difference, but the use of the different pin indicates that the builder probably wasn’t using the BL schematic. Jon’s version also has another variable capacitor, presumably for fine tuning.

As you can see in the schematic, the hand-drawn diagram of Jon’s set is entitled, “Dan Drummond’s Set.” Despite a little bit of sleuthing, neither of us was able to figure out who Dan Drummond was.

The 1939 Information Age


Seventy five years ago, the March 1939 issue of Popular Mechanics shows the latest in mobile navigation technology.

The robotic “Infomat” provided information on the location of prominent places in a city. The user merely lifted the receiver and raised one of up to 500 levers with the name of the place. The user would then listen to the voice of the machine provide the information.

1934 Scout’s One Tube Radio


Shown here in the September 1934 issue of Radio News is Scout Robert Crockett of Troop 3 of the BSA Siwanoy Council, Pelham, New York. He is shown operating the receiver that he designed and built, based upon a design in an earlier issue of the magazine. His circuit uses a single type 30 tube and a handful of other components, all of which can be obtained fairly easily today. For ideas on sourcing the components, you can visit my page describing another 1930’s era receiver or my crystal set parts page.  Full construction details are included in the 1934 article.

The author of the article was Robert’s “Scout Radio Examiner,” which presumably means Radio Merit Badge Counselor. According to this 1935 newspaper, Robert did go on to complete the Radio Merit Badge.  The magazine article concludes by pointing out that as his daily Good Turn, the Scout would be glad to help anyone building the set with their problems, and that such letters can be sent in care of the magazine. The article notes that he had logged over 300 shortwave stations with the set.

According to the National Eagle Scout Association database, Mr. Crockett became an Eagle Scout on February 24, 1937. And according to this newspaper and this one, he was serving in the military in 1943 and 1944. According to his sister’s 1943 obituary, his service was as an Ensign in the U.S. Naval Reserve.


Portable Gas Refrigerator

Portable Gas Refrigerator

Portable Gas Refrigerator

On various outdoor and “prepper” forums, one common question is the availability of refrigeration in the absence of electric power. In most cases, the best option is to do as our ancestors did before the early 1900’s and simply live without this convenience. But in some cases (such as those with medicines that require refrigeration), a reliable form of refrigeration is needed.

Until recently, there were only three options, each with shortcomings. The first was to procure a generator to power a traditional home refrigerator. This is a poor solution, because the home refrigerator has an electric motor and thus requires a large generator (or very large inverter) and enough fuel to run it.

Another option is a “12 volt cooler” such as the ones shown here:

One of these can be a relatively good solution in many cases. While they don’t work as well as the big refrigerator at home, they are often adequate for the task. Compared to a home refrigerator, they require much less current. However, they draw enough current that they can’t simply be left unattended for long periods of time. The battery needs to be charged quite often, which entails having fuel to do so, or perhaps a relatively large solar charger.

The best solution has been the “3-way” Refrigerator. This type of refrigerator is commonly used in RV’s, and runs on 120 volts, 12 volts, or propane gas. They typically use about 1/2 pound of gas per day, meaning that a 20 pound tank will last about 40 days. In other words, storing fuel for long-term use is a definite possibility. Here are some examples:

The disadvantage of this type of refrigerator is that it is not portable. It is designed to be mounted permanently and, at a minimum, you would need to construct a cabinet to house it.

This objection has now been solved, however, with the following portable 3-way refrigerators:

Like the other 3-way refrigerators, these will operate on either gas, 120 volts, or 12 volts. But they are designed for portable use, and come with the hardware to hook it up to a portable LP tank, the type available everywhere. For those who absolutely need refrigeration “off the grid,” this is a very viable option.