Monthly Archives: January 2015

CONELRAD Test, July 20, 1956

Milwaukee Civil Defense Director Don E. Carleton and Col. Anthony F. Levno assess damage after simulated attack on Milwaukee.  Milwaukee Journal, Jul. 20, 1956.

Milwaukee Civil Defense Director Don E. Carleton and Col. Anthony F. Levno assess damage after simulated attack on Milwaukee. Milwaukee Journal, Jul. 20, 1956.

At 3:10 PM Eastern Standard Time on July 20, 1956, CONELRAD conducted its first (and as far as I can tell, only) nationwide test. At that time, all radio and television stations left the air for 15 minutes, and the only broadcast signals coming from the United States were those of the CONELRAD system on 640 and 1240 kHz.

CONELRAD  was obsolete almost as soon as it was put into effect, but the idea was that during an enemy attack, attacking bombers must be deprived of the ability to use American broadcast stations for direction finding and navigation. Aviation routinely made use of AM stations for navigation, and the locations of broadcast stations and their frequencies are still printed on aviation charts. It was a reasonable concern, but it became much less critical when the bomber was replaced by the ICBM as the main component of both Soviet and American strategic war planning.

CONELRAD was created by President Truman in 1951, and hung on until 1963, when it was replaced by the Emergency Broadcast Sytem, in which participating stations continued to broadcast on their normal frequency.

Under CONELRAD, all stations in the U.S. would operate on the same two frequencies.  The navigator of an enemy bomber tuning to either of those frequencies would be confronted with hundreds of stations on the same frequency, rendering them useless for navigation.  And each station would transmit for only a few seconds or minutes.  In smaller markets with only one station, the station would quickly give instructions, and then sign off for a few minutes.  In larger cities, the stations would be linked together by telephone lines.  A continuous program could be sent, but it would switch quickly from one transmitter to another, hopelessly confusing enemy bombers.

But for those 12 years, CONELRAD was the method by which Americans would be warned of war, and in 1956, it was put to a test.  At 3:10 PM Eastern Time, each participating station was to transmit the program which had been delivered by record.  The introduction to this broadcast can be heard at the following YouTube video:

In many cities, such as Chicago, the CONELRAD test was conducted in conjunction with other civil defense exercises.  The Chicago Tribune for July 20, 1956, details some of the preparations being made there.  The next day’s paper  reports 325,000 simulated deaths in the Land of Lincoln.

There was surprisingly little reporting on how well the test went: Namely, whether the public was actually able to hear the broadcasts. One of the few actual tests was carried out by Radio News magazine, and reported in the October 1956 issue.

The magazine arranged receiving sites at four locations around the New York area. They were in a steel building in Brooklyn, a steel building in Manhattan, a home about 25 miles from the city, and a home about 50 miles from the city. At each location, writers for the magazine had multiple receivers ready for the test. They then rated the percentage of the broadcast they were able to receive intelligibly.

An outdoor antenna proved to be the greatest asset. At the home 25 miles from the city, the editor reported a 100% satisfactory signal using a Hallicrafters S-40 hooked to an outside TV antenna, and also with a Heathkit crystal set with a 100 foot outdoor antenna. At the same location, a Westinghouse battery portable without external antenna gave only 75% satisfactory reception.

In Brooklyn, the best performer turned out to be the Regency TR-1 transistor portable,
which gave a 100% reliable signal, but with continual retuning as the signal shifted from one transmitter to another. At the same location, the Knight tube portable was only 75% satisfactory, with the remaining signal too weak without reorienting and retuning the radio.

In Manhattan, the transistor portable, a Zenith Royal 500, outperformed the tube portable, with 85% satisfactory reception compared to 65%.

50 miles from the city, a Grundig tube portable gave 85% satisfactory reception, outdoing the Zenith portable, which had only 60% reliability. At this more distant location, the main problem came from interference from stations in other cities’ CONELRAD networks.

It is somewhat surprising that so much “retuning” was necessary. Presumably, the stations all had a crystal for their assigned frequency (the article didn’t state whether New York was using 640 or 1240), so it’s unlikely that the individual transmitters were drifting. More likely, some of the individual transmitters were slightly off frequency, resulting in the need to retune when the signal switched from one to another.

The article did stress the importance of having nondirectional antennas, something that was lacking in most AM portables. Most of the receivers, other than those using outdoor antennas, had to be reoriented when the signal switched transmitter locations. The article noted that extreme sensitivity wasn’t necessarily a good thing, because of the danger of interference from adjacent networks. These two factors explain why the crystal set had such good results in the test.

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1915: First Pirate Radio Broadcast?

NYTribune01301915A hundred years ago today was perhaps the first example of a pirate broadcasting music over the airwaves.  The New York Tribune, January 31, 1915,  reported a mysterious broadcast of a phonograph record of Enrico Caruso. The previous year, Caruso had taken part in a broadcast from the roof of the Wanamaker Department Store, as previously reported here.

But this was apparently an unauthorized broadcast, and the source of the January 1915 signal  was a mystery. The paper reported that amateur wireless operators were surprised by the broadcast on the afternoon of January 30, which came from somewhere New York, and on a wave legth a few hundred meters below that used by the government. In what was perhaps the first recorded pirate radio broadcast, someone played, without further comment, a phonograph recording of Enrico Caruso singing an aria.

The article went on to point out predictions that within the year, there would be wireless telephone messages “flying through the air instead of code messages.”

Enrico Caruso

Enrico Caruso

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Carl Alfred Oefstedahl, 1893-1918.


During the centennial of World War 1, this page periodically remembers American servicemen who gave their lives in that war.

Private Carl Alfred Oefstedahl of Spring Grove, Minnesota, was born in 1893. He appears to have been born in North Dakota, the son of Peter and Inger Oefstedahl, and is recorded as being a resident of North Dakota in the 1900 Census.  He served in Company L, 138th Infantry.

In the casualty list of July 23, 1918, he was reported as being killed in action, one of 24 men so listed that day.  He is buried at Spring Grove Lutheran Old Cemetery, Spring Grove, Minnesota.

The photo here is from Soldiers of the Great War, Volume 2, Page 114.

The Wilcox-Gay Recordio: 1940 Home Recording


75 years ago, it was possible to do audio recording at home, but it was a pricey proposition. Magnetic recording didn’t really become possible until after the war, and very few homes would have owned a tape recorder prior to 1970. But for someone who really wanted to immortalize their voice in 1940, it was possible to purchase the Recordio, shown in this advertisement from the Chicago Tribune, January 28, 1940.  Just in time for Valentine’s Day, the ad shows a well-dressed young woman recording a “home-made vocal Valentine,” presumably for the love-struck gentleman shown at the top of the ad.

The deluxe model into which the young woman is singing sold for $175, and included a radio covering standard broadcast and short wave. The ad noted that it was possible to make records off the air, and the unit also functioned as a player for purchased records. The same electronics in a more modest lowboy console was also available for $129.95, and a portable unit (apparently without radio) was available for $74.50.

That wasn’t the only expense involved, however. The blank records ranged in price from 75 cents for six 6-1/2 inch disks, up to $2.25 for the same number in the 10-inch size.

The final product, which could of course not be erased, meaning that only one take was available, was a standard 78 RPM record that could be played on any phonograph, such as that owned by the gentelman shown at the top of the ad.

The manufacturer, Wilcox-Gay Corp. of Charlotte, Michigan, had been in business since 1910, making radios and dictation machines. The Recordio came out in 1939, and reportedly sold 25,000 units the first year. The company continued to make similar machines in the 1950’s, but later models included a magnetic recorder in the same unit, which would allow recording a master before cutting the disk. If you search YouTube, you’ll find surviving examples of the disks, such as this one of some aspiring musicians offering their rendition of “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean.”

Musicians such as Les Paul and Johnny Cash were known to have used Recordios at some point in their careers.

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Two Lucky Winners, and Four Not Quite So Lucky


Seventy-five years ago this month, Rev. Julian S. Fayme of New York City was truly blessed. He was the winner of a new Philco television, and he had some channels that he could watch. When he received his windfall in January, 1940, there were three stations on the air in New York, W2XBS, W2XAX, and W2XAB. I previously wrote about one of those stations. W2XBS (later WNBC) came on the air on April 30, 1939. W2XAB and W2XAX were both licensed to CBS and later became WCBS-TV.  And the DuMont station, W2XWV (later WABD) was soon to come on the air, as I wrote previously.

Lillian Russell of Quincy, Mass., was almost as lucky, since she was also a winner, and was within range of W1XG in Boston. Fayme and Russell were among the six winners of the set shown above, in the announcement of a quiz contest in the September 1939 issue of Radio Mirror.

But in the full list of winners is shown below (in the January 1940 issue), a problem is apparent.


The other four winners didn’t have anything to watch. There were no TV stations on the air in Portland, San Francisco, or Burlingame, California. And there certainly weren’t any stations anywhere near Hole Center, Texas, undoubtedly much to the dismay of Frances Rountree. Indeed, I can’t find any record of a town by that name, although there is a Hale Center about 30 miles north of Lubbock. But Hole or Hale, that new Philco wasn’t of much use to the Rountree family.

The TV stations on the air as of 1940 are shown on this excerpt from White’s Radio Log, Jan.-Feb. 1940.  (This list includes three mechanical television stations operating on 2000-2100 kHz, which the more modern Philco wouldn’t have been able to receive. So winners in Irvington, N.J. or West Lafayette, Ind., wouldn’t have fared any better.)


It turns out that the four hapless winners weren’t totally out of luck, since the fine print of the contest rules did show some foresight: “And if, perhaps, you live in a section of the country where television programs cannot yet be received, this quiz still carries a prize for you. Any winning contestant can have, if he wishes, a de luxe Philco radio set instead of the television receiver.”  So the winners in California, Oregon, and Texas, presumably gathered around their de luxe Philco console radios and dreamed of television, which for them would have to wait until after the war.

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A Scout is Kind: George Salak, Racine, WI

PioneeringRequirements for various Boy Scout merit badges change over the years.  Pioneering merit badge is still current, but the requirements have changed since the original ones, shown here from the original 1913 Scout Handbook.  The current requirements can be found at

For 16-year old Scout George Salak of Racine, Wisconsin, the first requirement rubbed him the wrong way.  It didn’t feel right cutting down a live tree just to earn a merit badge.  Therefore, he sent the following letter to the editor of Boys’ Life, which appeared in the January 1915 issue:

Being a First-Class Scout my chief desire has been to become the first Eagle Scout in this city. So far I have managed to pass satisfactorily nineteen Merit Badges and have entered upon Pioneering which I have completed with the exception of the first question, which requires a Scout to fell in a prescribed direction a 9-inch tree.

I am writing you with the purpose of finding out whether the felling of such a tree is not a direct violation of our Scout Law number six, also if it would not be just as sufficient to demonstrate what cut to take or write a statement on how to fell a tree. As far as I am informed there are approximately 500,000 Scouts in the United States. Can you imagine what a tremendous destruction of trees would result if each of these boys were possessed with a desire to fell one tree apiece? In all my years of service, this being the sixth, I have always been opposed to the wilful destruction of trees. Kindly inform me what course to pursue.

Thanking you for giving this matter your prompt attention, I remain,

–George Salak, Racine, Wis.

The editor responded:

For the benefit of other Scouts who may be puzzled with the same problem, it is announced that the Committee on Badges Awards have already had this matter under consideration and the test as now required omits this item.

Mr. Salak went on to become an Eagle in May 1915, probably the first in Racine.  That accomplishment is recorded in the July 1915 issue of Boys’ Life.

George Salak, 1930 photo.

George Salak, 1930 photo.

The following year, he became a postal clerk and served in that capacity for two years.  During the First World War, he  served in France as a member of Battery C, 121st Field Artillery, when that unit of the Wisconsin National Guard was called to federal service.  After the war, in 1919, along with his brother Charles he formed the Salak Music Company.  In 1922, the company moved to a larger location at 306 Fifth Street, a location currently housing a storefront church.   He died in 1937 at the age of 38.

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SNAP Challenge 2015: The Final Day

Leftover staple items.

Leftover staple items.

Today marks the seventh and final day of my 2015 SNAP Challenge, where I’ve eaten for a week on less than $31.50, the average amount received by recipients of SNAP benefits, formerly known as food stamps. My actual expenditures were $27.99, which was up a bit from last year, but still well within the guidelines. As an added challenge this year, I concentrated mostly on foods that are suitable for emergency food storage.

20150124_180632Breakfast today consisted of oatmeal. For lunch, I finished the nachos and had another serving of biscuits and gravy.  Supper, shown here, consisted of the remaining burritos, and a quesadilla made with the remaining cheese sauce and tortilla.

Most of my leftover food is shown above. I still have at least a pound each of the flour and sugar, half a pint of the cooking oil, and half a pound of margarine. So I could easily subsist a few more days on what I have. But since the challenge ends at midnight, I’ll just rotate those remaining items back into our normal household pantry, and think about what I can do for future challenges.

20150124_180008As I did last year, I celebrated the end of the Challenge by baking a cake, shown here, using  this recipe.  About the time I was supposed to take it out of the oven, I realized that I had forgotten to include the margarine called for in the recipe.  Even though the cake wasn’t as good as last year, it was surprisingly good despite this omission.

I should note that the recipe called for two eggs, and I only had one.  Over the last year, there has apparently been inflation in the price of eggs.  Last year, a dollar bought eight, but this year, I only had six eggs.  Therefore, I had to include one egg from the normal household supply.  But I’ll be sharing more than half the cake with the rest of the family.

I have five hours to go, but there’s no question that I’ll survive.  I still have about a dozen cookies to tide me over, as well as several biscuits.  I also have about a fourth of my can of coffee remaining.  In normal use, my 10.5 ounce can wouldn’t have lasted the week, but with a bit of rationing, I had plenty.

I’ll probably have some concluding thoughts in a few days, but this concludes my SNAP Challenge for the year.  Tomorrow, we’ll resume our normal programming, and look at why a Boy Scout a hundred years ago took it upon himself to have a Merit Badge requirement changed.

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National Radio School, 1915, Forerunner of the “CONAR Twins”

NatlRadioSchool1915This small ad for the National Radio School appeared a hundred years ago today, in the Washington Times, January 24, 1915.  The ad announces the upcoming wireless course.  This school had recently been formed, and went on to have a long history.  If you were involved in radio or electronics over the next several decades, you probably heard of them.

At some point, the name changed to the National Radio Institute.  It was founded in Washington in 1914 by James E. Smith, who headed up the school until 1968, when it was purchased by McGraw-Hill.  Smith continued as the school’s chairman until his death in 1973.  McGraw-Hill began to phase out the school in 1999, and it ceased operations in 2002.

1915 and 1921 call books show the call 3YN assigned to Smith and to the school.  This 1915 listing shows the school’s station as licensed to operate on 200, 400, and 1800 meters:



NRIBLad1925Over the years, the school advertised extensively, and virtually any magazine relating to radio or electronics for several decades contained an ad for NRI.  The ad shown here is from Boys’ Life magazine, January 1925, and offered boys the promise of making money in radio.

If the name NRI only vaguely rings a bell, then the name CONAR will probably sound more familiar.  The school sold a wide variety of electronic kits (and some assembled products) under that name.  The CONAR name was never as famous as Heathkit, but it had almost as wide a variety of products.  You can view the 1966 catalog at this link at

Among hams, one of the most famous (or perhaps infamous) of these products was the “CONAR Twins,” a transmitter and receiver designed for the novice ham.  These radios were available in kit form (along with a copy of the ARRL license manual and a key) for $64.  They were also available assembled.  The transmitter used a single tube, a 6DQ6, which put out 15 chirpy watts on 80, 40, and 15.  The receiver, while basic, was actually fairly good.  It was a four-tube superheterodyne covering the same bands.  The two units were available separately as well, with the transmitter selling for $32.50 in kit form, and the receiver for $37.50.  One way the costs were kept down was the use of the same cabinet as most of CONAR’s test equipment.  KB8TAD’s site shows a nice example of the sets in excellent condition.  The images from the 1966 catalog are shown below.




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SNAP Challenge 2015: Day 6.

2015-01-23 17.38.17

As you can see, today’s photo is rather blurry, which demonstrates that I’m not very good at using my wife’s cell phone camera. But I ate well on the penultimate day of the SNAP Challenge.

Breakfast consisted of instant oatmeal and milk, along with coffee. For lunch, I had more of the nachos from yesterday, along with more burritos. I had a few more nachos for an afternoon snack, and I still have enough cheese and chips for one more small serving.

Supper is shown above. It was quite simple, consisting of the pasta shown here. In addition to the pasta, it contained a small amount of margarine, most of the remaining pasta sauce, and a couple of slices of the Treet, browned. I served it with vegetables, two of the biscuits, and Kool-Aid.

I think I have plenty for tomorrow, even without any further cooking. I believe I still have in the refrigerator multiple servings of biscuits and gravy, burritos, pizza, and pasta. I also made about 20 cookies last night, and most of them are still left.  And most importantly, I still have plenty of coffee, more than enough for one day.

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SNAP Challenge 2015: Day 5

20150122_160043I didn’t really have breakfast this morning, other than coffee.  Lunch consisted of leftover Ramen noodles, with some of the mixed vegetables mixed in, along with the leftover pig in blanket from a couple of nights ago.

Since I didn’t have much of a lunch, I also had an afternoon snack consisting of the nachos shown above.  I’m concentrating on storage food for my challenge this week, and the chips aren’t a particularly good long-term storage item.  But they do have a reasonably long shelf life, and they’re the kind of thing one might find around the house in an emergency.  For long-term storage, they could, of course, be made with stored ingredients.  Yesterday, I discussed how tortillas could be made from Maseca and water.  The tortillas can be cut into chips and deep fried to make tortilla chips.

Canned cheese sauce.

The  canned cheese sauce, on the other hand, is an excellent storage item.  A few days ago, I used it to make a passable pizza.  It wasn’t intended for that purpose, and although it made a fairly good pizza, the result was unusual looking.  But today, I was using the sauce for its intended purpose, and it made a very good snack.

The cheese sauce is relatively expensive (about $2.50 per can), so it’s probably not an economical option if you plan to use it regularly on a long-term basis.  However, having a few cans in your pantry can allow you to make some good comfort food in case of emergency.

For long-term storage, a very good option for some of your dairy needs is Honeyville powdered cheese.  This product appears to be very similar to the cheese powder that comes with boxed macaroni and cheese.  For about $21, you get a lot of this powdery substance, a can containing 41 servings of 140 calories each.  It can be used for things such as macaroni and cheese (although the boxes of macaroni and cheese are probably cheaper), and also makes a quite good cheese sauce.  I’ve found that the consistency is thicker than cheese sauce, so it actually makes a better dip.

According to the instructions on the can, you simply add hot water.  It’s not salted, so you will want to add salt.  And I’ve found that the final result is better if you add a little bit of milk and butter or margarine.

A few cans of the  cheese sauce are certainly helpful for emergency storage.  But over the long term, the Honeyville powdered cheese would allow you to augment your dairy storage with something with an essentially infinite shelf life.


Supper is shown above.  I made another batch of biscuits and had biscuits and gravy, using the gravy mixicon and water.  I also had some of the canned vegetablesicon and a couple of slices of the Armour Treet.  I washed it down with coffee and Kool-Aid.  I am very full after this dinner which consisted entirely of canned and dried ingredients.

I also have plenty of leftovers, such that I don’t think I’ll need to do much cooking for the final two days of the SNAP Challenge.  I have leftover burritos, pizza, and biscuits and gravy in the refrigerator, but I also have additional ingredients in case I want to try something else.  I’ve almost finished my second batch of cookies, so I’ll probably make one more batch.  The largest downfall for most SNAP Challenge participants seems to be the failure to recognize the people often eat between meals.  And having the cookies available makes the challenge much more manageable. icon

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