Monthly Archives: February 2015

Our Built-In Admiral TV

AdmiralBuiltInTVI’ve shared previously about my deprived childhood. We didn’t have a color TV. We didn’t have a real fireplace–we had a carboard fireplace. I didn’t have a TV in my room. We didn’t even own a robot, which I was convinced that most more affluent families owned. Yes, it was horrible.

But before you express too much sympathy, I guess I had better ‘fess up. We had a built-in TV. That’s right, down in the basement rec room, we had a TV that was permanently built in to the wall. As far as I know, it came with the house. In a small locked room, which we called “the TV room,” for want of a better name, the chasis of the set was there in all of its glory, with a piece of twin-lead cut as an antenna.

I remember that the set was an Admiral, and I’ve been able to figure out that it was a 1958 model, designed to be built in. The set tuned VHF only, meaning that it couldn’t be used to watch the fleeting signals of our only UHF station, channel 17.

I was able to find out some information thanks to the apparent practice of the Miami News to simply run a company’s press release as news. The August 4, 1957, edition of that paper carries a story under the headline “Built-In TV Announced By Admiral,” which almost certainly describes the model that was embedded in our wall. The article/press release enthusiastically reports that Admiral’s television sales manager, Ross D. Siragusa, Jr., had just announced the set’s 110-degree angle picture tube, along with the slim chassis depth of only 16 inches, made it the first nationally advertised set suitable for built-in applications or custom cabinetry.

The article identifies our set as being Admiral model B121F1, and that it included the “Imperial 440 chassis.” I found the image of this set, identical to the one in our basement, in a furniture catalog, apparently from 1958.

AdmiralMilkmanOur TV even made Life Magazine. The April 7, 1958, issue carries an Admiral advertisement masquerading as an article, given away by the tiny word “ADVERTISEMENT” at the beginning. (We see that Admiral was able to quite successfully push the envelope when it came to publicity.) The “article” recounts the experiences of an Elgin, Illinois, milkman who found himself inspired by visiting the modern kitchens of the well-to-do residents of Elgin. He was very impressed by the built-in appliances in their homes. He came to the realization that he could duplicate the effect in his own kitchen on a milkman’s salary by using free-standing Admiral appliances with the “built-in look.”

In the picture shown here, we can see him being inspired in one of those upper-class kitchens. And sure enough, one of the luxuries enjoyed by those high-class Elgin residents was a built-in Admiral TV. They were so rich that they were able to incongruously put the $239 21-inch TV right in the kitchen.

Both renditions had the dual speakers mounted in a grill right above the set, just like ours.

Those of us who weren’t quite so well to do didn’t have a TV in the kitchen, much less a gigantic 21-inch model. We had to settle for having it in the basement, and we couldn’t even get the elusive Channel 17. But that stands to reason, since we didn’t even have our own robot like those rich folks in Elgin probably did.

Our built-in B121F1 appears to be identical to the T21E21 which came with cabinet. It also appears to be identical with the console shown in this ad.

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Fare For All: A Nonprofit that Makes Cents

Review of Fare For All

For those of you who were following me during the SNAP Challenge, you recall that I ate for a week with less than $31.50 per week in groceries, the average amount received by SNAP (formerly known as Food Stamp) recipients.  It wasn’t particularly difficult, but you undoubtedly noticed that I didn’t have much in the way of meat, and I didn’t have any fresh produce.   This year, that was even more true, since I relied almost entirely on foods that could be used for emergency food storage.  But even the previous year, when I had the run of the supermarket, these items were mostly lacking, simply because they were too expensive.  People having to feed themselves on a tight budget often can’t afford these items.

FareForAllI recently became aware, however, of a non-profit organization called Fare for All.  They are part of The Food Group,  formerly known as Emergency Foodshelf Network.  But Fare for All is not a foodshelf.  They are more like a cooperative that purchases food wholesale and sells it to the public.  They rely on volunteers, and they have distribution locations at neighborhood locations such as churches and community centers.  Each month, they put together pre-packaged baskets of food which they sell at a fixed price.  The exact contents of these baskets vary from month to month.  They have two main products.  The first is a produce package consisting of fresh fruits and vegetables, which sells for $10.    The second is a meat package consisting of about four meat and fish items, which sells for $11.  If someone buys both packages together, the total price is discounted to $20.

Here are the two packages that were for sale this month.  First, here is the $10 produce package:


I didn’t price this at the supermarket, but it seems like it would cost considerably more than $10.  (The large loaf of bread shown to the right is also included for those purchasing both packages together.)

The $11 meat package is shown below.  It consists of turkey sausage (about 13 ounces), frozen fish, chicken breasts, and frozen meatballs.


Some months, additional items are available.  For example, in November and December, they have holiday packages containing a turkey or ham, as well as other items, for $30.  They apparently had some left over, and were selling them this month for $27.  In addition to the ham, they included a whole chicken and some other items.


I decided to check them out today, so I visited one of their distribution sites to buy some of their food.  Of course, I was already thinking the question that they probably get asked a lot, since it’s on their FAQ’s:

Q: If I purchase food through this program, am I taking away food from someone else who may need it more than I do?

A: Absolutely not. The more people who participate in Fare For All, the more purchasing power the program has. This means that greater savings will be passed onto our customers.

Emboldened by this reassurance, I decided to give them a try.  I purchased the items shown above:  One produce pack, one meat pack, and one holiday pack.  The total was $47.

The process is quite simple.  Their website lists their sites and gives the dates and times.  Most of the locations are open one day a month for about two hours.  Most are during the day, but some are evenings.  They have about 30 sites in the Twin Cities and outlying areas.  The closest one to me was Real Life Church in Roseville, although there are others that are conveniently located in Minneapolis, St. Paul, and suburbs.  That church appears to be affiliated with the Assemblies of God, but the distribution event was not in any way geared toward proselytizing.   In fact, the volunteer I spoke with wasn’t affiliated with the church himself.  The church appears to serve mostly as a location for the distribution.

The event began at 3:00, and I arrived at about 3:30.  There was a short line, but I only had to wait about five minutes.  Samples and photos of the various baskets are displayed, and you pick out which package(s) you want.  At the end of the line, you pay, and you’re given a ticket which you hand to another volunteer.  (They accept cash, credit and debit cards, and EBT cards.)  The volunteer then loads up your cart, and another volunteer helps you take it to your car.

You get your food in a sealed box, so I was slightly skeptical that the produce inside might be blemished somehow.  But it wasn’t, as you can see from the photos above.  They look like the same ones I would have picked out from the display at the supermarket.  The only difference seems to be the price.

On the way out, those making a purchase above a certain amount pick out a free loaf of bread.

Overall, this program performs a very real service to the community:  It makes high-quality food available to all at a reasonable price.  Furthermore, I’ve only been able to find one negative thing said about Fare For All.  A 2012 Pioneer Press article contains reports from a few naysayers who believe that this is unfair competition to retailers.  They don’t mind poor people buying food from a nonprofit, but they think that people should have to qualify by being poor enough.

I don’t think that criticism is well founded.  Fare for All does have a clear price advantage.  But retailers can still compete easily, because of wider selection, more convenient hours, and any other advantage they can think of.  For-profit corporations are quick to point out that a nonprofit such as Fare For All is tax exempt.  However, a for-profit corporation pays income taxes only on its profits.  If a cooperative organization voluntarily decides to operate on a non-profit basis, there are no profits to tax.  Grocery stores pay property taxes, but since Fare For All is operating from its locations only a few hours a month, any lost property tax revenue is minuscule.

It seems to me that there are some great advantages of having this program open to everyone, regardless of need.  First of all, there is absolutely no stigma associated with it.  I have no idea whether the other people in line were low income persons who desperately needed the food, or whether they are simply taking advantage of the reasonable price.  I assume most were in the latter category.

And more importantly, having the program open to all makes the program more economical for everyone.  As the Fare For All website points out, the additional buying power benefits everyone.  If nonprofits were required to “stick to helping the needy,” as one critic said they should, this would actually add more costs, as the nonprofit would have to verify need.  The end result would be that the truly needy would receive less and pay more.

With its current model, it seems to me that Fare For All is a win-win situation for all.


Another Crystal Set for CONELRAD Reception


60 years ago, CONELRAD was the system planned for keeping the American public informed in the event of a nuclear attack. As I’ve explained previously, the idea was for designated broadcast stations to operate on 640 or 1240 kHz. Stations would not transmit station identification, transmissions from individual stations would be short, and enemy bombers would be presented with a cacophony of signals useless for navigation purposes.

But power might be out. Battery-operated sets were rare, and most of those that existed sucked through expensive batteries quickly, since they had to power the filaments of the tubes. Undaunted, radio enthusiasts realized that a crystal set could be put to use. As I previously reported, Boys’ Life magaine touted a crystal set that could be put to use in an emergency.
Another Boys’ Life article included a CONELRAD receiver with one transistor that could run on two penlight batteries. And in a pinch, that set could be used without a battery, operating as a simple crystal set. And during the 1956 CONELRAD test, a Heathkit crystal set performed surprisingly well at receiving the emergency broadcasts, even outperforming commercial tube and transistor radios.

EmergencyXtalSetRadioTVExperimenter1955SchematicAnother example of crystal sets for emergency use is shown here, in the 1955 edition of Radio-TV Experimenter.  Author George P. Pearce (probably shown in the illustration above) describes the need:

If flood, tornado or air raids cause power failures, could you get emergency directions from the Conelrad stations the government has at 640 and 1240 on the dial? Even battery-powered sets couldn’t operate over an extended period of weeks, so why not build a crystal set that needs no power except the broadcast signal.

The author describes this set, which uses two 1N35 diodes along with two .001 uF capacitors in a voltage-doubler circuit. It uses basket-wound high-Q coils to pull in weak signals. It recommends a 100 foot antenna and good ground. He also suggests the use of the house wiring as an antenna, using a lamp cord, capacitor, and plug going in to the 120 volt house wiring. This ought to work, but if the power is on, you would be putting a lot of faith in that capacitor not being leaky as you put the headphones hooked to that antenna onto your head, just like they place the electrode of an electric chair.

The author notes that there’s nothing to wear out, and his set has operated for over three years.

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Japanese Short Wave “Negro Propaganda Operations” of WW2

African-American soldiers preparing to fight the Japanese. US Gov't photo.

African-American soldiers preparing to fight the Japanese. US Gov’t photo.

Most Americans believe that Axis propaganda during World War 2 was basically unsuccessful, since America and the Allies relied on truth, whereas the Axis relied on deception. I generally take this same view, but as with many oversimplifications, it is not entirely true. An interesting article detailing a Japanese propaganda campaign that was somewhat successful can be found in a scholarly journal, the Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, Volume 19, Number 1, March, 1999. The article, by Sato Masaharu of Shobi University and Barak Kushner of Princeton University, is entitled “Negro Propaganda Operations: Japan’s short-wave radio broadcasts for World War II Black Americans.” It’s not available free anywhere online, but it is available at most University libraries, and your public library should be able to obtain a copy by interlibrary loan. The article is a look at a Japanese propaganda operation that did have a measure of success.

The authors concede that the Japanese campaign was by no means successful in the sense that any appreciable number of African Americans were swayed to the Axis side. But the existence of such propaganda, largely based upon truth, did force the United States Government to confront those realities. Some groups, such as the NAACP, used this propaganda as a tool, even though  quick to concede that it couldn’t simply be accepted at face value.

In addition, the Japanese propaganda was successful to some extent in diverting U.S. Government resources to unproductive use. During the War, almost all African-American newspapers were investigated by the FBI.  FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, in part because of the existence of the Japanese propaganda, was convinced that these newspapers were disloyal.

Some Americans were also convinced that the Japanese were responsible for racial agitation. An officer stationed in Little Rock complained to the War Department that the “Negroes of Little Rock were being organized and incited by the Japanese.” There was, of course, no evidence that any such Japanese agitation had occurred, but that didn’t stop the belief, which was in part fueled by the Japanese propaganda.

African-Americans, like other Americans, were well aware of what the Japanese had been doing in China. W.E.B. DuBois, for example, who provided a certain amount of overt support for the Japanese propaganda, opined: “It is not that I sympathize with China less but that I hate white European and American propaganda, theft and insult more. I believe in Asia for the Asiatics and despite the hell of war and the fascism of capital, I see in Japan the best agent for this end.”

Black Americans were also cognizant of the fact that Japan had been on our side in the First World War, and had brought to the table at Versailles matters of racial equality. These concerns were quickly brushed aside by President Woodrow Wilson, who was in very many ways a typical Democrat racist, who had segregated the Army. White Americans were generally not cognizant of this, but African Americans were. So there was a certain amount of natural sympathy on which the Japanese could play.

The U.S. military was certainly aware of this image problem, and was doing its best to counter it. For example, in 1944, it released the film, The Negro Soldier, produced by Frank Capra, which is available on YouTube.

The focus of Japanese broadcasts was that only Japanese victory could ensure Blacks of the elimination of racial discrimination. To reach this conclusion, the Japanese broadcast largely true accounts of discrimination, violence, and even lynchings.  In addition, comparisons were frequently made between Japanese leaders and African Americans such as Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington.

Throughout the war, Japanese embassies in neutral countries were tasked with researching American news for items of interest regarding discrimination against Blacks, and this news made up much of Tokyo’s propaganda content.

An additional source of program material came in the form of African-American POW’s, and there were plans in place to include them in programs discussing discriminatory conditions in American civilian and military life, reactions to conditions supposedly prevailing in Japan, and the humane manner in which Black POW’s were supposedly treated by the Japanese.

The first POW broadcast took place on December 2, 1943, during the Hi No Maru Hour program, which was beamed to America on short wave. It’s unclear whether any actual POW’s appeared on the program, or whether they were African American. But they were passed off as being POW’s.

POW’s were “encouraged” to take part in these broadcasts, and the Japanese pointed out that “we do not guarantee the life of those who refuse to cooperate.” Some prisoners did cooperate, and were tried after the War for doing so. They were able to point to this portion of the order to demonstrate that they had done so only under duress.

Unfortunately, as might be expected from a scholarly article of this type, the authors do not go into any detail as to the details of the broadcasts or the extent to which they were heard. It does note that the U.S. Government extensively monitored them, but it doesn’t address the critical question of how many Americans–Black or otherwise–actually listened to them.

1944TokyoListingsBut the Axis stations were easy to hear by anyone in the U.S. with a short wave receiver.  I’ve noticed that the short wave listings in many American newspapers stopped carrying listings of Axis stations after the U.S. joined the war.  But the clipping here, from the February 1943 issue of Radio Guide, clearly shows the times and frequencies of English broadcasts from Tokyo.

Despite the lack of information that the SWL historian might like to see, this article is an interesting look at the program content during the war, and it does a good job of refuting the notion that Japanese propaganda was ineffective.  The article is extensively footnoted, and those wishing to learn more about this forgotten chapter in war history will have many sources available.

For more history of radio and short wave listening during the war, please see the following earlier posts:


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Canadian Flag Turns 50

The Canadian flag is fifty years old today.  As proclaimed by the Queen on January 28, at the stroke of noon on February 15, 1965, at a ceremony on Parliament Hill, the Red Ensign was lowered and the current Maple Leaf flag was hoisted.  The crowd sang “O Canada” followed by “God Save the Queen”

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Valentine’s Day 1915

UncleSamValentineOn Valentine’s Day a hundred years ago, the cartoonist at the New York Tribune took advantage of the occasion to show this valentine received from Kaiser Wilhelm by Uncle Sam. The lace-adorned card warns the U.S. to stay out of waters around Britain.

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1935 3-Tube Broadcast Receiver Project

1935PM3tubeThe depression-era couple shown here are relaxing to the sounds of a three-tube standard broadcast receiver constructed according to plans which appeared eighty years ago, in the February 1935 issue of Popular Mechanics.

The three tubes served as an RF amplifier, detector, and audio amplifier. The 12A7 power amplifier also contained the rectifier, allowing the set to operate on either AC or DC household current. The filaments were wired in series, with a 300-ohm “curtain burner” cord used to drop the voltage. The article reported that the set would pull in stations up to 150 miles away during the daytime with a 20-foot indoor antenna, with reception of up to 1500 miles with good volume at night. The cost of parts was reported as being $6.50.

KnightG9503The least expensive radio in the Allied Radio catalog in 1935 appears to be the 4-tube model shown here, Knight Model G-9503.  Even though this Knight radio featured four tubes rather than three, the circuits were almost identical, since the Knight set had a separate rectifier, rather than the combined tube in the Popular Mechanics model. Therefore, the value-conscious buyer in 1935 could still save a few dollars by building his own radio.

The volume control of the Popular Mechanics receiver was actually an RF gain control, since it controlled the gain of the RF amplifier.

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1955 Boys’ Life Radio Contest

Pedro delivering prizes to lucky winners in BL radio contest.  June 1955 Boys' Life.

Pedro delivering prizes to lucky winners in BL radio contest. June 1955 Boys’ Life.

60 years ago this month, Boy Scouts were busy trying to win valuable prizes, including a Hammarlund HQ-140-X receiver, a Hallicrafters S-85 receiver, or a National NC-88 receiver. Unlike prior years, licensed amateurs were not eligible for prizes (probably because they swept them earlier years). But these prizes were available for logging as many stations as possible. Each station counted for one point, each country and U.S. call area 10 points, each state 10 points, and each continent 50 points. There were also bonus points for logging all continents, all states, and all call areas.

There were two classes of entries: one for commercial or surplus receivers, and one for homemade receivers. The contest was in effect during the month of February, 1955. The full rules were contained in that month’s issue of Boys’ Life.

The winners were announced in the June issue.  In “Class A” (manufactured receivers), the HQ-140X went to Ralph Overton of Mechanicsville, NY. Norb Harnegie of Berea, Ohio won the S-86.Henry Weir of Charleston, West Virginia, John Bryant of Stillwater, Oklahoma, John Tull of Kansas City, Missouri, and Francis Jacobs of Anson, Maine, won either a Hallicrafters S-38D or a National SW-54.

In “Class B” (homemade receiver), the winner of the Hammarlund was Gary Dobbs of Arlington, California, and Jay Hall of Maplewood, New Jersey took the second place prize of a National NC-88. Winning either an S-38D or SW-54 were Walter Piper of Ravenna, Ohio, Paul Stein of Uvalde, Texas, Don Cannon of Lubbock, Texas, Howard Ferber of Brooklyn, New York, and Bob Samson of Chicago, Illinois.

Over 200 other prizes were awarded to some of the 1049 entrants.


Unlike earlier contests, licensed hams were not eligible for prizes in this run of the contest.  However, at least two of the winners went on to become licensed hams.  As explained on my website, only a few call books are available for online searching, and the first one after this contest is from 1972, sixteen years later.  There might have been more, since some had common names, and some might have moved to different call areas.  But Norb Harnegie of Berea, Ohio, who won the S-86. was licensed in 1972 as W8FCV.    And Francis Jacobs of Anson, Maine, was licensed in 1972 as W1EST.

It would be interesting to know how these rather generous prizes affected the winners.  If you Googled your name and found this page, I would love to hear from you in order to write a follow-up.  You can reach me at, or leave a comment below.

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Sleep Alert: Warning the Public of Nuclear Attack at Night

A 1969 report prepared for the Office of Civil Defense details a proposal that was never adopted for a program called CHAT: Crisis Home Alerting Technique. In recognition of the fact that this military acronym wouldn’t be of much use with the public, a more descriptive name was proposed for dealings with the public: Emergency Broadcast System Sleep Alert.

The Emergency Broadcast System was designed to alert the public through normal broadcast stations of enemy attack. Sirens were available in many areas, but large portions of the population would be unable to hear them, especially at night. And at night, most Americans would be asleep, and not listening to radio or television. A nighttime attack would catch Americans by surprise, unless they were sleeping in shifts to listen to the news.

In a “bolt out of the blue” attack, the problem of nighttime alerts remained problematic. But during periods of strategic crisis, such as the Cuban Missile Crisis, CHAT or “Sleep Alert” provided an answer. During such a crisis, Americans could get their sleep, but also be able to receive warning. Upon determining that a crisis existed which might require warning the population, the President would activate the system, and the public would be notified to tune to participating stations in their area. The President would then make the following announcement, probably at 11:00 PM Eastern Time:

In a moment my voice will begin to fade; merely turn your volume up until you can hear me again. This is part of a system which will permit you to receive later emergency information. Please leave your receivers on constantly; when you wish to sleep, turn the volume down to a comfortable level, and I will be able to reach you my means of your radios and televisions.

The stations would then reduce their modulation to 10-20%. VHF TV stations would reduce the audio to zero. Viewers tuning in after 11:00 would know that they were tuned in, because they would see a message on the screen explaining that the station was operating in the sleep-alert mode. In addition, the detent tuning of VHF television receivers would ensure that the viewer was properly tuned in.

AM radio stations presented a problem, because listeners tuning in after 11:00 would need to know that their radio was tuned in to the proper station. Therefore, it was decided that “subdued materials” could be broadcast. The report noted that “the more exciting up-tempo kinds of music or the strident, demanding voice delivery techniques employed at many rock and roll stations” should be avoided. Instead, the program would be soft music or perhaps a clock ticking, with occasional station identification by “an announcer speaking softly but with calm authority” with the following message:

You are listening to the Emergency Broadcast System Sleep Alert. Stay tuned for a possible emergency warning from the United States Government. Adjust your radio volume to a level at which you can sleep. This station will resume broadcasting more loudly if warning is necessary. See your newspaper for more information.

Station personnel would then monitor the AP and UPI wires for warning messages. Stations without wire service would monitor Emergency Broadcast System primary stations. In the event of that fateful message, the station would turn up the volume to normal modulation, meaning that all of the listeners would confront a radio playing at full blast, which would presumably be enough to wake them. The station would then transmit a loud alert signal, followed by the following message:

Attack–Attack. The United States is Under Nuclear Attack. I repeat–the United States is under nuclear attack. Take shelter. Take shelter immediately. You are in danger–you can save your life if you take shelter immediately. This is the emergency broadcast system.

Assuming that there was no attack during the night, the station would gradually increase its modulation at 7:00 AM, and resume normal programming.  CHAT was viewed as an interim measure, and had the advantage of not requiring any new equipment either on the part of broadcasters or the public. The plan was to replace it eventually with a more reliable system. But as a stopgap, it had the advantage of being able to be adopted readily. It was, however, never adopted.

It was at least a decade before the first 24-hour warning system came into effect, in the form of alerts broadcast on NOAA weather radio in the mid-1970’s. However, it was always subject to question how well NOAA weather radio was integrated into the national warning system. However, NOAA now makes clear that it will broadcast Presidential alerts during a national emergency, and it appears to be well integrated into the National Warning System. Modern NOAA weather receivers, such as the one shown here, take advantage of digital encoding (SAME), which will limit the number of false alarms for weather events in surrounding areas.

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Soviet Deportations of Poles, 1940

Workers constructing the Kolyma highway.  While the nationality of these men is unknown, they very well could have been Polish deportees.  Wikipedia photo.

Workers constructing the Kolyma highway. While the nationality of these men is unknown, they very well could have been Polish deportees. Wikipedia photo.

200px-Herb_Polski.svgIn 1940 and 1941, more than 1.2 million Poles were forcibly deported from Poland to remote areas of the Soviet Union. Those deportations began in earnest 75 years ago today, when more than 220,000 Poles, mostly women and children, were rounded up and sent to northern European Russia. While the USSR never declared war on Poland, at the time of the Nazi invasion, the German-Soviet nonagression pact was still in place. When the invasion began, the Soviets stopped recognizing Polish sovereignty, and started simply dividing up Poland with the Germans.

Many Poles were simply killed, but at least a million were deported, and hundreds of thousands of those deported died. Many of those deported worked on the construction of the Kolyma Highway which extends 1262 miles from Nizhny Bestyakh to Magadan. The road is known as the “Road of Bones,” as most of the thousands of workers who died during its construction are interred within the roadway itself.

The deportations began 75 years ago today.



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