Monthly Archives: July 2015

Armenian Genocide, 1915

Armenians being marched to their death by Ottoman soldiers, 1915. Wikipedia photo.

Armenians being marched to their death by Ottoman soldiers, 1915. Wikipedia photo.

A hundred years ago today, the U.S. Ambassador at Constantinople, Henry Morgenthau, sent the following telegram to Washington:

Telegram Received.
From Constantinople
Dated July 31, 1915
Recd. August 3, 10 AM.

Secretary of State,

898, July 31, 5 p.m.

My 841 and 858. Doctor Lepsius, President of German-Orient Mission which maintains six Armenian orphan asylums in Turkey, has information from reliable source that Armenians, mostly women and children, deported from the Erzerum district, have been massacred near Kemakh between Erzinghan and Harput. Similar reports comes from other sources showing that but few of these unfortunate people will ever reach their stated destination. Their lot inexpressibly pitiable. The Doctor proposes to submit matter to International Red Cross for common action to try to induce Germany to demand cessation of these horrors. He earnestly requests access to information Embassy has on file. Will give him if department has no objection.

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USS Indianapolis

Front page story announcing ship's loss, Chicago Tribune, Aug 15 1945.

Front page story announcing ship’s loss, Chicago Tribune, Aug 15 1945.

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the greatest loss of life in American Naval history, the sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis on July 30, 1945. On July 16, the Indianapolis left San Francisco with the enriched uranium which would be used in the Hiroshima atomic bomb. She reached Pearl Harbor on July 19 and raced on to Tinian with the cargo, where she arrived on July 26. After delivering this top secret cargo, the ship continued to Guam and then Leyte, where the crew was to receive training.

USS Indianapolis in 1937. Wikipedia photo.

USS Indianapolis in 1937. Wikipedia photo.

Shortly after midnight on July 30, she was struck by two Japanese torpedoes, sinking in minutes. About 300 of the 1196 crewmen went down with the ship. The remainder were set adrift with few lifeboats and many without lifejackets.

Due to radio silence and general miscommunication, the ship was not missed when its scheduled arrival time passed. The 880 men drifted forgotten. Most perished from exposure and dehydration, although the attack is most famous for the sharks the men had to contend with. Undoubtedly, some of the men were killed by sharks, but it is more likely that most of the victims succomed to exposure and dehydation, with the dead being driven off by sharks.

The men were discovered by accident three and a half days later when Lt. Wilbur “Chuck” Gwinn and Lt. Warren Colwell spotted the men adrift during a routine patrol fight.

Only 317 men ultimately survived. Over 800 men lost their lives.

Ironically, the disaster was not reported by the newspapers until August 15.  The greatest naval disaster in American history was decidedly a less important news story that day, since the papers also reported Japan’s surrender and the end of the war.

Of interest to radio amateurs is the recreation of the ship’s radio installation (whose call letters were NABD) at the USS Indianapolis Memorial.


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1935 Rowboat Portable Receiver

1935RowboatPortable80 years ago, the September 1935 issue of Radio Craft magazine carried plans for this rowboat portable, shown here in use in Central Park, New York.  The four-tube superhet broadcast set was fully self-contained with a built-in loop antenna, and made use of newly available miniature B batteries which were mounted inside the cabinet.

The set was billed as ideal for the romanticist who was bound for one of the tens of thousands of lakes within the domains of Uncle Sam.  The set was small enough for easy transport in a rowboat or canoe.  The builder of this set could take radio programs along for accompaniment by waves gently lapping at the sides of the boat.

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1940 Philco Portable

1940PhilcoPortableSeventy-five years ago today, this ad appeared in the Milwaukee Journal, July 28, 1940, for what was one of the smallest, or perhaps the smallest prewar portable radios. The Philco Model PT-89C featured four tubes, and the loop antenna was inside the carrying strap. A surviving example can be found at this link and some other photos and a schematic can be found at this link.

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1941 National Youth Administration Sound System Project


The Pennsylvania students shown here are assembling loudspeaker enclosures for the sound system at the Roaring Spring, Pennsylvania, High School. The project of installing the new sound system was entrusted to the National Youth Administration (NYA). As I wrote in an earlier post,
the NYA was a depression-era program designed to give youth to develop skills in order to take an active part in the national defense program. As reported in the October 1941 issue of Radio News, the program had recently been expanded to cover the radio field, and the high school sound system was one of the first projects undertaken by NYA youth studying radio.

Roaring Spring classroom with new speaker in place.

Roaring Spring classroom with new speaker in place.

The installation covered 21 rooms in three buildings, one of which was across the street, necessitating the laying of an underground cable. The main console was located in the principal’s office, and included two microphone channels, an all-wave receiver, and a turtable capable of playing both 78 and 33 RPM transcriptions. In addition to its public address capabilities, the system was capable of two-way communication from any room. The powerhouse behind the system was a 15 watt audio amplifier employing two 6N7G tubes.

The students’ completion of the project was seen by all as a success, and dispelled any possible doubt as to the NYA radio shops’ ability to construct and install such equipment. After being placed in service, the equipment had required no service or adjustment.

1941NYAhamsAnother way in which the NYA was focusing on radio is shown in this photo from the September, 1940, issue of Radio News.  The Army was in the process of setting up an Amateur Radio network to link Army installations, and it was tapping NYA youth to build that network.  Shown here are Ruth Gaines and Jessie Suddath, both of Georgia, testing the ham gear that they had built.  According to the caption, both were licensed, although their call signs are not stated.

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U.S. Coast Guard SPARS Radio Operator, 1943

1943USCGradioThe cover of this wartime issue of Radio Craft magazine, May 1943, shows a radioman, as her designation is called, of the U.S. Coast Guard.  The accompanying article explained that she was a membe of SPARS,  the U.S. Coast Guard Women’s Reserve, which had just been created in November of 1942, and largely followed the Navy’s WAVES model of allowing women to serve in stateside positions. More than 11,000 women served in SPARS during the war.

The article explained that the women who would serve as radiomen underwent a sixteen-week training at the University of Wisconsin, which included Morse code, typing, and radio procedure and theory. At the conclusion of the training, the women would pass a code test at 22 words per minute, at which time they received a rating of Radioman 3rd Class.



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WHO Radio’s Flashing Neon Morse Sign

WHOneonsignShown here is the neon sign identifying the studios of WHO radio, which from 1932 to 1954 were located at 914 Walnut Street in Des Moines, Iowa.  This picture was taken in 1938 and appeared in the June 1938 issue of Rural Radio magazine.

The sign was recognizable to all as a flashing neon sign, but only an expert would be able to figure out what it was flashing.  The sign continually flashed in Morse code the station’s call letters:

   . – –       . . . .        – – –



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SS Eastland Disaster, 1915

S.S. Eastland.  Wikipedia photo.

S.S. Eastland in 1911. Wikipedia photo.

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the greatest loss of life in the history of the Great Lakes, the shipwreck of the SS Easland in Chicago on July 24, 1915.

The ship was commissioned in 1902, and served as a passenger and tour boat based in Chicago, with a dock on the Chicago River.  The ship had significant problems with listing from the start. The ship was topheavy, and the ship would list from passengers congregated on the top deck. In a 1903 incident, overcrowding caused water to flow up one of the ganglplanks.

On July 24, 1915, the ship and four other ships were chartered by Western Electric to take employees to a company picnic in Michigan City, Indiana. Ironically, safety measures on the ship made the ship more dangerous. In the wake of the Titanic disaster, ships such as the Eastland were required to carry a full set of lifeboats. The added weight on the deck probably made the top-heavy ship more dangerous.

Passengers, many of whom were low-wage immigrant Czech workers, began boarding for the picnic at 6:30 AM. By 7:10, the ship had reached its capacity of over 2500 passengers. The ship began to list to port (away from the wharf), and the crew attempted to stabilize by taking water into the ballast tanks. In the next 15 minutes, a number of passengers rushed to the port side and the ship lurched and rolled onto its side.

SS Eastland capsizied.  Wikipedia photo.

SS Eastland capsizied. Wikipedia photo.

The river was only 20 feet deep, and the side of the ship rested on the river bottom. Because of the cool weather, many passengers had already moved below deck, and found themselves trapped. Some of them were crushed by heavy furniture as the ship suddenly tilted. Even though the ship was only 20 feet from shore, a total of 844 passengers and four crew members died in the disaster.

Most of the Western Electric employees had worked at the company’s Hawthorne works. While the plant was open the following Monday, the workers spent most of the day gathered in small groups mourning. The plant was closed on Tuesday and Wednesday for workers to attend funerals. Later that week, the entire Bell System declared a day of mourning, with only essential workers coming in to work, and with memorial services across the country.

A few weeks later, Alexander Graham Bell himself spent the day touring the factory and taking the time to stop at each work station and desk to speak to employees about the disaster.

The ship was raised in August and eventually sold to the Navy.  After conversion, she served as the U.S.S.  Wilmette, and served largely as a training vessel at Great Lakes Naval Base.  The ship was used until being scrapped in 1947.


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1940 Crosley Radio Glamour


When I think of glamour, one of the first things to cross my mind would be a wooden five-tube broadcast/shorwave receiver, and in this 1940 advertisement, the Crosley Radio Corporation agrees with me. It is taken from the July 15, 1940, issue of Life Magazine.

According to the ad, certain cities such as Paris and Hollywood have Glamour. (Apparently even Nazi occupation can’t erase the glamour of the City of Lights.) Glamour can be found in certain ships and trains. And it can be found in certain people: Athletes, actors, statesmen, and musicians.

And there was glamour in the Glamour Tone of the Crosley Radio, “a new type of fidelity in sound.”

The glamorous object shown here is the Crosley model 18AN, a five-tube two-band AC-DC superheterodyne which retailed for $19.95 (slightly higher in the West and South). It featured a personal tone control and tuned both the standard broadcast band and shortwave for pulling in war news direct from Paris and other capitals of Europe.

Another nice example of this radio can be found at the Radio Attic Archives.

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NRI Conar Twins, 1965

1965ConarEIIn an earlier post, we looked at the history of the National Radio Institute of Washington, DC. Started in 1915 as the National Radio School, it featured prominently in national publications for decades, as founder James E. Smith, who apparently never aged, announced in virtually every issue that he would train you at home in your spare time for a good job in radio.


One of the school’s most famous products was the “Conar Twins,” a transmitter and receiver marketed for the novice amateur operator. They were a CW transmitter and receiver covering the 80, 40, and 15 meter bands. Fifty years ago this month, they were reviewed in Electronics Illustrated, July 1965.

According to the review, both kits were relatively easy to put together, with the transmitter taking about six hours, and the receiver, ten. While a few errors in the assembly manual were mentioned, both kits were described as being easy to assemble. The transmitter was tackled first, and the author reported no reports of chirp on the signal of the simple transmitter.

The review of the receiver seems to confirm the popular opinion that the receiver is surprisingly good for its price, with the performance designed as “tops.” The circuit was a superheterodyne, with two stages of IF amplification. The review noted that the receiver could be aligned without any instruments, but that instrument alignment was really necessary for top performance.

In 1965, the new novice could get on the air with a respectable station for only a $64 investment thanks to the Conar Twins.


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