Monthly Archives: August 2015

1940 Boy Scout’s Radio

1940AugBLSeventy-five years ago, this unnamed California Boy Scout decided to bring his radio to camp. The set was one he built himself in a cigar box. The caption in this picture from the August 1940 issue of Boys’ Life reveals that the picture was taken at the Camporee of the BSA’s Oakland Area Council.

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1915 Galveston Hurricane

Flooding in Galveston after 1915 hurricane.  Wikipedia photo.

Flooding in Galveston after 1915 hurricane. Wikipedia photo.

A hundred years ago, a major hurricane hit the United States, leaving between 275-400 dead and $50 million in property damage. Adjusted for inflation, this made the storm the fourth costliest in U.S. history. The storm brought winds and heavy rains to the Leeward Islands, Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, and Cuba. Like the deadly hurricane of 1900, it made landfall in Galveston, Texas. The 1900 hurricane had caused thousands of deaths, and some lessons had been learned. In particular, in the wake of the 1900 hurricane, Galveston saw construction of a seawall. The structure was only partially effective in 1915, but still limited the destruction and saved many lives. It did cause flooding, and the beach was eroded to the point where it became an offshore sandbar.

This was one of the first natural disasters in which radio played a role in relief efforts, as reported in the September 1915 issue of Wireless Age.  The magazine, published by the Marconi Company, reports that “in a tornado [sic] which blew continuously for eighteen hours in southeastern Texas, leaving death and destruction in its path, Marconi wireless telegraphy and Marconi men showed their worth by keeping the residents of Galveston in touch with the rest of the world when all other means of communication had failed.”

Port Arthur Marconi station, 1915.

Port Arthur Marconi station, 1915.

The aerial mast of the Galveston Marconi station was destroyed, and some of the ground plates and mast anchors were swept away. But even though flood waters reached the station house, the equipment was undamaged. A Marconi superintendant in New Orleans came to Galveston to investigate, and arrived on August 19, three days after the winds had started their fury. By that time, an army transport had already established radio contact with Forst Sam Houston, 250 miles away, but with only limited success. A Marconi-equipped steamship, the Concho, was in port, and the Galveston Marconi operators reported for duty aboard that ship. On August 20, they established contact with the Marconi station at Port Arthur, Texas. This was the only reliable communications link between Galveston and the outside world, and many messages were handled for the steamship companies, the military, and the general public.

At some point, the mast at the Port Arthur station gave way, at which time messages were sent and received from another Marconi-equipped steamer, the Wild Duck.

After unleashing its fury on Texas, the storm turned toward the Ohio Valley, finally fading out on August 23.


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UHF TV in Bridgeport, CT, 1950

1950AugPSThe contraption shown here was part of a 1950 RCA test of the capabilities of UHF television. The truck, carrying an extension ladder, cruised the streets of Bridgeport, Connecticut, to test the signal being put out by its experimental UHF television station, KC2XAK.

Inside the station wagon was a TV receiver evaluating the quality of the picture being received from the antenna atop the ladder.

The article from which this picture is taken, the August 1950 issue of Popular Science, points out that cities such as Bridgeport faced challenges getting television. With only twelve VHF channels allocated, the stations in New York had already filled the quota. Bridgeport was too far away for good over-the-air reception, but too close to use the same channels in use in New York or the adjacent ones. The solution was seen in setting up a “slave” UHF station. KC2XAK was rebroadcasting the signal of WNBT in New York, to about 100 homes in Bridgeport that had been equipped with UHF converters. The video was received by the relay station from a microwave feed from the Empire State Building. The audio was simply received over the air for retransmission.

The article noted that reception by the test households was good, and that UHF offered a promising way to deliver television to smaller cities.

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Philco Model 41-841


Many Point Scout Camp is owned and operated by the Northern Star Council of the Boy Scouts of America, and has been in operation since 1947. Local scouts and scouters don’t always realize what a gem it is, and those in other parts of the country are often unable to comprehend its sheer size. It covers 2400 acres and nine miles of shoreline on two lakes, Many Point and Round Lake. At 15 miles per hour, it’s about a 30 minute drive from one end of the camp to the other, and it’s another 30 minute drive to the nearest full-service gas station or supermarket. Therefore, it provides a real wilderness experience to thousands of scouts.

Because of its size, it lies on land that has seen its share of history, and since 1996, it has included a very nice History Center to showcase some of that history. In addition to the scouting that’s taken place there since 1947, the museum contains displays regarding the earlier users of the land. Therefore, it has displays about the Native Americans, the fur traders, the loggers, and the sportsmen. In the first half of the 20th century, several resorts were located on the land where Many Point is now located, and one of these is recreated in the museum.   (A complete guide to the History Center is available online.)

20150814_102540What caught my eye, of course, was the Philco portable radio shown here. The set, it turns out, is a Philco model 41-841, which would have been manufactured shortly before the War in 1941. So as far as the age of the set, it’s consistent with the display.

It is a battery-operated portable, which ran off a 3 volt A battery for the filaments, and a 90 volt B battery. It was also capable of running off household current, using a 117Z6G rectifier for the B+. When run on household current, the filament voltage was provided by simply dropping the rectified power supply through two resistors. The set’s schematic can be found at this link, and you can read more discussion at this link and this link.

In addition to the rectifier, the set has four tubes, a 1A7G, 1N5G, 1H5G or 1LD5, and 3Q5G. It’s a fairly typical superheterodyne, and has provisions for external antenna and ground. At night, the fishermen sitting around the table would be able to hear scores of stations from the Twin Cities, Chicago, and around the country. One of the strongest stations at night probably would have been WDGY, whose nine-tower array cast a formidable signal to the north.

During the daylight hours, the set would probably get a fairly good signal from WDAY in Fargo, North Dakota.  In addition, it might possibly have pulled in 50,000 watt WCCO or then 25,000 watt KSTP in the Twin Cities during the daylight hours.

Amateur Station 2GT, 1915


A hundred years ago, this state-of-the-art amateur station, 2GT, was pictured in the August 1915 issue of The Wireless Age.

The owner of the station is not identified, but the accompanying article notes that all of the apparatus was built and designed by three young men. The lower panel is the receiver, and the article describes the coils and variable condensers used. It notes that three detectors are available: “silicon, antimony, and valve,” all switchable from the front panel. The antenna was a 250-foot three-wire inverted “L”. The transmitter was a rotary gap, with a transformer capable of supplying 13,000 volts.

In the 1914 call book, the station is listed as being licensed to one John W. Vegessy, 435 E. 6th Street, New York.

1950 Marine Receiver

1950RDFThe mariner shown here is demonstrating the Lear Model P10A “Learavian” portable receiver designed for marine and aviation applications. The six-tube set could operate form 115 volts AC or DC, or from the enclosed rechargable battery, with a charging time of only 30 minutes. In addition to the standard broadcast band, the set also tuned the 195-415 kHz longwave band and the 1960-5750 kHz shortwave bands for reception of all aviation and marine broadcasts and navigational aids. With an external directional antenna, the set was suitable for radio direction finding.

The accompanying article noted that service technicians operating near yacht basins or airports could investigate the possibility of capturing the installation and repair business represented by the set.

The photo appeared on the cover of Radio News 65 years ago this month, August 1950.

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V-J Day 1945


After the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, 1945, surrender quickly followed. The Japanese communicated their intention to surrender on August 15 Japan time, which was the evening of August 14 in the United States. While the official U.S. date for V-J day was the date of the surrender in Tokyo Harbor, September 2, V-J Day was celebrated in the United States the night of August 14 and August 15. The newspaper shown here is the Milwaukee Journal, August 15, 1940.

US Navy photo, via Wikipedia.

US Navy photo, via Wikipedia.

Scenes such as the one shown here in New York were common around the country.  (The photo shown here is a public domain picture taken by an employee of the U.S. Navy.  It is not the iconic copyrighted photo of the same scene that appeared in Life Magazine.)  The Milwaukee paper, for example, reported that thousands of families spontaneously gathered in downtown Milwaukee, their car horns blaring.

Sayville Radio Tower, 1915


A hundred years ago this month, the August 1915 issue of Electrical Experimenter magazine
shows the giant radio tower at Sayville, Long Island, superimposed over a scene of the war raging in Europe. As discussed in earlier posts, the station was owned by Germany’s Telefunken System, which had been placed under German government control, and communicated with the counterpart station in Nauen, Germany. In August 1914, none other than Hiram Percy Maxim advised the U.S. Government that the station had been transmitting coded messages in violation of U.S. neutrality. The German-controlled stations in the U.S. had been subsequently placed under the watchful eye of the U.S. Government.

The accompanying editorial by Hugo Gernsback notes the ease with which the Germans could use the station to send coded messages to ships and U-boats at sea, under the guise of innocuous business correspondence.

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1955 British Two-Valve Receiver


Sixty years ago, the British magazine Pracitcal Wireless, August 1955, carried the plans for this “sensitive two-valver” receiver suitable for local broadcast reception. It featured a regenerative detector and one stage of audio amplification sufficient to drive a speaker. It ran off the 230 volt AC mains, but employed a transformer to isolate the chassis. The article noted, however, that it could be used without the isolation transformer, but warned that if constructed without one, “the operator must stand on a dry board when touching metal parts of the live chassis.” The set was designed to be sensitive enough to be used with a short one-foot antenna. The article noted that neither of the alternatives, either “a few feet of wire hanging from the back” or a frame aerial, add to the decorative effects of a room.

EF50 tube, Wikipedia photo. By RJB1 (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

EF50 tube, Wikipedia photo. By RJB1 (Own work) [GFDL  or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0.

The two tubes employed by the set were the EF50, which were probably available in large supply from surplus equipment. The tube, which has been called “the Tube that helped to Win the War,” was a major concern during the early days of the war. It was very versatile with uses in VHF and radar equipment. And it was manufactured by Philips in Holland, which was about to be overrun by the Nazis. Just before the invasion, the British managed to import a truckload of 25,000 of the tubes, along with more of the bases. Philips hurriedly dismantled its Dutch assembly line for transport to England. Members of the Philips family, along with members of the Government, escaped the day before Rotterdam was flattened aboard a British destroyer. They carried with them a wooden box containing the diamond dies that were required to make the tungsten wires inside the tubes.

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1940 Piano Salesmanship


In the late 1920’s and early 1930’s, the conventional wisdom was that radio would kill consumer demand for the piano. But starting in 1933, sales of the instruments began a steady climb, and reached an all-time high in 1940. In the first half of that year, over 100,000 pianos were sold. This time, the pundits gave the credit to radio, by stimulating music appreciation.

But one key factor in the piano boom was undoubtedly old-fashioned salesmanship. And this photo from Life Magazine, August 12, 1940, shows a good salesman in action. Radio brought music appreciation to the farm, and the Jenkins Music Company of Kansas City, Mo., decided to take advantage of the situation. The company had branches in Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas, and decided to cater to rural customers. About twice a week, the company would load up a truck with several pianos and a salesman and start cruising rural areas. It would find a likely farmhouse, and invite the farmer’s daughter out to the truck to see the pianos.

Here, we see sixteen-year-old Ann Williams in the truck. She already knows how to play the instrument a bit, so the salesman just stands back and lets the piano sell itself. The salesman then asks for permission to move the piano into the house “to see how it looks.” In the salesman’s experience, once the piano is moved into the parlour, it’s rarely taken out.

Ann goes out to the field and asks, “Daddy, can we buy a piano?” The salesman reassures him that he just wants to leave it there for a while, with no obligation.

Shortly thereafter, the $255 piano is in the house, and the mother has signed the contract and made the down payment.

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