Monthly Archives: September 2015

Lee DeForest Designs the ANTI-AD, 1930


Dr. Lee DeForest is, of course, best known as the inventor of the audion, or triode tube. But he had many other inventions to his credit. For example, a few months ago, we featured the 1950’s Arizona fallout shelter/ham shack of William A. Rhodes, W7PYH (later W7KLA). It turns out that DeForest was co-inventor along with Rhodes of an electronic light amplifier with applications in astronomy and television.

And 85 years ago, we see what some might consider to be DeForest’s greatest invention, the “ANTI-AD,” a remote control device for squelching annoying radio advertisements. DeForest describes the device in the September 1930 issue of Radio News, wherein he laments “the tendency of the present radio broadcast programs to degenerate more and more into crass commercialism and to devote a steadily indreasing proportion of the time to exploiting the merits of every conceivable commondity from tooth-paste and cigarettes to household furniture and diamond rings.”

While remote control sets were coming onto the market, DeForest notes that they came with the nuisance of having a cable between the radio and the easy chair, over which “the missus and the children invariably trip.”

Instead, DeForest came up with the entirely wireless solution to the problem. The radio’s antenna lead is connected to the device shown here, which contains a selenium cell, one tube, and a relay. When the offending commercial interrupts the program, the listener simply shines a small flashlight, “which can be had in very ornamental form” at the device. When the light hits the photocell, the antenna is disconnected and the radio silenced. The relay had a time delay which could be set to correspond to a typical commercial length.

“When the announcer begins to tell the health benefits of his cigarette,” the listener simply gives the unit a quick flash, knowing that at the approximate end of the commercial, the device will reset and the program resume.

DeForest concludes that the “Anti-Ad adds to real radio enjoyment and greatly extends the number of hours throughout the month when the radio set is in operation. It should therefore be received with open arms by the entire radio industry.”  But perhaps it wasn’t, since ten years later, he wrote in an open letter to the National Association of Broadcasters:  “What have you done with my child, the radio broadcast? You have debased this child, dressed him in rags of ragtime, tatters of jive and boogie-woogie.”

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1975 Calculator Hardware Hack

The calculator complete with the new added functions.

The calculator complete with the new added functions.

In the early days of electronic calculators, one common IC was the MM5737, which supported four functions and eight digits. Its big brother, the MM5738, was slightly more advanced, since it included a single memory, a constant function, a percent function, and a battery-saving feature that would turn off the display after about 60 seconds.

What gave early hardware hackers (long before the term was invented) something to do was the fact that many calculator manufacturers stocked only the MM5738, even though some of their calculators didn’t make use of the extra functions. The cost of the chips was about the same; they simply didn’t wire in all of the functions on the less expensive “four banger” calculators.

Someone at Popular Electronics noticed this, and figured out how to add the hidden features to the less expensive models, which was revealed in the September 1975 issue.  The first step was to determine which chip was contained inside, and this could be done from the keyboard, without even opening up the case. This was because the MM5738 had the ability to peform repeated squares. From the keyboard, you simply had to enter 3, x, =, =. If the display said 81, then there was an MM5738 inside. If the display said 9, then the calculator used the more basic MM5737, and no modification was possible.

The author acknowledged that there would be no economy in trying to find a keypad with the added buttons. Instead, he proposed mounting four pushbuttons on the side of the case, to serve as the MS (memory store), MR (memory recall), K (constant), and % (percent) keys. He performed the modification on a Novus model 850.

I earlier wrote about the Novus model 650, an even more bare-bones model that lacked a decimal point. I suspect it used the same chip, and a similar procedure could have added it. The 650 had a retail price of $19.95 when it came out in 1974, but was down to $8.88 by December 1975.

Armed with the information in this article, owners of one of these very basic calculators could beat the system and save a couple of dollars by upgrading to a more advanced model by themselves.

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Elinor Harriot, Radio Actress


Radio actress and announcer Elinor Harriot is shown here on the cover of Radio Guide 80 years ago today, September 28, 1935.

She was born Eleanor Harriet Hirschfield in Duluth, Minnesota, in 1910. Her mother was a teacher and her father was a Russian Jewish physician who had immigrated to America and 1885 and became a physician in St. Paul before moving to Duluth. Eleanor was interested in acting from an early age, and caught the attention of an agent while performing in a play at Duluth Central High. She attended the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where she met fellow student Don Ameche, who later encouraged her to a career in radio. She stayed in college for only a year before seeking out an acting career.

By 1932, she was in New York, playing a minor role on Broadway when she was called upon with only an hours notice to fill in for the star, Dorothy Gish. Her performance catapulted her to prominence, and in 1933 she moved to Chicago to take acting jobs in radio.

She worked in a number of daily soap operas and other radio shows, as well as serving as the commercial voice for sponsors such as Old Dutch Cleanser and Munsingwear. She signed with NBC in 1935, and a few months after the picture here appeared, secured her most famous role, that of Ruby Taylor, the wife of Amos, in Amos ‘n’ Andy, as well as other roles.  (The issue of Radio Guide in which her picture appeared reported that she was then with CBS.)

Shortly after the production of Amos and Andy was moved to California, she married in 1937 and left radio. She returned, however, to Amos and Andy in 1943. By that time she was the mother of two daughters and was active in the Beverly Hills community. She was later elected to two terms on the Beverly Hills Board of Education, where she acted to eliminate student dress codes, and was known as a strong proponent of racial equality.

She died in California in 2000 at the age of 89.


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1935 Memory Keyer


1935CQkeyEighty years ago, the September 1935 issue of Radio News described this “CQ Key,” an early memory keyer, by Ed. Glaser, W2BRB. It’s driven by a windshield wiper motor acquired from a junkyard for a dollar, and can be used to repeatedly call CQ. In the illustration here, a disc sending TEST is installed, with the disc at the upper right used for calling CQ. If you read counterclockwise starting near the top, you can see that it sends, “CQ CQ DE W2BRB” repeatedly.

The author notes that he initially hooked the disk directly to the motor and tried to control the speed with a rheostat. The 6-volt motor performed well down to 4 volts, but below that voltage the motor ran unevenly or sometimes stopped. Therefore, he described an arrangement with a 4:1 gear ratio that proved satisfactory.

The author reports that the setup performed well, and that he had run the key for hours on end on 5 meters and 75 centimeters, presumably running early beacons on VHF and UHF.

The disc is made of 3/16 inch bakelite, 2-1/2 inches in diameter. The contacts were taken from an old relay and mounted so that they would be closed by the rotating disc. The author notes that this arrangement is sufficient for keying a couple hundred volts, but for higher voltages, a relay would be necessary. The keyer was “programmed” with a hacksaw and file, and the author reported that the process took a couple of hours, with the work on subsequent discs going much faster.

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Rena Jane Frew, op., 8ME, Miss Radio 1925

RenaJaneFrewNinety years ago today, the September 26, 1925, issue of Radio Digest announced the winner of the coveted title of Miss Radio 1925, namely, Miss Rena Jane Frew of 334 Fifth Street, Beaver, Pennsylvania.

She won a silver cup and a trip to New York City where the award was presented at the Radio World’s Fair by Governor Al Smith. The contest was billed as one to “discover the ‘Diana of Radio’–the most successful and enthusiastic hunter of distant stations.”

Miss Frew was twenty years old.  The magazine reported that she had been an amateur since the age of 14, and reported the call sign of her station as 8ME.  According to the 1922 call book, that call was licensed to Beaver High School.  That same call book does not show any call under her name, meaning that she apparently did not have her own station.  According to the Harrisburg Evening News, Sept. 12, 1925, she did have her operator’s license, and states that she was the first licensed operator in Pennsylvania, and probably the first east of the Mississippi. During her freshman year, she taught a class in wireless.  In fact, she was well known to the hams in the Pittsburgh district, who referred to her as the “Little Ladybug.” After broadcasting became popular, she tuned in every principal station in the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico, as well as foreign stations.

Among her other duties, according to the Chicago Tribune, Miss Frew attended the Chicago radio show as one of the chief guests.

In 1927, she was teaching, and as one of her former eigth grade students recounts, she headed that school’s radio club.

According to her sister’s obituary, she became a special education teacher in Rialto, California, and died on June 30, 1996.  A photo of the cup being presented by the governor is available at this link.

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1955 8-Transistor Portable from Popular Science


Sixty years ago, a transistor portable radio was still a rather expensive luxury.  The first such set to be marketed, the Regency TR-1 had a retail price of $49.95.  (Remember that this was when the money was still made out of silver, so it would roughly translate to the value of fifty silver dollars today).

For the hobbyist wanting to try his own hand, it was probably possible to save some money, but it was an ambitious project.  The plans for the set shown above appeared in Popular Science in September, 1955.  The article described the construction of an 8-transistor superhet using eight RD 2517A NPN transistors.  It recommends the use of a matched set, which was available for $20.

To put the circuit in terms that the readers would understand, the author noted that it was essentially the same as a receiver employing eight triode tubes, but with vastly reduced power needs. The power was supplied by a 21-volt alkaline battery consisting of 15 cells. The set actually required two batteries of 9.8 and 1.4 volts. The author described how to do surgery on the battery to get the two values. An alternative was to use AA penlite cells, with a slightly larger case.

In addition to the electronic assembly, the set required a fair amount of metal work. The article shows how to cut and bend the chassis, and describes how to make the cutouts for the IF transformers. The cabinet was made of cigar box wood.


The schematic reveals a circuit as good as the Regency or similar high-end transistor portable, and I have no doubt that it was a good performer. The author reports that the set performed well in the lower level of Grand Central Station, and as his train passed through the suburbs, reception was still good even 25 miles from the transmitters, and even on lower powered stations.

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1930 Four Tube Shortwave Receiver


85 years ago, the September and October 1930 issues of Popular Mechanics showed how to build this four tube shortwave receiver which tuned 15 to 195 meters “without plug-in coils. Instead, it had a four-position band switch, which made it “no longer necessary to shut off the set and take it apart in order to change from one wave band to the other.” The regenerative receiver employed two 224 tubes in the RF section, followed by a two stage audio amplifier using a 201-A and a 112-A. It was set up for headphone use, although provisions were made for adding an external loudspeaker. In addition to the band switch on the left, the front panel had tuning and regeneration controls. The chassis was made of brass, with a bakelite front panel.

The author's lovely assistant makes some finishing touches to the cabinet.

The author’s lovely assistant makes some finishing touches to the cabinet.

The author reported that the set was tested in Chicago, and pulled in over the course of a few hours numerous amateur stations, including the seventh, fourth, fifth, sixth, second, and ninth call districts. Due to “unfavorable atmospheric conditions” during the test, no foreign stations were received, but it did pick up broadcasts from WGY.

The author was Frank L. Brittin, W9DCX, who was with the magazine from 1920 until his death in 1955. From Springfield, Illinois, he ws first licensed in 1915 and was an early member of the ARRL. His death is noted in the magazine’s July 1955 issue.

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W2MTL: Radio Scouting in 1941


The April 1941 issue of Boys’ Life carried this photo of W2MTL, the club station of Explorer Troop (what would later be called a Post) 1035, sponsored by the New York City YMHA, which is today known as the 92nd Street Y.  According to the sign in the background, the licensee of the station was the “Y Scout Amateur Radio Club.”  Boys’ Life notes that the explorer troop was “one unit of the Scout family” sponsored by the YMHA.  From the barely visible flag, it appears that another unit was Boy Scout Troop 635.  The pennant appears to have been awarded to a “den,” indicating that the organization also chartered a Cub Scout pack.

The club must have been fairly new, since the call was not listed in the 1938 call book.  It was still listed as late as 1960.

The call was no longer listed in the  1969 or 1972 call book, although a 1972 Jewish Community Center Program Guide still listed them as having such a program.  At the time the picture was taken, Troop 635 already had a long history in Scouting.  It was organized in 1913, and had the distinction of being the first troop organized by a Jewish community center.

The June 16, 1941, issue of Broadcasting reveals that the station was under the leadership of Jack Trapkin, W2CD, transmitter engineer of WWRL.  In 1942, Trapkin moved to the engineering staff of the CBS network.

W2MTL obviously had a very well equipped station by prewar standards, and I’m sure there’s much more to the story.  If you have any additional details or can lead me to other sources, please share them, either in the comments or by e-mail.


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Radio Keeps a Government Girl Company, 1943

Image via Wikimedia.

Image via Wikimedia.

By 1944, with able-bodied men off to war, a third of the Civil Service was composed of women, and thousands of “Government Girls” descended on Washington to do their part to win the war by taking jobs in the quickly expanding federal government.

This brought acute housing shortages, and many of them lived in boarding houses.  Among them was the young woman shown here in this iconic photograph by government photographer Esther Bubley.  Bubley was herself one of those Government Girls.  She grew up in Superior Wisconsin.  After graduating from high school in the late 1930’s, she attended Superior Teachers College (now University of Wisconsin-Superior) before studying photography at the Minneapolis School of Art (now the Minneapolis College of Art and Design).

"I come in here pretty often, sometimes alone, mostly with another girl, we drink beer, and talk, and of course we keep our eyes open--you'd be surprised at how often nice, lonesome soldiers ask Sue, the waitress, to introduce them to us" Wikimedia.

“I come in here pretty often, sometimes alone, mostly with another girl, we drink beer, and talk, and of course we keep our eyes open–you’d be surprised at how often nice, lonesome soldiers ask Sue, the waitress, to introduce them to us” Wikimedia.

She moved to Washington in 1942, eventually landing a job as a photographer with the Office of War Information, where she documented the home front, including the lives of her fellow civil servants, such as the one shown above, taken in January 1943, with the caption:   “A radio is company for this girl in her boardinghouse room.”  Another civil servant is shown in the picture to the left.

The girl in the radio picture is, according to this source, quite likely one of Bubley’s sisters.  The boardinghouse project was Bubley’s first in Washington.  Even though she started out as a microfilm clerk, the results launched her career as a photographer.

The other star of the photo is, of course, the radio.  It can be examined in better detail in the available high resolution scan.  There aren’t enough details to positively identify it.  I thought that the unusual octagonal tuning dial would make the job easy, but I was wrong.

Stromberg-Carlson did have a number of sets with the distinctive octagonal tuning dial, but this doesn’t appear to be a Stromberg-Carlson.  First of all, the set is just too low-end for that company’s line.  It has only two controls, and the tuning knob is connected directly to the tuning condenser, with no kind of gearing visible.  More importantly, the Stromberg-Carlson name is not visible.  It would almost certainly have appeared on the dial itself, but the only markings on this one are “kilocycles” and “meters.”

There is a brand name visible under the speaker, but it’s not possible to make it out.  It appears to start with either an M or a W, but it certainly isn’t the same script used by Stromberg-Carlson.  Despite the passing resemblance to some of Stromberg-Carlson’s sets, I have to rule it out.  If anything, it’s a cheap knockoff of a Stromberg-Carlson.

It’s most likely that the radio had its beginnings in the nebulous radio history of Chicago.  There’s a good chance that it was manufactured in a mysterious facility known only as “Plant A,”  1217 W. Washington Blvd. Chicago was the home of many small radio factories, the largest of which was “Plant A.” They were known only by the source given on the label in back, which also recited that they were manufactured under license of the patent holders. And good number of them identified the source as being “Plant A.” Plant A turned out radios under the names of Clinton, Corona, Crusader, Cub, Bostonian, Buckingham, Federal, Harmony, Marshall, Nightengale, Universal, and Westminster. In most cases, these were the house brands of individual stores who contracted with the owners of Plant A.

It’s really not known who the owners of Plant A and the other Chicago plants were. One source lists the owner as being Clinton Mfg. Co., but it’s not entirely clear whether Clinton owned the plant, or whether it was simply one of the brands manufactured there.

In any event, the circumstantial evidence seems strong that the radio came from one of these Chicago plants.  Civilian radio production ended on April 22, 1942, and the set resembles the inexpensive four-tube radios that were available in about 1940.  For example, the circuit is probably very close to the Tiny Knight from Chicago’s Allied Radio, or the 1940 Aetna Midget from Chicago-based Walgreen’s.  Like those sets, the Government Girl probably paid about $7.95 for it at a drug store, tire store, or some other store that contracted with a factory in Chicago to put their name on it.

The closest match I was able to find to the Government Girl’s radio is this Clinton Model 440 4-tube TRF receiver.  The general layout is the same, and it’s quite possible that there’s an identical chassis inside.  In fact, the Clinton seems to have a permanently attached antenna wire, which is visible in the Government Girl’s window.

Now that we have a good suspicion of what the radio was, I’m sure you’re wondering what station the Government Girl was listening to.  The dial pointer is visible in the high resolution photo, but it’s impossible to read the numbers.  But the top scale is clearly frequency in kilocycles, and the bottom scale is wavelength in meters.  The numbers are closer together at the left on the meter scale, indicating that this is the top of the dial (190 meters, or 1600 kilocycles).  With that hint, it’s clear that the dial is set to 250 meters, meaning that the position of the top scale is 1200 kilocycles.

The Winter 1943 issue of White’s Radio Log shows that the most likely station as  WOL, on 1260 with 1000 watts.  The closest possible other contenders would have been 50,000 watt stations WBAL in Baltimore, on 1090, or WRVA on 1140 in Richmond, but it doesn’t appear that the dial is set low enough for either of those stations.  In fact, with the simple 4-tube receiver and dubious window antenna, the signal from the Richmond station would probably have been too weak to keep the set’s owner company.

Incidentally, even though the caption says that the radio was keeping her company, it was turned off when the picture was taken.  Even a humble radio such as this one would have had a dial light.  The dial light wasn’t there as a convenience for the user; that was just a convenient side-effect.  In a radio such as this with the tube filaments wired in series, the dial lamp is in parallel with some of the tubes to limit the current to them.  Without the dial light, those tubes would fail prematurely, especially when the set is first turned on.  So even the radio that a Government Girl bought at the drug store for $7.95 would have had one.

I would like to thank the members who helped me figure out the mysteries of this radio, in particular KP4SX and KC8VWM.  And if anyone has further details, please share them, either by e-mail or in the comments.

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Arthur C. Miller, 1930-40’s Radio Writer

Miller's 1940 project going together.

Miller’s 1940 project going together.

No, he didn’t write Death of a Salesman. That was a different Arthur Miller, as was the cinematographer. Instead, the byline of Arthur C. Miller appeared in numerous radio articles in Popular Science in the 1930’s and 1940’s. While most of his how-to articles appeared in Popular Science, he did write for other magazines, such as the “world’s smallest 3 tube receiver” shown here in the December, 1936 issue of Radio Craft.RadioCraftDec1936

Miller’s specialty was construction articles, usually aimed at the relative beginner to the radio art. A good example of his writing appeared 75 years ago this month, in the September 1940 issue of Popular Science.

This was the start of a series entitled “Get Started in Radio for $8.95.” Miller provides a parts list for a beginner to put together his own electronics laboratory kit. In the series of articles, the reader would put together a simple circuit, and in later installments, modify or add to it. In the process, the reader would put together six different circuits to provide a course in both construction and theory. The first circuit was a two-tube earphone receiver. Over the months, it would grow to a four-tube receiver with speaker. The circuits would also include an audio amplifier for use with a phonograph. All of the circuits were designed to use the same parts, allowing the reader to build them, take them apart, and build something else, making the most of the initial assortment of parts.

The series was essentially the same concept as the “Progressive Edu-Kit,” which appeared in radio publications for decades. A good description of that kit can be found at KB8TAD’s page.

Despite the fact that Miller was a fairly prolific author of radio articles, I’ve been unable to find much information about him. In the preface of the magazine’s book Radio for the Millions, Miller is identified as being from New York. The 1938 call book lists no Arthur Miller in the second call area, and I’ve never seen a call sign in his byline. Therefore, it’s safe to say that he wasn’t a licensed ham. In the 1960’s, an Arthur C. Miller served as production editor of Electronics magazine, although I don’t know if that’s one and the same. If anyone has further information about this author, I would appreciate if you could share it, either in the comments or by e-mail.

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