Monthly Archives: October 2015

1941 Model RCA Victor Radios

1941RCA75 years ago today, the October 21, 1940, issue of Life Magazine carried this two-page ad showing what would be some of its last prewar radios, from the company’s 1941 model year. The ad points out that even for your home’s extra radio, you can get RCA Victor quality at a low price, since the models start with the the model 45X-1, later dubbed the “Little Nipper,” for $9.95.  This inexpensive set was billed as having, in addition to standard broadcast, “one police band.” A closer inspection reveals, however, that the “police band” means only that it tunes above the standard broadcast band to 1720 kHz, so that police calls in many cities could be heard at the top of the standard AM dial.

Families wishing to tune in to foreign broadcasts with their “extra” set could do so for as little as $19.95 with the model 16X-11, which tuned standard broadcast and one short wave band. Many of the sets featured a “plug-in for Victrola,” meaning that an external phonograph could be added. The least expensive combination radio-phono was the model V-100 for $29.95.

With the end of civilian radio production on April 22, 1942, virtually all of these sets would see service for the next five years, providing war information to their owners.

Sally Bell, West Coast Radio Star, 1925


Ninety years ago this month, Radio Age magazine, October 1925, carried this photo of radio star Sally Bell, in what the magazine called an “exceedingly piquant pose.” It notes that she was capturing the hearts of listeners with her eccentric programs with her trusty ukulele. Apparently a California girl, she appeared most consistently on the Hollywood and Los Angeles stations.

1915 Boys’ Life Receiver

1915SKReceiverA hundred years ago this month, Boys’ Life Magazine carried this ad for a “special station for receiving time signals.” For six dollars, the set included the transformer, loading coil and condenser in a mahogany case. Switches were mounted on the front, with a sensitive cat whisker detector on the top. This set came complete with headphone with silk cord and leather covered headband. The ad reported that other sets were avalable starting at two dollars.

The set was supplied by the S. & K. Electric & Mfg. Co., of 302 Sackett Street, Brooklyn, New York.  From the picture, the set appears to be well made, and would undoubtedly pull in the signals from NAA within several hundred miles of Arlington.

1955 British Two Valve “Meteor Mini-Receiver”


Sixty years ago, the British publication Radio Constructor carried the plans for this simple two-tube receiver in its SeptemberOctober,
and November 1955 issues. The receiver was dubbed the “Meteor Min-Receiver,” and used an EF41 tube as a regenerative detector, tuning 730 kHz through 32 MHz with the specified plug-in coils. An EL42 was used as a one-stage audio amplifier for driving a pair of headphones.

1955MeteorSchematicThe receiver was apparently a popular design, since subsequent issues of the magazine carried advertisements from multiple suppliers offering the particular parts that were needed.

In addition to the main tuning control, the three smaller knobs are the antenna trimmer, the bandspread, and the regeneration control.  The airplane and “Meteor” logo on the upper right hand corner aren’t a control, as it appears at first blush.  That’s simply a decal which was available at a bicycle shop, used to give the little homemade receiver a brand name and logo.

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Jamboree On The Air 2015

This weekend is Jamboree On The Air (JOTA) and on Saturday, I’ll be with K0BSA at the North Star Museum of Boy Scouting and Girl Scouting in North Saint Paul, Minnesota.  K0BSA is sponsored by the Minnesota Youth Amateur Radio Council (MNYARC), and photos of previous JOTA operations are available on their website.

JOTA is an international scouting event which allows Scouts around the world to communicate via amateur radio with other scouts and other amateur radio operators.  Our event at the North Star Museum is open to all Scouts, and to the public.  It’s free of charge (although we encourage you to also visit the rest of the museum while you’re there, which does have an admission charge.)

This is the 58th annual JOTA, the first one being run in 1958.  The illustration above is from the announcement for the 1959 version, which at the time was called Radio-Jambo.  The call signs in the illustration were Scout headquarters stations around the world that were on the air that year.

The K0BSA call sign has been connected with the Northern Star Council of the BSA for many years, and I never realized that it had an earlier use.  The 1960 National Scout Jamboree was held in Colorado Springs, Colorado, the only time the event has been held in “Zero Land.”  There has been Radio Scouting at most, if not all, Scout Jamborees, and in 1960, the official station of the Jamboree was assigned the K0BSA call sign.  While the quality of this scan is poor, he Scout shown at the controls of K0BSA in this photo is Steve Wood, K4FJO, of High Point, N.C., who was one of many guest operators of the station.  On his profile, K5KG reports that he was on staff at the Jamboree trading post, and spent all of his off hours at the station.

The June 1960 issue of Boys’ Life reported that K0BSA would be operating on all bands from reveille to taps on both phone and CW, with Pedro clomping at the key or braying into the mike.

If you’re in the Twin Cities and have an interest in radio and/or scouting, please stop by and visit.  The event is open to Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and Non-Scouts, which should cover just about everyone.  If you’re elsewhere, you can check with your local Scout council.  And, of course, if you’re a Ham, please listen for stations calling CQ JOTA and help introduce a Scout to Amateur Radio.

I will also be counseling the Radio Merit Badge.  Last year, about 20 Scouts earned the merit badge.  “Back in the day” when I was a Scout, the merit badge required a knowledge of Morse Code, meaning that the Scouts who earned it usually did so after getting their amateur license.  However, that has changed in recent years, and the merit badge is now more of an introduction to radio.  My goal is to get Scouts interested in Amateur Radio, and a few of them have followed up by getting their license.  I hope I once again have the opportunity to help Scouts who want to follow up and get their “ticket.”

Stratovision: Airborne TV Broadcasting


Seventy years ago this month, Radio Craft magazine, October 1945, introduced the concept of Stratovision, and the illustration above showed how it could work.

The war was over, and the American public was hungry for television.  A handful of markets already had stations using the same format that would remain in use for seventy years.  For example, the predecessor of WNBT-TV came on the air in New York in 1939.  And the predecessor of WABD signed on in 1944.  And starting in 1942, Los Angeles had the station that would become KTLA.  But most of the nation was dark as far as television signals.  To get signals to a significant proportion of the populations would require hundreds of stations.  And getting network programs to those stations would require either hundreds of microwave relay stations, are a coaxial network estimated to cost a hundred million dollars.

Stratovision provided an alternative.  The plan was proposed in 1945 by Westinghouse, and was the brainchild of engineer C.E. Nobles.  Under the plan, fourteen aircraft would fly at the predetermined locations shown on the diagram at an altitude of 30,000 feet where they would continually orbit their designated location.  They would transmit VHF and UHF television signals, as well as FM broadcasts.  Because of the antenna height, each plane would provide a good broadcast signal to an area 422 miles in diameter.  And because there would be no terrain that would need to be overcome, the transmitters could operate with much less power than ground-based stations.

The system also solved the problem of delivering network programming.  Only eight planes would be required to link New York with Los Angeles.  The planes would establish a reliable network whenever they were in flight, and the fourteen planes would provide broadcast television to 78% of the country’s population.  The plan called for each plane to broadcast four television and five FM signals.

The plan may appear far fetched to some, but it is sound, and would result in a workable national network.  The system was tested by Westinghouse in 1948 and 1949, as seen in this photo.   In one 1949 test, the aircraft shown here, a B-29, relayed the signal of WMAR-TV in Baltimore on channel 6, using a 5 kW video and 1 kw aural transmitter. In June 1948, the same aircraft was used to rebroadcast the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia for one hour. As part of the test, a receiver was set up in Zanesville, Ohio, where it was used to demonstrate to the gathered newspaper reporters that the system was capable of reaching small town and farm homes.

Reception reports were solicited, and many were received.  From the reports, Westinghouse confirmed that eight planes would provide the transcontinental relay.

There’s nothing technically unfeasible about Stratovision.  The reason why it never took off (pardon the pun) was probably the mere fact that broadcast stations did spring up nationwide.  They were initially provided with programs by kinescope recordings, but microwave and coaxial transmission quickly came into place.  For example, by 1950, the Minneapolis/St. Paul market was getting the national networks live, by means of a coaxial cable from Des Moines, which was in turn linked to Chicago by microwave relay.  Once the network signal was in place, there was no need for Stratovision’s relay services.  And by this time, most major cities had multiple stations, and smaller markets had at least one.  And for those far in the hinterlands, there were herculean efforts to get the distant terrestrial signals, such as those use in the tiny communities of Ellensburg, Washington and Marathon, Ontario.

But despite the fact that Stratovision was never adopted for its intended purpose, it did live on, and continues to do so, in some specialized niches.  For example, between 1961 and 1968, educational programs were broadcast from two DC-6AB aircraft based at Purdue University by the Midwest Program on Airborne Television Instruction (MPATI).  The MPATI aircraft would fly in a figure-8 pattern for six to eight hours at a time at 23,000 feet above a point just north of Muncie, Indiana.  Prerecorded educational programs were broadcast on UHF channels 72 and 76, with call letters KS2XGA and KS2XGD.  The transmission diameter was 200 miles, and covered both the Chicago and Detroit metropolitan areas.

Between 1966 and 1972, the U.S. Navy used Stratovision to broadcast two channels in the area surrounding Saigon, South Vietnam.  One channel was intended for the Vietnamese audience, with the other providing information and entertainment programs to U.S. servicemen.  Armed forces programs were carried on channel 11, with call letters NWB-TV, with the Vietnamese program on channel 9 with call letters THVN-TV.  The aircraft also broadcast on 1000 kHz AM and 99.9 MHz FM.  The Vietnamese program typically ran 1-1/2 hours per day, with the armed forces channel running three hours per day.  American programs included Bonanza, Perry Mason, Ed Sullivan, and the Tonight Show.

Click photo for screen-resolution image

Pennsylvania Air National Guard Commando Solo aircraft preparing to depart for emergency broadcasts to Haiti in 2010. Department of Defense photo.

The U.S. military continues to use EC-130 Commando Solo aircraft to provide PSYOPS broadcasts during war.  Most recently, only radio programming has been used.  But the aircraft is capable of television transmissions.  For example, in 1999 in the former Yugoslavia, some television programming, using Yugoslavian broadcast format, was transmitted from aircraft.  Typically, Commando Solo transmits an FM program, along with broadcasts on the standard AM band and short wave.  For AM and short wave, the airborne transmitter has no particular advantage, other than providing a secure location to house the station.  But on FM, the signal, like the original Stratovision concept, takes advantage of the aircraft’s altitude, and can provide a strong broadcast signal over a large area with a relatively low powered transmitter.  The photo here shows a Pennsylvania Air National Guard Commando Solo aircraft preparing to depart for Haiti to make emergency broadcasts in the wake of the 2010 earthquake.

During the 2011 attack on Libya, Commando Solo aircraft broadcast information.  Transcripts of the broadcasts are available at  Since the Libyan broadcasts were carried on short wave as well as FM, they were heard by short wave listeners worldwide, including myself.  A recording of the transmissions can be found at this video:




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See Us at Freedom2015, Nov. 6-7, Des Moines

When we’re not busy posting pictures of old radios, one of our more serious concerns is the state of religious liberty in America.  Therefore, we will be attending Freedom2015, a religious liberty conference in Des Moines, Iowa, Friday November 6 and Saturday November 7.  The conference has a number of nationally recognized speakers scheduled, including presidential candidate Ted Cruz.  If you’re attending, please look for me.  I’ll probably be wearing my bright yellow shirt.

One of the conference sponsors is Samaritan Ministries, about which I’ve written in other posts.  If you plan on attending, please let me know so that I can say hello!

WNBT-TV New York, 1945


1945WNBTSeventy years ago today, NBC took out a two-page ad in Life Magazine, October 15, 1945, promoting itself as America’s No. 1 Network.

In addition to promoting its radio programs, it offers a reminder that “‘The Tomorrow’ people talked of only a short time ago, is here today.” It points out that thousands in New York were already enjoying visual entertainment, news, sports, fashion shows, dramas and other programming from WNBT. The ad points out that five large advertisers were already on board, and as more sets became available, larger TV audiences would be able to find visual pleasure in the words, “This is the National Broadcasting Company.”

The production shown here is apparently one of those fashion shows going out over the station which had first signed on in 1939.  The station already had competition from two other stations, including Dumont station WABD.

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It’s off to a modest start, but I’ve just started a new website,  Obviously, I still have a lot of work to do, but I hope this new site meets a need.

Undoubtedly, other parents have encountered Common Core standards.  Of course, if you listen to the conspiracy buffs, Common Core is to blame for everything that’s wrong with education.  I don’t go quite that far, but I think I have identified a serious problem with Common Core.  There is a certain amount of material that every student is expected to master.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that principle, and I agree with it completely.

The problem with the concept is that every teacher at a given grade level is expected to teach those concepts, whether or not those concepts are within that particular teacher’s area of expertise.  The teacher is in an unenviable position:  He or she is presented with a certain set of material and is expected to teach it in a particular way, even if teaching slightly different material in a slightly different way would have a better outcome.  It’s another case of social problems being “solved” by taking discretion away from the very people who are best able to solve the problem.  In short, the teacher isn’t really allowed to use his or her expertise to teach.  Instead, he or she is asked to carry out directives handed down from politicians and bureaucrats.

So it’s not really the teacher’s fault, but the end result is that the teacher delivers poor instruction.  My son is facing this as he is expected to master the material that bureaucrats have mandated as being required for sixth graders.  And he’s expected to learn it in the manner dictated by those bureaucrats.  The net result is that he’s not learning the material unless I step in and teach it to him.

Some students undoubtedly thrive with the mandated instructional methods.  But not all of them do.  My son, even though he has a firm understanding of mathematical concepts that are far above his grade level, was not understanding instruction about elementary concepts, even though he had mastered the actual material years earlier.  He needed an approach different from the one mandated by Common Core, and I stepped in to provide it.

Since my son didn’t understand the material until I explained it, I assume that there are others in the same situation.  And since I need to explain it anyway, little additional effort is required to put my explanations on video and make them available to others, and that’s exactly what I decided to do.  The videos themselves are hosted on YouTube, and they’re all available at my new site,  For now, there’s just one video, but as the school year progresses, I plan to create a comprehensive resource that will be useful for parents and students.

Not every student will thrive with my approach.  Some of them will prefer the mandated format, and if they do, they should continue to follow it.  Common Core works for them, and that’s a good thing for them.

But for those for whom Common Core is not working, I encourage you to seek out other approaches.  Perhaps will be the approach that works for your student.  Or perhaps it will be something very different.  But one size does not fit all, and it is my hope that I’ll provide instruction of a size that will be suitable for at least some.

This introductory video for parents explains more:


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Zeppelin Raid on London, 13 October 1915

Zeppelin L 15 in the Thames, 1916.

A hundred years ago tonight, the night of October 13/14, 1915, was the deadliest German air raid on Britain of the First World War. In what became known as the “Theatreland Raid,” five German Navy Zeppelins arrived over the Norfolk coast at about 6:30 PM. Unbeknownst to the Germans, new ground defenses had been put in place, but the British guns proved ineffective. One of the guns, near Broxbourne, was put out of action by bombs dropped from Zeppein L 15. The airship continued to London and began bombing over Charing Cross. The first bombs struck the Lyceum Theatre, killing 17. Additional bombs were dropped on Holborn. As it approached Moorgate, it encountered a new 75 millimeter gun. Recognizing the threat, the airship quickly jettisoned ballast and dropped only three more bombs before fleeing.

In total, the five German airships killed 71 and injured 128 that night.  Among those killed were three brothers, ages 10, 14, and 15. Roy, Brien, and Gorden Currie were sleeping when a bomb fell on their building.

When the fire brigade reached the boys’ room, Brien, the youngest, was already dead. Roy, the middle boy, was dead on arrival at the hospital. Gorden, the eldest, was severely wounded with wounds to the back, chest, hip, and thigh. A piece of shrapnel was in his body. He died of his wounds two days later.

At the coroner’s inquest, the Currie family’s housekeeper gave this account of the deadly attack:

I was fast asleep when I heard an awful explosion which awoke me. I seemed to spring from the top of the bed to the bottom. Then I groped my way to the door which I found was on the floor. I stayed there because the side wall had fallen in on the stairs and landing. I called out to the father asking if he was all right. He replied, “I’m all right, but I can’t move.” Then next I called for the boys, only the elder one answered. He said, “do get help.” I shouted to the lady next door. The wall was out and I could see into her house. I said, “our staircase is cut off, will you get help?”

The commander of Zeppelin L 15, which was probably the ship responsible for killing the boys, later described the mission in very different terms from his perspective at 9000 feet:

We then steered over Hyde Park, in the direction of the City. The picture we saw was indescribably beautiful–shrapnel bursting all around, our own bombs bursting and the flashes from the anti-aircraft batteries below. We flew over the City at between 9,000 and 9,800 feet and dropped twenty 110-pound bombs, and all the incendiary bombs. We could see large explosions between Charing Cross Station and the Bank of England.

The next year, this craft met its demise when it was taken down in the Thames estuary on April 1, 1916, shown in the picture above. One crewman was killed and the other 17 taken prisoner.

The German Zeppelin raids probably didn’t have the intended effect of terrorizing the populace into surrender.  German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweig warned General Paul von Hindenburg that the anger of the English public over the raids had reached such a pitch that a negotiated peace between the two countries would be impossible.  This assessment was probably correct.  The Times of London opined after one raid, “if it were possible for the enemy to increase the utter and almost universal detestation in which he is held by the people of this country, he did it yesterday.”

In fact, one British army recruitment poster took advantage of the outrage by showing the image of a Zeppelin over a British city with the admonition, “it is far better to face the bullets than to be killed at home by a bomb. Join the army at once and help to stop an air raid.”

This BBC video contains the recollections of a survivor of a different attack, which took place in 1917.  That attack took the lives of eighteen five-year-old students.  This survivor was six years old and sitting at his desk at the time of the attack.

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