Monthly Archives: December 2015

Santa Claus Goes to War!


This World War 2 poster serves as a stern reminder of why you want to keep your name off the naughty list. Hitler and Tojo hadn’t been very nice, and the Jolly Old Elf was going to see to it that they got more than a lump of coal.

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Buying a Transistor Radio, 1960


Fifty-five years ago, Santa was getting ready to place a lot of transistor radios under trees, and radio engineer Richard Stollmack is shown above giving advice to one of Santa’s helpers on how to avoid getting taken by an unscrupulous retailer. Here, he took the back off a few high quality sets to show the consumer what one should look like: They were part packed, and obviously complex designs.

Stollmack first advised shopping at a store with a good reputation, where the dealer won’t misrepresent merchandise and will honor the warranty. He warned not to buy a radio with fewer than six transistors if you wanted worthwhile performance. Also, he stressed that you should look for a superheterodyne circuit, which would require a bare minimum of five transistors. Any doubt could be resolved by looking at the tuning condenser to see if it was a dual-gang unit.  Any set with less than five transistors should be considered a toy or novelty, Stollmack warned. He advised that you should insist on having the salesman open up the back of the set and let you see the inner construction and compare it to a higher priced set. Shoddy construction or a paucity of parts would be a major warning.

1960DecemberEI2He also stressed the need to handle the radio and take it outside or close to a window. In this photo, he is showing a trick sometimes used by unscrupulous dealers to pass off cheap novelty sets as having better reception than they really offered. The set performs well when located near an induction coil, cleverly concealed under the counter, hooked to a longwire antenna. But when brought home, the set would be unlikely to get more than a couple of stations with loudspeaker volume.

Stollmack shared these tips in the December 1960 issue of Electronics Illustrated.

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Medium Wave Police DX’ing in 1965

A sampling of the author's MF police QSLs.

A sampling of the author’s MF police QSLs.

I was surprised to learn that as recently as 1965, there were still some police departments using the MF frequencies just above the standard AM broadcast band.  Many receivers in the 1930’s and 1940’s included the police band, either by including a separate band, or by simply extending the tuning range of the broadcast band.  Surprisingly, a few of these police stations were still around in 1965, and the December 1965 issue of Radio TV Experimenter included a complete listing.

At the end of 1947, there were 700 police base stations operating between 1600 and 2500 kHz, but by 1965, the number was down to less than a hundred “hearty stations clinging to these channels”.

The author of the article, Tom Kneitel, K3FLL/WB2AAI (later K2AES and KBG4303, later still W4XAA) called these stations a “vanishing breed,” and that they would probably be gone in just a few more years.

Kneitel noted that the easiest way to log these stations was to park the receiver on a given channel and listen for an hour or two. He had listened to a dead frequency for 15 minutes only for it to come alive with several stations at the same time. One of his favorites was the New Hampshire State Police, KCA999 on 1682 kHz. Their signal had been regularly logged in Europe.

As shwon above, most of these stations would QSL. Kneitel’s advice was to include date, time, frequency, signal strength, equipment, and some specific detail about the transmission. Although a few of them had QSL’s printed up, most didn’t. Therefore, he recommended preparing a prepaid reply card for them to fill in, sign, and return.

Kneitel pointed out that within a few years, all of these stations would be gone, “little more than memories to be discussed around the table with other old time DX’ers, which made them seem even more interesting.

Tom Kneitel, 1971.

Tom Kneitel, 1971.

If the name Tom Kneitel sounds familiar, that’s probably because he wrote for numerous publications over the years, including Popular Communications, S9, and Popular Electronics, and a number of books.  I remember him mostly for his regular column in Electronics Illustrated,  dubbed “Uncle Tom’s Corner,” in which he provided usually useful, and occasionally snarky, answers to reader letters. A example of the latter is this one from the November 1971 issue:

I’m only beginning in Amateur Radio and I’d like you to explain what is the Voice of America.

-Stephen Baier
LaCrosse, Wisc.

Spiro Agnew.

Kneitel died in 2008 at the age of 75.

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1940 Wireless Telegraph


1940DecPStelegraphDiagramThe gentleman shown above is demonstrating a simple wireless telegraph, the plans for which appeared 75 years ago this month in the December 1940 issue of Popular Science. As you can see from the diagram here, the concept was nothing new, and is quite simple.  The transmitter sends an AF signal of about 75 volts at the buzzer’s frequency into two ground rods.  The receiver is also hooked up to two ground rods, and consists of an audio amplifier to detect the weak audio signal being sent into the ground.  This set was said to have a range of about 200 feet.

The concept is similar to the WW1-era field buzzer which appeared here previously.  With even a very weak audio signal, it’s easy to pick out the dots and dashes of Morse code, even though the signal is far too weak to make out speech.

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13th Amendment Ratified, 1865


Today marks the 150th anniversary of the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, forever ending slavery in the United States.  On December 6, the reconstruction Georgia legislature ratified the amendment, marking the 27th, meaning that two thirds of the states had done so.  On December 18, 1865, Secretary of State William H. Seward proclaimed that the amendment had been adopted.

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GE AM-FM Console, 1940

1940DecRadioTodaySeventy-five years ago, this pleased listener was tuning in a static-free program on her General Electric model JFM165.  The AM-FM set sported a 12 inch speaker for faithful reproduction of those high-fidelity FM programs.  This picture appeared in the December 1940 issue of Radio Today.

The set featured sixteen tubes and in addition to the standard broadcast band, covered the prewar 42-50 MHz FM band, rendering its FM capability obsolete after the war.  The set also covered, however, two shortwave bands, so it would pull in lots of interesting signals both during and after the war.

A nice example of the set can be found at this link.  As you can see, the FM tuner seems to be added in as a bit of an afterthought.  The FM dial is located in the top compartment the young lady is fiddling with.  The main tuning dial, covering standard broadcast and short wave, is at the front of the set.  The same tuner, the JFM90, was also available as a separate unit, and you can view a nice example at this link.

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A Factory Set for Christmas 1925


Ninety years ago, Christmas 1925 was a Radio Christmas for this family, shown on the cover of that month’s issue of Radio in the Home enjoying their new set.

Radio was coming of age, and it was no longer the sole province of home do-it-yourself tinkerers. The magazine asked the question: “Will our next radio set be home-made or factory-assembled?” While it didn’t provide a definitive answer, the handwriting was on the wall, and most homes with radio would be getting a factory built set. It noted though, that “some of us prefer a home-made set, just as we prefer mother’s home-made cake; whereas the rest of us are going to the store and buy the best set which our pocketbook can afford, just as the apartment dweller buys bakery goods because the kitchenette is too small to permit manufacture of a full-size cake.”

By 1925, almost three times as much money was spent on sets as was spent on parts, what the magazine. But back in 1922, ten times as much was spent on parts as compared with manufactured sets. So in just three years, there had been a radical shift toward the factory sets.

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1941 ASCAP Boycott


Seventy-five years ago, American broadcasters were gearing up for some big changes in 1941. The engineers were busy ordering crystals and getting ready to retune their transmitters on March 29, 1941, to the new frequencies mandated by NARBA.

But the program director had even bigger things to worry about, because of the ASCAP Boycott, which was to start on January 1, 1941, and would last until October 29, 1941.

The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) was formed in 1914 to enforce the 1897 copyright law. In the days of live performances, this had been easy, since the royalties were just based on a percentage of the box office sales. But the phonograph, and later radio, complicated things considerably. But after almost a decade of haggling, a tenuous truce was in place between ASCAP and the broadcasters. The stations grudgingly agreed to pay 5% of advertising revenue in exchange for a blanket license to perform all ASCAP music. But the truce didn’t last long, and in 1940, worried that radio performances were cutting in to phonograph sales, ASCAP announced that it was going to triple the broadcast fee. The broadcasters decided that enough was enough, and at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) convention, the broadcasters decided that they would boycott ASCAP. Therefore, as of January 1, 1941, most of the stations’ existing music libraries could not be used. This included both recorded music and the sheet music used in the still common live performances by orchestras and studio pianists and organists.

Virtually every part of a station’s programming was affected. Even most program theme songs were controlled by ASCAP and had to be changed. Jack Benny had to stop playing his signature “Love in Bloom” on the violin, and Burns and Allen had to stop using their theme “Love Nest,” written by ASCAP co-founder George M. Cohan.


Jeanie in 1854, before her hair turned gray. Wikipedia image.

The stations had two alternatives, and had to act fast. First, they could make use of public domain material. This is why the Lone Ranger rode to the tune of the public domain William Tell Overture, and the Green Hornet flew to the music of The Flight of the Bumblebee. One notable beneficiary on stations’ play list was “Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair,” penned by Stephen Foster in 1854. Time magazine quipped that the song had received so much airplay that Jeanie’s hair turned gray.

Stations also turned to foreign music such as “Perfidia.” And since ASCAP had generally believed that “hillbilly” and African-American music were beneath their dignity, these genres quickly found a home on the American airwaves.

In order to get radio airtime, performers had to make the same choices. It’s no coincidence that Glenn Miller’s orchestra made 1941 hits with “American Patrol” and “Song of the Volga Boatmen,” both in the public domain.

For new music, broadcasters turned to the fledgling Broadcast Music International (BMI), a rival licensing agency founded by the broadcast industry in 1939. BMI recruited composers whose ASCAP contracts were about to expire as well as new composers, and made these available to broadcasters on more favorable terms.

A substantial portion of the December 15, 1940, issue of Broadcasting magazine was devoted to helping broadcasters gear up for the boycott.  For example, the ad at the top of this page Standard Radio touted, during the “music emergency,” its music library of 2046 non-ASCAP taxfree selections including performances by artists such as Duke Ellington and Ray Herbeck, with the promise of 100 new releases per month.

An editorial in the same issued called it a war, not unlike the war raging in Europe:  “Zero hour approaches in the war over music.  War is hell in any language, and there are hellish days ahead for the adversaries in the conflict precipitated by a hitherto arrogant, brass-knuckled ASCAP that now must know it overplayed its hand.  The rank and file broadcaster is not thinking about an ASCAP deal.  Like the Italians, ASCAP attacked with untenable demands.  And like the Greeks, the broadcasters are on the march.”

And in this war, the broadcasters knew that ASCAP would be ruthless.  Every broadcaster knew that the ASCAP lawyers would retaliate heavily for even the most innocent minor violation.  The broadcasters had to ensure that not one note of an ASCAP-licensed competition could go out over the airwaves.

The magazine carried the advice sent out by CBS to its affiliates about the steps that needed to be taken to avoid even an accidental infringement of any ASCAP music. It stressed that the program producer or director had to personally inspect “all music on the conductor’s stand against his certified music sheet. No other music may be broadcast.” It stressed that it was particularly important to be careful with remote broadcasts. And for protection in case of later accusations, it was especially critical to keep a meticulous log of all music broadcast.

And dead air was better than an ASCAP lawsuit, so “the program producer must have the right to pull the plug on the slightest deviation from a certified music schedule.”

Ad libs and improvisations were not to be allowed. “If it isn’t on paper and certified, it is not be be broadcast.” And stations couldn’t forget that last-minute substitutions of talent might be required. “All staff artists, organists, and pianists, who might be required to fill in, must clear a sufficient number of work sheets to meet such needs.” Organists on dramatic shows would need to immediately submit a folio of cue music sufficient for their needs and be reminded that no other music could be played unless it had been cleared.

Even at non-musical remotes, the stations would have to be careful. If a station knew that music might be played in the background at a baseball game or political rally, it was not to be picked up. Since most band music was controlled by ASCAP, “the chances are we will have to forego those portions of a special event during which the band is playing, unless you can build and work from a soundproof booth.”

All recordings would have to be checked, and the ASCAP material be put away for the duration of the emergency. If a record had an ASCAP song on one side and a non-ASCAP song on the other, then tape would need be placed over the infringing side to keep it from being accidentally played. Even the emergency records kept at the transmitter site would need to be checked. A failure of the studio to transmitter link could not be allowed to serve as a reason for the ASCAP lawyers to swoop in.

1940MarksThe magazine also contained some good news.  There were already 3400 records licensed by BMI would could be safely played.  The magazine also announced the signing of a contract between BMI and the Edward B. Marks Music Corp., shown here, transferring that publisher’s catalog of over 15,000 songs to BMI.  This freed up such compositions as “Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight” and “Ta Ra Ra Boom Der Ay” for broadcast.  Benny Goodman’s theme song, “Let’s Dance” was among those included in the Marks deal.


Read More at Amazon

The following songs in this post are available at Amazon where you can listen to a free sample or download the MP3:


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Vivienne Segal, 1935


80 years ago, the cover of this day’s issue of Radio Guide, December 14, 1935, featured actress, singer, and radio personality Vivienne Segal.  The magazine noted that she had until that week been featured on the “American Album of Familiar Music” and “Waltz Time” programs, and that she expected to begin a new series of broadcasts shortly.

The magazine noted that she had been awarded an honorary professorship of music at the New York School of Music, in recognition of her encouragement of talented young singers, including endowing scholarships and awarding trophies in amateur competitions.

Ms. Segal was born in Philadelphia in 1897 and is best known for introducing the song “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” in the 1940 production of Rodgers and Hart’s Pal Joey.  She died in California in 1992 at the age of 95.

The 1940 production of Pal Joey was never recorded, but she made the following recording of her most famous performance in 1951.

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Annette Hanshaw, 1920’s-30’s Radio and Recording Star

1935RadioGuideAnnetteHanshawFeatured here on the cover ofhe March 11, 1933 issue of Radio Guide is Annette Hanshaw, who was also featured in the magazine’s June 16, 1934, issue, from which the photograph above is taken.

Throughout her carreer, she gave her birthdate as 1910, although it was revealed after her death that she had actually been born in 1901. The 1934 article notes that she first sang professionally at the age of sixteen, but she would have been about 25 at the time. Her father owned an inn at Mt. Kisco, New York, and she started a music shop in the same town. One day, Waldemar Rose, a Pathé record executive, visited the store, heard her voice, and advised her to audition. She was immediately offered a job, and between 1926 and 1934, she sold over four million records.

One of her most ardent fans was Edward VIII, the then Pricne of Wales, who had a standing order for all of her records. She recorded under a number of names, including her own. Her other names included Gay Ellis, Dot Dare, and Patsy Young, Ethel Bingham, Marion Lee, Janet Shaw, and Lelia Sandford. Her first records were released under the Pathé and Perfect labels, as well as other labels. Her radio career included a starring role in the NBC radio program Maxwell House Show Boat, and she had one film appearance, in a 1933 Paramount short “Captain Henry’s Radio Show”, a “picturization” of the radio program, which you can view here:

In 1934, readers of Radio Stars magazine voted her the best female popular singer, the same year that Bing Crosby was named the best male popular singer.

She retired from show business in the late 1930’s. She later revealed that she disliked the business intensely, and admitted “I loathed it, and I’m ashamed to say I just did it for the money.”

She died in New York in 1985, and her New York Times obituary gave her age as 74. She was actually, however, 83, as her actual birth date was not revealed until after her death.

Scores of her recordings are available online. Here is her 1930 recording of “Happy Days are Here Again”:

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