Monthly Archives: July 2016

1936 “Porcupine” Antenna


Eighty years ago this month, the July 1936 issue of Popular Science included this novel “porcupine” antenna.

for either shortwave or broadcast reception. The magazine noted that where space was at a premium, it could be fastened to the outside frame of a window, since it required no mast, insulators, or dangling wires. The “antenna” consisted of a “clump of short wires that resembles a procupine or bristle brush.”

It seems to me that the outdoor clump of wires would add little or nothing to the reception. In reality, if the antenna worked, it was only because the lead-in wire was functioning as an antenna.  At least it wasn’t advertised as containing oxygen-free wire.
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1956 Four Transistor Superhet


Sixty years ago this month, the July 1956 issue of Radio Electronics magazine announced, “This is it!” When the transistor had come out a few years earlier, it was predicted that it would eventually replace all of the tubes in broadcast radios. Other plans had been published for “transistor radios,” but they were merely crystal sets with a transistor used for audio amplification. All-transistor superheterodynes were just coming on the market, and the magazine announced that “at last, experimenters and hobbyists may construct their personal all transistor radio–one that can fit into a shirt pocket!

The set, constructed in a 29 cent clear plastic box, was powered by three penlight cells that were said to last up to 600 hours. Unlike earlier “self-contained” sets, this one required no external antenna, and had been tested in many different locations, such as walking along the street, in a steel building, or even in a cellar.

The set used four 2N112 transistors. The author reported picking up 20 stations in the New York area, and extolled readers to build one. “You will find plenty of use for it since you can keep in touch with the ball games, news flashes, your favorite concerts, etc. When carried in a shirt pocket, everything remains hidden except for the hearing-aid earpiece.”

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WLS Radio In The Barn Club, 1941


WLS Chicago billed itself as the Prairie Farmer Station, as shown in this ad that appeared in Broadcasting magazine 75 years ago today, July 28, 1941.

The ad reported that the station’s Bulletin Board program at 6:30 AM included weather, livestock estimates, crop news, and other items of interest to farmers. Many farmers wrote to the station to report that they had radios in their barns and listened as they did their chores. In response, the station formed a “Radio in the Barn Club” with certificates of membership.

Certificates were issued to almost 2000 farmers in 14 states: Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Ohio, California, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Texas, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

The WLS call letters were first used in 1924.  At the time, the station was owned by Sears, and the station’s call letters boasted the World’s Largest Store.  The station was sold to Prairie Farmer magazine in 1928, which owned it until the station was sold to ABC in 1960.

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NPOTA: Touro Synagogue, Rhode Island

Touro Synagogue. National Park Service photo.

Touro Synagogue. National Park Service photo.

During the ARRL National Parks On The Air (NPOTA) event, Amateur Radio operators are setting up their stations in various units of the National Park Service (NPS) and making contact with other Amateurs around the world. Since the beginning of the year, there have been over 9000 activations from 444 different different units of the NPS (with only 44 not yet activated), with over a half million individual contacts.

One interesting aspect of this event is learning about the different parks, some of which I did not even know existed.   For example, in an earlier post, I wrote about the fascinating history of Kalaupapa National Historical Park in Hawaii, a remote settlement originally set aside for persons suffering from leprosy.

Synagogue interior. Wikipedia photo.

This week, I learned, by talking to someone there, of another important site in American history, Touro Synagogue National Historic Site in Newport, Rhode Island.  In addition to being the oldest synagogue in the United States, the site is important as a symbol of religious liberty for all Americans.  The synagogue still houses an active congregation, Congregation Jeshuat Israel, as it has since 1763.  It was designated a National Historic Site in 1946, and is an affiliated area of the National Park Service.

The congregation itself was founded in 1658.  The ancestors of the founders had fled Europe for the Caribbean in search of religious freedom, and the founders of the synagogue ultimately fled to Rhode Island for even greater liberty.  It was well established by 1790, when President George Washington wrote his letter to the “Hebrew congregation at Newport,” in which he vowed that the new nation would give “to bigotry no sanction and to persecution no assistance.”

The congregation does an annual reading of President Washington’s letter, the next scheduled for August 21, 2016.

This week, the park was put on the air by students from Rogers High School Ham Radio Club, W1VRC.  Most national parks can be easily “activated” by individual hams simply pulling in and operating from a parking lot or picnic table.  But many culturally sensitive sites, such as this synagogue, require more advance planning, and W1VRC worked with the site to do an activation that was both sensitive to the site, and also well planned from a radio point of view.  With their advance planning, they were able to put up a 132 foot long Windom antenna, that put out an effective signal but was unobtrusive.

In sanctioning the activation, the Synagogue found especially compelling the youth involvement as the students made contacts.  The young operators all did an excellent job, and there were many compliments as to their professionalism as they  made 185 contacts, including one with me.  This operation was actually a trial run for a larger activation, which will take place on August 7, 2016.  If you’re a ham, I encourage you to try to work them.  The best place for up-to-date information on frequencies is the NPOTA Facebook group. More information about W1VRC’s activation is also available at the school’s website.

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Execution of Capt. Charles Fryatt, 1916

Charles Fryatt IWM Q 066269.jpg

Capt. Fryatt. Wikipedia photo.

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the execution of Captain Charles Fryatt, a British mariner. He was executed by the Germans for attempting to ram a U-boat which was attacking his ship, the SS Brussels, in 1915.

Fryatt’s first encounter with a U-boat came in March 1915 when his command, the SS Wrexham, was under attack. Even though the ship’s normal top speed was 14 knots, with deckhands assisting the stokers, he managed to make 16 knots and arrive safely at port.

On March 28, he was in command of the Brussels, and was ordered to stop by U-boat U-33. When the U-boat surfaced to torpedo the ship, he ordered full steam ahead in an attempt to ram the U-boat. The incident received some notariety in England, and Fryatt was awarded a gold watch by the admiralty.

On June 25, 1916, the Brussels left Holland for England. A passenger on deck reportedly signaled to shore, and the ship was soon surrounded by five German destroyers. The ship was seized, its radio destroyed, and the crew was arrested.

Fryatt was tried by a German court martial on charges of sinking a submarine as a non-combatant (even though the submarine had not really been sunk). He was tried on July 27, 1916, the inscription on the watch serving as evidence of the charges. He was found guilty and executed by firing squad that same evening at Bruges, Belgium.

Whatever warning the execution might have given mariners was overshadowed by the reaction in neutral America. The New York Times called the execution “a deliberate murder,” and the New York Herald called it “the crowning German atrocity.”

The Swiss Journal de Genève opined, “it is monstrous to maintain that armed forces have a right to murder civilians but that civilians are guilty of a crime in defending themselves”.

The November, 1916, issue of Wireless World carried the following note which underscores Capt. Fryatt’s bravery:

A very touching little posthumous incident connected with Captain Fryatt, the gallant Commander of the Brussels, so infamously done to death by the Germans, was recently chronicled by the daily Press. The English stewardesses who, after a great deal of diplomatic pourparlers, were at length released in the beginning of October, narrated that Captain Fryatt was warned by the Germans that if he employed his wireless equipment his vessel and all on board would be sent to the bottom.

Therefore when the wireless operator asked, as the Germans clambered on board, whether be should summon aid the chivalrous seaman answered,” No, I don’t care “what they do with me, but I must think of the lives of the women I carry.” In view of the recent haul of German and Dutch spies made by the Netherlands Government, the further statement of the stewardesses that movements of the Brussels were signalled by flashlight to a German submarine lurking in Dutch waters, and retransmitted by wireless to the German torpedo boat, assumes an air of verisimilitude.

Mount Fryatt, Alberta. By chensiyuan (chensiyuan) [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Mount Fryatt, Alberta. By chensiyuan (chensiyuan) [GFDL  or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The 11,027 foot Mount Fryatt, in Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada, was named in honor of Captain Fryatt in 1922. The nearby Brussels Peak is named in honor of his ship.

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1976 Temporary CB License


Forty years ago, the United States was in the midst of the CB craze. The eleven meter band had been set aside for the Class D Citizens Radio Service in 1958, and it was initially a relatively useful service for short-range communications. But during the 1970’s, it became so wildly popular that every channel was almost continually filled with signals of varying strengths, so that only the closest and most powerful could break through. Back in those days, tuning through the 27 MHz band revealed a cacophony of heterodynes every 10 kHz along the dial, night and day.

CB’s also required a license, and at some point, the FCC was hopelessly overwhelmed. A few years later, they gave up, and licensed everyone in the United States under a “licensed by rule” arrangement. Many people ignored the license requirement, but those who went by the rules faced delays of months before the license arrived in the mail.

As a stopgap measure, the FCC in 1976 allowed for interim licenses. After you mailed in the license application, you filled out a second form, which you retained for your records. You even assigned yourself a call sign. The call started with K, followed by your initials, followed by your ZIP code. So in my case, I would have been KRC-55418.

Both the license application and the interim license were contained in the box when you bought a CB. But if you didn’t have a copy, the July-August 1976 issue of Elementary Electronics contained a copy.  Apparently, the size of the form had to be right, so the magazine instructed you to carefully cut the page to exactly 8 x 10 inches, and follow the instructions.

After you certified, under penalty of imprisonment, that you had mailed the form and the $4, that you were over 18 and not the representative of a foreign government, and weren’t in any prior trouble with the FCC, you assigned yourself the call sign, and you were on the air.  The back of the page contained a summary of the rules that you were to scrupulously obey.

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Direction Finding With An AM Radio

Portable radio mounted on base for direction finding.

Portable radio mounted on base for direction finding.

Sixty years ago this month, the July 1956 issue of Popular Electronics carried an excellent tutorial on how to use a portable AM radio for direction finding.

Most AM radios, both then and now, are very directional in that there is a “null,” or spot where the signal fades out, on each side of the built-in antenna.  You can demonstrate this by tuning to a relatively weak AM station and then slowly rotating the radio.  You will find that there are two spots, 180 degrees apart, where the station disappears or becomes very weak.  If the radio, like most portables, has an internal loopstick antenna, these are the points where the long narrow antenna is pointing directly at (or away from) the station.

You can use this principle to determine your location.  Even with a very cheap radio, you can usually establish your location with astonishing accuracy.

Detail of direction finding mount for portable radio.

Detail of direction finding mount for portable radio.

The Popular Electronics article shows how to construct a rotating mount for your radio.  You strap the radio in place, turn it for the minimum signal, and the pointer on the mount shows the bearing to or from the station in degrees.  For example, if the station’s null is at 45 degrees, then you can draw a line on a map over the station with that same angle from north.  In other words, in this example, running NE-SW.  Your current location is somewhere along that line.

By repeating this process with a second radio station, you will have two lines drawn on the map.  The point at which the two lines intersect is your current location, sometimes to astounding accuracy.

The mount shown in Popular Electronics is for a more or less permanent installation in a boat.  But this is not necessary.  In most portable radios, the antenna is mounted parallel with the outside case, usually with the longest side.  Therefore, it is possible simply to use the radio itself as a straightedge:  Align the map with the Earth, in other words, place the top of the map toward the north.  Then, rotate the radio so that the signal disappears.  With the radio at the same angle, place one edge over the station’s location and draw a straight line on the map.  Your location is somewhere along this line.

Then, repeat the process with a second station.  The point where the two lines come together is your location.  To confirm your location, you can repeat the process with a third station.  If the three lines come together very close to the same point, then you can be quite certain that the location was accurate.  If one of the lines doesn’t seem to agree, then you can repeat the process with a fourth station, and ignore the reading that doesn’t seem to match the others.

With a bit of practice, you can find your location very accurately.  In an urban area, by using 3 or 4 local stations, I have identified my location within a hundred yards or so.  In a rural area, where the stations might be further away, the accuracy will not be quite as great, but you should be able to locate yourself within a fraction of a mile.

The Popular Electronics article contains instructions on disabling the receiver’s automatic volume control (AVC), because in the case of a strong station, the radio might keep playing at full volume even with the station nulled out.  However, it is not necessary to modify the radio.  Most stations, unless they are very strong, will show a null even with the AVC functioning.  And for those stronger stations, you can compensate by tuning the radio slightly off frequency.  For example, if the station you are trying to locate is at 800 and you can’t get a null, you can reduce the signal strength simply by tuning to 810.  You’ll still hear the station with the radio properly oriented, but the signal will be weak enough that you will be able to detect the null.

Of course, for this method to work, you need to know the exact transmitter location of the radio stations you plan to use.  These often differ from the location of the station’s studio and office.  In some cases, they are many miles from the station’s city of license.

Fortunately, in the United States, this information is easy to obtain from the FCC website.  You can search for a particular station, for all stations within a state, or all stations within a certain radius of a given location.  When you click on the station’s call letters, you will be given the exact latitude and longitude of the transmitter.  (Transmitter locations of most AM stations are also shown on aeronautical charts, since pilots still use this method of direction finding.)

Direction finding, even with a very cheap AM radio, can give amazingly accurate results.  It is certainly not as convenient as other methods, such as GPS.  But in an emergency, it should not be overlooked as a backup method to determine your location.  It requires very little equipment (just a radio, map, and pencil).  It also requires a bit of practice beforehand, since you need to learn the characteristics of the radio you will use.  And it requires knowledge of the location of some local transmitters.  But if you can locate those transmitters on your map, you can also locate yourself.

As I mentioned, I’ve been able to determine my own location within a hundred yards by knowing the exact locations of local radio stations.  But even without an exact knowledge of their location, I was able to locate myself, at night, within about 30 miles, simply by using the approximate location of strong distant stations.  For example, I know that WBBM’s transmitter is in or near Chicago.  I know that WSM’s transmitter is in or near Nashville.  I know that CFZM’s transmitter is in or near Toronto.  Even though I did not know the exact locations of these transmitters, when I used this method at night, I was able to locate myself within about 30 miles.  There’s probably little practical application for doing it this way, since it’s unlikely that someone would find themselves not knowing what state they are in.  (However, it should be noted that before the invention of accurate chronometers, most mariners wouldn’t know their location that accurately.)  But it is still rewarding to know that you can determine your location on Earth with such primitive equipment.

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Product Review: Wise Food Storage “Savory Stroganoff”

One of this site’s advertisers is Wise Food Storage, who recently sent me a free sample to review.  The company supplies dehydrated food for emergency food storage, camping, and backpacking.  On their website, they sell mostly packages consisting of assortments of food, such as the package shown below, which is billed as providing enough food for two people for 72 hours:

72 Hour Kit for 2 PeopleTHe sample I was sent was a single meal, namely their “Savory Stoganoff.”

I was initially a bit skeptical, since my experience has been that most suppliers of “survival” food seem to charge a considerably higher price than one would pay for comparable items at the supermarket.  In many cases, they hide the higher price by making inflated claims as to how long the product will last.  For example, some companies offer a “30 day supply” of food, but if you look carefully, you realize that you would be eating starvation rations for those thirty days.

It was refreshing to see that Wise doesn’t follow this same practice, and the claims on their website are reasonable.  A normal diet consists of about 2000 calories per day.  You can certainly survive on less, but if you want to replicate a normal diet as much as possible during an emergency, you should plan on having about that many calories per day per person.  And Wise seems to use honest figures on their website.   For example, the 72 Hour Kit for 2 People shown above supplies over 13,000 calories, which is indeed enough to feed two people for three days, with their normal caloric intake.  In fact, with a bit of scrimping, it would probably last even longer than advertised.  It is refreshing to see a company that didn’t fall into the trap of making exaggerated claims.  As you shop around, you might see lower prices.  But before you buy, make sure you’re really getting the number of days’ supply that the company is claiming.  In Wise’s case, you are.  In the case of some other suppliers, you are not.

I’m not normally a fan of “kits” for food storage.  From a price point of view, you’re probably better off buying normal food from the supermarket.  You’ll know that they are items you like to eat, the cost will be lower, and the supermarket has many items that can be stored for a long period of time, especially if you rotate them into your family’s normal diet.  On my food storage basics page, I have ideas for emergency food storage using items available at any supermarket.

On the other hand, there is something to be said for buying a well thought out “kit.”  You know that everything is optimized for long-term storage and minimal preparation.  And there’s something reassuring about looking at a single container and knowing that it will give you enough food to eat for X days.  I wouldn’t recommend a kit as your family’s sole source of emergency food, but they do have their place.  In addition to Wise’s 72 Hour Kit, they have a variety of other similar assortments. such as a 1 Month Emergency Food Supply for 1 Person – 56 Servings and a 2 Week supply geared for backpackers.  Again, you can probably put similar kits together yourself at a somewhat lower price, but for some people, the convenience is worth it.

Package of Savory Stroganoff being reviewed.

Package of Savory Stroganoff being reviewed.

Wise’s website doesn’t seem to sell individual meals, but they are available from WalMart.  For example, you can purchase a single package of the “Savory Stroganoff” reviewed here.  The price is quite reasonable, and you can order online and have it delivered to a local WalMart, so there is no shipping cost.

The Savory Stroganoff I reviewed exceeded my expectations.  I wouldn’t describe it as a gourmet meal, but it was reasonably good tasting, easy to prepare, and would be quite adequate during an emergency or while camping.  The nine-ounce package was billed as having a storage life of 25 years.  It was packaged in a heavy plastic pouch with an oxygen absorber inside (and I’ll say more about the oxygen absorber in a moment).  According to the nutrition facts, the package supplies four servings of 250 calories each.  In other words, the one package contains a thousand calories, or about half of one person’s caloric needs for the day.  We did feed four people lunch using the one pouch, and the meal was filling.  Each serving contains 45 grams of carbohydrates, 4.5 grams of fat, and 7 grams of protein, so it’s a reasonably well balanced meal by itself.  The vitamin content is relatively low, supplying 0% of the daily requirement of vitamin A, 2% of the daily requirement of vitamin C, 8% of the calcium, and 8% of the iron.  During a short-term emergency, vitamin deficiency isn’t an issue, but those planning for a longer-term emergency would be well advised to include some multivitamin tablets if relying on this kind of storage food.

The main ingredient is the pasta, along with nondairy creamer and textured vegetable protein.  You can view the full list of ingredients and nutrition facts at the WalMart website.

Preparation was very straightforward, and we followed the instructions on the package exactly.  You start by boiling four cups of water, turning off the heat, and then adding the contents of the package to the boiling water.  We used the stove, but the water could be boiled by any emergency heat source.  Since the only actual cooking is the boiling of the water, there’s really nothing that can go wrong.  You simply cover the pot and wait 12-15 minutes.

The glitch in the instructions was that it didn’t mention the oxygen absorber inside, so we wound up pouring it into the boiling water, where we had to fish it out.  But other than this oversight, the instructions were self-explanatory.

After 15 minutes, you remove the cover, and let it stand for another 2-3 minutes.  We used a normal kitchen pan, but any container with a lid could be used.  In an emergency, to minimize the amount of cleanup, I would boil the water in one container, and then “cook” the food in some kind of disposable container.

The completed Stroganoff.

The completed Stroganoff.

The finished product didn’t look particularly appealing.  Perhaps it would have looked better if we had let it sit a while longer, but it was rather watery.  It looked more like a thick soup than Stroganoff.  It was best served in a cup or bowl and eaten with a spoon.

However, it tasted quite good, and neither my wife and I nor our kids had any complaints.  It did not have the “dehydrated” taste that I feared it would have.  It tasted like noodles and sauce.  There was a bit of seasoning–I noticed that the ingredients included dried onions.  However, it was rather bland, and adding a little bit of salt and pepper improved it considerably.  My daughter added a little bit of Knorr chicken bouillon, and she reported that this made it taste quite good.  So my main advice if you’re going to rely on prepackaged items like this, it would be a good idea to also include familiar seasonings.

In summary, the stroganoff tasted better than I expected without a “freeze dried” taste, and was more reasonably priced than I expected.  It’s more expensive than comparable supermarket items, but much less expensive than comparable items billed as “survival” or “backpacking” food.  I probably won’t order one of Wise’s food “kits,” but I’ll probably purchase a few packages of the stroganoff and other meals to keep in the camper, or just to keep in the house for times when a relatively quick meal is needed.

Full Disclosure:  The product reviewed was supplied to me free of charge by Wise Compnay, one of this website’s advertisers, in exchange for an honest review.  All product links on this page are affiliate links, meaning that if you click on the links and purchase the product, I will receive an advertising fee.

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1916 Preparedness Day Bombing

Newspaper images of the injured and dead. Wikipedia image.

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the Preparedness Day Bombing of July 22 1916.

During San Francisco’s Preparedness Day parade, a suitcase bomb exploded, killing ten and wounding 40. Two labor leaders, Thomas Mooney and Warren K. Billings were convicted and sentenced to death, their sentences later commuted to life. Later investigations found that the convictions had been obtained by false testimony, and the men were released in 1939 and later pardoned. The identity of the bombers has never been determined.

The parade followed the Washington preparedness parade of June 14, and had been targeted by radicals. One unsigned pamphlet had been circulated which read, “we are going to use a little direct action on the 22nd to show that militarism can’t be forced on us and our children without a violent protest.”

The three and a half hour parade had over 50,000 marchers and 52 bands. At 2:06 PM, the cast steel pipe bomb exploded on the west side of Steuart Street, just south of Market Street.

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July 20, 1956 CONELRAD Test

Milwaukee Civil Defense Director Don E. Carleton and Col. Anthony F. Levno assess damage after simulated attack on Milwaukee. Milwaukee Journal, Jul. 20, 1956.

Milwaukee Civil Defense Director Don E. Carleton and Col. Anthony F. Levno assess damage after simulated attack on Milwaukee. Milwaukee Journal, Jul. 20, 1956.

Today marks the 60th anniversary of what was, as far as I’ve been able to determine, the only nationwide test of CONELRAD, the system designed to give Americans emergency information about a nuclear attack.

As I wrote in a previous post, all radio and TV broadcast stations in the U.S. left the air at 3:10 PM Eastern Time.  Designated stations came on the air on 640 or 1240 kHz, alternating between transmitters to confuse enemy bombers.  In some cities, such as Milwaukee, local exercises were conducted in conjunction with the CONELRAD test.  In the photo shown here, civil defense planners are examining the hypothetical ruins of Milwaukee.

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