Monthly Archives: January 2017

1942 Farm Sets for Emergency Use


A month after Pearl Harbor, civilian radios were still being produced. The War Production Board was created on January 16, 1942, and issued its order  on March 7, for consumer radio production to cease on April 22.  During those intervening months, there was uncertainty as to the availability of both radios and parts, but both production and advertising continued, but with the War clearly in mind.

Later in the War, the availability of B batteries became an issue. In fact, numerous construction articles, such as this one from 1943, focused on how to make a battery set work on household current. But in the early days of the war, there was a demand for battery operated sets, since it was believed that there might be blackouts and the AC power wouldn’t be available.

This is apparent from the Radiola ad shown above from the January 1942 issue of Service magazine.  Directed at dealers, the ad shows two “farm set” models, suitable for use with batteries on farms that had not been electrified. This ad suggested a new market for such sets, as an emergency set “that stays on when the power goes off.” It also suggested that electrification might be delayed in some areas due to the war.

The ad noted that one of these sets could be the best of both worlds. An optional accessory was the RCA model CV-42 “Electrofier” which would allow either of these sets to operate on household current. So there was a market for these sets even in town: The owner could run it off household current, but quickly switch over to batteries during a blackout.


NM Public Health Nurse’s Radio, 1943

Taken in January 1943, this photograph shows a Peñasco, New Mexico NMclinic2public health nurse relaxing with the radio in her quarters after dinner.  According to the photo’s caption,  “the radio is the only contact with the outside world. Papers come rarely to the town, and the nurse (identified in other photos as Marjorie Muller) at the clinic operated by the Taos County cooperative health association must depend on the news broadcasts to follow daily events.”  She served at the clinic shown at right.

The radio is Zenith model 6G-601-M, as revealed by the distinctive sailboat design on the speaker grill. You can see a well preserved example at this link.  The set was similar in circuitry and styling to the Transoceanic, but covered the broadcast band only.  You can see and hear a nicely preserved specimen of the radio at this video:

The six tube portable (3Q5GT, 117ZG, 1LH4, 1LF, 1LN5, 1LA6) could run off 110 volt household current or batteries. It’s almost certain that the set was being run off batteries, since it seems very unlikely that the clinic had electric power. This and other photos show a kerosene lamp, and there’s no evidence of electric wires in any of the photos. The clinic did have a telephone, as shown in another photo in the collection.

NMclinic3The radio’s dial is tuned to just below 900 kHz. An antenna is visible coming out the window in the picture here of Nurse Muller outside her residence. According to the 1943 White’s Radio Log, there don’t appear to be any powerful West Coast stations near that frequency. But it was night, she had a powerful receiver and an outdoor antenna, and it’s likely that she was listening to WLS in Chicago on 890 kHz. If that’s the case, it’s possible she was listening to NBC Blue Network news with Earl Goodwin at  7:00 Central War Time, which would be 6:00 P.M. in New Mexico.

The photographer for all of the photos shown here was Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information photographer John Collier, Jr.  More of his photos of the clinic are available at the Library of Congress website.


1917 Life Buoy

1917janpm3A hundred years ago this month, the cover of the January 1917 issue of Popular Mechanics showed this life buoy design for sheltering 40 passengers. According to the manufacturer, the design, made entirely of steel, was unsinkable, noncollapsible, and would ride upright in the roughest sea. The buoy was designed to be kept on deck, and if there were no time to launch it, passengers could simply get inside and wait for it to float free when the ship sunk.

An observer could sit in the conning tower and display lights or other distress signals through the window. A storage battery provided current for lights and fan, and there was space for storing water and provisions for ten days.

The bottom of the buoy was filled with cement for ballast, and the buoy weighed 2000 pounds.

SS Kansan, 1917


Within a few months, America would be at war, but a hundred years ago this month, the country was still neutral, and the cover of the January 1917 issue of Electrical Experimenter magazine showed how electricity was helping to preserve that neutrality.

The ship depicted is the steamer Kansan, of the Hawaiian-American line. The flag was painted on both sides of the ship, and powerful electric lights were employed to cast their rays on the flag at night.

There had been cases of neutral vessels being sunk by submarine commanders not wanting to get close enough to a ship to make a positive identification of its nationality. The immense flag “would seem to be a very sure manner of indicating to any submarine commander as to just what ship he was dealing with.”

While the illuminated flag apparently protected the Kansan during American neutrality, she did not fare well after the country’s entry into the war.  On July 10, 1917, she was sunk without warning by a submarine or mine two miles east of Kardonis Point (Belle Isle), France.  Four men died in the attack.


High School Victory Corps: 1942


According to the caption of this 1942 Office of War Information photo, this Los Angeles high school student took her radio and code instruction seriously. She was a member of the high school Victory Corps of Polytechnic High School.

Elsewhere in the city, the student shown below was similarly taking her defense training seriously as part of the Victory Corps. She was the sharpshooter of the girls’ rifle team at Roosevelt High School. The caption of this photo notes that rifle practice was one of the phases of the Corps’ activities.


1937 Ohio River Flood


Eighty years ago this week, the United States was in the midst of one of its greatest natural disasters, the Ohio River flood of 1937.

Damage was widespread, starting at Pittsburgh, which had experienced severe flooding the year before, to Cairo, Illinois. Damage was light in the Pittsburgh area, but there was extensive damage in Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois. The pictures at the top of the page are from Evansville, Indiana, and appear in the February 13, 1937, issue of Stand By, the program guide magazine of WLS Chicago, whose mobile unit is shown. The boats shown in the picture, docked at the back door of a hotel, are actually on the street, as shown by the mostly submerged street sign in the picture.

The WLS magazine reported that “radio became the principal means of communication, especially during the early days of the flood, and thousands of lives were saved because of the radio directions sent to rescue workers. Commercial, amateur and military stations all provided communication.”

Hazelton, Indiana, January 23, 1937. National Weather Service photo.

Hazelton, Indiana, January 23, 1937. National Weather Service photo.

In Evansville, the local station, WGBF, had an emergency radio set up at the relief headquarters. The station went to 24 hour service, and the programs were interrupted frequently to broadcast relief messages.

Downtown Huntington, WV, during the flood. Wikipedia photo.

The flood caused 385 deaths, with a million left homeless. Property damage reached $500 million, and relief and recovery was strained, with the disaster coming in the depth of the depression and only a few years after the Dust Bowl.  The head of the Red Cross called the disaster the greatest since the war.  For many impacted areas, it was the most severe flood yet experienced.

The water levels began to rise on January 5, and rains throughout the

Ohio basin continued.  By January 23, it was clear that the flood would be severe.  Martial law was declared in Evansville on January 23.  On today’s date, the water crested in Cincinnati at 80 feet, the highest level in the city’s history.  By the next day, 70% of Louisville was under water.  It wasn’t until February 5 when the water levels dropped below flood stage in most areas.

As might be expected, amateur radio operators played a key role in communications, and many of these stories were recorded in the April, 1937, issue of QST.  Since many of the active hams were also involved in the Army Amateur Radio Service or the Naval Reserve, Army and Navy call signs were often used in addition to amateur calls.

In an action unprecedented since the war, on January 26, the FCC entirely closed the 160 and 80 meter bands nationwide to all but those hams directly involved in flood relief. The FCC order stated:

To all amateur licensees: The Federal Communications Commission has been advised that the only contact with many flooded areas is by amateur radio, and since it is of vital importance that communications with flooded areas be handled expeditionsly, IT IS ORDERED that no transmissions except those relating to relief work or other emergencies be made within any of the authorized amateur bands below 4000 kilocycles until the Commission determines that the present emergency no longer exists.

This order was rescinded on February 5.  The FCC did allow the ARRL to select 60 “vigilantes” to monitor the bands and inform any offenders of the order.  According to QST, this order had a very positive impact in reducing interference.  160 and 80 meters were still packed with signals relaying emergency traffic, but the nets were able to work very effectively when they had the bands to themselves.

Hundreds of call signs in all of the affected states are included in the QST report, but it also acknowledges that it would be impossible to list all of the hams who participated.

The 30,000 residents of Parkersburg, West Virginia, were cut off from the outside world, and about a fourth of them were homeless. Herbert Romine, W8GDF, of nearby West Milford hurried to the town. Lacking sufficient equipment, he hurredly assembled several transmitters from the serviceman’s parts stock, and established stations on fire boats in the city. These hastily constructed transmitters consisted of type 45 tube oscillators, along with another 45 serving as modulator. QST noted that this work undoubtedly saved a number of lives.

Romine then put station WPAR in Parkersburg back on the air, having to dismantle and move it a number of times as the waters rose. Another ham, W8BRE, helped put together a 160 meter radio to link the station with the Naval Reserve station.

At Leon, WV, inactive ham Clarence Casto, W8JJA, had been off the air for three years. But with the emergency, he hastily assembled an emergency version of his station to keep the town in contact.

A few miles downstream in Point Pleasant, WV, William Stone, W8MAO, was able to use a portable 20 meter rig to notify authorities in Charleston that medical supplies were needed by air.  This station was set up in the court house on the judge’s bench.

w8yxgeneratorIn Ohio, much of the relief traffic passed through W8YX, the club station of the University of Cincinnati.  Since commercial power had become unavailable, the station operated with the generator setup shown here.  Two 15 kva alternators were run by the power takeoff of a McCormick-Deering tractor.

In Kentucky, since Frankfort was cut off and flooded, the Governor of the state relied upon an amateur for emergency communications. W9AZY, who was also affiliated with a broadcast station, was able to set up a shortwave link between the Governor and his staff and broadcast station WLAP.

w9mwcThe man identified as “one of the flood’s ham heroes” was W.O. Bryant, W9NKD. On January 22, WHAS in Louisville broadcast the information that Carrollton, KY, population 2500, had been cut off from the outside world. The broadcast included a plea for an amateur to go there with emergency equipment. Bryant answered the call and brought his equipment by boat, where he was the only source of communications for 10 days.  Another such amateur is shown to the left, W9MWC, taking emergency equipment by boat to Shawneetown, KY, in temperatures of 12 degrees and sleet.

1957 3 Transistor Portable

1957JanPEcoverSixty years ago this month, the January 1957 issue of Popular Electronics showed how to put together this 3 transistor superheterodyne receiver for the broadcast band. The set employed three transistors. A 2N136 served as oscillator and mixer. A 2N135 served double duty in a “reflex” arrangement as both IF amplifier and the first stage of audio amplification. Transistors were expensive, and the single transistor was capable of amplifying the 455 kHz RF and the audio simultaneously. A 2N170 served as the final AF amplifier to drive a magnetic earphone.

A signal generator was required for alignment once the simple receiver was put together. No external antenna was necessary, although a wire a few inches long would improve the sensitivity.

The set could be installed in a clear plastic case, with the inside spray painted to the desired color.


Pres. Trump’s Mad Scientist Uncle


Prof. John G. Trump. Wikiepdia photo.

One of our loyal readers posted a link to a conspiracy buff website pointing out a connection between President Donald Trump and, of all people, Nikola Tesla.  Since most internet mentions of Nikola Tesla turn out to be unfounded (or at least unprovable) conspiracy theories, I approached with a bit of skepticism.

I express no opinion as to the conspiracy in question (that the Trump family is involved in a long standing conspiracy to suppress certain Tesla inventions).  But I was shocked to learn that there was indeed a connection!  President Trump’s uncle, John G. Trump, was a noted professor of Electrical Engineering at MIT, and appears to have spent his career working on the same kinds of high-voltage mad scientist devices that Tesla was famous for.  At the time of Tesla’s death in 1943, the U.S. Government had to go through all of Tesla’s possessions and papers, in order to see whether there was anything worthwhile to the war effort.  Among those they called in to sift through them was none other than Professor Trump.

After his father’s death, John Trump initially went into the real estate business with his brother, Fred Trump, the father of the future president.  Fixing up old houses wasn’t to his liking, so he instead pursued a degree in electrical engineering. He he received his bachelor’s degree from the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn in 1929. He followed up with a master’s degree in Physics from Columbia, and in 1933 he received a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the Massachussets Institute of Technology (MIT). He was on the MIT faculty from 1936 until his retirement in 1973.

Before the war, much of Prof. Trump’s work focused on hospital X-ray machines. Together with Robert J. Van de Graaff (of Van de Graaff generator fame), he developed one of the first million-volt X-ray generators.

As might be expected of the kind of scientist who played around with a million volts, Professor Trump made the pages of Popular Science on three occasions.

1937AprPSFor example, the April 1937 issue discusses the X-ray machine shown here.  It was designed by Prof. Trump along with Dr. Richard Dresser.  It employs a Van de Graaff generator to produce the required million volts.

And in keeping with his apparent status as a mad scientist, Prof. Trump needed a subject on which he could perform his experiments.  The lucky subject is described in the magazine’s July 1949 issue.  In the photo below, Professor Trump (left, operating the controls) is shown conducting experiments on “Mr. Cruikshank” (shown resting comfortably on the machine), a carefully constructed mannequin.


Professor Trump preparing to send three million volts through Mr. Cruikshank.

Unlike human subjects, Mr. Cruikshank could have film inserted directly in his body to examine the effects of powerful X-rays. Prof. Trump had tested him with three million volts, and he was on the way to Massachussets General Hospital for comparison with the effects of a more modest 250,000 volt machine.

Finally, the magazine’s May 1947 issue mentions Prof. Trump’s work with the Van de Graaff generator as a possible method to directly and conveniently harvest nuclear energy.







Career Ideas for Scouts: Merchant Marine Radio Officer


Seventy years ago, the January 1947 issue of Boys’ Life contained some career advice for scouts looking for excitement:

Becoming “Sparks,” a radio officer in the Merchant Marine. The article’s author was Merceant Marine radio officer Lt. Robert Aronson, who noted that as ears and mouth of the ship, the position was one of rank and responsibility.

The most important job was to maintain a constant watch on the international distress frequency, 500 kilocycles. Other duties included a daily check of the radio room batteries with a hydrometer, and checking the traffic lists of the coast stations for any incoming messages.

And, of course, the job offered plenty of opportunities for heroism. The article begins with the tale of a radio operator firing up the transmitter of the ship in distress, and within moments having every ship within 800 miles prepare to rescue. “Radio alert was maintained throughout that sector of the ocean until, two hours later, one of the freighters announced triumphantly that she had all forty-six of the crew aboard, uninjured. Once again, a capable ‘Sparks’ had blocked off a watery grave.”

The job offered a lot of spare time to read, play cards, study, or anything else. The author noted that many radiomen found the life at sea ideally suited to advancing their knowledge of radio or any other subject.

The author’s advice for scouts contemplating this career was to get their ham license, a license only “slightly lower in grade and requirements than a commercial operator.” With the amateur license, the scout could set up his own station and communicate just as though he were on a ship.

The commercial license could be acquired by enrolling in a school, but for the student who could read a textbook and absorb the instructions, he pointed out that there was no reason not to engage in self-study. The amateur license would allow the student to practice the things taught by the books, and those books were available in any public library.

The prospective operator would be eligible for a commission as an officer six months after signing on to a ship, and at that time, the government made available excellent correspondence courses.

The author noted that the commercial license was the passport to adventure, but cautioned against hastily going to sea, especially if one had a “flaring temper or if you sulk, if doing the same thing day in and day out gets you down.” For prospective radio operators who fit those descriptions, he advised that one of the many radio jobs ashore might be better suited.


ND Bond Drive, 1942

For many Americans on the home front, a major contribution to the war effort was participation in bond drives.  North Dakota was a long way from Pearl Harbor, but in 1942, these students in Epping, ND, were doing their part by performing “Remember Pearl Harbor” at a meeting of the town’s women to promote bond sales.

The song was likely the same one performed by Sammy Kaye, which was recorded just 10 days after the attack and rose to number 3 on the charts: