Monthly Archives: February 2017

Erec-Tronic Kit, 1957


Sixty years ago this month, the February 1957 issue of Radio Electronics featured this electronic kit for beginners, the Erec-Tronic. The magazine noted that similar outfits had been around for a long time, but they usually amounted to a wooden breadboard with a few rows of Fahnestock clips. But the Erec-Tronic was the ultimate in educational kits, thanks to the Jiffy-Clip, which could be used horizontally as an alligator clip, as shown on this illustration. But it could also be slid over the pins banana-plug style for quick assembly and disassembly.

The set was touted as a natural for the boy who was just taking an interest in things electronic. It quickly de-mystified schematic diagrams, since the parts could simply be placed right on top of the schematic template to form circuits, such as the code practice oscillator shown here.

The Jiffy connector also removed the necessity for the “mess, dirt, or danger” of solder for the young electronic experimenter. The set shown here sold for about $17, and a transistor version was also available for $13. But these sets were not limited to beginners. Big kits for industry or education were also available with over 300 resistors, 100 capacitors, and scores of sockets and potentiometers, with large basis for assembling advanced circuits. These sold for up to $395.

1937 Popular Mechanics Hurricane Receiver

1937FebPM4Eighty years ago this month, the February 1937 issue of Popular Mechanics carried the plans for this “hurricane receiver.”

Even though it required only about $5 worth of parts to build, the ultracompact set would serve as a rugged portable set which could pull in news during emergencies such as hurricanes. The set, both B+ and filaments, required only 6 volts, and could be run off dry cells for about 12 hours, or from a 6 volt car battery for about 75 hours.

The circuit was a regenerative detector followed by one stage of audio amplification to drive headphones. A 25 foot antenna was recommended, and the set was able to pull in stations up to 500 miles away.

If this set looks familiar, it’s because we’ve featured it here before.  After the plans were published in Popular Mechanics, the set was available as a kit from the  1939 Allied Radio catalog, as we featured in an earlier post.  We’ve also covered an updated 1943 version of the set, which was billed as a wartime emergency blackout set.



Justice William O. Douglas, 1947


Shown here 70 years ago at the soda fountain of a drug store near the U.S. Supreme Court is Associate Justice William O. Douglas.

The 17 year old soda jerk serving him is his daughter, Mildred Douglas, and the picture appeared in the February 24, 1947, issue of Life magazine. According to the magazine, she was somewhat abashed by the publicity, and announced that she took the job for the money, earning 65 cents per hour. Her younger brother, Bill, 14, had a paper route.

Douglas was four times married and three times divorced. He divorced Mildred’s mother, also named Mildred, in 1953.  The children were subsequently estranged from their father, and the younger Mildred was later quoted as saying that the Justice “never talked to us like we were people” that “when he got angry at us, which was often over the slightest things, he would simply not speak to us for days on end,” and that she “didn’t like him very much because of the way he treated my mother.”

When the elder Mildred died, the Justice was not immediately informed, since neither sibling felt the desire to inform him.

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1947 Two Meter Handie Talkie

1947FebRadioNewsSeventy years ago this month, the February 1947 issue of Radio News carried the plans for this handie talkie for two meters.

The author was C.T. Haist, Jr., W6TWL, and this was the his third version of the set, with earlier ones appearing in the June 1944 and April 1946 issues of QST. Those earlier versions had one bug that still needed to be worked out: Since they used the same oscillator tube for both the transmitter and receiver, the result was that the transmit and receive frequencies were slightly offset. This didn’t pose a problem when working a fixed station, since the other station would probably be using a separate transmitter and receiver. But when two portable sets were used, the result was that each station would need to retune after each transmission, resulting in the two stations chasing one another around the band.

1947FebRadioNews2This set solved the problem by using separate tubes for transmit and receive, with a third tube used in common in both circuits. Transmit-Receive switching was accomplished with a three pole double throw switch.

The compact set had room for a 67-1/2 volt B battery and 2 flashlight batteries running the filaments. The built-in antenna was a repurposed telescoping automobile antenna. The set drew about 15 mA on transmit, meaning that the total input power was about one watt. At 8-10 miles line of sight, the set gave good signal reports. With batteries, it weighed in at about three pounds, and measured 2-1/4 x 2-3/4 x 9-1/4″


Win the War: Learn How To Type!


On this date 75 years ago, the February 23, 1942 issue of Life Magazine contained this advertisement from Smith Corona telling the nation’s eleven million girls that there was indeed something they could to to help with the war. And they could do it by learning how to type!

Things had to be kept going while the boys were away, and that meant there were countless ways that women always found to help. Volunteers were needed for the Red Cross, civilian defense, draft boards, auxiliary services, and vital social work.

Knowing how to type was always important in peace time, but it was even more useful during war. “Twice-welcome is the girl who brings with her not only the will to serve, but the skill to save precious hours of working time.”

The ad pointed out that typing skill came quickly to women’s deft fingers. They didn’t need the blazing speed of the expert, since all that was needed was the speed sufficient for the workaday world.

All a girl needed was a typewriter, a simple manual, and a few days of practice, and she would be twice as able to help!

1942Feb23Life2Perhaps the ad sounds like hyperbole, but elsewhere in the magazine, we see this woman who brought her typewriter to war.  Shown here is Life researcher Shelley Smith Mydans, at work in China.  Her husband, Carl Mydans, was a Life photographer, and the two last checked in with the magazine the day after Christmas from Manila. After the fall of Manilia, they were presumed by the magazine to be in a Japanese concentration camp.

The magazine’s presumption was correct, since they were interned in Manila for about a year before being transferred to another camp in China.  They were released in 1943 as part of a prisoner of war exchange.  After their release, they quickly made their way to Europe to resume their duties, and then returned to the Philippines to cover the liberation of those islands.

Bombardment of Ellwood, 1942

sub attacks oilfield

Goleta Valley Historical Society image, via American Oil and Gas Historical Society.

On this night 75 years ago, the mainland United States saw its first attack of the war, in the Bombardment of Ellwood, near Santa Barbara, California, on February 23, 1942.

The event served to trigger a scare of a West Coast invasion, and was a major factor in the decision to intern Japanese-Americans.

The shelling was done by the Imperial Japanese Navy submarine I-18, under the command of Kozo Nishino. Four days earlier, on the night of February 19, the ship covertly landed on Point Loma, San Diego, to determine its position. It then headed north along the California coast.

At about 7:00 PM on February 23, the sub came to a stop off the Ellwood oil field. At 7:15, iit fired its first shot at an oil storage tank. Very little damage was done, and some of the shells landed as far as a mile inland. There was some damage to the pier, and a derrick and pump house were destroyed. There were a total of about 20 shots, after which the sub headed south toward Los Angeles.

One witness reported that the sub had flashed signal lights toward the shore. While this probably did not happen, it was used to support the internment of Japanese-Americans.

The next night, February 24, was the “Battle of Los Angeles,” in which anti-aircraft guns were used against probably nonexistent enemy aircraft.

Commander Nishino had been to Ellwood previously.  Before the war, he had commanded a merchant ship, which had taken on fuel at Ellwood.  While walking to a formal welcoming ceremony, he tripped and fell onto a patch of prickly pear cactus.  Apparently, nearby oil workers laughed at the sight of the commander having cactus pulled from his buttocks.  Most of the shelling took place within a thousand yards of the spot where he had visited.

Heathkit Single-Banders, 1967

1967FebPE2Fifty years ago this month, Popular Electronics for February 1967 carried this product announcement for the Heathkit Single-Bander transceivers, the HW-12A, HW-22A, and HW-32A, transceivers for the ‘phone portions of the 80, 40, and 20 meter bands.

Priced in kit form at only $104.95, the radios were well received and proved popular for mobile use, along with the accompanying mobile power supply. An earlier version of the sets (without the “A” suffix) had come out three years earlier, and these 1967 models offered more features at a lower price.

A full review for the 20 meter version appeared in the May 1967 issue of 73 Magazine, which can be viewed at this link.

British Women in Wireless, 1942

1942FebWirelessWorldSeventy-five years ago, the War was new for Americans, but Britain had been at war for over two years. As America would also soon discover, labor shortages meant that women would play an increasing role in the workplace and even the military.

The cover of the British magazine Wireless World from February 1942 here shows British women in wireless.  This cover illustration shows women doing practical work on a field set.  The magazine notes that women continued to invade the hitherto predominantly masculine field of radio.  In the illustration below, a group of “girls” are shown practicing their Morse skills.




The ARRL National Parks On The Air (NPOTA) event concluded on December 31, 2016. During this year-long event to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service (NPS), Amateur Radio operators set up their stations in NPS units to make contacts with other stations at home.

1494 hams participated as “activators” by setting up stations in the parks, and almost 17,000 participated by making contacts with them. A total of just over 1.1 million individual two-way contacts resulted. I closed out the year with a total of 59 activations, putting me in 64th place nationwide. I made contact with 329 different parks, giving me a ranking of 386th place out of those 17,000.

The March 2017 issue of QST contains an excellent article summarizing the year’s activity, and it is available for free PDF download at the ARRL website.

Even though NPOTA has now ended, there was a great deal of interest in continuing it in some fashion.  The activity isn’t as frenzied, but many hams are continuing to get out to the parks and do activations as part of World Wide Flora and Fauna in Amateur Radio (WWFF).  WWFF is a very similar concept to NPOTA, but as the name implies, it is worldwide.

The program got its start in about 2008 in Russia by the Russian Robinson Club, and has been very popular in Australia and Europe.  During my activations, there were a number of familiar European stations who kept working me, undoubtedly as part of the WWFF program.  With the tie-in to NPOTA, the North American chapter of WWFF has achieved similar popularity.

While NPOTA focused on National Parks and other NPS properties, WWFF includes many other parks, including most state parks in the United States. I haven’t been on the air yet from the parks, but in addition to the local NPS units I was able to activate in 2016, I can now do similar operations from other metro area locations, such as William O’Brien State Park, Fort Snelling State Park, and Afton State Park, as well as from most of the other state parks in Minnesota and surrounding states.

Most of my activations during 2016 focused on metro-area parks, but some of them, such as my activations of the Lewis & Clark Trail and the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site, were done in conjunction with business travel.  Great minds obviously think alike, as shown by Vance, N3VEM‘s recent activation of a metropolitan park in Florida while traveling for business.


Photo courtesy of N3VEM.

As he details at his blog, he recently had a business trip to Florida from his home in Pennsylvania. He immediately began researching parks in the area, and discovered Oleta River State Park, which is actually located minutes from downtown Miami. Rather than book a stay in a more conventional hotel, he rented a rustic cabin at the park, which allowed him do his activation after work.  He packed his FT-857, which is almost identical to the FT-817 I used for most of my activations, the difference being that his radio puts out 100 watts as opposed to my 5 watts.  His complete station set up in the cabin is shown at the left.  His antenna consisted of dipoles for 40 and 20, shown below.


Photo courtesy of N3VEM.

One of the major successes of the NPOTA program was to encourage hams to learn new operating techniques.  In particular, many hams discovered that Morse code (CW) can be extremely effective if conditions are marginal or if the station is less than optimum.  Because NPOTA focused on portable operations, most of the activators were using stations that were less than optimal.  For that reason, more than one ham discovered or rediscovered how effective CW can be, even with extremely simple equipment.

n3vemQSOIt looks like that tradition is continuing with WWFF, since N3VEM became one of the hams to discover CW.  Vance has been licensed only since 2014, and by the time he got his license, the requirement to pass a code test to get a license had been gone for a number of years.  But even though it’s no longer required, it’s still permitted, and he used this activation to make his first ever CW contacts.  And his very first CW contact was with me!

To show how versatile CW can be, it should be pointed out that Vance didn’t even have a key with him.  But like my radio, his allows the microphone to be used as an emergency key, and he used the mike buttons to send the dots and dashes.  When I worked him, the band conditions between Florida and Minnesota were very poor, and I could barely hear his signal.  It would have been absolutely impossible to work him using voice.  But with CW, it was a fairly easy contact, despite his signal being almost completely buried in the noise.

Our first CW QSO was very slow, probably about 5 words per minute.  But I’m sure he’ll discover that speed will increase rapidly as he gets on the air, and I have no doubt that I’ll have future CW QSO’s with him.

WTCN-FM Minneapolis, 1947


Seventy years ago, the February 1947 issue of FM magazine carried this two-page ad from Federal, proudly showing off the transmitter and 80-foot-tall 8-element antenna of WTCN-FM, then on 96.1 MHz, (now KTCZ at 97.1) atop the Foshay Tower in Minnneapolis, then the city’s tallest building.

Thanks to the antenna gain, the 3 KW transmitter put out an effective radiated power of 25 KW, allowing excellent reception over the 30,000 square mile area shown on the map, extending from Duluth to Albert Lea.

Shown at the bottom is the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, whose broadcast over the station allowed listeners at home to tune in to the same brilliance and tonal quality as the studio audience.

One of the inset photos at the bottom shows Minnesota Governor Luther Youngdahl. At the bottom right, conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos is listening to his own orchestra over the air during a rehersal, which he proclaimed to sound “wonderful” and “magnificent.”