Category Archives: Wisconsin History

Grain Belt “Talking Scoreboard” circa 1965

GrainBeltRadio

A few weeks ago, someone posted an interesting photo on the Old Minneapolis page on Facebook.   That page is one of the best on Facebook, as every day it includes more fascinating photos.  The most interesting photos are invariably of subjects that were mundane when the photo was taken.  But with the passage of years, these mundane scenes are the most fascinating. Sometimes, the story behind the photo is included. Other times, the viewer is left to wonder what was going on in the picture and why it was taken.

The photo was of the interior of a North Minneapolis bar, and was apparently taken in 1965. One eagle-eyed netizen noticed behind the bartender a most interesting radio, the Grain Belt Talking Scoreboard, like the one shown at the top of this page. The set measures about 18 inches wide, and consists of a scoreboard brightly backlit with two old style Christmas tree bulbs, on which the bartender could write in the score for each inning with a grease pencil. Inside the case is a radio for pulling in the game for the benefit of the patrons.

The radio itself is a typical “All American Five” (AA5) superhet, using a miniature tube complement consisting of a 50C5, 12AV6, 12BA6, 12BE6, and 35W4. The front panel controls consist of the volume control and tuning capacitor.

IMG_0023aA sticker on the back identifies the device as a Talking Scoreboard, and admonishes that “this electronic advertising sign is the property of the Minneapolis Brewing Co. and is loaned with the understanding that it will be prominently displayed.” There’s no indication of who manufactured the set, although from the tube lineup and other parts, it appears to have been manufactured in the late 1950’s or early 1960’s. At first I didn’t see them, but the set does have the triangular CONELRAD markings at 640 and 1240 on the tuning dial, as are visible on the closeup here, This places the date of the set’s manufacture at pre-1963 when CONELRAD ended.  A likely date for the set would be 1961, when the Twins came to town.  However, the set is generic in that it’s not marked with the name of any team.  Since Grain Belt was sold in other Midwestern states, it’s likely that it found use in taverns with loyalties to other teams.  And apparently another version of the set was available with a football scorecard.  You can find more discussion of the set at the antiqueradios.com forum.

The set shown at the top of this page is owned by Chris Manuel of Brookfield, Wisconsin, who graciously gave me permission to use the photo. He reports that the loopstick antenna makes the set more directional than is common for AA5’s, most of which used a larger loop mounted at the back of the set. But presumably, the radio only had to tune one station, namely the one broadcasting the game. So once it was set in a suitable spot, the directional antenna wouldn’t be much of a hindrance.  Perhaps the directional antenna even proved useful on occasion for nulling out a noisy neon sign.

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Radio Keeps a Government Girl Company, 1943

Image via Wikimedia.

Image via Wikimedia.

By 1944, with able-bodied men off to war, a third of the Civil Service was composed of women, and thousands of “Government Girls” descended on Washington to do their part to win the war by taking jobs in the quickly expanding federal government.

This brought acute housing shortages, and many of them lived in boarding houses.  Among them was the young woman shown here in this iconic photograph by government photographer Esther Bubley.  Bubley was herself one of those Government Girls.  She grew up in Superior Wisconsin.  After graduating from high school in the late 1930’s, she attended Superior Teachers College (now University of Wisconsin-Superior) before studying photography at the Minneapolis School of Art (now the Minneapolis College of Art and Design).

"I come in here pretty often, sometimes alone, mostly with another girl, we drink beer, and talk, and of course we keep our eyes open--you'd be surprised at how often nice, lonesome soldiers ask Sue, the waitress, to introduce them to us" Wikimedia.

“I come in here pretty often, sometimes alone, mostly with another girl, we drink beer, and talk, and of course we keep our eyes open–you’d be surprised at how often nice, lonesome soldiers ask Sue, the waitress, to introduce them to us” Wikimedia.

She moved to Washington in 1942, eventually landing a job as a photographer with the Office of War Information, where she documented the home front, including the lives of her fellow civil servants, such as the one shown above, taken in January 1943, with the caption:   “A radio is company for this girl in her boardinghouse room.”  Another civil servant is shown in the picture to the left.

The girl in the radio picture is, according to this source, quite likely one of Bubley’s sisters.  The boardinghouse project was Bubley’s first in Washington.  Even though she started out as a microfilm clerk, the results launched her career as a photographer.

The other star of the photo is, of course, the radio.  It can be examined in better detail in the available high resolution scan.  There aren’t enough details to positively identify it.  I thought that the unusual octagonal tuning dial would make the job easy, but I was wrong.

Stromberg-Carlson did have a number of sets with the distinctive octagonal tuning dial, but this doesn’t appear to be a Stromberg-Carlson.  First of all, the set is just too low-end for that company’s line.  It has only two controls, and the tuning knob is connected directly to the tuning condenser, with no kind of gearing visible.  More importantly, the Stromberg-Carlson name is not visible.  It would almost certainly have appeared on the dial itself, but the only markings on this one are “kilocycles” and “meters.”

There is a brand name visible under the speaker, but it’s not possible to make it out.  It appears to start with either an M or a W, but it certainly isn’t the same script used by Stromberg-Carlson.  Despite the passing resemblance to some of Stromberg-Carlson’s sets, I have to rule it out.  If anything, it’s a cheap knockoff of a Stromberg-Carlson.

It’s most likely that the radio had its beginnings in the nebulous radio history of Chicago.  There’s a good chance that it was manufactured in a mysterious facility known only as “Plant A,”  1217 W. Washington Blvd. Chicago was the home of many small radio factories, the largest of which was “Plant A.” They were known only by the source given on the label in back, which also recited that they were manufactured under license of the patent holders. And good number of them identified the source as being “Plant A.” Plant A turned out radios under the names of Clinton, Corona, Crusader, Cub, Bostonian, Buckingham, Federal, Harmony, Marshall, Nightengale, Universal, and Westminster. In most cases, these were the house brands of individual stores who contracted with the owners of Plant A.

It’s really not known who the owners of Plant A and the other Chicago plants were. One source lists the owner as being Clinton Mfg. Co., but it’s not entirely clear whether Clinton owned the plant, or whether it was simply one of the brands manufactured there.

In any event, the circumstantial evidence seems strong that the radio came from one of these Chicago plants.  Civilian radio production ended on April 22, 1942, and the set resembles the inexpensive four-tube radios that were available in about 1940.  For example, the circuit is probably very close to the Tiny Knight from Chicago’s Allied Radio, or the 1940 Aetna Midget from Chicago-based Walgreen’s.  Like those sets, the Government Girl probably paid about $7.95 for it at a drug store, tire store, or some other store that contracted with a factory in Chicago to put their name on it.

The closest match I was able to find to the Government Girl’s radio is this Clinton Model 440 4-tube TRF receiver.  The general layout is the same, and it’s quite possible that there’s an identical chassis inside.  In fact, the Clinton seems to have a permanently attached antenna wire, which is visible in the Government Girl’s window.

Now that we have a good suspicion of what the radio was, I’m sure you’re wondering what station the Government Girl was listening to.  The dial pointer is visible in the high resolution photo, but it’s impossible to read the numbers.  But the top scale is clearly frequency in kilocycles, and the bottom scale is wavelength in meters.  The numbers are closer together at the left on the meter scale, indicating that this is the top of the dial (190 meters, or 1600 kilocycles).  With that hint, it’s clear that the dial is set to 250 meters, meaning that the position of the top scale is 1200 kilocycles.

The Winter 1943 issue of White’s Radio Log shows that the most likely station as  WOL, on 1260 with 1000 watts.  The closest possible other contenders would have been 50,000 watt stations WBAL in Baltimore, on 1090, or WRVA on 1140 in Richmond, but it doesn’t appear that the dial is set low enough for either of those stations.  In fact, with the simple 4-tube receiver and dubious window antenna, the signal from the Richmond station would probably have been too weak to keep the set’s owner company.

Incidentally, even though the caption says that the radio was keeping her company, it was turned off when the picture was taken.  Even a humble radio such as this one would have had a dial light.  The dial light wasn’t there as a convenience for the user; that was just a convenient side-effect.  In a radio such as this with the tube filaments wired in series, the dial lamp is in parallel with some of the tubes to limit the current to them.  Without the dial light, those tubes would fail prematurely, especially when the set is first turned on.  So even the radio that a Government Girl bought at the drug store for $7.95 would have had one.

I would like to thank the QRZ.com members who helped me figure out the mysteries of this radio, in particular KP4SX and KC8VWM.  And if anyone has further details, please share them, either by e-mail or in the comments.

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TV Comes to Marathon, Ontario, 1953

GreenBayMarathonIn 1953, Marathon, Ontario, was a full 300 miles away from the nearest TV station, WBAY channel 2, in Green Bay, Wisconsin. That distance didn’t stop Grant Ross from deciding that the town needed television, and he set out to deliver. He discovered that from a hill 300 feet above the shore of Lake Superior, the signal was perceptible, and he set out to get reliable reception. Half of the path between Green Bay and Marathon was over the waters of Lake Superior. However, Green Bay was on the shores of Lake Michigan, and the signal had to cross 152 miles of Wisconsin  and Upper Michigan countryside before reaching the unobstructed waters of Lake Superior. But it did so, and Ross was intent on providing a signal to the town. He wound up constructing a rhombic array on 45 poles mounted atop the hill. This signal was fed down to the town on an 1800 foot transmission line. A 1955 report showed that he received “excellent” signals at least 40% of the time. Reception was “poor or useless” only 20% of the time.

Ross signed up over 400 homes for his pioneer Community Antenna Television (CATV) systam, collecting a $50 installation fee from each. In addition, the monthly subscription for the service was $2.50.

A few years later, channel 2 came on the air in Port Arthur, Ontario (now Thunder Bay), and he switched the service to that. The rhombic was rebuilt to receive the new signal from WLUC in Marquette, Michigan, which was a relatively easy catch, being 166 miles away, but with a path entirely over the waters of Lake Superior.

 

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Light Up Every Room In The House! 1935 Free Electricity

FreeElectricity80 years ago, Milwaukee residents didn’t have to worry about conserving electricity. The Electric Company was giving it away for free, as announced in this ad in the Milwaukee Journal, April 30, 1935. It was free, that is, as long as you used more than you did the previous month:

You see signs of it wherever you go–free electricity is flooding every neighborhood. In thousands of homes, lights are burning day and night–electrical appliances are being turned on–families are enjoying the pleasure and convenience of unlimited electric service. Hundreds of stores are lighting up for better business. Never before has the entire community taken up an offer with such enthusiasm!

During your Free Electricity period, use absolutely as much electricity as you please. Light up every room in the house. Keep a night light burning. Turn on the electric heater to take off the chill. Operate your radio. Use your electric range, vacuum cleaner, toaster, percolator, and other electrical appliances to your heart’s content. Remember–there’s no limit!

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FM Comes to Milwaukee, 1940

W9XAO

75 years ago today, April 22, 1940, FM radio came to Milwaukee, when W9XAO came on the air at 1:00 PM on 42.6 megacycles. The station was owned by the Milwaukee Journal, and was the sister station of WTMJ, the paper’s standard broadcast station. According to the April 21 issue of the newspaper, the station was “the first FM station west of the Alleghenies.”

The paper used a number of pages touting the advantages of FM radio. Of course, listeners would require a new set to tune in the new band, and a number of manufacturers and retailers advertised their sets. The least expensive model was Stromberg-Carlson model 525-H for $59. This radio was actually a tuner only. It could be plugged in to the phonograph jack of an existing radio.

The station at some point received a commercial license and operated under the call letters W55J. After the war, the station moved to 102.1 on the modern FM dial with the call sign WTMJ-FM, but ceased broadcasting in 1950. WTMJ-FM returned to the air in 1958, on 94.5 MHz. The station is currently still owned by Journal Communications, but now uses the call sign WLWK-FM.

Don Stanley

Don Stanley

The first full-time announcer at W9XAO was Don Stanley, who came to Milwaukee from KGLO in Mason City, Iowa. He went on to become a west coast announcer for NBC radio and television from 1946-1992.

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March 8, 1965: Vietnam War and Civil Rights

MilwJournal030865

Fifty years ago today, it was anything but a slow news day, as shown by the front page of the Milwaukee Journal, March 8, 1965.

In the left column, almost lost in the clutter, is an article with the headline, “US Marines Land at Base in S. Vietnam,” which reported that 3500 U.S. Marines from the Third Marine Division at Okinawa had landed at Da Nang, or were in the process of arriving. This marked a major escalation in U.S. involvement in the war. In 1964, there were about 16,500 American servicemen in Vietnam. The March 2 attack on the U.S. Marine barracks at Pleiku marked the initiation of a three year bombing campaign, and a rapid escalation of U.S. forces on the ground. These 3500 Marines arrived on March 8, marking the beginning of the ground war. At the time, U.S. public opinion overwhelmingly supported their deployment. By the end of 1965, there were 200,000 U.S. servicemen in Vietnam.

"Bloody Sunday" in Selma, AL, March 7, 1965. Wikipedia photo.

“Bloody Sunday” in Selma, AL, March 7, 1965. Wikipedia photo.

But the escalation of the war was dwarfed by other news. The photo shows not fighting in Vietnam, but on the streets of Selma, Alabama. According to the caption of the UPI photo, it shows “charging Alabama state troopers passing fallen Negroes on the median strip after the troopers, acting on orders of Gov. George Wallace, broke up a march with clubs and tear gas. The Negroes had planned to march to the state capitol.” The article notes that the march consisted of “600 praying Negroes” and had been “broken up by Alabama state troopers and deputies who used clubs, whips, ropes and tear gas. Sixty-seven Negroes were injured.” An FBI agent filming the troopers was also injured after being attacked by a group of white civilians.

The paper reported that the National Council of Churches had called upon Christians throughout the nation to join the demonstrators in another march scheduled for the following day. Catholic authorities were conferring on a plea from Rev. Martin Luther King and promised a statement as well. Rabbi Richard G. Hirsch of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations also announced that he planned to attend the march.

A number of race-related decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court were announced in the paper. The banner headline went to announcing the decision in Louisiana v. United States, 380 U.S. 145 (1965). Louisiana had vested in its election registrars virtually unbridled discretion in administering an “interpretation test” to prospective voters. Under the state law, in order to register, a voter was required to read, “be able to understand” and “give a reasonable interpretation” of any section of the state of federal constitution. According to the Court, there was ample evidence that the provision was used as a ruse to deprive otherwise eligible African-American voters of the right to vote. The court noted that “colored people, even some with the most advanced education and scholarship, were declared by voting registrars with less education to have an unsatisfactory understanding of the Constitution of Louisiana or of the United States. This is not a test but a trap, sufficient to stop even the most brilliant man on his way to the voting booth.”

The Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the district court’s striking down of this provision.

The front page also contained an editorial stressing the importance of voting in a school board primary to be held the following day. To drive home the importance, the front page cartoon shows a stereotypical southern politician addressing a group of African-Americans protesting for voting rights. He’s telling them: “What you all fussin’ for? Lots of white folks up north don’t think voting’s important.” And he was probably right. The paper notes that only 11% of registered voters bothered going to the polls in the 1963 primary.

Finally, the paper reported that President Johnson had asked congress for help in the “War on Crime.” He asked for a ban on mail-order firearms, tighter control over drugs, and for provisions to “strengthen safety in the streets” with “development and testing of experimental methods of crime control.”



A Scout is Kind: George Salak, Racine, WI

PioneeringRequirements for various Boy Scout merit badges change over the years.  Pioneering merit badge is still current, but the requirements have changed since the original ones, shown here from the original 1913 Scout Handbook.  The current requirements can be found at meritbadge.org.

For 16-year old Scout George Salak of Racine, Wisconsin, the first requirement rubbed him the wrong way.  It didn’t feel right cutting down a live tree just to earn a merit badge.  Therefore, he sent the following letter to the editor of Boys’ Life, which appeared in the January 1915 issue:

Being a First-Class Scout my chief desire has been to become the first Eagle Scout in this city. So far I have managed to pass satisfactorily nineteen Merit Badges and have entered upon Pioneering which I have completed with the exception of the first question, which requires a Scout to fell in a prescribed direction a 9-inch tree.

I am writing you with the purpose of finding out whether the felling of such a tree is not a direct violation of our Scout Law number six, also if it would not be just as sufficient to demonstrate what cut to take or write a statement on how to fell a tree. As far as I am informed there are approximately 500,000 Scouts in the United States. Can you imagine what a tremendous destruction of trees would result if each of these boys were possessed with a desire to fell one tree apiece? In all my years of service, this being the sixth, I have always been opposed to the wilful destruction of trees. Kindly inform me what course to pursue.

Thanking you for giving this matter your prompt attention, I remain,

–George Salak, Racine, Wis.

The editor responded:

For the benefit of other Scouts who may be puzzled with the same problem, it is announced that the Committee on Badges Awards have already had this matter under consideration and the test as now required omits this item.

Mr. Salak went on to become an Eagle in May 1915, probably the first in Racine.  That accomplishment is recorded in the July 1915 issue of Boys’ Life.

George Salak, 1930 photo.

George Salak, 1930 photo.

The following year, he became a postal clerk and served in that capacity for two years.  During the First World War, he  served in France as a member of Battery C, 121st Field Artillery, when that unit of the Wisconsin National Guard was called to federal service.  After the war, in 1919, along with his brother Charles he formed the Salak Music Company.  In 1922, the company moved to a larger location at 306 Fifth Street, a location currently housing a storefront church.   He died in 1937 at the age of 38.

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W9XJL: Duluth-Superior Shortwave Broadcast Station

W9XJL QSL card,

W9XJL 1938 QSL card, All Wave Radio, Feb. 1938.  A color image of the card can be found at this link.,

You probably didn’t know that Superior, Wisconsin, was once the home of a shortwave broadcast station. Station W9XJL was an experimental station licensed to Head of Lakes Broadcasting Company.  It originally operated with 80 watts on 26.10 MHz, and later increased its power to 250 watts. The January 1940 issue of Radio & Television magazine carries the following report:

W9XJL, 26.10 mc, Superior, Wis., is now using a full 250 watts from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Much can be said for the fine quality and consistency this station has shown in the last three years and for its excellent verification policy. Our observers in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Florida, Arizona, California and Washington all report an R9 signal whenever the band opens.

w9xjl

WEBC-W9XJL advertisement, 1939 Broadcasting Yearbook.

W9XJL  simulcasted  Duluth-Superior station WEBC on the Apex band, which existed from 1934 to 1940. The 11 meter band (25-27 MHz) was allocated internationally for broadcasting, but largely unused outside of the U.S. Apex stations. In Minnesota, both WCCO and WTCN had licenses to broadcast on the Apex band, as W9XHW and W9XTC respectively.  (A portion of the band, 25.6-26.1 MHz, is still allocated for international broadcasting, but rarely used.)  Some sources incorrectly describe W9XJL as an FM station, but it actually used amplitude modulation, although the Apex stations generally used a wider bandwidth than on the standard broadcast band, thus allowing for a more “high fidelity” audio signal.

W9XJL transmitted from 40th and Tower Avenue in Superior.  The program was generally the same as WEBC, with an announcer at the transmitter location breaking in to give the station identification.  One interesting use of the station was reported in 1937 as the relay of personal messages to and from persons wintering on Isle Royale. Station WSHC was licensed to Isle Royale.

W9XJL did receive reception reports from around the world.  As noted above, it had a good reputation for QSL’ing.

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