Unboxing the Past... Old Radio Gear
It is time to visit some old "friends", they are pieces of Radio Equipment and Accessories. Some are called "boatanchors", because they are so heavy that they could anchor a small boat! These are radio transmitters, receivers and accessories from the 40s to the 70s.. Vaccuum Tube Technology. Tubes are the reason that "real radios...glow in the dark", the glass electron tubes have a filiament that heats the magic tube, voltage is placed on the elements and electrons flow.
Sometimes when using Vaccuum Tube technology in Transmitters, you can see bluish colors
dance around inside the tube, or if the tube is not happy, it may glow red or even white.
These radios were put in storage in Weaverville through the years. Some were set up and used periodically, but this special group I am unpacking now have been boxed since 1990. Some are WW2 vintage Military radios from aircraft or ships, others amateur radio equipment or commercial communications gear. Many were collected because they contain specific technological "breakthroughs" or improvements. Many have a story or even a place in History.
As I unpack them this week, and take pictures so I can put them on my website, to share with others I often remember a person or a place contacted with the radios. Most of these radios will belong to someone else soon, I have too many, and they take up too much room. I will be keeping some select radios and accessories, but most will be in new homes in the next year or so.
Radio tubes seem to last a long time.. I have a short wave receiver made by the Hallicrafters Company in 1959, it uses tube technology, and still has most of the orginal tubes that it left the factory near Chicago with. In the early 60s I used to listen to Radio Moscow, Radio Havana Cuba, Radio Japan, The BBC (when it actually told the truth..), Radio Peking, Voice of America and many more short wave stations that sent programming in english as part of the "war of words" , propaganda, or world news. Ironically, the "Voice of America" is not doing much broadcasting on the "short waves" anymore, some signals to Africa, Some to Indonesia, some to areas that were the former Soviet Union, but now the VOA is on the internet, and some satellite channels. Mostly their budget has been cut..and the reality is that the large numbers of folks that used to listen to short wave, now look on the internet, satellites, cable and other technologies.
When I started listening 45 years ago, radio was amazing... I heard rebels attack an official government station in Africa, and it eventually went off the air.. I used to listen to soccer matches, baseball, football and other activities through my headphones or the "high fidelity" speaker. I could tune my radio to the proper wavelength for the time of day around the world and tune in World News as it happened. I could listen to the same news event, with perspectives from several countries. In recent years I have talked to Russian and American Astronauts from space stations as they orbit above. I have used satellites to relay digital information from a briefcase station in Weaverville, to networks in USA as our local Amateur Radio Emergency Service practices for things that we hope will never happen. But my favorite technology is the use of tube type radios, some I make or adapt from other uses myself
to make "communications" a bit more "personal".
When the first bombs exploded in Bagdad, in Desert Storm 1... I left CNN and tuned into the military aircraft channels and listened to aircraft landing in Saudi Arabia and Turkey...and radio operators refer to "scuds" whatever they were... a couple days later on CNN we all found out. They were rockets being launched from mobile launchers into Isreal, Saudi Arabia etc.
I took a quick "tour" on my 125 pound "state of the art" 1968 military grade tube type radio receiver. The BBC, VOA, some European stations, some "Alied" countries and some less "friendly" or "politically oposite" views to the same news story. This radio cost the US taxpayers about $6,000, in 1968. I was able to purchased a broken one in 1975 that I was able to repair, with total investment of about $400. It covered the AM Broadcast Band to the short waves. (.5 to 30 mhz). I could listen to ham radio stations while communicating with them around the world utilizing morse code or single-sideband voice mode. This radio was one of the best ever made, the model R-390a, designed by the Collins Radio Company, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, USA. You would be amazed where it is still in use today.. even though more modern radios are availiable.
This analog radio is still in use today, it is used with a 1946 Collins model 310b-3(m) a 25watt input Morse Code Transmitter. The are bolted into a rack mounting cabinet one above the other and atleast a couple times a month, I "fire-up" this bit of radio history, and communicate with my morse code key, vintage WW2. I use the speaker, or sometimes some 1920s headphones that are as useful with a Crystal Radio Set or a modern radio. The radios are hooked to a tuning device and about 100' of wire. The "magic" of radio allows me to contact all corners of the earth exchanging ideas, signal reports and pleasantries with other folks with similar desires.
What on earth would possess me to operate a radio that is "older than I am?"... well it is one way of paying homage to those that came before, and it is like those folks that drive old cars.. it is something "different" and it is many things to many people. I have modern radio equipment that are more computer than radio now, but technology requires that it be this way now. I can communicate with Civil and Military Authorities with special licenses, and also fellow radio amateurs , or "ham radio operators" as they are often called.
I can enter numbers on a keypad and command a menu on the radio screen to select the proper channel for my operations. I can talk from mountain top "repeater" stations in Trinity County at 6000' powered by solar panels located in frozen buildings that are covered with snow and ice in the winter. Or I can talk across town or the nation or the world using skills and information developed over 45yrs. I can even hook my laptop or PC to the radio, and watch letters turn into words on a computer screen, as information is exchanged. Even pictures can be transmitted, sharing an event or identity across the county or from a Space Station, it is all still "magic" to me.
Now we have portable transistor radios that are tecnological marvels that run off batteries or even sunlight through a solar panel, charging a battery. Some are small "walkman" types or can be the size of at brief case, including a battery, that will power it, and a whip antenna that will receive signals across town or across the world.. Some of these marvels can even transmit
voice, code, images, data completely portable. They are less interesting to me, they are cool to the touch, and when they break, usually do not smell, have smoke pouring out, or even hot to the touch as something melts....as Vacuum Tube Technology often does.. "Real Radios Glow in the Dark".
The amazing thing is now that technology keeps marching forward, I have "solid state" transistor type radios that have become "classic" them selves, and I often take a small station in a wooden case on picnics or just out into the woods, string up a wire, and communicate with a
lantern battery as the power for the radio station... or sometimes a solar panel, and a modern gell type battery that can run the station for days.. on a single charge, or be maintained by a small solar panel. Perhaps you are old enough to have memories of the "first" portable radios, and how much fun it was to listen to them, or perhaps you have a radio that has been in your family for years, and just keeps working.
I hope that you have enjoyed the "magic of radio" in your life..