Saturday, June 22, 2013

DXing With the Watterson

This early period of serious DX-ing was done with a 1940's vintage Watterson table radio that had belonged to my grandfather. It was a simple receiver, of the basic design known as an “ All American Five”. This is the catch-all name given to the basic design of a five-tube superhet with an AC/DC power supply and no power transformer. The filaments of the tubes of these receivers were wired in series such that the voltage drops of all added up to about 120 volts, or the basic power line voltage. Thus no filament transformer was needed. High voltage for the plates of the tubes was obtained with a half wave rectifier operating directly off the power line, agin with no transformer. This allowed for operation off either AC or DC power but probably more importantly, kept the price of these radios to a minimum.

Of the versions of these radios using the larger, octal based tubes, all had the same lineup: 12SA7 pentagrid converter, 12SK7 Intermediate Frequency amplifier, 12SQ7 Detector, Automatic Gain Control and first Audio Frequency amplifier ( this tube has two diodes and a triode in the same envelope) 50L6 Audio Output amplifier and 35Z5 rectifier. Later designs using miniature tubes but otherwise very similar in design used a 12BE6 pentagrid converter, 12BA6 Intermediate Frequency amplifier, 12AT6 detector, automatic gain control and first Audio Frequency amplifier, 50C5 Audio Output and 35W4 rectifier.

Some of the basic multi-band short wave receivers used this same design and same tube lineup, including the famous Hallicrafters S-38 and S-120 series and the National SW-54 and NC-60 lines. These entry level SWL receivers were basically just the standard broadcast receiver designs with switched coils to allow tuning the higher frequencies.

This design did not have an RF amplifier stage, which resulted in decreased sensitivity on the higher bands. It also resulted in rather poor image rejection on the higher bands meaning these receivers often were plagued with spurious responses to strong signals. Performance on the standard broadcast band was pretty decent, though the single IF stage did not provide great selectivity. However, for DX-ing North American stations that were for the most part on 10 kilocycle centers, the selectivity provided was adequate except in the case of trying to pull out a weak, distant station directly adjacent to a strong local station. The only time the poor image rejection was a problem in broadcast band receivers was in the case of a strong local station above 1450 kHz. It might also appear near the low end of the dial. It was a much bigger problem on the short waves without an RF stage to tighten the selectivity of the front end.

The “image” frequency response of a superhet receiver design appears at twice the Intermediate Frequency away from the real frequency. Since the IF frequency used in these receivers was 455 kc, the image would be 910 kc below the actual station frequency. Thus a strong local station on 1450 kc would not only appear there, but also at 540 on this type of receiver. A station on 1600 would thus also appear at 690. ( I am using kc or kc/s for kilocycles per second for frequency references here because at this time period, the term “Hertz” had not come into standard use yet)

The other thing that had to be taken into account when using these receivers had to do with safety. Since there was no power transformer, the ground side of the power line was often connected directly to the chassis of the radio. Since polarized or three prong plugs were not in use in homes or on the radios at that time, depending on which way the cord was plugged in, even if the radio used a “floating ground” wiring scheme to avoid it, if a bypass capacitor to the chassis became leaky, there could be anywhere from 50 volts to 120 volts to ground on the chassis or case. Proper grounding and correct plugging into the wall socket was a necessity. With some designs, this voltage could also appear on an external antenna connection. Receivers made today do not present this danger, but if anyone is using one of these vintage receivers, this fact should not be taken lightly!! Regardless of receiver design, its always a good idea when using one of these today is to put a .05 microfarad capacitor in series with your external antenna.

All of these factors were pretty well common knowledge for people using these receivers in those days. Even as a ten year old DX-er, I had become aware of them, from reading articles in Popular Electronics, Electronics Illustrated and Radio-TV Experimenter. By this time, I was also going through my father's material from his radio-tv repair correspondence course.

The Watterson had a connection for an external antenna on the back. It also had a built-in loop antenna that was also the inductor for the tuned circuit for the input of the pentagrid converter stage. The connection was simply to the “high” side of the loop through a series capacitor. For short antennas this was not much of a problem, but when longer and longer antennas were connected to the radio in coming months, I found that the input was becoming detuned by the additional distributed capacitance to ground provided by the antenna, requiring a minor front end realignment of the radio. But I get ahead of myself.

The radio was basically a Broadcast Band receiver, but like many radios of its vintage, it tuned a bit more than the 540-1600 kc/s of what was then the Standard Broadcast Band. If you looked at the far right side of the tuning dial, the top of the band was marked by a “160” for 1600 kc/s. However, above that in small letters was the word “Police”. Up through the 1930's and into the early 1960's, a segment of the radio spectrum just above the broadcast band was used for dispatching police! As it came into my possession, the radio tuned up to almost 1800 kc.

The first external antenna used with the radio was thirty feet of wire suspended under the overhang of our house from two porcelain nail up insulators. My ground connection was to an eight foot piece of water pipe my dad drove in the ground outside my bedroom window. Another ground wire ran from that to a nearby water faucet. ( there was no plastic water pipe in those days).

We moved into the new house at Thanksgiving time, but it was really Christmas break time before I really had time to try out the radio in the full DX mode. There was a lot to do getting moved in, trying to get the yard started and numerous chores. I did get to use the radio for some casual listening while doing homework and found that on the outside antenna, it did a great job receiving WLS 890 from Chicago and KOMA 1520, Oklahoma City. The signals were “armchair copy” with only a little fading. And the Saturday night Grand Ol' Oprey came in great from WSM 650.

The first night of Christmas break I got all set for a night of DX-ing and hope for a full band scan. In those days, many stations signed off at midnight or 1 AM clearing some frequencies for more distant stations. There were hopes for Canadians. I was not sure how I would identify the Mexican stations. I did have a phonetic list of the alphabet in Spanish but did not seem to hear call letters given except at the top of the hour. The American pop stations made it easy, with jingles and call letters given between virtually every record.

Beginning that night, I soon had most of the so-called “clear channel” stations logged. In those days, they were truly clear channels. At night, that group of stations were truly alone on their respective frequencies. Though they were easy to log later, the first time they were heard and written down, it was a big thrill. It was like a night in Chicago that night. WMAQ on 670, WGN on 720, WBBM on 780 and WLS on 890. I sat in front of the radio with the most recent copy of the Whites Radio Log stations listed by frequency. I was puzzled by the fact that the first four stations from the Windy City, I could not hear a trace of WCFL on 1000, but only heard a Spanish language station. It was later that I learned about it being directional.

There were some other great loggings that first night: WSM 650 Nashville, WLW 700 Cincinnati, XELO 800 Juarez, Mexico ( My first officially logged foreign station, identified along with the other Mexican stations logged that night because it was carrying English language programming) WCCO 830 Minneapolis ( though with considerable splatter from WBAP 820) WHAS 840 Louisville, KOA 850 Denver, WWL 870 New Orleans, KDKA 1020 Pittsburgh, WHO 1040 Des Moines, XEG 1050 Monterrey, Mexico, WNOE 1060 NEW ORLEANS, KRLD 1080 Dallas, KFAB 1110 Omaha, KMOX 1120 St. Louis, KWKH 1130 Shreveport, KVOO 1170 Tulsa, WOAI 1200 San Antonio, WCAU 1210 Philadelphia, KSTP 1500 St Paul, WLAC 1510 Nashville, KOMA 1520 Oklahoma City, WCKY 1530 Cincinnati, XERF 1570 Villa Acuna, Mexico.

There were many other stations heard that night, but many channels on which they were found were jumbled with multiple stations. Logging the clear channel stations took much longer than it should have, because I had to formally identify them all. I also did not make it till midnight before I faded out myself.

In later nights, I began working on some of the stations on the “off” channels and weaker clear channel stations and began picking out the ID's of some of them. Some stations were elusive, showing me that DX-er's Law of Nature: fades will always come when a station is about to ID. Some of those heard in coming days that were weaker or were picked out of the initially unintelligible mess on some of the crowded channels included KXOK 630 in St Louis, KFEQ 680 St Joseph, Missouri, KEEL 710 Shreveport, WJR 760 Detroit, WHB 810 Kansas City, WKY 930 Oklahoma City, KAAY 1090 Little Rock, KYW 1100 Cleveland, WJBO 1150 Baton Rouge, WGAR 1220 Cleveland mixed with a Spanish language station, KTUL 1430 Tulsa, KWCO 1560 Chickasha Oklahoma, KLOU 1580 Lake Charles, Louisiana and KATZ 1600 St Louis.

I was still having trouble picking things out of the jumble. There was still time to develop “DX-ers Ears”. This is the mental ability to separate what you want to hear from noise and interference. It is an ability developed over time to concentrate on a specific voice or sound or song and mentally tune out the chaff. This ability seems to sharpen with time and I have found it particularly useful in copying CW on the ham and utility bands when even the sharpest filter cannot result in only one signal being heard. By concentrating on the specific pitch of the cw signal you want, even if it is the weaker of as many as three or four clumped up together, as long as the stronger ones are not pushing the AGC down, the “filter between the ears” can pick it out...just an aside again: This is why often old time CW ops( including myself in that group) sometimes prefer to defeat the AGC in the receiver completely in such situations and let the filter in the ear just clip off the higher volume signal while the brain picks out the pitch you want. This works particularly well with headphones. It was about this time that I also learned that picking signals out of the mud works better with headphones and installed a headphone jack on the back of the Watterson. ( this also allows listening late at night without disturbing the rest of the family) It may also explain some of my hearing loss that has shown up as I approach my mid sixties!

Those first few weeks I also noted but did not identify Spanish language stations on 540(strong!), 590, 640, 690, 730(very strong!!, 900 (strong!) 990, 1000, 1030, 1140,1160, 1180, 1220 (fading over WGAR) and 1580 ( fading over KLOU). At the time I never positively identified the Spanish language stations on 590 and 640, but knowing what I know now, I'll bet they were Cuban.

It was some months later in reading articles by CM Stansbury, Hank Bennett, and others whose names I unfortunately do not recall, that many Mexican stations went by slogans most of the time rather than call letters. I began collecting the slogans in a notebook as I ran across them in articles and finally began identifying some by the slogans ( “La Voz de la American Latina”, “ Desde Mexico”, “Radio Mil, “ etc) I also learned that some of the stations were simulcast on multiple frequencies and were able to pick them out that way.

Some of these stations have become markers or beacons for determining frequency just like the earlier stations had. Some of the big ones that really ran high power had amazing signal strengths, like XEWA 540 San Luis Potosi ( 150 kw), XEW 900 Mexico City ( 250 kw) and XEX 730 Mexico City that was listed as 500 kw at the time.

It was also about this time (mid 1959) that I ran across some articles in Popular Electronics about QSL-ing stations and soon had my very first Broadcast Band QSL. It came from XELO in Juarez.

There was a lot of reading of DX articles and perusing of catalogs going on about that time with eyes toward getting a better receiver or at least something that would get short wave frequencies about that time, but there was just no possibility of that financially. Thus grew the idea of enhancing the Watterson as much as possible to improve its performance. At age ten, there was not much that I had learned that could do much with the simple design.

There were attempts to squeeze the absolute most out of what there was by making sure the radio was operating at top efficiency. I probably almost wore out the adjustment screws on the variable capacitor trimmers and in the Intermediate Frequency Transformers peaking and tweaking. I did not have a signal generator or even a voltmeter at that point, so all alignment was one by ear.

My process at that time was to tune in a fairly weak station during the day ( so the signal would not be varying), then starting with the input IF transformer, swing the adjusting screw on first the primary and the secondary through an audible peak, then going to the output IF transformer and doing the same thing, going over and over the process. One could hear a mild “swish” as resonance was tuned through, though the peak was rather broad. There was some improvement in selectivity but there is a practical limit as to how much you can narrow down a single IF stage at 455 kc.

I did make one attempt at trying to tighten things up by introducing a little regeneration in the IF by soldering a short piece of wire onto the plate pin of the 12SK7 tube and moving it over near the grid. The problem was that when the AGC would recover on a weak signal, the stage would break into oscillation if more than just a little was introduced and on strong signals the effect was not too great.

Once again, its a matter of “if I had known then what I know now” I might have either come up with a way to disable the AGC or build an outboard Q-multiplier. But even as it was, there was usually adequate selectivity to separate stations that were 10 kc apart. I guess at the time I though pderhaps I could hear some of the European split channel stations if I could tighten it up, but as it turns out with the antenna situation at the time, it would never have happened anyway.

The idea of trans-Atlantic or trans-Pacific DX was always there, however. I still remember the one article by Stansbury that mentioned him logging JOJR and JOTR from Japan.

As tuning went on, I soon started thinking about improving the antenna. The thirty foot length soon grew to fifty, then 75, the took a turn and went down entire back and the west side of the house for a total length of about 130 feet. It was still under the overhang of the house, however and only about 9 feet above the ground. I am surprised I heard as much as I did given that situation. The wire used for antennas in those days was salvaged from unwound loop antennas off other radios and soldered-together short pieces of insulated wire. One segment was even made from split TV antenna twin lead.

This was truly a low budget operation!

At one point, the antenna situation took a quantum leap for the better. My dad came home with two 20-foot long 2X4's and put up two masts about 75 feet near my bedroom window and one at the very back of the yard. There were pulleys at the top to allow antennas to be raised and lowered. The wire for the antenna came from unwinding the field coils of a burned out six volt (!) generator ( not alternator, but generator) from a 1951 Chevy pickup. Even though this antenna was not as long as the original, the fact that it was higher and away from noise generated in the house meant it was a HUGE improvement!

This brought some weaker signals up out of the background, particularly in another interesting part of the dial, that above the 1600 kc mark that was then the top end of the broadcast band ( this was over 30 years before the expanded band came into being). This was the part of the dial marked “Police”. Low and behold I actually heard police calls up there. I was never really sure where they were coming from, but assumed at the time somewhere on the west coast because of some of the geographic references. They were only audible at night.

The thought then came that perhaps I could hear a bit of the short wave spectrum if I could shift the tuning of the radio up a bit. There was lots of adjusting of the local oscillator trimmers on the variable capacitor, but the move wasn't much. It did allow me to get up into the 160 meter band.

At that time the 160 meter ham band was shared with the LORAN navigation system and the characteristic phase shifting pulsing sounds were readily audible. But soon at night, I was hearing some amateur stations. In those days, the large majority of ham communications was till on AM with single sideband still in its growth stages. I only heard signals at night and among those, mostly stations with the W0 prefix, the "zeros" being in the Kansas, Nebraska, Dakotas, Missouri and Minnesota areas. It was still a thrill to hear my first ham transmissions.

There were also some other signals to be heard in that region. There were a few stations identifying with Morse Code....I was just learning the code about that time and it was with great difficulty that I managed to identify the first as “ RAB”. It was later discovered reading an article about Utility DX-ing that I learned that there were still a few navigational beacons in this spectrum and that this particular station was at Rabinal Air Force Base in Guatemala.

Nightly DX-ing continued through the 1959 time period with listening skills improving and careful tuning turning up more and more stations on other than the clear channels. It was in the fall of 1959 that I managed to stay up till just past 2 AM and found, lo and behold, XEWA had signed off and I was able to hear my first Canadian BCB station...CBK 540 in Regina, Saskatchewan.

The log was being filled with more and more lower powered stations as the “filter between the ears” developed more and more. One of the good ones ( with a QSL too!) was KSJB from Jamestown, North Dakota. More and more Mexican stations became identified. Radio Mil XEOY on 1000, XERPM on 660, XEDM on 1580, along with XET on 990, XEQ on 940, XEWK on 1190, XEB on 1220,XEAE on 1600 and XEQR on 1030.

The next big change was coming however. My dad was entrusting to me the “leftovers” from his radio correspondence course which included a six tube broadcast radio with an additional, as yet unconstructed addition: a short wave receiving converter! The radio itself had been on the shelf for several years and did not work and the converter was still scattered parts in boxes. But the idea of tuning up into the short waves was a big thrill. A big change was about to come.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Learning the Dial

Everyone who spends any amount of time tuning one particular stretch of RF spectrum eventually gets to know it pretty well. One can almost recognize a station by how it sounds, the type of programming, how strong it is and the general frequency. Some stations just naturally become well known enough to become mileposts or beacons, providing a reference point for that part of the band even without good dial calibration or digital readout.

Very early on, I began to learn my way around the radio dial tuning my parents' Silvertone console radio. It was a late forties model with a six tube superhet receiver with RF stage and a turntable in a roll out drawer. There were a few mileposts developed with this receiver that grdually became familiar not only on that radio, but on any other.

These first mileposts came to be known by tuning the radio to find what I wanted to hear. Even in the first grade, I knew where to find the two Waco stations: KWTX-1230 and WACO-1460 ( Note:W-A-C-O was one of only two stations in the country whose call letters spelled their cities of license, the other one being WARE in Ware, Massachusetts—the call letters still belong to 99.9 FM in Waco, but the 1460 frequency has been moved to Burleson, near Ft Worth, Texas)

Those two were soon followed by a marker smack in the middle of the band: KMLW-1010 in Marlin. This station was known to carry dramatizations of children's stories ( this was in the early fifties) This station was a 250 watt daytimer licensed to Marlin then. Today it carries the call letters of KBBW with 10 kw day and 2.5 kw night with two different directional patterns and even two separate transmitters sites for day and night.

Between my folks and my grandfather, I soon “acquired” several more “beacon” stations as I learned about stations in the area that carried their Czech and German polka programs-KBUS 1590 in Mexia ( then a 500 watt daytimer, today moved to Waco with 2.5 kw day and 65 watts night with a four tower directional array) KHBR 1560-Hillsboro ( still a 250 watt daytimer) KTEM 1400 in Temple still 1 kw, and KMIL 1330 in Cameron ( 500 watt daytimer then, now with a construction permit for 2 kw day and 250 watts night). This one was a bit confusing early on. In the mornings it sounded like a Cameron station, but in the afternoon it sounded like it was in Rockdale. Years later, I learned that in the afternoons it operated out of a remote studio set up in a car dealership in Rockdale with Rockdale community news and ads.

As time went on I learned about three more that would actually became targets for my first crystal receiver later: KRLD 1080 in Dallas and WFAA and WBAP on 570 and 820, in Dallas and Fort Worth respectively.

An aside is required here for the last two. WFAA and WBAP had a rather unusual frequency sharing arrangement for their two frequencies up into the early 1970's. WFAA was originally licensed to Wichita Falls and shared a frequency with a third station in Dallas. WFAA moved to Dallas and continued that sharing arrangement. That station eventually went dark, and somehow WFAA and WBAP entered into the sharing agreement that had them switching back and forth between the 570 frequency with 5 kw and the 820 frequency with 50 kw. I remember hearing the distinctive cowbell ring when WBAP came up on a given frequency. A final agreement in the seventies had WFAA permanently landing the 570 spot and WBAP permanently landing the 820 spot. The 570 frequency is occupied by KLIF today.

One other milepost station from the early fifties for me was one of my grandfather's favorites: KSKY on 660. It broadcast from a studio in a hotel in Dallas and often had live music. It was a 10 kw daytimer in those days and gradually became a full time religious station. It now carries the Salem network talk programming and runs 20 kw day and 500 watts night.

While I learned the dial positions of these stations on the big Silvertone console, it was not difficult to find them on any other radio, even without digital readout or even very accurate analog dial calibrations. Their relative position, strength, sound of the audio and programming formats made them very distinctive and by tuning across a few of them in sequence, it was possible to interpolate approximate frequencies in between them. Even with the uncalibrated dial of my one tube regenerative Knightkit receiver I could find these stations by tuning across them and have a good idea of where I was in the band by noting the apparent separation and position of them.

Two distant stations that became the first real night time mileposts before any thought of DX-ing entered my mind were WSM 650 from Nashville and KWKH 1130 from Shreveport, Louisiana, These came about from the family listening to the Grand Ol' Oprey on WSM and The Louisiana Hayride program on KWKH.

As I began to develop an interest in pop music, four stations became known from peers listening for the newest hit songs and provided new beacons or mileposts: KLIF 1190 from Dallas-a truly classic early Top-40 station ( as mentioned before, now with those call letters on 570 with KFXR being the holder of the 50 kw--though highly directional--signal on 1190) KBOX 1480 Tiger Radio from Dallas ( this frequency has had several call letters since then along with several formats, most recently religious with 50 kw directional) and the other highly popular out of town station for kids in Central Texas in those days was KTSA-550 from San Antonio. Also on the "must " list was KFJZ-1270 from Fort Worth.

Before long, night time signals from KOMA 1520 Oklahoma City and WLS 890 from Chicago found their place in the pre teen and teen listening menu. Once again, music rather than a desire for DX lead to the knowledge that stations from great distances could be heard on the regular AM dial. However, by then, the crystal set and regenerative receiver adventures had strongly whetted the appetite to “ find out what's out there”

Up to this point, I had had no real guide to finding or identifying stations. That began to change in 1957 or 58 with my discovery of a magazine called “ Radio-TV Experimenter”. Though the magazine was essentially a collection of construction articles, in the back of each issue was published a segment of “ White's Radio Log”. This was a listing of radio and tv stations across the country and in Canada and Mexico. The magazine came out quarterly and it took three issues to get a complete set of The Log. In one issue, AM stations would be listed by call letters, in the next by location, and in the third, by frequency. There were also occasional articles by CM Stansbury about Broadcast Band DX-ing that finally cemented my dedication to a new hobby.

Something else helped about that time, too. My dad was building us a new house. While that was going on, we were renting a small house nearby. One afternoon after coming home from the grocery store I was tuning the AM radio in our 1954 Chevy Bel Air. With warnings “ not to run the battery down” my mom let me continue with became what was probably my first “formal” band scan a couple hours before sunset.This would have been in 1958. With “White's Radio Log” in hand, I started at 540 and started working my way up. I did not write anything down, but remember a few. I heard a weak Spanish language station on 540 which I am sure had to have been XEWA...There was the easily recognized KTSA and WFAA on 550 and 570, what was then KTBC ( now KLBJ) 590 from Austin. KILT 610 from Houston, old friend KSKY on 660, KENS 680 from San Antonio (later to become KBAT and now KKYX) KTRH 740 from Houston, WBAP, KCLW 900 from Hamilton, and KPRC 950 from Houston. By then supper was ready and my first bandscan came to a halt.

When the new house was finished, I had my own room and, better yet, a great place to permanently set up a radio just for serious DX-ing. My dad had constructed a built in desk in the room with electrical outlets on top. He also strung a thirty foot length of wire under the overhang of the house and ran a lead into the room. It fed the regenerative receiver and what soon became my “main” DX machine: my grandfather's old five-tube Watterson in a real wooden cabinet.

The Watterson was not finely calibrated and was a bit unstable below 600 kc, but with the milepost or beacon stations I had gotten to know, it was possible to get a pretty good idea of the frequency to which it was tuned. Since the American band plan had stations on 10 kilocycle (“hertz” wasn't yet used then) centers, it was possible to start at one of the beacon stations and just count carrier bumps until you got to the station you wanted to identify. Then it was a matter of pulling out the White's Radio Log and look at the “ possibles” based on distance and power listed and listen for clues from the programming.

It was then that I started keeping a rudimentary log. I was still not logging time and date was just a basic list of “stations heard”. But, it was a start. There was no digital readout and it was a bit of work making the identifications, but it could be done.

And it can still be done today by anyone taking the time. If you find yourself DX-ing “with what you have”, and the “what “ happens to be a radio with an analog dial, you can use these same techniques to identify your stations. Initially, its still a matter of finding a few “beacon” stations across the dial that you are certain of, and counting carrier humps to figure out roughly what the target station's frequency is. There are much better sources of station information than the old 'White's” that are more frequently updated on the internet, with information on directional patterns that can more easily narrow down what you might be hearing. There are web sites to check for the “possibles” to see if the program you are hearing matches what the “possible” is supposed to be carrying ( though some station websites are not necessarily up to date!)

Those days were full of adventure and discovery as are the first days (even today!) for someone just getting into the DX game. It was the beginning of “ The Watterson Period” of my DX career, the opening of the door to my first international DX and my first QSL's!

Friday, June 14, 2013

DX-ing With What You Have

For some, DX-ing requires the best possible receiver or frustration sets in. For others of us, its possible to DX with what ever falls into our hands. For me, the temptation is to tune around with whatever device is available.

During a vacation to the Bahamas several years ago, I had no opportunity to take a good receiver ( actually I was a little concerned about losing it in baggage to theft or to the hands over an overzealous TSA agent!) In the hotel room was a small clock radio provided as a courtesy for the guests. It was a pretty dinky thing, with poor selectivity and only a small loopstick antenna, but soon I found myself in the default DX mode: starting at the bottom of the broadcast band and working my way up.

There must be some part of my mind that is always on DX because when I was packing, I stuffed the latest edition of the World Radio TV Handbook in the bag. It goes with me everywhere, and while it is not the most detailed or up to date source especially for Broadcast Band usage, its something.

With the help of the trusty WRTH, which was more than adequate even with its listing of only the more powerful stations given the receiver situation, I was soon making entries in a spiral notebook that had also been stuffed in the bag. ( DX-ers of opportunity ALWAYS have something to log on!)

I had no illusions about logging a raft of Europeans, but I was soon getting many Floridians and Cubans I would never hear at home in Texas. And soon they were joined on the page by several Caribbean and South American stations.

The adventure was still there, within the context of the situation. I have seen people make amazing loggings with simple gear. Often its the skill of the hand on the knob and the filters between the ears that can make all the difference. I had a friend who could hear more with a Knight-kit Span Master regenerative receiver than another friend could hear on a Hallicrafters SX-100 ( this was back in the early sixties). Some folks expect the latest hot receiver to pull the DX out for them, and while the fancy rig does make it easier, the skill and patience still must be there. Imagine what my friend with the Span Master could have heard if he could have had his hands on the SX-100?

But back on the subject. I have found myself logging stations almost anywhere there is a receiver and opportunity. One need not have the best gear for adventure, just the ability to take the situation for what it is and work within that. Often driving on the road, either on vacation or on engineering road trips, I have done bandscans on the side of the road or in motel parking lots, oftentimes finding new stations, or otherwise running across old friends. Car/truck radios have traditionally been pretty good for these things, though I must say that the AM sides of more recent car radios are not as high performance as in the old days. There will NEVER be anything like an old tube type General Motors car radio...I believe they were made by Delco.

Early on, these bandscans took longer than they do now. Over fifty years of DX-ing, it has become easy to quickly identify some stations by frequency and “sound”. One example of such stop-and-log sessions was a trip to Eagle Pass, Texas in 1991 for a studio rebuild of a station there. On the way back, I found a quiet spot along the highway where I could safely pull off and started at 540 and worked my way through the took about an hour and a half, starting with XEWA and running through XEAE (540-1600).

During another trip to Eagle Pass, I spent a few hours running through the low frequency band to pick out non directional beacons with a DX-440 by Radio Shack, picking up a few new ones with just the internal antenna. I didn't let not having my large tuned, amplified loop with me prevent me from having fun.

The most unusual receiver of opportunity I have used for DX-ing was a broadcast Field Intensity Meter, of the type used to make field readings on AM directional antenna systems. There were several nights I had to sit with the transmitter at KVOZ in Laredo during a period when we were not able to read the phase monitor by remote control that I broke up the boredom of hourly meter readings and staying awake by using the Potomac FIM-21 to scan the bands. Even inside the transmitter room it had enough selectivity and directional characteristics to log some pretty good DX all across the band except within about 30 kHz of the 890 frequency the station operated on. Stations from as far away as Canada and several Cuban and other Caribbean stations were put in the log there, along with some low power stations on the local or “graveyard” frequencies.

This brings me to the subject of my very early DX-ing days. The first radio I remember tuning the bands with specifically for logging stations was an AC/DC/Battery three-way portable Silvertone This was used while living in Coleman in West Texas back in the late fifties. This was a simple five tube superhet set with the one-volt filament tubes ( 1R4, 1T4, 1S4,117Z3  etc) that had a very good loop antenna built into the lid of the portable. It opened like a lunchbox, with the loop of red wire that doubled as the inductor for the front end tuned circuit in the lid flipped open above the radio when operating. In fact the whole radio looked like a lunchbox. It was not exactly a high performance unit, but I didn't know it at the time and that did not stop me from logging a large number of stations from pretty good distances during the daylight hours and having a lot of fun.

The next receiver was my grandfather's old Watterson table radio in a wood case that I remember listening to the Lone Ranger, Tom Corbett Space Cadet and X-Minus-One on as a younger kid. That simple 5 tube AC/DC radio of the “All American Five” design would serve as my “main” DX receiver for several years. It could not have been more basic. It had no RF stage, and had 12SA7 converter, 12SK7 IF, 12SQ7 detector/AVC/first audio, 50L6 audio out and 35Z5 rectifier. It also had a built in loop antenna that also doubled as the inductor for input tuning, but it had a connection for an outside antenna. Even with this simple receiver over the years I logged stations from the US, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean. But more on that part of my DX life in another post!

I guess the lesson is, don't let not having the newest chrome-and-plastic super radio keep you from enjoying the hobby. The main thing is to develop the skill for listening, knowing when the bands are open and to where, adapting where you listen and for what you listen to the times that are available.Each time you listen, you will stretch your and the radio's capabilities to drag in more. You will find that the challenge is doing more each session with the device that is available, competing not so much with other DX-ers, but with yourself and previous loggings. If you have a limited frequency range to tune, learn to adapt when you listen to make the best of that. There are SO many parallels between DX-ing and fishing! The best fishing tackle often does not lead to the best catch!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The "Little Howler"

It wasn't long after the early adventures with my first crystal set that my adventures in electronics took a quantum leap. Our family had moved to the small West Texas town of Coleman for a job my dad had in construction. While I was there, I had begun reading everything in sight that had to do with radio. The favored publication was The Radio-Tv Experimenter, not only for the construction projects but also because it included in the back portions of White's Radio Log that had lists of radio stations.

I had already begun dismantling old radios and organizing parts, all in hopes of having the parts to build one of the projects, But there never seemed to be more than about half of the right values of capacitors and resistors and none of the tube types or power supply materials. My folks were not to pleased about the idea of a nine year old working with high voltages either.

As luck would have it, I had been sending off for all kinds of free stuff from the coupons in the radio magazines I was reading, and one of the freebies was the then famous Allied Radio catalog, with over three hundred pagers of things to drool over and want. I didn't know it at the time, but my dad was also paging through it and Santa Claus that year brought me the Knight-kit Twelve-in-One kit: a breadboard outfit with which you could build twelve different projects, all centered around one tube and run by a twelve volt power supply. No high voltage ( the single tube was a 12K5 designed for use in car radios with only 12 volts on the plate).

The first part of the project had to do with mounting all of the parts and assembling the power supply, which was then enclosed in a metal cover. The 12K5, power transformer, rectifiers and power supply filter capacitors were all under the cane metal cover. Then all of the other individual parts that would be used in any project were mounted between solder lugs on long terminal strips, with each project wired by placing jumpers among the various lugs on the terminal strips.

The decision on which project to build first was easy. It would be the radio receiver as I wanted to see if it would pick up more than the crystal set I had used at our old home. I did not have an antenna up at the new rented house for it and it was sitting unused.

Running all the jumpers for the project took a couple of evenings. My soldering technique was not fully developed and things went a little slow. My dad checked my connections and had me do several of them over. I did not have a soldering gun in those days and was using his old soldering iron.

Finally came the time for the trial. This was the first of many such moments, when the little pause takes place. There is a moment when one mentally reviews everything that has been done and thinks a moment about the consequences. There is that short pause where the finger won't quite push the button, turn the switch, or in this case plug in the a.c. Cord because there was no power switch.

I did not know it at the time, but this would be the first of many such pauses in my life when powering up a new device or bringing one back up that had been repaired. That would range from small projects to audio mixing consoles in radio stations to 30-kilowatt transmitters. It is a moment of truth when the verdict will come in on what has been done, either in the form of proper operation or a puff of smoke, of a clank of relays and the proper hum of transformers and the roar of blowers or the “bang, slam” of contactors slapping back off or the shotgun sound of a huge arc and then the “slam bang”. With some of the big transmitters in years to come there would be the strong urge to get a long stick to push the “plate start” switch from another room, as if all of the potential power would leap out of the button and strike me down in retribution for some mistake made!

In this case there was no sound at all when the a.c. cord was plugged in. There was no click or a relay, no pop in the headphones, not even a hum from the transformer. The only indication that something was happening was the light of the tube that gradually faded up and shining through the vent holes in the metal cover over the power supply. But I hardly noticed because I was looking everywhere for tell tale smoke that would have signaled some fatal wiring error.

The next step was to attach an antenna to what now appeared to officially be a receiver. Only a short piece of wire was supplied with the kit for I recall less than 20 feet of very kinky stuff...It was strung out the kitchen door under the overhang of the house.

Then it was time to put on the headphones. I was not sure what, if anything, I would hear. The local radio station in Coleman, Texas was a 250 watt daytimer and it being after dark, would not be there for the big test. From my experience with the crystal set I was not expecting much out of a single tube, simple radio. I put the familiar old Bell headphones on.

The kit instructions said to turn the regeneration control ( the only potentiometer on the little circuit board) until I heard a “plop” in the headphones. Plop? I rotated the pot back and forth several times, not sure whether I had heard the plop or not, just a bit of a hiss. I left it about three quarters open and read the next step: “Tune the tuning capacitor until you hear a whistle or a station.”

OK, that was understandable. The tuning capacitor on this kit was not a regular “plate meshing” type, but a compression mica type mounted on an L-bracket. To go from minimum to maximum capacitance, you rotated the shaft many, many times as a screw going in and out moved the plates further apart or closer together with mica sheets in between the plates.

My left hand as shaking a bit as I reached out and began rotating the tuning knob. There were a few faint whistles, but as I continued to turn, I came across a louder one with what sounded like voice mixed under it. I looked back at the instructions and saw that it said to turn the regeneration control counterclockwise until the whistle stopped and voice or music could be heard.

That was done, and the station was audible! And the good news, for me at least, is that the volume was much louder than what I was used to hearing from the crystal set. I listened for the station ID, though the announcer voice sounded somewhat familiar. It was KRLD in Dallas, over 150 miles away! And this was without the big antenna I had for the crystal set at my old home! This was a new era!

Tuning a regenerative receiver is an art. It requires a soft touch, slow, deliberate movement and and patience. It requires a feeling for how the detector is reacting to the difference in signal strength, how close and how strong the adjacent signal is. With the little receiver, it was a matter of running the regeneration control up until the detector was in oscillation with each station appearing as a whistle.

Then when the whistle was centered with the tuning control to an almost zero-beat, it was a matter of backing off the regeneration until the whistle just stopped and hearing the audio of the AM signal. There being no additional audio amplification, the audio was sometimes a bit low and if the signal was too weak, it would not be audible. It was still better than the crystal set, and the selectivity was much better, too. The sensitivity and selectivity was the best when the regeneration was set as close as possible to the oscillation point without going into howling. That's where the “art” in tuning the set came in!

Unfortunately I was not keeping a detailed log at the time this project was completed, so I am not certain what all I was able to hear with it, other than trusting memory. It seems the major clear channel ( little letter, not the company!) stations were logged along with a number of Mexican stations that I could not identify at the time.

A few years later, this same receiver was used for DX-ing during a stay with my grandmother one weekend with wire strung around her kitchen. By then, the skills of tuning a regenerative receiver had been honed to an edge. Also identifying the stations was made easier because I had become familiar with the broadcast band and was able to identify and log stations on almost every clear channel and many of the regional frequencies in one night's listening. I do have records of that night's tuning and they are documentation on just what can be done with a very simple receiver. In fact, except for volume and only being able to drive a headphone, just about everything was logged that could be heard on my then main receiver, a Watterson All American Five with longwire antenna at home.

It is too bad that I had not been keeping a detailed log earlier.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The DX Bug Bites

Everyone probably has a story about how looking for DX got them hooked. Somehow I think its innate to want to see how far the string will stretch. Even kids with no experience with radio who get a pair of walkie talkies will soon start trying to see how far they can talk, and some will even start trying to find ways to make that distance greater and greater.

For me, there were two seeds. One was the family listening to the radio together ( yes, folks did do that as a family back in the thirties through the mid fifties before there was cable or even color tv, or for some any tv at all) Listening to The Grand Old Opry from WSM in Nashville while we lived in Central Texas did not initially seem like a big deal to me in 1952. Since my dad did it almost every Saturday night, it just seemed like the thing to do with nothing particularly unusual about it.

But the real seed came when I got my first crystal radio. My dad was taking a radio repair correspondence course at the same time he was working at a tire plant and going to carpenter apprentice school and farming ( How DID he do all that?) I had been watching him do his training kit building and was mesmerized by the rising solder smoke at first, then by the radios he was building as part of the course. I think more to keep my hands off his stuff, I was "helped" earn money to buy my own radio kit...A Remco Crystal Receiver.

As kids will do, I had almost worn out the Sears catalog page that included the picture and descriptive paragraph of the kit. Finally after saving up allowance money, egg gathering money, lawn mowing money, etc, I had come up with the $3.95 (!!). I was not looking forward to the long wait for the kit to come in the mail, remembering how long it had taken for the Nautilus submarine I had ordered off a cereal box. My dad had good news about that, however. He told me that the Sears store in Waco had them in stock and he would stop by and pick it up for me on his way back from work one day.

It was a bit of a shock when he made the delivery. The picture in the catalog just showed the radio in a plastic case with a simulated loop antenna on top. The box seemed HUGE. Each piece was separate on a cardboard insert and there was the ever present " some assembly required" to be dealt with. There was a coil to be wound, then mounted in the bright yellow plastic cabinet. It was a bit tricky because there was a heavy wire bar that a metal ball rode on that had to slide against the coil. The "dial" on the receiver was a plastic knob with a pin that went through the front panel and moved the ball to made a sliding contact with the coil. Then the crystal diode had to be mounted under two screws.

This was where disaster struck. Not knowing about bending wire leads with a pair of needle nose pliers, I bent the leads with my fingers to make them fit under the mounting screws that would hold it in place, and one broke off right near the body of the diode. If that diode had been a "modern" glass bodied 1N34A or something similar, that would have been fatal. But then the newer diodes have thinner, more flexible leads and probably would not have broken so easily anyway. But this one was some kind of plastic or epoxy bodied thing and my dad was able to save the day by carefully soldering it back on.

The assembly was then quickly completed. There was really very little to do. There were wires from the coil and slider, the diode was mounted, wires from the antenna and ground jacks on the front panel as well as the dual headphone jack for the Bell headphones that came with the kit. All that was left was the "outside" work.

My dad drove a ground stake in the ground right outside the bedroom window. Then came the antenna. I am not sure how much antenna wire came with the kit, maybe 75 feet. I soon experienced something I was to see echoed many times in the future: tangled wire. The roll was some kind of copper, but it apparently had a steel core, like the Copperweld of my future, for when it was unpacked, it immediately sprung out and snarled. I had already experienced wild tangles with kite string and was not happy with this development. It seemed like an hour was spent untangling and stretching the wire from the bedroom into the kitchen, stretching it tight and sliding a piece of metal pipe along it to get all the curls and kinks out!

The antenna was to go outside. My dad already had a long, high wire suspended from the high peak of the roof to a tall pole at the edge of our garden on the east side of the house. He simply used my new antenna wire to string under the eaves of the house and around the side and connected it to his existing antenna which already had to be at least a hundred feet long and thirty or so feet high. I was starting with a monster!

It was time for the test. As was to be the case on many occasions in the future, there was the anxiety and delay in actually trying the thing. Will it work? What will happen? After a little pause, the headphones were plugged in and the antenna and ground wires plugged in on the front panel and the headphones went on the head. I had already been warned not to expect too much because the crystal set had no amplification. All there would be would be the amount of signal provided by the radio station itself. I remember setting the sliding dial in the middle and placing the headphones over my ears. At first I thought there was nothing. But no, there was something faintly coming through. It was a mixture of two stations. By sliding the knob to the right, one came in clearly and pretty loudly. It turns out it was W-A-C-O on 1460 kc ( it was kilocycles in those days). Then with the dial slid a little to the left of center, the other station was clear. That was K-W-T-X on 1230 kc.

I was amazed! Maybe this was the first DX impulse, but then I slid the dial further to the left and I could faintly hear something else under the K-W-T-X signal but could not quite separate it out...and another a little further down. This was about three o'clock in the afternoon. I knew from listening with my dad that more distant stations came in at night so I could hardly wait for the sun to go down to see what would happen. But for the moment, the magic was strong just as things were. I could hear things from something put together at home.

An aside is necessary here, from the "Things I Didn't Know Then" Department: Those two stations were both 1 kilowatt in the day, but at night there were two things that would have reduced their signal strength at our house East of Waco at that time. K-W-T-X reduced power to 250 watts at night then. W-A-C-O switched to a directional antenna at that time that reduced signal in our direction. So what occurred at night really did not have as much to do with night time signals going farther as it did with having less signal from the locals to spread out over the dial with the very low selectivity tuned circuit of the simplest crystal set design there could be.

That night about 8 o clock as I slipped back into the back bedroom where the crystal set was set up on a small table by my bed, I anticipated hearing more stations. And I was not disappointed. While the two stations were not quite as loud, I could hear one more peeping out from under K-W-T-X, Then as I slid the tuner down farther to the left, a signal popped up quite nicely. It was W-B-A-P from Fort Worth, a 50-thousand watt station on 820...and there was yet another one at the very end of the dial that turned out to be W-F-A-A from Dallas on 570 kc. I knew these stations already quite well from tuning around on the Silvertone radio/record player console my folks had.

The next thought would be what would happen after our local stations went off at midnight. ( see, already the bug was biting!!) The big problem was being awake after midnight. At age eight, there was no way I was going to get permission to stay up that late, especially on a school night. I figured at least on the weekend I might get a running start since our family stayed up fairly late Saturday nights listening to the Grand Ol' Opry via WSM. When the others went to bed, I could try to stay awake and slip the headsets on and listen. There were no lights on the radio and of course with the headsets, no sound to wake anyone up. It was a matter of staying awake.

That Saturday night, things went pretty well. As usual, we listened to the Grand Ol Opry Warmup Show after supper, then the show itself making it till the late, late hour of ten o'clock. By stretching bath time and conning the folks out of a late snack of an orange, I had gotten to about 10:45. The problem was, I was really getting sleepy myself. it was eleven by the time everybody was quiet. There was a windup clock with a luminous dial on the table by the bed. I watched it closely, but it seemed like it never moved. I found myself drifting, drifting. Then I was dreaming abut staying awake.

It was not a total failure, however, because something woke me up about 2 o'clock. At first I was sure I had slept through till 5 when the local stations came back on. But close inspection of the clock showed 2 AM. I quietly stretched out my arm and pulled the headphones toward me. I had to be careful because the little radio was so light that pulling on the headphones could pull the whole thing off on the floor. I could not get out of bed because the springs squeaked so much when the load came off them, I was sure the whole house would wake up.

I managed to get situated and slipped the headphones on and heard...nothing. But then I remembered I had had the radio set to W-A-C-O on 1460 and the stations I expected to hear were pretty far down the dial from that. With somewhat trembling fingers, I slid the dial slowly to the left, and surely enough, a signal, faint as it was, appeared in the headphones. I listened to the quiet music being played knowing full well it would probably put me to sleep before I heard what the station was. I didn't drift off, and the announcer helpfully gave the call letters and the time after that first long, long was K-R-L-D on 1080, the 50 kilowatt station in Dallas! It was a "new one" and probably what I had been hearing faintly behind K-W-T-X on 1230 earlier in the evening. There appeared to be something faint in the background. I slid the tuner further to the left and it disappeared. I had expected it to be W-B-A-P, but it was something in the other direction. I went back to the right and there it was, with K-R-L-D mixed over it. You would know, every time the announcer said something that might identify it, the announcer on K-R-L-D would talk, increasing the interference and making it unintelligible. But more than once, the announcer talked about things in San Antonio. I would have to look in the White's Radio Log the next day and try to figure out what it would be...of course it was W-O-A-I.

Tuning further to the left brought no other surprises...W-F-A-A on 820 and W-B-A-P on 570 k/c. No, that's not an inversion of memory. In those days W-B-A-P and W-F-A-A shared 570 and 820. At that time they could not reach an agreement on who would get the 50 kw signal of 820 full time and who would lay claim to the 5 kw signal on 570 k/c. For years and years the two switched back and forth after agreeing who would get what frequency what hours. I can still remember the sound of the cowbell that W-B-A-P rang while leaving one frequency and turning up on the other. It wasn't until sometime in the 70's that the final break was made.

But that did not matter to me at the time. I just took it as the way things were. And for me, that night had been a success...the two stations on 570 and 820 heard completely in the clear with no spreading signal from 1230 and two completely new stations on 1080 and 1200. I slipped off the headphones, let my head heavily hit the pillow and drifted off into dreamland of a future of DX.

Sunday, June 2, 2013


So what brought me to this place over fifty years ago. How did it come to be that its second nature to sit in this chair, left hand going on its own to the tuning knob, right resting on its side with thumb and pointing finger straddling the paddles that will send waves leaping into the air and flying around the world? How did this place  become more at home to me than most my age would find in a recliner? Those would most understand it would probably find themselves just as comfortable sitting in a bass boat or riding in a golf cart or sitting in a duck or deer blind. But instead of hunting for fish or fowl, I am catching something else that flies through the air, just as elusive as the startled duck or doe. Instead of rifle or shotgun or fishing tackle and net, my "tools"  an assembly of aluminum in the air or a network of wires between the trees, an electronic version of the fisherman's net.

But back to the question at hand: How did this come about? It can truthfully, probably be traced back to something very unlikely: A tiny puff of smoke!

It was in the early 1950's in a farm house on Orchard Lane outside of Waco, Texas when I was about five years old and my dad was working two jobs and farming.( How did he do all that?) It was the fourth thing that occupied his time that had gotten my attention. I am not sure what had drawn him to electronics, with his farming background and chosen work as a carpenter. But he had used his GI Bill benefits earned with his service in World War II to enroll in a correspondence course in radio and tv repair. The early months of his reading and filling in exercise and exam papers had not caught my eye. But the first of many kit projects did: He was learning to solder.

It was not even a real working circuit that he was wiring up. It was simply a collection of resistors, capacitors, a potentiometer and wires on a white card that he had to assemble. And it was the thin, white smoke from the soldering iron that caught my eye. ( It was many years later reading through his course materials that I learned exactly what he had been doing). To a five-year-old, the handling of the iron, the threading of wires from the parts through the eyes of solder lugs held by screws in the corners of that white card, the touching of the silver strand of the solder and the puff of white smoke when the iron touched was mesmerizing.

But that was just the beginning. The next week, more boxes arrived in the mail with a shiny chassis and more mysterious parts and pieces. Among them a large light socket and glass cylinders he called "tubes" and more wire. He spent hours each night for about two weeks soldering parts and assembling strange things onto the chassis. Then there was the outside work: Him climbing on a ladder to the high peak of the side of the house attaching glass objects hanging off a hook screwed into the high peak, then running wires through trailing down the side of the house and in through the dining room window, and another stretching across the side yard and to a high pole he had stood up in our garden behind the garage. What was all this? It was more puzzling than watching the soldering and smoke.

The answer came a little later when he went inside, set the silver chassis up on the dining room table ( under the watchful eye of my mom who made sure there were towels under it so as not to scratch the table) with the mysterious wire attached to a clip on the back of this thing and another wire going out the window to a pipe he had driven into the ground.

Then he just sat there awhile, as if contemplating what was about to happen ( years later I would truly understand the pause before flipping the switch on each new project) Then there was a "click" as he turned one of the three knobs on the front of the contraption with the light bulb in the socket on top coming on and faint orange glows coming to life in the three "tubes" also plugged into sockets on the chassis.

I had goten the idea that perhaps this was a radio from the black cardboard panel on the front of the unit with a pointer that crossed a zero to on hundred scale in a half moon across the top. It was emblazoned with the capital letters "R.T.S." and trianglural antenna towers on each side. He had struggled mightily on a system of strings that went around one of the knob shafts and around a big drum on one of the parts mounted behind that cardboard panel. After watching the tubes come to full brilliance, he picked up something I had not noticed lying there before and placed a pair of headphones on his head, covering both ears. He adjusted the knobs then turned the one that caused the dial needle to move and a squeal loud enough to be heard across the room came from beneath the headphones. He turned one of the knobs and the squeal went away...and a smile came on his face.

"Here, listen to this," he said, taking the headphones off his head and placing them over my ears. I barely noticed that they were too big and slipped around and off my ears. I had reached up to hold them steady when they first slipped because I could immediately hear one of my favorite things coming out of those headphones: fiddle music! It was magic!

Hearing music come out of a radio was hardly magic to me anymore at that age. I spent many hours lying in front of our Silvertone console radio-record player with either records spinning or the radio playing. I had learned to find the radio stations that carried the things I liked, even though I was not yet able to read. I knew where the Cameron and Rockdale station was near the "13" on the dial for fiddle music, where the Marlin station was near the "10" for the kiddie stories in mid morning, where the Waco station was just past the "14" where the Lone Ranger could be heard.

But to hear music through the headphones was certainly a novelty. And to have them coming from something my dad had assembled and somehow connecting that to the wire "trapping" something from the air outside, well that was something else again. I was hooked.  I wanted to know how this worked. I wanted to do this myself. And as he tuned around and wrote down what he was hearing at different spots on the dial, I could not move as he talked.

"This one's from Waco, this one's from Mexia, this one's from Hillsboro, this one's from Temple, this one's from Dallas, this one's from Austin".  How did he know?

I wanted to turn the knob and find the stations and was allowed to do so for awhile. But only for awhile. There were concerns about touching something that might hurt me. I was told I could listen all I wanted on the "other radio"( which I found myself doing more and more, exploring the dial as I got older).

It was years later that I learned exactly what had been going on with that first real project. It was part of the correspondence course. There were to be a series of kits to be constructed, of increasing complexity, with things to be learned and experiments to be conducted to learn not only how radios worked, but the design of various circuits and how to repair them.

This first project had been a three tube simple radio. It was a regenerative receiver with one stage of audio amplification...just enough to drive headphones. The third tube was a rectifier for the power supply. There had been no power had been an ac/dc design with the filaments of the tubes across the incoming AC power line. The 25-watt light bulb had been for voltage dropping for the filaments of those tubes. The squeal had been from the radio being in full regeneration or oscillation as it was tuned across the first station heard with the regeneration control then being backed off enough to stop the oscillation and the squeal.

There would be more radios as part of the course, working up to a six-tube design that was really quite sensitive and selective for what it was. That receiver that would eventually be my first receiver with which to explore the short wave bands. But that would be five or so years in the future. For now, it was decided that if I wanted to tune around on a kit built radio, it should be one without exposed AC voltages and one that I could build myself without the danger of being burned by a soldering iron.

I actually found it myself the next year when I had learned enough to read in the Sears catalog. There it was. A beginners crystal set by Remco. It was a beauty, with a plastic cabinet, a simulated loop antenna on the top and its own headphones. And it was only $3.95. I had almost that much saved out of allowance and chore money. That was to be the real first step.