May 1955 Popular Electronics
Table of Contents
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles
published October 1954 - April 1985. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged.
Here is an odd mistake I
found in this May 1955 installment of John Frye's "Carl & Jerry" teen-techno-sleuth
article. When Jerry heard a sound coming from the vicinity of his cohort Carl and
did not spy an operating radio anywhere nearby, he learned that it was coming from
Carl's pocket. Turns out it was one of the world's first transistorized radios that,
according to owner Carl, had appeared in the January 1955 issue of Popular Electronics
magazine. Being an owner of that issue, I checked and did not find mention of it
there, but I did remember seeing it in the January 1955 edition of Radio & Television
News magazine in an article entitled "A New
Pocket Radio," that being the Regency TR-1 transistor radio, priced at $49.95
(equivalent to about
$480 in 2019 dollars). Why the confusion, you might ask? Simple,
Ziff-Davis Publishing Company produced both magazines and there was some cross-over
between them. In January 1972,
World magazine was combined with
Carl & Jerry: Transistor Pocket Radio, TV Receivers and Yagi Antennas
Transistor pocket radio causes some discussion and a tornado
provides an interesting experiment with TV receivers and Yogi antennas.
By John T. Frye
A few minutes ago Carl had dropped into the basement laboratory and thrown himself
down on the workbench while he chatted with Jerry, stretched out on the battered
old couch across the room. Suddenly Jerry became silent and heaved himself to a
"Say," he said, trying to sit quietly so the couch springs would stop their squeaking
protest, "do you hear music?"
"Music!" Carl repeated in wide-eyed surprise. "What's the matter with you, old
buddy? You flipped your lid?"
"I hear music," Jerry stubbornly insisted as he got up and padded around the
room, checking the receivers, hi-fi amplifier, record player, and similar equipment
strewn about the room. Every few steps he stopped to listen intently. "It seems
to be louder over here by the bench," he observed. "Hey! It's coming out of you!"
he exclaimed and began to "frisk" him in the professional manner of a TV whodunit
"Get your cotton-picking hands off me!" Carl shouted as he planted a big foot
in the middle of Jerry's chest and shoved him across the room to a sitting position
on the couch. "If you must know, this is what you've been hearing," he went on as
he unbuttoned his shirt pocket and pulled forth a flat little Bakelite case not
much larger than a pack of king-size cigarettes. He turned a small knurled knob
that protruded through a slot in the case, and the whisper of music rose to a volume
that filled the room.
"Hey," Jerry exclaimed with mounting enthusiasm, "I'll bet that's the transistor
radio I saw in the January Popular Electronics."
"Right!" Carl proudly admitted. "You're feasting your blue eyes on the very first
transistor radio put on the market. This is the real thing, with a built-in loop,
i.f. stages, and even a.v.c. There are no tubes - just four little transistors and
a crystal diode to take their place."
"I know all that," Jerry interrupted, "but how does it work?"
"What station you want to hear?" Carl asked confidently.
"Try Chicago; that's a hundred and twenty miles away."
"I hear music," Jerry stubbornly insisted.
Carl moved the little dial at the top of the case, and one after another five
Chicago stations were picked up with ample volume. "And just for good measure, here's
Cincinnati, a couple of hundred miles away," he said as WLW rolled in strong and
"I'll be jiggered," Jerry marveled. "That sure is keen reception for the middle
of the day. It changes my thinking about those new transistor receivers that are
coming on the market. Before hearing this one, I thought they were clever toys.
You know, a sort of glorified crystal set that would pick up strong local stations
and not much else."
"You ain't heard nothing yet," Carl boasted. "This set came from my uncle in
New York yesterday, and he sent a hearing-aid type earphone that plugs into this
little hole in the side of the case. When it's plugged in, the speaker's cut out.
Last night after I went to bed I was using the earphone to do some DX-ing. It must
have been a hot night on the broadcast band. New York, Atlanta, New Orleans, and
Dallas rolled in like our local station; but I was really floored when I picked
up two stations in Mexico City. I stayed with them until they announced to be sure.
It made me feel kind of funny to be sitting there in the middle of the bed, holding
in the palm of my hand a complete receiver on which I was hearing Spanish singing
commercials from 2500 miles away whooping it up for Coca Cola - especially when
I knew the loop antenna was no bigger than a stick of chewing gum."
"If I remember right," Jerry mused, "that set draws about four mills from a 22
1/2-volt battery. Two thousand five hundred miles on something less than a tenth
of a watt of power consumption is pretty good mileage. Say, we could put on a real
mind-reading act with that thing. You could wear the earphone under a turban, and
I could go out in the audience with a small concealed transmitter. Then you could
hear and answer the questions people whispered to me. We gotta work on that."
"Okay," Carl agreed, "but that's not really what I came over to talk about. Get
a load of that static. It's building up so bad on 75 meters that I had to QRT on
a QSO I was having with W9YVS up in Garrett. Bert was telling me about tornado static.
He says that for several years he's been able to tell whenever there's a tornado
within three or four hundred miles just by listening to his receiver. He says that
when a tornado is doing its stuff, it makes a peculiar kind of static. Instead of
individual crashes, he describes it as being sort of a continuous noise, like the
sound of loose gravel falling on a tin roof."
"And he's right!" Jerry exclaimed. "That fits in with an article I was reading
in the newspaper. A professor by the name of Dr. H. L. Jones at Oklahoma A. &
M. has been studying tornado static since 1947. Those high voltage lightning discharges
he calls sferics, from the word 'atmospherics.' As a storm goes up in intensity,
the frequency of the discharges increases; and the number of them that takes place
in any second can be used as a guide as to whether or not a tornado is in the thunderstorm.
Fifteen strokes a second indicates hail and that the storm is building toward a
tornado. Twenty-three strokes per second means tornado activity is going on and
when twenty-six strokes are recorded, the tornado has been spawned."
"How did he count the strokes ?" Carl asked.
... I just want to make sure that the tracks don't get too fresh
"By displaying the lightning discharge on an oscilloscope and taking a picture
with an automatic camera every time there was a lightning stroke. At the same time
another camera took a picture of a radar scope that showed where the storm center
was located. With this gadget going twenty-four hours a day, all Professor Jones
had to do was to wait until a cyclone passed near the radar station and then look
at the pictures when the tornado was in business. In Oklahoma you sometimes don't
have to wait too long; and he got some dandy pictures. One funnel was obliging enough
to start forming right over the station!
"He found that not only the number of strokes was important, but also their nature.
A tornado turned out a large percentage of high-frequency sferics with scope pictures
altogether different from the low-frequency patterns seen during an ordinary thunderstorm.
These high-frequency jobs appeared only when there was tornado activity - Hey! You're
not listening to me."
"I was just thinking," Carl said slowly. "A thunderstorm is a comparatively small-diameter
affair, isn't it?" "
Yes, but what do you have in mind?"
"Did you ever notice that when a thunderstorm is coming on you can see the effect
of each lightning stroke as lines across a TV screen?"
"Well, why couldn't we use the directional characteristics of your Yagi-type
TV antenna and your antenna rotating motor to get a rough idea of the location of
a storm and the direction in which it was moving?"
"Hm-m-m," Jerry said with a thoughtful frown on his round face, "I can't seem
to think of any good reason. Let's try it."
In a couple of minutes the boys were upstairs and had Jerry's TV set going. The
volume was turned down to quiet the noise and the receiver was set to a blank channel
as Jerry swung the antenna about with the rotator.
"You get the best lines when you're aiming south," Carl observed, "but that's
about all you can tell. The front receiving lobe is too wide to do any pin-pointing."
"Let's try turning the antenna broadside to the storm," Jerry suggested. "A Yagi
antenna has very sharp nulls off the sides. We'll adjust it for minimum noise reception
with one side pointed in the general direction of south."
"Hey, now you're in business!" Carl exclaimed. "See; there's just two short periods
of time as the antenna swings around when the lines go away down."
"Let's see now," Jerry said. "Our antenna indicator says the antenna is pointing
about ten degrees north of due east; so that should mean the side of the antenna
we're interested in is pointing about ten degrees to the east of south. That would
put the storm center somewhere along a line from here through a point a little to
the east of Indianapolis -"
"Listen!" Carl interrupted as he suddenly noticed the little transistor receiver
grinding away in his shirt pocket. The crashes of static it had been giving off
suddenly merged into a continuous roar that sounded very much like the interference
created by an old-fashioned electric razor or a food mixer. "Golly!" he exclaimed;
"that sounds exactly like the kind of static Bert was telling me about."
"Can you get any broadcast stations ?" Jerry asked.
Carl moved the little dial to the frequency of the local broadcast station, and
it came in clearly with only an occasional weak scratching sound heard under the
powerful signal. Jerry returned to his TV rotator control and found that now the
continuous lines across the face of the tube made it comparatively easy to find
a very sharp null; but he also noticed he had to keep nudging the antenna to the
north to maintain the null.
"That storm must be moving to the east," he remarked over his shoulder to Carl,
only to find that he was no longer standing there. "What are you doing over there
at the window ?" he demanded as he caught sight of Carl holding the curtains aside
and peering out to the south.
"Well, it's thisaway," Carl drawled; "tracking tornados is all well and good,
but I just want to be sure the tracks don't get too fresh. If I see anything out
there that looks the least bit like a funnel-shaped cloud, I'm going to break the
sound barrier getting back into that basement. Just don't get in my way."
"Pooh!" Jerry scoffed. "Bert has your imagination all fired up. We've just been
hearing a bad thunderstorm. Even that seems to be subsiding. I notice the grinding
noise is quieting down in the TV set, and all I hear are isolated crashes of static
He was interrupted by the announcer breaking in on the musical program coming
out of Carl's shirt pocket: "Ladies and gentlemen, we interrupt this program to
bring you a special bulletin. A small tornado has just been reported by a pilot
flying near Indianapolis. He reports when he first sighted the tornado it was about
eight miles due east of that city and was travelling in an east-northeasterly direction.
When he was watching the funnel, it was clearing the earth by an estimated five
hundred feet, and he could observe no damage in its wake. After a few minutes it
disintegrated and was not seen to reform. Keep tuned to this station for further
news as it develops. We now return to our program of recorded music."
"Holy cow!" Jerry breathed, "that was a tornado we heard."
"Well, anyway, we've learned two things," Jerry remarked as he switched off the
TV set and pulled the line cord from the wall as he always did when there was danger
of a thunderstorm. "First, a TV set and an antenna rotator can be used to determine
the general direction and progress of a thunderstorm or tornado. Secondly, a tornado
does put out a special kind of static that is easy to recognize once you've heard
Carl Anderson and Jerry Bishop were two teenage boys whose
love of electronics, Ham radio, and all things technical afforded them ample opportunities
to satisfy their own curiosities, assist law enforcement and neighbors with solving
problems, and impressing – and sometimes toying with - friends based on their proclivity
for serious undertakings as well as fun.
Vox Electronik, September 1958
- Pi in
the Sky and Big Twist, February 1964
Bell Bull Session, December 1961
Boogie, August 1958
- TV Picture,
Electronic Eraser, August 1962
Trap, March 1956
at Work, June 1956
Aweigh, July 1956
Bosco Has His Day, August 1956
Hand of Selene, November 1960
or Not?, October 1956
Electronic Beach Buggy, September 1956
Extra Sensory Perception, December 1956
in a Chimney, January 1956
Performance, November 1958
of Judas, July 1961
- The Sucker,
New Year, January 1963
Snow Machine, December 1960
Extracurricular Education, July 1963
Slow Motion for Quick Action, April 1963
Sleuthing, August 1963
- TV Antennas,
a Soroban, March 1963
Fair --", September 1963
Worm Warming, May 1961
Santa's Little Helpers - December 1955
Two Tough Customers - June 1960
Pocket Radio, TV Receivers
Yagi Antennas, May 1955
Stomping, March 1962
Blubber Banisher, July 1959
- The Sparkling
Light, May 1962
Research Rewarded, June 1962
- A Hot Idea, March
- The Hot
Dog Case, December 1954
A New Company is Launched, October 1956
Under the Mistletoe, December 1958
Electronic Eraser, August 1962
- "BBI", May 1959
Sound Waves, July 1955
- The River
Sniffer, July 1962
- Ham Radio,
Torero Electronico, April 1960
Wireless, January 1962
Electronic Shadow, September 1957
Elementary Induction, June 1963
- He Went
Electronic Detective, February 1958
Aiding an Instinct, December 1962
- Two Detectors,
with a Tachometer, July 1960
and the Pirates, April 1961
The Crazy Clock Caper, October 1960
Carl & Jerry: Their Complete Adventures is
now available. "From 1954 through 1964, Popular Electronics published 119 adventures
of Carl Anderson and Jerry Bishop, two teen boys with a passion for electronics
and a knack for getting into and out of trouble with haywire lash-ups built in Jerry's
basement. Better still, the boys explained how it all worked, and in doing so, launched
countless young people into careers in science and technology. Now, for the first
time ever, the full run of Carl and Jerry yarns by John T. Frye are available again,
in five authorized anthologies that include the full text and all illustrations."
Posted August 27, 2019