October 1956 Popular Electronics
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles
published October 1954 - April 1985. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged.
Before the current
generation began destroying its hearing with smartphone
earbuds, their parents and grandparents (that includes mine)
destroyed our hearing* with ridiculously powerful loudspeakers, often in boom
boxes perched on shoulders right next to the ears (not me). The "concert hall"
- or concert auditorium - experience has been long sought-after since recorded
music has been available, which has only been about a century. As evidenced
by the sudden increase in articles and advertisements in my growing collection
of vintage electronics magazines, the early and mid 1950s saw a sudden swell
of articles promoting the equally swelling supply of high fidelity (hi-fi) recording
and playback equipment hitting the markets. Subjects ranging from homebuilt
projects to reports of top end commercially products filled the pages each month.
Television saw the same treatment in the late 1950s and early 1960s. All, of
course, relied on vacuum tubes - with just enough relatively expensive semiconductors
thrown in the low power, low frequency audio circuits to enable proclaiming
'transistorized.' So enthusiastic were magazine publishers about the new technology
that much ink was dedicated also to articles on how to outfit your home with
sound absorbing ceilings and walls, how to arrange furniture for lower sound
reflection and multipath, how to concentrate the audio in particular areas in
a room, how to run cables to every room in the house for ubiquitous enjoyment
anywhere, etc. Short novels were even written based on fantasies of audiophiles.
This is one of them.
Other Carl Kohler masterpieces: "The
Great Electron-Pedantic Project," "Dig That Reel Flat Response,"
a Superheterodyne," "Unpopular Electronics,"
"Thin Air, My Foot,"
"High Tide in the
R/C Cloud," "Hi-Fi Guest List,"
," "Boner Box," and "McWatts."
Hi Tide in the Tweeter
By Carl Kohler
Perched atop the rocking channel "buoy like
an ant riding a gyrating cork, I did my level best to affect an air of savoir
faire as the Coast Guard Cutter came thunderously alongside. Moments later,
with the tape recorder still safely harnessed to my back, I stood on deck and
chatted as nonchalantly as possible with the Commander of the boat.
"What were you doing on that buoy in the first place?" Suspicious military
eyes scanned the recorder. "Those buoys are government property, you know."
"Well, officer," I chuckled ... to show that the whole thing was nothing
more than a slight faux pas and there was no harm meant. "I went out there to
record some seals."
"To what some which?"
"Record the sounds made by those seals.
Guy that lives on the beach assured me I
could get some marvelous recordings of those seals if I just quietly sat on
the buoy and let them regain their confidence around me."
The look he gave me said plenty. It more than made up for the silent ride
all the way back to the docks, where my anxious wife awaited her intrepid Boswell
of the Salty Deep. And while I can erase the memory of that officer's caustic
expression - in due time - from my shattered ego, I haven't been able to figure
out, just yet, how I'm going to erase the adventure from Friend Wife's sadistic
sense of ridicule. It's obvious she has no intention of allowing herself (or
me) to let a folly, whether originally based upon sincere and painstakingly
scientific research or not, quietly fade away.
But I still think the premise was soundly superb - and I've got the fascinating
sounds of high tide in the tweeter to prove it ... not to mention the background
cries of feeding, rollicking seals.
Here's how the caper came about.
We were peacefully rearranging our music library, composed of both discs
and tapes, when I happened upon a long-forgotten set of hi-fi test records ...
purchased at the time of installing the complicated, inter-room system which
keeps our house well filled with flawlessly reproduced music.
I can thrill to Ravel's Bolero, dreamily soak up Debussy's Clair de Lune,
or gracefully cavort to the haunting bars of Jellyroll Morton's Yew Cain't Haul
Mah Ashes Anymo.', Baby, 'Cause We Clashes as enthusiastically - if not as impressively
- as the next music lover. My tastes range from Night On Bald Mountain to Short'nin'
Bread (with or without Nelson you-know-who's aid), and nary a measure is unappreciated
to the last quarter-note or flatted fifth. But my real fetish, my true Achille's
instep is ... natural sound. When it comes to bizarre, enchanting sounds of
hill and dale, town or country, this world or some other - I'm nuttier than
an almond grove at harvest time.
Consequently, I was playing these test recordings for, maybe, the sixth time-
carefully drinking in the delicate overtones of Santa Fe Limited Passing Signal
Green: Full Horn Communications - hen Friend Wife snapped off the phono.
"My God, man, that's enough!" she rasped.
... Perched atop the rocking channel buoy like an ant riding a gyrating cork,
I did my level best to affect an air of savoir faire ...
"Don't care for it, eh?" I slid a short stack onto the record changer composed
of Boeing Bomber With Flaps Down Approaching Field, Freeway Traffic At The Impatience
Point (the contrapuntal effect of the Chevvy horns against the Ford klaxons
is the most stimulating thing I've heard since static was captured for the human
ear) and Myna Bird With Head Cold Humming Aimlessly. "Well," I observed, democratically,
"it would be a dull old world if everyone liked the same things. Would you care
to savor the sharp nuances of, say, Seattle Tugboat Leaving Dock, or the more
silken treatment as found in Aftertones Produced In The Wake Of Guided Missile?"
... I happened upon a set of hi-fi test records and was playing them for,
maybe, the sixth time - carefully drinking in the delicate overtones ...
She beat me to the changer, slamming a stack of archaic (if, admittedly,
spirited) Mickey Katz Tribal Chants With No Theme And You Should Have The Variation
on the turntable.
"Those test records are enough to drive a girl nuts," she complained, bitterly.
"And I've listened to them played enough times to drive a gaggle of girls completely
wacky. You play that weird stuff any more and you can reserve me a bench in
the funnyhouse, chum."
"Don't care for them, eh?" "Loosely understating
it ... No!"
Right then and there, inspiration gave me a swift kick in the nether mental-quarters.
A fabulous idea! Only a dolt whose wife loathed test discs would have been so
long in seeing the need for interesting, soothing-type test recordings. I hugged
Friend Wife gratefully, and bent a merry-eyed grin upon her startled face.
"Thanks to your womanly dissatisfaction, you have just moved sonics and sonic
enjoyment ahead by years, love! With me as the feverish instrument of experiment,
toil and patient searching -"
"If you're scheming up some madness that requires tearing the whole house
apart, again, you can -"
"- always faithfully searching for better ways to better living through electronic
study, theory and philosophy -"
"- forget it, chum, because I'm not stumbling over a lot of half-baked nonsense
strewn around my house just so you can enjoy hearing a high-register squeak."
I unbent my gracious smile of joy. "Listen, lady," I said coldly. "I have
long known it's a marital felony to move anything around this joint but the
furniture ... and that only under your restless supervision. But it so happens
that this project will take place entirely in the God-given freedom of the great
outdoors, beyond your picayune regulations."
"So, get huffy," she chittered, an expression of self-doubt clouding her
shamed features. "What dazzling sort of flop do you have in mind this time?"
"I'm going to make recordings of vast import to the hi-fi field. My contribution
to sonics - once I offer a select series of sounds captured in the actual sites
and under the extemporaneous conditions of Mother Nature - will most likely
put the name, Kohler, enshrined for the ages, in the halls of Sound History."
"Break that mish-mosh into English, will you?"
... With the tape recorder on my back, I garnered all manner of sound treasure,
among which was the soft "clik-cllk" of multi-colored crabs ...
I flicked a glance of undented dignity at her.
"Simply speaking, I'm going down to the beach and collect the "voices of
the sea creatures, the. symphonies and melodies of wind and sea and tide."
"Great!" She leaped to her feet. "I'll go start packing the sunburn lotion
... and wait'll you see how I look in that new sunsuit I bought!"
And while she - naive female of the frivolous
mind - prepared to have a typical seaside outing, I retired to my workshack
to fit the tape recorder to some sort of shoulder-harness and make ready for
A day, several miles and much impatience later, found us in a secluded little
cove that sparkled under the summer sun, rocks awash in the playful surf, tidal
pools glimmering with myriad lights and marine life. Slinging the recorder on
my back (Happy Girl having grudgingly consented to aid scientific progress by
stitching up the harness I devised), I struck out for the tidal pools and exposed
sea-caverns ... forcing myself into an icy calmness as unnatural to the occasion
as fresh air is to Los Angeles County.
Behind me, my child-bride dabbled gleefully in the sand, her gaily flowered
figure industriously engaged in the juvenile task of building sandcastles. As
I stepped lively along the water-carved path of rock and ledge, she rose, waved
a girlish arm, and cried, "Don't get shark-bit, chum! Your insurance doesn't
I fought back the blinding, hot tears of emotion. Always concerned for my
welfare, that girl. Silently, I vowed to make good for her sake.
In the succession of pleasant hours that followed, I garnered all manner
of sound treasure: the soft "clik-clik" of the multi-colored crabs, scuttling
among the caverns and crannies of the ebb-tide areas; the raucous chatter of
gull and sand-piper; and I gloated to myself as the recorder quietly bagged
the divergent noises of the wild and mysterious shoreline. As I wandered across
the tidal flats - peering into this cavern, listening at that pool - I could
visualize the neatly packaged sounds already: Sea Urchin Bubbling, Seepage From
Natural Basin Seeking Own Level, Octopus Threshing Nervously In Shallow Water,
Barnacle Cries, Intermittent Murmurs From Clam Disturbed At Sleep, Ground Swells
Smashing Low Reef ....
Exultantly, I pressed onward - happier than a recluse with the patent on
closed circuits - frequently pausing only long enough to insert fresh tapes
into the hungry recorder. And it was during one of these pauses that the young,
tanned, skin-diver exploded from the water at my feet.
"What'cha doing with that gismo on your back, dad?" His youthful face was
a browned question mark. "I've been watching you for more'n hour. What's the
I explained the scam ... in detail. "See that there buoy out there?" I followed
the direction indicated by the muscular, well-toasted arm. Twenty feet distant
bobbed a huge, metal buoy, its bell clanging faintly as the wavelets pushed
the merciful marker to and fro.
"Yes?" I inquired.
"Lot' sa seals hang out there. The place is lousy with them. You go out there
and lay low until they get used to you - you can get the darnedest sounds you
ever heard. Honest, dad, they're the craziest! And you wanna collect sea noises
and all. What's the collection without seals, I ask ya ?"
What, indeed, I decided. "Sure, but how can I get out there ... dressed for
land, not water?"
"Simple, dad. Roll up your threads and stalk out there. In low tide like
this, water's only about three feet deep."
Thanking this unwitting contributor to science, I rolled up my trousers thigh-high
and, carefully navigating the rocky bottom, was clambering aboard the channel
buoy minutes later. I waved cheerily to my departing adviser - who disappeared
into the sea like a fallen gull - and lay quietly waiting for the seals to overcome
When they began romping and swimming gracefully, effortlessly again around
the buoy, I snapped the recorder into action and enjoyed the sweet flavor of
triumph: those seals were the most musical stridently melodious loudmouths I've
heard in a week of Mondays. And I, I rejoiced, am getting every bark, every
guttural snortle! Overhead the bronze bell crooned metallically, setting the
beat for the sequence. Mentally, I determined to label this achievement: Seals
Frolicking In Hidden Cove.
And, about then, I decided that the sun was getting a bit low and, perhaps,
I had best head back for the car. Just as I was readying myself to slide off
the buoy (now bobbing forcefully), I noticed that all the rocks, previously
high and drying in the brilliant sunlight, were gone. Gone? Gone!
"Obviously," I Whimpered, climbing back to the little flat place on the buoy
and clutching the bell supports as if they were long-lost brothers, "time and
tide wait for no man."
A nasty ground swell thundered by, tossing the unstable buoy in six directions
simultaneously. And that, reader, is where you came in.
In closing, I'd like to inquire if anyone knows where I might place the following
test recordings, recently taped by myself under ideal conditions: Lawnmower
In Full Cry, Child's Laughter In Front Of TV Set, and Tap Water Hitting Sinkful
of Unwashed Dishes.
* Amazingly and thankfully, my hearing is exceptionally good at age 62. I'm
blind as a bat without glasses and a couple fingers have no feeling left in
them, but at least one of my five senses is still performing at its peak. I
never have owned any high end audio equipment and what I had/have never had
a speaker rated at more than 20 watts, so that probably helped spare me. Some
clowns in my barracks in the USAF used to blast their 1000 W systems on
Saturday nights (until the squadron 1st Sergeant shut them down), but that was
on the floor below my room. My own personal self-abuse has been running screaming
model airplane engines sans mufflers and without ear protectors. Nowadays I
use only quite, high power brushless motors with Li-Ion batteries - mainly to
eliminate the oily mess and because glow fuel is very expensive. I do miss the
screaming engines, though. I fact, I've told Melanie that if I ever go into
a coma and traditional tactics fail to arouse me, try the following two stimuli:
1) Wave a spend Estes rocket engine cartridge under my nose. If that doesn't
do it then 2) Run a screaming Cox .049 engine next to my ear. If neither works...
pull the plug 'cause I'm a goner.
Posted January 15, 2021
(updated from original post on 2/2/2015)