February 1956 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.
Based on beleaguered
wife Sylvia Kohler's mention of GE's Electronics Park in this story (surely a fable...
or not), she and unintentional antagonist, superheterodyne hubby (aka "Happy Boy,"
but we know him as Popular Electronics cartoonist
Kohler) probably lived in the Syracuse, New York, area. Electronics Park (technically
in Liverpool/Salina) existed during the hey days of General Electric when the sprawling
campus , just north of I-90, designed and manufactured a plethora of both household
(TVs and radios) and military electronics products. GE's
Electronics Laboratory ("E-Labs") was the company's pride and
joy. Today, a tiny portion of Electronics Park is still occupied by Lockheed Martin,
who bought that GE division in the 1990s, and the rest belongs the city. I worked
there for about two years (see
Street View). But I digress... enjoy the story (I highlighted
her reason for referring to hubby as a Superheterodyne).
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."
I Married a Superheterodyne!
By Sylvia Kohler
Crouched in a vulnerable position and deeply engrossed in attempting to separate
the fat, healthy weeds from the struggling, puny flowers ... I paid little attention
to the distant buzzing overhead.
Without warning, the sound increased in pitch and volume and, before I could
lift a glance, something whacked me cruelly in the nether regions of my anatomy
... whizzed around my startled head ... and departed skyward again in an angry hum
of resumed speed. I thought perhaps it might have been an insect with glandular
trouble, but a frenzied squint at the fast-climbing model airplane put the incident
back into the realm of reality.
In our neighborhood ... if it's radio-controlled
and romp-free, it belongs to none other than Friend Husband! Sure enough; a moment
later he raced around a corner of the house ... wildly manipulating an R/C transmitter
and staring feverishly at the gas-model which was now doing inverted Immelmans with
no instruction from the ground.
"It's the doggone receiver!" he wailed, eyes glued despairingly at the plane
(now roller-coasting out of range). "I was certain it would do the trick. Designed
it, myself, and just look at ... "
There was a distant, but satisfying, sound of a minor crash ... as might have
been made by a model airplane going to smithereens against a good, solid pavement.
I smothered my glee and retreated into the house for a cup of coffee with which
to celebrate temporary victory ... temporary, that is, because I knew there were
two more completed dive-bombers in miniature, downstairs in the basement, drying
their glue and awaiting transfer to "Happy Boy's" workbench for installation of,
gas-engine and R/C receiver mechanisms.
This rude jolt in his private little world of ohms, amps and frequencies was
merely the latest in a long series of misadventures.
For more years than I care to count, I have been the innocent bystander to the
most electrifying succession of activities ever to come off a soldering iron and
make life around any normal dwelling lively ... if not downright horrendous. A lesser
woman would have gone stark, raving nuts long ago. But not yours truly. If I catch
me talking to myself, it's only the feedback from the complicated p.a. system Happy
Boy has wired up throughout every nook, cranny and broom closet.
Mother warned me about a lot of things, but Mother never mentioned the rollicking
anxiety of life with an electronics enthusiast ... possibly because crystal sets
(then the rage) didn't appear as potential harbingers of threat to a girl's peace
Too naive to realize it, I stepped into a rigged arrangement right from the day
of the wedding. After the ceremony he button-holed the minister, an otherwise saintly
old gentleman whose secret passion for electronics bloomed in a workshop behind
the church, and I went on record as the only bride who was ever left waiting at
the altar after the wedding.
Most brides get Niagara, some take a gloriously
romantic trip to a reasonably suitable city, and some have a brief interlude in
the Bahamas. Know what? In the interests of time-limitations, we squandered our
two weeks hanging around G-E's Electronics Park so Happy Boy could visit the site
of great strides in things electronic, while I tagged along presumably dazzled with
... whacked me cruelly in the nether regions of my anatomy ... and departed skyward
in an angry hum of resumed speed.
If it were necessary to pinpoint the exact day that modulated-folly was wired
into our home, I'd pick the evening we were involved with synchronizing a tape-recorded
narrative to the reels of l6-mm. homemade movies we'd produced of various local
subjects. I noticed (call it feminine intuition since it consisted more of a vague
suspicion) that Happy Boy's mind seemed to be occupied with other wisps of thought
than getting the sounds on tape accurately coupled with the pictures on film.
"Okay," I said, cutting into his shifty-eyed silence, "what are you dreaming
He swung eyes loaded with boyish enthusiasm to my stern face.
"Wouldn't it be bully if we could, somehow, connect this recorder to the radio!"
"Why?" I asked, warily, but knowing that I was undoubtedly steaming full tilt
into a trap. "Why, eh?"
"Just think of all the fun it would be making up gag announcements and phony
newscasts ... then blending them in with actual recorded broadcasts ... we'd have
a rare old time wowing the gang with all the craziest taped shenanigans ever! Boy,
would they be fooled!"
"Boy," I said evenly.
At that moment we were standing before the
portals of semi-scientific experimentation ... the very threshold of imaginative,
electronic fun times. But I figured Happy Boy had just flipped. Everything considered,
since, I'm not too sure but that I was right.
I must have inherited the emotional stamina of a double-decked Spartan, because
I've weathered (and appreciated) a goodly number of electronic innovations that
run the full gamut from photocell-operated sliding doors to an intercom switch opening
to Junior's faintest cry and gurgle. And I have acclimated my nerves to a garage
door which begins weirdly opening by itself, apparently, when I'm still thirty feet
down the driveway.
Presently, I'm learning to control my hysteria when the oven to the kitchen range
- by virtue of some unfathomable electronic relay timer - starts blasting a Sousa
March (audible four blocks away) via anyone of a dozen loudspeakers the moment a
roast has burned to a rich crispness. The ensuing melody-signal is calculated to
bring me trembling with girlish delight, on the double, from any given location
in the house. Convenient? Yes. Relaxing? No.
... I'm learning to control my hysteria when the oven timer starts blasting forth
a Sousa March the moment the roast is burnt.
Progress has its price and I've got the makings of a superb nervous breakdown
to prove it.
Somewhere I once read (and reread with persistence until it made sense) that:
"A superheterodyne is a receiver in which all incoming radio-frequency signals are
mixed with the output of an oscillator to produce a heterodyne or beat frequency."
That's Happy Boy, all right. Give a little, take a little ... he's a receiver
with an ability to mix new ideas about electronic inventions and produce them -
after alternating between just which one to spring on me first - with a frequency
whose beat has pitilessly hammered me to a complete standstill.
Unlike an electrical mechanism, he is prone (kindness prompts understatement
of the facts) to occasional error. Once, he crossed his wires somewhere, willy-nilly,
while installing a fire alarm system based upon temperature-sensitive elements scattered
through every room. For two days, until he found the faux pas (deep in the innards
of the master control panel which also regulates a number of other systems) , we
enjoyed the improbable phenomena of hearing the doorbell blast through the hi-fi
system every time the button was depressed. The blast was so devastatingly interesting
that I've often wondered how it would have sounded if we only had stereophonic.
Somehow, I never hear that four-note chimed phrase now without having it bring to
mind startled callers and frenzied neighbors.
Yes, a lot of kilos and megs have cycled within our walls since this business
began and I've decided that, if we ever design a family crest, it'll be crossed
transistors on a field of decibels.
Last week, Happy Boy staggered as stealthily as a herd of steel-shod elephants
into the house, carting a large box which he cleverly hid in a closet. Shortly thereafter,
he began pitching proud hints that when our wedding anniversary rolls around, next
month, he won't be caught with his thoughtfulness down.
Wifelike, I took the first opportunity to case the gift-box and see if the contents
were my size. I'm a very, very lucky girl. After all, how many other wives are getting
telemetering equipment for their next anniversary?
I ask you ... how many?
... Happy Boy staggered in carting a large box which he hid in a closet.
Posted April 15, 2022
(updated from original post on 3/18/2016)