June 1958 Radio-Electronics
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics.
See articles from Radio-Electronics,
published 1930-1988. All copyrights hereby acknowledged.
The International Microwave Symposium (IMS) is arguably the largest
single annual event for radio and microwave engineers. According
IMS2014 event officials the show in Tampa, Florida, boasted
of a 7,500-visitor attendance. European Microwave Week (EuMW)
runs a close second place at around 7,000. In 1958, 55,000 engineers
Institute of Radio Engineers (IRE - eventually became the IEEE)
in New York City. IMS and EuMW would love to have numbers like anywhere
near that. Maybe the large number of attendees was because dissemination
of information was not nearly as instant (or eventual for that matter),
and the absence of the Internet or even e-mail or online bulletin
boards made face-to-face and face-to-product encounters a vital
means of keeping abreast of the latest technology and regulations.
Hot topics like Electronics in Space (on the verge of reality then),
and what caught my attention was this: "Luminescent panels for flat-tube
television were discussed by Sylvania engineers," which coincided
with discussions of plasmas. Was that early large screen TV technology
or just reduced curvature CRT planning? Don't know. Raytheon exhibited
a nifty liquid-filled elapsed time indicator that turns from blue
to clear after a predetermined amount of electric charge (20 mAH)
had been applied.
News from the IRE 1958 Meet
By Eric Leslie
55,000 electronic engineers gather to discuss another year of
This mobile antenna stands almost three stories high
- its radiation center is 24 feet above the ground.
The year's most striking example of how fast yesterday's wonders
become commonplace was probably the 1958 convention of the Institute
of Radio Engineers, held in New York City the third week of March.
The engineers not many years ago had thrilled to the news that a
radar message had been returned from the moon - now they talked
calmly about shooting a manned rocket around it. Medical electronics
was married to computer technology, and the old concept of gas tubes
was expanded out of recognition. (Engineers talked of a plasma of
electrons and ions at a temperature of 100 million degrees, carrying
currents several times as great as could an equivalent bulk of copper,
and held in an envelope consisting of a magnetic field that would
constrict the plasma on itself.)
A complete session was in fact devoted to thermonuclear power.
Another, a panel, was entitled Electronics in Space. A more mundane
subject that would have been equally surprising to the old engineer
was engineering education. Two sessions were devoted to that subject,
and another to a related one, engineering writing and speech. Devices
that would read books and papers, then prepare engineering abstracts
from them, were described, as well as an electronic Russian translator.
Another complete session was devoted to masers (microwave gas
or semiconductor amplifiers) and atomic clocks. One of these - a
gas-cell clock described by Federal Telephone engineers - was visualized
as "necessary equipment on any rocket ship."
Luminescent panels for flat-tube television were discussed by
Sylvania engineers, who pointed out avenues of research in that
direction and reported on progress in producing moving pictures
on such panels, but concluded that "major breakthroughs" would be
needed before luminescent panels could he used as TV screens.
The field of sound
Audio was possibly the liveliest subject at the convention. One
complete session was devoted to stereophonic disc recordings, and
another to audio, amplifier and receiver developments. It was at
that session that Dr. Peter Goldmark presented his surprise paper
on the CBS compatible stereo-disc system.
It resembles the Westrex 45/45 system in general (Dr. Goldmark
suggested that the 45/45 might be considered a special case of the
CBS technique), but avoids some of the disadvantages of that system
by putting most of the program into the lateral signal fed to the
cutter. Only a few percent of the total signal remains for the vertical
component. The record can be played back perfectly (as a monaural
recording) with an ordinary long-play cartridge. As a stereo disc
it can be played with any 45/45 setup, or even with a vertical-lateral
cartridge. This last feature caused Goldmark to describe it as "compatible
even with the incompatible!" Wear - either with a stereo or long-play
pickup - was stated to be the same as with a regular long-play record.
[Stereo developments at the convention were sufficiently important
to justify a complete article. This is being prepared by Mr. Norman
H. Crowhurst, and will probably appear in an early issue.]
The Raytheon operating-time indicator tube.
Computers and therapeutics
Biology was one of the important subjects. One session was devoted
to medical electronics and one to biological transducers.
Top item on the medical-biological program was an infrared spectrometer-computer
for analyzing complex biochemical mixtures such as hormones. The
instrument, developed by International Telephone & Telegraph
Corp., is expected to be of great value in cancer research. In analyzing
by chemical methods, one constituent is identified and removed from
the compound, then the process is repeated for another - a time-consuming
and laborious process. The new method, explained president Henri
Busignies of Federal Telecommunications Labs (research division
of IT&T), is to treat the absorption spectrum of the compound
as a signal and to use the communications man's long experience
with mixing and unmixing signals to discover not only the components
of the compound but also their relative quantities.
A pressure transducer, working on the strain-gauge principle,
that can take measurements of blood pressure inside the human heart,
at the same time bringing back blood samples from the heart's interior,
was discussed by electronics researchers of the Ford Motor Co. laboratory.
Another paper described the use of a Nipkow disc in making· biological
microphotographic measurements, and still another covered the electronic
evaluation of the condition of the unborn fetus.
An electronic office
Experiments in electronic mail sorting had been started before last
year's convention. This year a whole session was devoted to the
method being tried at Ottawa, Canada. Each letter is re-addressed
by an operator, the new address being put on the back of the envelope
in fluorescent ink. A simple code, easily learned by unskilled labor,
is used. From this point, the various sortings for province, city
and street address or carrier's route are entirely electronic.
An almost opposite system, which handles preliminary sorts only,
is undergoing experiment at Washington, D. C. Letters fed to the
electronic machine are sorted by states - and a few cities. The
apparatus reads type-written addresses in various sizes of type,
but cannot as yet read hand-written addresses nor those written
in all capitals.
A new concept in the broadcasting field was presented by Leonard
Kahn, developer of a compatible single-sideband AM transmission
system. Described a year ago in the Proceedings of the IRE, the
system has been tried out by several stations, including New York's
WMGM and WABC. One sideband is greatly reduced in power without
making special receiving techniques necessary, as in conventional
types of single-sideband transmission. The reception in fringe areas
is improved, since more power is concentrated in the single sideband,
and fading - often due to interactions between the two sidebands
- is not so marked. Interference can be reduced because of the smaller
bandwidth of the single-channel signal.
Multiplex transmission received a couple of papers. Color TV
was represented by a few scattered papers at different sessions.
The IRE show
The exhibition which is so impressive a part of the annual meetings
was on a highly practical level, following last year's pattern of
accenting improvements on existing practice rather than strange
new equipment. One old-timer was heard to murmur that he could remember
when the bulk of the exhibits had to do with entertainment electronics
- broadcasting and receiving equipment - but that now it had become
practically a pure military-industrial setup. A number of striking
things did however appear among the 17,000-odd pieces of equipment
One of these was an elapsed-time tube exhibited by Raytheon.
It looked like a miniature tube envelope with two terminals, filled
with a bluish liquid. This liquid, a copper sulphate solution, gradually
clears up as current passes through it, till - at the end of 20,000
microampere hours - it is entirely clear. If one wishes to find
out how long a piece of equipment has been in operation while the
tube still shows considerable color, a colorimeter indicates the
number of microampere hours rather accurately. The device - if it
reaches the popular market - should have a number of interesting
applications. The high-fidelity enthusiast would be particularly
interested. He could hook up one of these tubes in a circuit drawing
20 μa dc, and at the end of 1,000 hours the clear liquid in the
tube would tell him it was time to replace the diamond stylus.
A battery-operated TV set was another interesting exhibit. The
battery consisted of 10 Yardney Silvercells and a solid-state converter
manufactured by Interelectronics Corp. Viewers were informed that
it would operate the set up to 6 hours and could be recharged overnight
(at a low charging rate).
Inertial guidance systems were displayed by a number of exhibitors.
Inertial guidance is a method of locating one's position on the
globe by starting from a fixed known point with equipment that tells
how far and in what direction one moves. It consists of a "stable
table" that maintains its position with relation to the earth and
to any change in the position of the vehicle carrying it. Three
gyroscopes, one in each direction of motion, give it that stability.
Accelerometers take note of any acceleration in any of these directions,
and electronic devices record their output in terms of direction
and distance. It is a system which might be called super dead reckoning,
and can be used - for example - by a submarine traveling under Arctic
ice, to indicate its position accurately.
A number of other displays were impressive in themselves, but
revealed no startling advances in electronics. One, a portable antenna,
brought back to the minds of old-timers the early days of portable
radios, some of which were said to be best transportable by Mack
truck. The antenna, exhibited by Kennedy Corp., was a parabola 28
feet across. It looked substantial enough for any permanent job,
but two rubber-tired wheels were visible part way up the tower,
and the whole job could be demounted and towed by a pickup truck.
Probably it is the biggest piece of portable electronic equipment
that is in existence.
Posted July 18, 2014