April 1974 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.
I'm old enough to remember
the 1973 Oil
Crisis era (the subject of Mac McGregor's and Barney's discussion) that resulted
from an oil embargo instituted by Arab oil producing nations during the
War where Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack on Israel. I didn't get
my driver's license until Fall of 1974 (turned 16 on August
18th), so the worst of it was pretty much over by then. However, I clearly
remember sitting in long lines at the gas station with my father, and then being
limited in the amount that could be purchased (i.e., no fill-ups). Gas prices jumped
from a national average of 38.5¢/gallon in May 1973 to 55.1¢/gallon in
June 1974. According to the
BLS' Inflation Calculator, that is the equivalent of $2.21/gallon and $2.89/gallon
in 2017 money. Ironically, that's about what gas is costing right now. Another
short-lived gas shortage occurred in 1979, resulting in the national maximum speed
limit of 55 mph (revoked finally in 1995), and the U.S. extended Daylight Savings
Time in order to (ostensibly) save fuel. If you were fortunate enough owned a boat
during those times (my family certainly wasn't), you could fill up at a dock with
no restrictions and then go home and pump it from the boat to your car. I knew a
guy whose father had a huge cabin cruiser at his beach home who never spent a minute
sitting in gas lines. No, he never offered to sell me any of his gas.
Mac's Service Shop: Electronics and the Energy Crisis
By John T. Frye, W9EGV, KHD4167
When Barney entered the service department,
blinking from the bright April sunshine, he found Mac frowning in concentration
and scribbling on a note pad.
"Writing a spring poem, Boss?" the youth asked flippantly.
"Hardly," Mac replied. "I'm preparing a brief on the electronics industry's place
in the sun during the long-haul energy crisis. As things have been going, I'm afraid
the loudly squeaking wheels - truckers, commercial aviation, farmers, owners of
private planes, teachers, boat owners, etc. - are going to get most of the grease,
or oil, and leave little for the rest of us who do not have a government department,
a strong union, or a powerful Washington lobby to open the spigot for us.
"Electronics is so all-pervasive in our society, it plays such a quiet but essential
part in our lives; that it's easy to take its services for granted and forget that
it, too, must have its fair share of energy to continue and expand those services.
Unlike most other industries, electronics returns many-fold every calorie it consumes!
It has played and will continue to play a major role on three fronts in the energy
crisis: (1) the locating of new sources of present forms of energy, (2) the conservation
of all forms of energy, and (3) the development and control of new kinds of energy."
Locating New Energy Sources. "I guess electronics helps locate new oil and gas
"You guess right. If all the oil wells discovered through the use of electronics
were suddenly taken out of production and we had left only those wells brought in
guessing or using a divining rod, we would have only a small fraction of the 17
million barrels of oil we consume daily in this country. While electronics plays
an essential part in most forms of modern geophysical prospecting, it is the heart
of the seismic type on which the oil industry spends many millions of dollars each
year in field work and laboratory research.
"You know how this works: explosive charges are detonated in shot holes drilled
in the earth, and the refracted or reflected shock waves are picked up by special
chart-drawing receivers in the vicinity. The accurate measuring of the times that
elapse between the detonation and the reception of the ground-travelling waves at
several receiver points indicates the presence of anticlines, salt domes, and faults
beneath the surface, formations expected to be oil-bearing. In underwater prospecting
from a surface vessel, detonating charges are often replaced by bursts of compressed
air. When new oil fields are discovered, you can bet that electronics will have
pointed the finger."
Conservation of Energy. "How docs electronics conserve energy?"
"Dozens of ways. First, let's talk about what electronics has already done to
save electrical energy in the home, office, and industry. Replacement of tube-type
radios, TV receivers, and hi-fi sets with semiconductor equipment has saved up to
80% of the energy consumed by these entertainment devices. The same goes for computers
and calculators. And don't forget the saving in the huge air-conditioning energy
requirements for keeping those early tube-type computers cool. The replacement of
older energy-consuming relays with newly developed semiconductor products is just
getting off the ground in the telephone industry, and in the future this will represent
a very substantial saving in energy. Humidity sensors that automatically shut off
clothes dryers when the clothes are dry, rather than at the end of an arbitrary,
energy-wasting time interval, are already saving both gas and electricity.
"But more is on the way. IC microprocessors will be used to monitor and program
heating, lighting, and air-conditioning in office buildings and factories of the
future. By tailoring these quantities precisely to actual needs - for example, lighting
only areas actually occupied by people and maintaining a uniform temperature during
all seasons - it is estimated a 30% saving in energy can be achieved. Back in the
home, electronic equipment will calculate the total heat produced by an oven from
turn-on and eliminate the need for wasteful preheating. You'll be glad to know the
electronics industry is constantly scrutinizing its own uses of energy and trying
to make savings. Core memories in computers will be replaced with semiconductor
circuits; CMOS logic circuits will be substituted for TTL."
"How about transportation? Don't tell me electronics can't help save some energy
"It most assuredly can, and this is very important because transportation consumes
24.8% of all the energy we use, making its consumption second only to that of industry,
which takes 37.3%. Actually, electronics is already doing a good job of conserving
fuel used in cars. A good electronic ignition system can add up to 2 miles per gallon
over a period of time by eliminating misfires and providing stable ignition timing
that does not change because of wear. Automatic speed control devices can increase
mileage 20% on highway travel. It's claimed that the substitution of electronic
fuel injection for carburetion can, on average, increase mileage in stop-start driving
from 4 to 16 miles per gallon. All in all, Floyd Kvamme of National Semiconductor
says that electronics can provide up to 40% savings in automobile fuel.
"Don't forget that the car of the future is going to come equipped with an on-board
computer to provide separate digital readouts for the speedometer, gas gauge, electric
clock, tachometer, etc. At the same time, as we have discussed before, this computer
will provide, by means of pulse modulation, exactly the amount of power - no more
and no less - needed for braking, steering, window control, windshield wiping, and
other mechanical jobs. It will do this over the single-cable wiring system that
will replace the rat's nest of wiring found in today's cars. The saving in dc power
from the battery, of course, means a saving in fuel required to recharge that battery.
But that brings me to my 'invention' that I was working on when you came in."
"What invention?" Barney asked.
"A really accurate miles-per-gallon digital readout meter controlled by the on-board
computer. All we need to do is provide that computer with two inputs from digital
sensors, one of which will indicate distance travelled per unit of time and another
which will indicate gasoline consumed per identical unit of time. The computer will
sample inputs from both the flowmeter installed in the gas line and the speedometer
at very short time intervals, compare them, and provide a constantly updated digital
readout in miles per gallon."
"Hey, I like that!" Barney exclaimed. "It certainly would be a vast improvement
over those so-called mileage meters that are nothing more than intake manifold pressure
indicators. That thing would really give religion to some of our lead-footed brethren,
especially if you modified the readout to indicate cost-per-mile for the high-priced
fuel we're going to be using."
Mac grinned as he nodded agreement. "All of us would be better drivers if we
were made instantly and irrefutably aware of the effect of our driving performance
on fuel consumption - and our pocketbooks. The installation of such meters on all
cars would probably do more to save gasoline than would all the dire predictions
and exhortations coming out of Washington. And there would be other advantages.
You'd not need to take the salesman's word about the gas mileage you could expect
from the car he was trying to sell you. It would be right there on the dash in little
glowing numbers at any speed you chose to drive; furthermore, after you got a tune-up,
if you couldn't see an immediate improvement in gas mileage, you could ask some
very pointed questions of the mechanic."
New Forms of Energy. "You said something about how electronics
would help with the development and control of new forms of energy," Barney pointed
"That's right. Electronics really shines in the areas of precise measurement,
tireless monitoring, remote control, almost instantaneous communication, adjusting
output to demand, and elephant-like memory. No matter what kind of energy source
we use in the future - whether it is solar energy from sun farms in the Southwest
or from circling satellites, breeder reactors, 'laser energy' resulting from continuous
controlled nuclear fusion triggered by a laser beam, shale oil extraction, the gasification
of coal, or some as yet undreamed of source - all of these functions of electronics
will be sorely needed to design the hardware for the new energy source, to harness
and control its output, and to make sure that it does no harm to man or his ecological
"Well," Barney observed, "you've done a pretty good job of convincing me that
electronics is the key to man's survival during the approaching period of exhaustion
of the earth's supply of fossil energy. It helps him locate and extract fossil energy
deposits still left, it's absolutely essential to stretching those supplies as far
as they will go, and it's the best hope of discovering and using new sources of
energy. Depriving the electronics industry of the energy it needs to do the work
it is already doing and to expand its potential would be suicidally short-sighted.
How could energy-allotting bureaucrats fail to understand that?"
"Never underestimate the ability of a bureaucrat or a politician to overlook
something until it is forcefully pointed out to him by a powerful lobby or voting
block," Mac warned. "Electronics has no voice of its own because it speaks through
the languages of medicine, science, industry, entertainment, research, computation,
and communication. There are some who will not appreciate the contribution of electronics
to our way of living until pacemaker-stimulated hearts quit beating, space vehicles
never leave the launching pad, or TV and radio sets go dead."
"You don't really expect that to happen, do you?"
"Not unless we continue the policy of greasing only the wheels that squeak the
loudest. In our highly organized, specialized, and interdependent society, it's
difficult to judge the essentiality of any segment. Certainly, you can't base that
judgment on which group bellows the loudest when it is asked to conserve energy.
Some of the gears in our society are large and some are small, but remove anyone
gear and the whole clock stops. This is no time for anyone group to claim it should
not be asked to join in energy conservation on the grounds that its work is absolutely
essential to the welfare of the whole nation.
Mac's Radio Service Shop Episodes on RF Cafe
This series of instructive stories was the brainchild of none other than John T.
Frye, creator of the Carl and Jerry series that ran in
Popular Electronics for many years. Mac's Radio Service Shop began life
in Radio & Television News
magazine (which itself started as simply Radio News), and then changed
its name to Mac's Service Shop after the magazine became
World. 'Mac' is electronics repair shop owner Mac McGregor, and Barney
Jameson his his eager, if not somewhat naive, technician assistant. 'Lessons' are
taught in story format with dialogs between Mac and Barney.
May 16, 2017