March 1952 Radio-Electronics
[Table of Contents]
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics.
See articles from Radio-Electronics,
published 1930-1988. All copyrights hereby acknowledged.
This is a pretty good
electronics-related detective story. Admittedly, it did not turn out the way I
expected, which is a good thing because the unexpected curve it threw me caused
me to like the adventure even more. The author is Guy Slaughter, but it could
have easily been one of John T. Frye's "Carl
& Jerry" techno-adventures. I say that because (without giving away the
ending) the sleuthing "good guy" uses his electronics communications savvy to
solve the crime, the way Carl and Jerry are famous for doing. The setting is the
early 1950s when electronics repair shops were commonplace and some customers
did their best to swindle the proprietors out of honestly earned money - and
sometimes products. Guy Slaughter wrote earlier pieces featuring Pedro for
Pedro and the Incentive Plan - Ham Radio Catches Crook
By Guy Slaughter
He's a little short guy in a beat-up felt hat, and his tiny mustache twitches
like a rabbit's nose. He stands just inside the door for a long moment, the radio
tucked under his arm, while his eyes dart about the store.
"Good morning," I say, leaning on the counter and wondering what he's looking
for. "Got some radio trouble?"
His eyes stop on my face, then drop to the floor, and he shuffles up to me.
"Yeah," he says, in a high, whiney voice. "You the boss?" He looks almost disappointed
when I nod, then taps the radio with his free hand. "It's got a whistle in it."
He sets it down on the counter.
"Birdies, hunh?" I undo the line cord and plug it in. I flip it on and give it
the quick once-over while it's warming up. It's a conventional little a.c.-d.c.
job in a plastic cabinet, and it looks good for its three or four years of age;
the cabinet isn't cracked, the dial glass is clean, and even the cardboard loop
cover is intact.
The little set comes on and I tune the band. It isn't particularly hot, especially
on the high end of the dial where the sensitivity falls way off, but it sounds pretty
good. No trace of a birdie.
"Do you get the whistle all over the dial?" I ask, cutting the volume.
The little guy shakes his head, crinkles up his thin face, and his mustache twitches
"Unh-uh!" he gurgles. "Just on WLW. You can hear the station okay, but there's
a whistle on it."
"All the time?"
"Evenings, mostly. Not all the time." I flip the dial pointer to the 700 mark,
and run the gain up, WLW is clear.
"Sounds okay," I say. "It's probably local interference in your area."
"Yeah?" the guy yeahs vaguely. "Yup, But the set needs aligning anyway, so why
don't you leave it a day or so? Then if the whistle shows up, we can fix that too."
The customer licks his lips, looks at the floor, and lets his mustache twitch
"Okay," he agrees finally. "That'll be okay."
I reach under the counter for a job ticket.
"Hunh?" The mustache twitches. "Your name?" I repeat.
"Oh. Yeah. Alverson. Frank Alverson."
I write it down, ask for his address, wait while the mustache twitches a couple
more times, and write it down. The guy starts for the door, stuffing his claim stub
into a worn wallet. But he pauses with his· hand on the knob, turns back toward
me, his eyes darting about the store again.
"I'm interested in a television," he whines. "Those for sale?" He jerks his head
at the line of consoles along the wall.
"Sure," I say. "And I've got a good selection in back, too. If you'd care ....
" "Not now," he interrupts me. "In a hurry. You here all the time?"
"Mornings," I nod. "And sometimes afternoons. Usually, though, I do my outside
work in the afternoons."
"Anybody here then?"
"Oh, sure," I say. "We're open all day, and evenings by appointment. If I'm not
here myself, Pedro can give you a demonstration."
The mustache twitches twice, he eyes one of the TV consoles for a moment while
he digests this, and then he jerks the door open and shuffles out.
"Okay," he throws back over his shoulder at me. "Be seeing you.".
I carry the little set back to the service bench, plug it in, and let it play
while I dive into the line-up of chassis waiting there for me. It's still going
strong with no sign of a birdie when Pedro shows up after lunch.
"Hi, Herk," he greets me, bustling in with a beat-up, sorry-looking chassis under
"Hi, Pedro," I return. I straighten up, grateful for an excuse to take a breather,
and reach for a cigarette. "Where'd you get the relic?"
"It's home-made," he says, grinning at me and laying the alleged radio on the
"No kidding." I try to ignore the messy-looking little two tuber, but the gobs
of hookup wire hanging from its innards finally get the better of my curiosity,
and I give it the quick scan. Evidently, it's been wired by a left-handed baboon
with nine thumbs. Every soldered joint looks like a wad of crumpled-up tinfoil.
"Got to fix it." Pedro reports. "Noisy volume control. Carbon tet, hunh?"
"Depends," I say. "If it's just dirty, carbon tet'll do it. But if the resistance
element is worn through in spots you'll have to replace the control.
Pedro's forehead wrinkles.
"Seems to me I read someplace you can fix 'em with a lead pencil."
"Not recommended. The graphite treatment is an emergency measure. Wartime stuff
when you can't get controls."
Pedro jerks his thumb at his two-tuber, grins at me.
"It's a regenerative set," he confides.
"You got two windings on the coil, and one of 'em feeds back part of the signal
from the plate to the grid and that gives it lots of amplification."
"Well whattaya know," I breathe, playing it straight. "Clever, hunh?"
Pedro beams and nods.
"Lots of kids make 'em. We got a club."
"Great," I say. "Look, Pedro, lug these carcasses out to the truck, will you?
I'm about ready to take off."
"Sure, Herk," he says, starting to pick up one of the chassis. Then he pauses,
clears his throat, and I can tell something is coming. He fixes his big eyes on
me and clears his throat again.
"Okay, kid," I say resignedly, leaning back against the bench. "What now?"
"I figure ... I mean I think I should get a commission on sales," he says. '''I
got no kick on my wages, Herk, but I been reading about the 'incentive plan' and
I'm for it."
"You would be," I laugh.
"No, I mean it Herk," he says seriously. "If I've got a personal interest in
making a sale, I'll do a better job. See, Herk?"
I chuckle again, in spite of, myself. "Yeah, I see. But maybe it's a good idea
at that. Okay, Pedro, you're on commission as of now. How does one percent of retail
price suit you?"
"I figured on five .... " he begins, but I cut him off.
"That's settled, then," I say quickly.
"Two percent commission you get on every set you sell, radio, TV, or whatever.
Now, lug those chassis out before I change my mind."
"Sure, Herk," Pedro says happily.
"They're practically loaded."
"And, Pedro," I add. "Keep your ear on that little a.c.-d.c. job while I'm gone.
See if it develops a whistle on WLW."
"Roger," Pedro says, a chassis under each arm. "Can do, Herk."
I spend a few minutes on mustache's a.c.-d.c. set, the next morning, checking
for a loose. or intermittently-open capacitor, or maybe a corroded chassis tie-lug.
But I don't really expect to find anything, since the whistle only bothers WLW;
so I finally settle for a realignment job.
"Tell this guy there's nothing wrong with his radio," I instruct Pedro when he
comes in. "Must be local interference on WLW in his neighborhood. And if he wants
to look at a TV set you give him a demonstration, will you?"
"Sure will, Herk. For two percent I'll give him a good one."
"Load up the truck, then, so I can take off. I've got lots of stops today." I
climb into my coat, fiddle around collecting call cards and mentally planning my
itinerary, and he's all through by the time I get back to the bench again. "How's'
your regenerator?" I ask.
"Fine. Carbon tet did it."
"Glad to hear it. See you later, kid." But it's late when I get back, and Pedro
has already gone. The first thing I see is a note he has propped up on the cash
register that almost gives me heart failure. It says I owe him nine dollars and
thirty' cents, and I cuss incentive plans whole-heartedly while I jerk open the
cash drawer, a premonition of dis-aster nudging me. Sure enough there's a check
inside, signed by one Frank Alverson. It's for four hundred sixty five dollars.
Across the bottom Pedro has printed "payment in full for one RCA TV console combination."
So now I know why Frank Alverson has such shifty, darting eyes, why his mustache
twitches, and why he has been careful to find out when I'm not in store.
I scrabble through the job tickets in the day's pile, grab the one with Alverson's
name on it, and head for the address it lists as fast as the truck can travel. It's
a vacant lot ....
The cop is still there when Pedro comes into the shop the next day. He stares
at the uniform with big, round eyes, and then fixes his gaze on me.
"In trouble again, Herk?" he asks. "Yeah," I snap. "But not like you think. How'd
he haul the TV set away?"
"Who?" Pedro asks. Suddenly comprehension dawns on his face. "Oh, him. He had
The cop goes to work on Pedro, then, throwing questions right and left. Did he
get the license number? Didn't he suspect the guy of being a rubber check artist?
Did he have any scars or marks that might make identification easy? Had he ever
seen him before? Did he have any kind of an accent? What did it say on the side
of the truck? Finally he turns back to me, shoulders hunched.
"What've we got to go on?" he asks sadly. "It's prob'ly the same gee that's been
passin' checks for TV sets all over town, but he don't leave a trace."
"You've got a description," I say wearily. "That should help."
"Sure," the cop growls disgustedly.
"A little guy in a beat-up felt hat and a mustache. I should have a buck for
every guy in town who looks like that."
"Yeah," I say. "I'll go through it again. Maybe I missed something." So I tell
the whole incident of his coming into the shop with the radio, and describe every
move either of us made, every word either of us said. When I finish Pedro is looking
at me queerly.
"Hey, Herk," he says. "You going to pay me my commission?"
I draw my hand back into firing position, but he jumps out of reach.
"Well, then, if we find the guy and get the set back will you pay me my commission?"
"Yeah," I snort. "The day we find him you get paid."
"Tomorrow, maybe today yet," Pedro says smugly. "I'll find him. See you later,
Herk," he calls back over his shoulder, and then the door slams shut behind him.
"-he worked for me I'd can him," the cop mutters darkly. "Takin' a bum check
I wave a hand wearily.
"My own fault. I should have spotted the guy for a phoney when I first saw him.
Besides, Pedro's just a kid, and this incentive plan made him too eager for a sale.
I should have warned him about things like that."
"Yeah," the cop says. "Well, we'll let you know if any thin' turns up." He smiles
feebly and leaves.
"Fine," I say without enthusiasm.
"Do that." I wander back to the bench and dive into a chassis. Pedro doesn't
show up again, so I work there until closing. After that I stop off for a hamburger
and fiddle around uptown a while, so it's late when I get home. There is a figure
waiting for me on the porch. It's Pedro.
"Hi, Herk," he says with elaborate casualness. "Nice evening."
"Yeah," I return suspiciously. "Ain't it."
"Herk," Pedro goes on, gazing up at the streetlight, "let's get it straight.
If I find the guy I get my commission. Right?"
"Forget it, kid," I say gruffiy. "We just ain't going to find that bozo."
"But if," Pedro insists. "If I find him, I get paid, hunh?"
"Sure," I nod. "Sure. But .... "
"I found him," Pedro cuts in proudly.
"And I called the cops and they took him down to the station. You got to identify
him and claim your TV set."
"Look," I say severely. "If you're pulling my leg, I'll break every bone ....
"No kidding, Herk," Pedro assures me solemnly. "It was easy. You said the whistle
on his radio was local interference in his neighborhood, so we found his neighborhood."
"How?" I demand. "And who's 'we'?" "My radio club. We got guys all over town.
So I called a meeting and told everybody to monitor WLW. Three guys finally heard
the whistle come on about seven o'clock, and phoned me."
"Yeah," I say. "But .... "
"So I rode my bike over to their bailiwick and tracked down the whistle with
my portable radio."
I just nod my head dumbly, and Pedro goes on.
"Where the whistle was the loudest there was a house with a big, long aerial
running to a tree, and through the window I could see a kid listening to a home-made
set. I beat on the door. A lady came, and I asked for her boy."
"Yeah," I say again. "But .... "
"I asked the kid if he always listened to WLW, and he said that was the only
station his regenerator could get any good." Pedro shakes his head pityingly. "He
was a dumb kid, Herk. He had his aerial coupled too tight, and he didn't know how
to tune his rig right. Anyway, I asked him if he ever saw a little short man with
a mustache and a funny hat around the neighborhood."
"Hey," I breathe reverently, a bell ringing in my head. "Pedro, that was smart
"Yup," he agrees, matter-of-factly.
"So the kid said a guy that looked like that lived right across the street. I
called the cops, and there he was. Our TV set was in the garage, and there were
half a dozen more, too."
"Pedro," I mumble, my head starting to spin again. "You're a genius."
"I wouldn't say that, exactly," he says, staring modestly down at his shoe. "I'm
just on the ball." Then he holds out his hand, fixes his eyes on my face, and breaks
into a big grin. "For a commission, of course. Great stuff, this incentive plan,
"Yeah," I say reverently, digging deep for a ten-dollar bill. "Yeah, Pedro. Damned
if it ain't!"
Posted August 3, 2022