Mac's Radio Service Shop: Calling All Inventors
December 1954 Radio & Television News

December 1954 Radio & TV News
December 1954 Radio & Television News Cover - RF Cafe[Table of Contents]

Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles from Radio & Television News, published 1919-1959. All copyrights hereby acknowledged.

When Mac asked Barney if he had ever heard of the National Inventors Council (NIC) and he replied that he hadn't, he was not alone - then or now. I don't recall having heard of it, either. According to Mac, the Council "was created in 1940 by the Secretary of Commerce with the concurrence of the President to establish a means by which the natural inventive talent of the American people could be used to aid the war effort." The idea was to pool resources and present good ideas to the attention of the War Department (now the Department of Defense)." At the end of World War II and the Korean War, the NIC was absorbed into the National Bureau of Standards (NBS), which is now called the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). "RM"† type batteries are mentioned as a possible solution for operation in extreme cold. They were mercury button cells produced by Mallory for hearing aids. Mac goes on to read many of the military's stated needs off the wish list. Most - maybe all - of them have by now been fulfilled.

† RM stands for Reuben-Mallory (Samuel Ruben and Philip Rogers Mallory, respectively).

Mac's Radio Service Shop: Calling All Inventors

Mac's Radio Service Shop: Calling All Inventors, December 1954 Radio News - RF CafeBy John T. Frye

A freezing rain during the night had turned the out-of-doors into a crystal fairyland. Every tree was an immobile fountain of ice; the eaves of every building wore gleaming, sparkling fringes of icicles.

However Amanda Perkins, secretary, office manager, customer buffer, and Chief Worrier of Mac's' Radio Service Shop, was oblivious to all this congealed beauty outside. Seated at her desk with her back to the windows, she was playing a staccato tune on the typewriter as she engaged in her daily little game of trying to get through all the correspondence by lunch time.

That was why she did not see the door open stealthily behind her to admit the curly red head of Barney, the shop's service technician, j.g. The boy stepped inside and closed the door behind him with a quietness that was amazing coming from one who was usually about as quiet and gentle as a bulldozer. Holding a small icicle delicately between thumb and forefinger, he tiptoed across the room and gently dropped it down the back of Miss Perkins' dress.

Instantly she gave a loud shriek; exploded out of her chair, and began frantic movements of her body as she tried to dislodge the melting bit of ice.

Mac, who had watched the whole procedure through the open door of the service department came rushing into the office brandishing a length of pipe mast and demanding, "Where's the mouse, Amanda? Just show him to me, and I'll clobber him for you!"

Barney, wearing a look of shocked surprise on his face during all this pandemonium, finally said, "Why, Amanda, I didn't know you could rhumba; or is that a new hula you are showing us?"

At this Miss Perkins suddenly became ominously quiet, as she glared at her tormenters. Then she walked deliberately over to her desk and picked up a heavy paper weight. That was all the hint Mac and Barney needed. With one accord they leaped through the door of the service department and slammed it behind them.

Mac grinned at Barney leaning weakly against the door and asked in his best imitation of the "Life With Elizabeth" announcer, "Aren't you ashamed?" Barney was still laughing too hard to do more than shake his head vigorously.

"Well, then I'd better find an outlet for some of this surplus energy of yours," Mac said as he picked up a small pamphlet from the service bench. "As a person who is always eager to think about anything except work, you should find this right up your alley. Ever hear of the National Inventors Council?"

"Don't think so."

"It was created in 1940 by the Secretary of Commerce with the concurrence of the President to establish a means by which the natural inventive talent of the American people could be used to aid the war effort. The chief function of the Council is to receive and evaluate ideas and inventions that may be of use to the military forces. In this capacity it welcomes suggestions from inventors on practically everything from 'toothpicks to tanks.' Since the Council has been in business during the past fourteen years, the public has submitted more than 300,000 proposals, some of which have resulted in tremendous savings in men, materiel, time, and money.

"In order to channel inventive thinking somewhat, the Council periodically issues lists of military problems that are current. I have such a list here. Hoping to concentrate your inventive genius still further, I have gone through the list and checked off those items that would seem to lie in the domain of electricity and electronics."

"Fine, fine!" Barney said smugly,' "Toss a couple over the plate."

"Often I hear fellows who are studying for a commercial radio license gripe about the questions devoted to batteries on the grounds that batteries are pretty much out of date. Apparently the army does not know about this, for a lot of their inventive needs are connected with batteries. For example they say they need a battery with a very long shelf life and one that will give a constant power output over a widely varying range of temperature; and to the army that means a range of from -100°F to 160°F above zero.

"They are particularly interested in a battery that will perform well at extremely low temperatures. For example, they would like a new electrolyte that could be substituted for the one ordinarily found in an automotive (lead-acid) battery that would have a low viscosity at -65°C and that would work well at this temperature without any damage to the battery. At the same time they would like to have a new miniature battery that would provide more service life per unit of volume and weight."

"How about the RM cells and the low-temperature batteries I've read about?"

"These are mentioned. It is stated the initial production of RM cells was spotty and that while some batteries gave good performance, others did not provide any useful life at all because of defects. My dad, who wears a hearing aid using these batteries, strongly seconds this opinion. He says that when you put in a fresh battery you can never be sure whether it is going to last two hours or two weeks. Low temperature batteries provide some life at -40°F, but not sufficient life to be of practical value. Incidentally, the army is willing to approach this problem from another direction. If you can think up a good way to heat drycells so that the full output can be obtained in extremely cold regions, the army would like to hear about it. They have already tried using heat tablets, activated charcoal blocks, sterno-type and chemical heaters without much success.

"How about the new solar and atomic batteries?"

"They show promise but are not suitable to field applications at their present stage of development. The army would very much like to have a new, efficient, compact, light, and quiet source of power to replace heavy batteries and noisy internal-combustion, engine-driven generators for front line use."

"'What else do they need?"

"Well, as an old treasure-locater builder, you may be interested to know the army still wants a device or technique that will positively detect the presence of explosives, as such, buried beneath the earth's surface. I don't think they would be much interested in that gadget you built that goes out after 'pieces-of-eight' and comes up with a roll of rusty fence wire. Along the same line they would like to have a rapid method by which they can determine the density of surface layers of soil to a depth of three feet in six-inch increments without taking actual samples. All attempts to do this electronically so far have failed. On a little different tangent, they would like to have a blasting cap that cannot be initiated by electromagnetic or radar waves."

"Anything else?"

"A lot else. There is need for a recorder that will work over a frequency range of from 5 to 1000 megacycles. A non-heterodyning type of frequency divider is wanted. So is a high-voltage power supply that will put out 40,000 volts at up to 50 micro-amperes of current and yet will be so small and light that it will not add seriously to the burden of the man who must carry the electronic equipment this power supply operates. A microwave oscillator capable of 1 kw. of c.w. output is needed. The army would like to have a 12" cathode-ray tube in which the glass envelope is much lighter in weight, shorter, and more rugged. A coaxial r.f. switch of broadband characteristics to handle one to ten kw. of power is on the list. So is a frequency insensitive rotating joint for coaxial and waveguide circuitry."

"I'd like one of those myself for my ten-meter beam," Barney interrupted.

"Yes, and on Field Day you and the army both would like an ultra light-weight field antenna mast or radiator, say one that collapses to only 10 feet in length but that can be extended to any height up to 100 feet and that requires a minimum of guying, preferably none at all at lower extensions. The army would also like to have a coil impregnant that is cheap, easily applied, and unaffected by heat or humidity; and one that will not, on the other hand, affect the 'Q' or the physical or electrical performance of the coil on which it is used. The military thinks it would be nice if someone would come up with a semiconductor material for use in transistors whose color would reveal its conductivity type: n-type being one color and p-type being a different color. Do you get the idea?"

"An indicator for carbon-monoxide gas is needed. So is a humidity indicator. So is a rugged, portable, light-weight ammeter that will be 20 to 100 times more sensitive than the conventional D' Arsonval type; yet no external power supply or electron tube amplifiers can be used to accomplish this."

"Looks like a spot to use transistors," Barney commented.

"Possibly. There is also a growing need for something to replace our diminishing supply of natural piezoelectric quartz. One possibility is the development of a high quality synthetic quartz. Another is the application of magnetostriction units to the control of frequency. Whichever is used, it must have an accuracy equal to that of natural quartz oscillators: approximately 0.02% within the temperature range of -65° to +160° F. We also need a new high resistance material with a resistance of at least 100,000,000,000 ohms per centimeter with a low temperature coefficient, good resistance to vibration and shock, capable of being formed into units with a resistance accuracy of 20%. These resistors are needed for use in radiation detection instruments."

"All that stuff is rather small caliber for an inventor of my type," Barney objected. "Don't they need some really big inventions?"

"Oh sure. They would like to have a complete new type of communication that does not depend on electrical impulses, electromagnetic waves, sound waves, or any other method known at present. That should hold you for a while. Then you can work on a new system for converting either light or heat into electrical energy. Of course the Bell Laboratories are kicking this around, too, but I am sure you like little competition. On your day off you can play around with either a destructive ray that will produce death at 500 yards without excessive power input or with a device that will convert speech directly into writing. I think perhaps IBM has done some work on this, but the army wants a device that is simple to operate and is not bulky-which makes it quite a large order."

"I think I'll help the army out on a few of these things," Barney announced importantly. "Where do I submit my ideas or write for more information ?"

"Just address the National Inventors Council U. S. Department of Commerce, Washington 25, D. C.," Mac answered; "but before you start inventing, you had better figure out how you can get back into Amanda's good graces."

"Don't worry about that; it's already taken care of," Barney said airily. "Tomorrow morning I intend to present her with the personally-autographed picture of Liberace I managed to have him sign when he played in Center City a couple of weeks back. Knowing how much she likes to hear him play, I got it especially for her; but I've been waiting to give it to her until the right moment arrived. Now I think it's here! If that doesn't melt her down, nothing will."

"That's my boy!", grinned Mac. "Old Don Juan had nothing on you when it comes to being a smooth operator. I don't know how you do it - but six or sixty - the gals love it!"



Posted August 12, 2022

Mac's Radio Service Shop Episodes on RF Cafe

This series of instructive technodrama™ 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 April 1948 in Radio News magazine (which later became Radio & Television News, then Electronics World), and changed its name to simply "Mac's Service Shop" until the final episode was published in a 1977 Popular Electronics magazine. "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.