Friday 13 June 2014

Thanks Dad!

When I was nine-years old in the fall of 1957, I travelled to a small community in northern Washington state. At that time, square-dancing was a popular activity and my parents were attending an evening dance in the local community center. It didn't take long for me to become bored and wander down the street to the local drug store. In those days, the streets were not as scary for young kids as they are today, sadly.

A magazine called "RADIO-TV Experimenter" soon caught my eye. I decided to buy it to read while waiting for my parents to finish and begin the drive home. I was fascinated to learn of an activity called "shortwave listening". I read and re- read the article several times. It spoke of being able to hear radio broadcasts from around the world and was heavily illustrated with pictures of QSL cards and lists of foreign broadcast frequency schedules.

The next day I told my father about the article and that it sounded pretty interesting to me. He told me that there might be an old radio in the back of my grandfather's barbershop in downtown Vancouver.
The next Saturday morning we went downtown to check....sure enough...sitting unplugged in the back corner was a dusty old wooden radio!

The 'dusty old radio' turned out to be a 1934 General Electric M61 cathedral model. Little did I realize just how much that Saturday morning trip to the barbershop would so profoundly affect the rest of my life.

General Electric M61

Upon returning home, the receiver was dutifully lugged up the steep stairs leading to my attic bedroom and then plugged in. To the delight of us both, it seemed to work very well but nothing could be heard on its two 'shortwave' bands. My dad said that he thought it might work better if we strung an outside antenna. Following a short trip to buy some copper wire and two white ceramic insulators, he was soon scurrying along the steep peak of our house with hammer, wire and insulators in hand!

I'm sure you can imagine the rest of the story. I was almost immediately mesmerized by the beautiful orange glow of the radio's backlit dial. It was truly a thing of exquisite design and a prime example of the perfect union of form and function.

I was soon delighted to discover that a slight pull on the central tuning knob produced a velvety slow tuning rate on the main dial. And stations! Stations everywhere I tuned....yes, this was the stuff I had been reading about! For me, 'sunspots', 'solar cycles' or the 'Heaviside Layer' were still foreign terms as I began to explore this new (to me) world of radio.

My attic bedroom soon became the 'listening post' and after a few months of careful tuning and late- night listening, my logbook began to fill with stations from around the world! Friday and Saturday nights became the favorite times of the week for me as it meant that I could stay up late....tuning and hunting for new catches.

Little did I know at the time that I was listening at the peak of 'Solar Cycle 19'. The mother of them all. I had simply assumed that shortwave radio was always like this and didn't know that propagation would never be any better than it was right then.
The big one

My first QSL was received in due time, the same one shown here, from 'Switzerland Calling'. It arrived in a thick vanilla-colored envelope stuffed with Radio Switzerland information and literature describing their beautiful country. I still remember the smell of the envelope, or its ink, to this day. But imagine.... people in Switzerland sending me, now a ten-year old kid, stuff like this. It must be important. I was hooked.

My 1st QSL

My interest slowly turned to amateur radio after discovering some local DXers on 20m AM phone. One of them was George, VE7ALE, a detective with the Vancouver police, with a thick British accent. I could hear him working ZL's every Friday night but as hard as I listened, I could never manage to hear the weaker signals from down under.

For me, this was the beginning of what became a wonderful life-long hobby that I am privileged to still enjoy today....and it all started with an understanding, encouraging father....and a Saturday morning trip to the barbershop. Thanks a million Dad!


PE4BAS, Bas said...

Hello Steve, thanks for the great story. Always nice to read how others started the radio hobby. The magic of radio...73, Bas

Steve McDonald said...

Thank you Bas. The radio bug certainly grabbed me basically shaped the course of my life in many respects.

73 / Steve

W4QO said...

Tnx so much. I had a similar introduction in the late 50s with the family Silvertone Sears radio which was dead on the 2 SW bands until I hooked a wire to the antenna clip. Came alive and rest is history. Jim W4QO