Friday, 6 May 2016

A Trip Down Memory Lane Pt2

By 1978 I was 14 years of age and in my third year at senior school, I also had my foot on the working ladder having become gainfully employed on a local farm working part time.

Working put money in my pocket and burned the proverbial hole in it as I was always eager to spend it!  My interest in radio and electronics flourished, I was able to buy hobby magazines like Everyday Electronics, Practical Wireless and Shortwave magazine.


The magazines provided a wealth of information, construction projects and adverts for components and kits, the various vendors in these magazines certainly did well out of me back in the day!

Saturday was always a day I looked forward to, I worked on the farm in the morning then on receipt of my pay packet I boarded the next available bus and journeyed to Manchester city center for my weekly shopping extravaganza.

The city of Manchester was home to some fine purveyors of electronic components and surplus equipment, sadly they are all now long gone. My weekly jaunt always started at Electro Supplies near Victoria train station then on to Shudehill where there were two shops of interest, the first was Shudehill Supplies which had a good range of components ideal for the electronics hobbyist, the second Globe Radio was interesting but very much behind the times, it sold no modern components but was handy if you needed a "cats whisker" so I bought two! The final leg of my weekly trip took me to Oldham Road and a shop called New Cross Radio, this was the creme dela creme of Aladdin's caves for radio and electronics enthusiasts, they stocked a range of electronic components and lots of surplus equipment including communication receivers like the classic AR88

AR-88 Valve Radio

I always returned from the Manchester shopping trips lighter in the pocket and heavier in payload but sadly that was not down to lugging AR88 receivers around, whilst I marvelled at these awesome beasts owning one was a pipe dream with a large dose of wishful thinking!

My weekly shop usually consisted off buying more magazines, electronic components, rolls of wire, project boxes, tools and the latest books from Bernard Babini and R.A. Penfold, their books were iconic with an emphasis on the practical side, I built many projects from them and learned a lot along the way, often to my expense!

Finding time to go to school, work on the farm and pursue my interest in radio and electronics was never easy, there simply was not enough hours in the day and of course I had to get my priorities right!   I needed to hatch a plan and free up more time for the radio and electronics, my first brain storm was to turn my school bag into a portable library, this was a total success and during school break times I read electronic books, magazines and used the time to plan new projects and prepare component shopping lists.

I was never very competitive at school and loathed the P.E lessons, I considered them a waste of my time as I got plenty of exercise working on the farm. I figured if I could somehow get out of taking part in P.E the time could be used to further my knowledge in radio and electronics.

My elder brother Gary attended the same high school, he was very competitive and loved P.E lessons unlike myself. My brother was always keen to look out for me and he came up trumps with an idea that could get me excused from P.E.  I developed an imaginary Verruca on the sole of my foot that was painful and a letter from my mother (aka brother) was presented to the teacher requesting that I be excused from lessons.  Well done Bro you did me proud!

My friends and fellow pupils were aware of my interests in radio and electronics as I would often take things I had built into school and show them off. The mini electric shock machine I built proved very popular and I subsequently built a few for wanting punters. I once built an electronic Canary and mischievously and covertly set it off tweeting in lessons much to the amusement of my friends and annoyance of the teachers who never did find the culprit responsible!

Friends at school would sometimes offer me unwanted or broken radio's which I would either try to repair or breakdown for useful spare parts. On one particular occasion a class mate approached me with an offer of an old radio, he knew little about it but told me it had a wooden case and did not work, I collected the radio that same day on my way home from school. 

The radio turned out to be a Pilot Little Maestro manufactured around the mid-20th century.

Valve Radio

This was my first encounter with a radio or should I say wireless from yesteryear. Inside its crafted wooden cabinet was a robust metal chassis with a tall metal can and funny looking glass tubes!
Little Maestro Chassis
My father grew up in the wireless age which dominated home entertainment during the 1930's and 40's so he knew a thing or two about them, he was keen to educate me on the dangers they possessed and insisted that any attempt to repair the radio was going to be a joint venture.

We spent many hours trying to repair the radio but without success, we could hear very faint stations from the loudspeaker but the radio lacked oomph. In the end dad suspected one of the glass tubes (now known as valves) to be faulty and he took me to a shop in Manchester to buy new ones, it was called Mazel Radio and I remember it as a rather untidy place but they had a huge selection of valves.

Mazel London Road Manchester
Mazel Radio on London Road Manchester around 1958

Sadly, the new valves did not fix the radio but perseverance paid off and dad eventually located the fault to a detached coil wire inside the large metal IF can.

38 years on and I still have the Pilot Little Maestro which is going strong, not bad for a radio that was made some 65 years ago! 

Thanks to the to the Maestro I developed a love for valves and vintage wireless and went on to collect and restore a few more including a 1931 Cossor Empire Melody Maker, this is a three valve TRF receiver originally sold as a kit for home construction.

1978 was shaping up to be a memorable year and one of vintage proportion but more modern technologies were on the horizon.

In the mid to late 70s the UK witnessed a small but growing numbers of people taking an interest in Citizens band radio, this was partly due to the success of a couple of novelty songs about CB radio and the hit movie Convoy "oh how we loved those bad ass truckers".

Click on the radio play button below to listen to the Convoy theme tune

CB radio reached its peak in America during the mid-1970's but remained illegal in the UK until 1981. Prior to 81 CB radios did find their way into the UK but they were only available on the black market and you had to know the right people in order to obtain one, you also had to be prepared to flaunt the law and risk prosecution by operating one.

The idea of transmitting a signal and communicating with people via the airwaves appealed to me like the proverbial strawberries to a donkey, it seemed like an ideal succession to the interest I already had in radio and electronic.

My breakthrough into the world of illicit CB radio happened in 1979 when I acquired my very first CB radio it was a hand held radio ideal for school bag portable, the make and model of the radio escape me but it had 3 channels with amplitude modulation.  I had a lot of fun with that radio especially on top of the local motorway bridge shouting "eye ball eye ball" to the passing truckers.

I grew bored and a little frustrated with the hand held CB, with limited channels and low power conversations were often short so I eventually upgraded to a mobile set the Sharp CB2460 commonly known as "A Sharp Small Window".

Sharp AM CB

The illegality of CB in the UK added to its appeal attracting an ever increasing numbers of users who wanted in on the craze.  AM CB radios were notorious for causing interference to public broadcasts and emergency radio systems. The radio authorities had to respond to the growing number of complaints they were receiving and did so by sending out radio detector vans to track down offenders.

Anyone remember the CB slang name given to the UK radio authorities back in the late 70's ?  

Heres a clue!

Back in the late 70's there was no such thing as 24hr television and many illegal CB operators waited for the close of television before going on the air, they were less likely to cause interference or get busted doing this!

CB radio was a great way of making new friends and an early form of social media and even if my activities with it were illegal I feel privileged to have experienced it and been a part of it "eat your heart out Facebook and Skype".

I made some great friends through CB radio including the late Ken Lane (G4OLD) who was an ex signals operator a kind friend and mentor (more about that later!)  Ken gave me my first radio communications receiver a Collins CMX-46159 better known as the TCS-12.

Collins Navy Radio

The receiver was used by the Navy in World War II and covered 1.5 to 12 MHz in three ranges, it had a beat frequency oscillator (BFO) which was used to resolve CW transmissions and make them audible. I got a lot of pleasure using this receiver and with careful adjustment of the BFO I discovered I could also listen to those "Donald Duck" transmissions.

Funny how we have arrived back at vintage radio and probably an ideal opportunity for me to take a break...  Find out more about my journey back in time in Part 3 coming soon!

73's From Andy G6LBQ
Its all About The Radio Ga Ga...

Saturday, 2 April 2016

A Trip Down Memory Lane Pt1

Before my blog ventures into anything of a technical nature I thought it would fun to briefly document how my journey into the world of electronics and radio all began.

In 1972 I was 8 years of age and had a great fascination for batteries and bulbs, I purchased a Pifco torch from the local TV rental shop which gave me hours of fun especially when equipped with a fresh set of batteries on a smog laden foggy evening, the thrill of shining that torch beam into the depths of "pea soup" were a testimony of the "Big Smoke" a period where everyone had coal fires and polluted the atmosphere.

British coal miners went on strike in January and February of 1972 for 47 days and the UK was declared in a state of emergency. Britain experienced regular and lengthy power cuts during the seventies which put the nation into darkness. I remember my parents rationing the use of candles in fear that they would not be able to buy more and the Pifco torch I used as a play thing became a necessity providing much needed light in the pitch black of night.

On December 7th 1972 I witnessed the launch of Apollo 17, this was NASA's final Apollo mission and the crew made a historic journey into space for a record 12 days returning to earth on December 19th.

During 1972 I embarked on a journey of my own that would be life changing and catapult me in to a whole new world... Okay my journey was not as exciting as the Apollo spaceflight and a mere stroll down to the local newsagents but what followed was tinkering bliss.

My local newsagent and confectionery shop was a good source for all things sweet and somewhere to off load my pocket money. I would visit the shop on a weekly basis and on one particular occasion I noticed a new display stand containing books, I was drawn to the stand as it contained Ladybird books which were familiar to me as we read them at the infant school. I browsed through the collection of books and one in particular caught my eye which I purchased in preference of my usual sweets.

This book introduced me to the principles of electricity and magnetism and opened up a whole new world which I was eager to explore. The book provided colorful illustrations and experiments that could be carried out with some basic materials. To start with I made do with a battery and bulb but in order to work through the experiments I needed items that required more pocket money and further shopping trips.

Over the next few months I saved my pocket money and visited the local hardware, electrical and chemist shops building up a collection of items which included, batteries, bulbs, plasticine, iron filings, nails, copper sulphate, drawing pins, paper clips and a glass jar.

What followed was months of fun experimenting and learning about electricity and magnetism. I built some fun and interesting items which included; making a compass, building a lighthouse and finally an electric motor. My father was impressed by my new found ability to electro plate, I found some steel nails in his garage and plated them with copper thanks to the books chapter on how to plate using copper sulphate and a battery.

As my interest continued to grow I became obsessed with collecting bits of wire, bulbs, switches and magnets and unbeknown to my parents I began smuggling my paraphernalia into school and storing it in my wooden desk. I used every opportunity available to mess with the electrical items I had accumulated often impressing fellow school kids with some of my creations. One of my finest moments was when I built a loop game for the school summer fair which attracted a lot of interest and won me a few new friends.

Sadly my fun at school came to an abrupt end after my Mother was summoned to a meeting with the headmaster, it transpired my teacher had concerns over my apparent "head in the clouds" demeanor and desk full of junk, being duty bound she reported me to the headmaster and that was the end of my tinkering at school, needless to say my parents were not amused!

By the mid seventies I had developed a bad case of OTD (obsessive tinkering disorder) with a desire to pull anything to pieces that I could lay my hands on, often landing myself in trouble with my parents.

The next milestone in my evolving world of tinkering happened when I was 12 years of age, it was 1976 and the year I would get hooked into the world of electronics. My brother had just received an electronics kit for Christmas and I was instantly drawn to it and in awe over its contents. Fortunately my brother was happy to share the kit and we both had great fun building the various circuits. I remember the kit well it had a perforated hardboard chassis also known as pegboard. Components were secured in place with hairpin like clips that were passed through the pegboard holes and secured with springs. The kit was a great learning tool and an ideal introduction to common electronic components. We built an electronic timer, light operated switch, water alarm and many other fun circuits.

1976 was proving to be an exciting and fascinating year and just when I thought it could not get any better I came across another book that would set the foundations for a further milestone and sow the seeds for what has become a life long hobby.

This book was written by the Rev. George Dobbs and published in 1972. George is a very well respected radio amateur and founder of the GQRP club and holds the callsign G3RJV.

The book is presented in the usual Ladybird format with plenty of colour illustrations and easy to follow text.

After reading a few pages on the principles of radio waves the book presents Stage 1; building a crystal set, this is proceeded by a further 5 Stages with each adding to the previous until a powerful transistor radio is completed.

I read the book over and over with great excitement but feared the latter stages of the book were beyond my technical ability and pocket money budget.

The Stage 1 crystal set was eventually built and I spent hours on a daily basis listening to it using a pair of SG Brown headphones that my father had acquired.

SG Brown headphones were legendary and had a double metal headband that worked a treat for hair removal. The earpieces were made from aluminium and bakelite which made them excruciatingly painful to wear for any length of time.

Despite having a tendency to rip your hair out and cripple your ears SG Browns were very sensitive and ideal for listening to crystal radio sets.

Throughout 1977 I worked through the remaining stages of George's book, each stage that I completed provided some improvement but the pinnacle was completing Stage 6; this final stage transformed my crystal set into a three transistor regeneration radio. The radio could now receive a lot more stations and with its loudspeaker I was able to share the joy and thrill of listening to a radio that I had built myself.

The success and completion of the radio was an achievement I felt very proud of. There were times I thought It would never get finished, I found sourcing components a challenge, I had no idea where to obtain them and in the end I took to recycling components from unwanted circuit boards acquired from Radio & TV repair shops. One particular shop gave me a Mullard Data Book which contained components that I had yet to encounter!

Whilst using the radio I discovered I could pick-up other stations by sliding the tuning coil up and down the ferrite rod, this led me to experiment with the number of turns on the coil and one day I picked up a booming station which identified itself as Radio Moscow World Service, I had just discovered Shortwave Radio.

Me and my brother became hooked on Shortwave radio spending hours listening to international radio stations, just before the hour and half hour new stations would come on the air playing there ident signature tunes which made finding new stations easier.

Click on the radio play button below to listen to a nostalgic collection of radio signature tunes and station idents.

The following web link also contains many nostalgic radio clips from shortwave radio stations around the world:

Some of the clips are of poor quality but a testament of the propagation conditions often experienced.

By 1978 my shortwave listening had progressed to another level, my grandfather gave me a a Philips portable transistor radio which had incredible sound, its ability to pick up stations was far superior to that of my home-built radio. Stations from all over the world could be heard and I became a fully fledged shortwave listener and DXer.

Radio stations were always eager to hear how well they were being heard, they encouraged listeners to write in and provide reception reports and in exchange they sent listeners souvenir cards, stickers and other collectable items.  I built up a colourful collection of cards and souvenirs after sending in many reception reports and I still have my collection today.

Shortwave radio stations often included a dedicated program in there schedule aimed at DXers, these programs were a platform to answer technical questions and help listeners improve there reception. The most famous and enjoyable DX program was without question The Swiss Shortwave Merry-Go-Round hosted by Bob Thomann (HB9GX) and Bob Zanotti (HB9ASQ) who became known as "The Two Bobs". Sadly The Swiss Merry-Go-Round came to an end in 1994 despite protests to keep it on the air.

In 2004 Bob Zanotti launched his own website called Switzerland In Sound, this enabled Bob to bring a new and fresh platform for delivering English language audio about Switzerland. The website contains Swiss news, interviews, travel info as well as vintage recordings from the SRI days.

Visit Bobs website at the following link:
The Two Bobs made a return to the microphone in 2004 with a one hour program talking about there 24 year radio partnership. Click on the link below to listen to this recording:

Listening to Shortwave radio was exciting and finding new stations was a bit like panning for gold, instead of extracting gold from gravel I was extracting radio stations from noise, interference and fading.

Tuning the radio dial gave me a sense of traveling around the world providing a unique insight on other countries views, news and culture.

1978 was certainly a prominent year for my interest in shortwave radio and it would also define another milestone taking me back in time!

Find out about my journey back in time in part 2 coming soon

73's From Andy G6LBQ
Its all About The Radio Ga Ga...

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

A New Era Begins

Well, as the saying goes "if you can't beat them join them" so here I am with my very first Blog post.

I have been a licensed Radio Ham since 1982 and have always had an interest in electronics and enjoy experimenting and building my own radio equipment.

Hopefully over time I can document and share some of my dabblings in the wonderful world of homebrew ham radio but be prepared as things do not always go to plan!