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...

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