In the summer of 1972 I had my first introduction to short-wave radio. My older sister was in the middle of one of her, seemingly endless, series of short-term teenage relationships and this one guy she hung out with briefly, owned a particularly cheap multi-band radio. This was one of those, now legendary, 4-D cell 5-band wonders from Japan that seemed to cover every frequency but not do anyone of them justice. As I recall, it had AM, FM, VHF and a couple of short-wave bands. I was aware, on some level, that you could pick-up radio signals from around the World (Ham radio operators did it). My sister, a soon-to-be nurse, helped out with a family whose father was a ham - I got a tour of the shack.
Long story short, I was instantly sold on the concept of hearing all these pops, buzzes, and the odd language on a battery powered portable. Of course, I did not have access to this radio for long. Boyfriends come and go, as I said earlier and my sister was not one for keeping them around longer than the average expiry date on a quart of milk.
I must have made some impression with my father because at some point he came home with a 5 or 6 tube cathedral radio. This radio was made in the thirties. This radio
was sitting in someone's living room prior to the beginning of World War II. This radio had to be plugged into the wall and needed an external antenna. This radio was, most definitely, not going to run on 4 D-type batteries!
After I got over my initial shock and disappointment, my quickest path to reception was by hooking up our trio of Yagi TV antennas to the inputs of the radio.
We had a Viking tube type TV which was purchased in 1964. 8 years later it was still in use. We had a 50 foot antenna mast on our roof with 3 antennas
and three sets of 300 ohm feed lines coming into the living room. Using these antennas seemed to be the natural choice. That choice, as it would turn out,
would be short lived indeed!
Truth be told, my initial impression on this oldie was, well, impressive. This radio had warm room filling sound. I was picking up all kinds of stuff that was, most certainly, not audible on the 4-battery portable now long gone. Within a few days I had
picked up HCJB in Quito, Ecuador, the BBC, The Voice of America, Radio Peking, Radio Havana Cuba, RSA South Africa and a myriad of others.
This was awesome.
In the long run I needed to come up with an antenna solution outside of the option of using the TV antenna. In late 1972, this was not going to be easy. I had no idea about where to begin and this was pre-internet days. I promised myself I would drop into the public library at the first possible convenience. In the meantime, I had to come up with a quick solution.
In my early days of TV watching, I had been in a few buddies homes and they used rabbit ears. Strange name for an antenna. They do not look anything like the rabbits I have
seen. I digress. Although only in my forties right now, TV of the sixties was a formative period for someone who would one day would work in a technical capacity with electronics and computers. I guess we were kind of fortunate living out in the countryside on Southern Vancouver Island. Additionally, having a decent TV set and an even better set of antennas meant that we could pick a lot of stuff that our neighbors could not even conceive of picking up. This was a time where nobody had cable and no one had color television. Anyhow, I had a concept of what an antenna should look like.
Within a few days I had an array of coat-hangers bolted to a 20 foot pole, on top of an out-building, with the whole mess strapped to a chimney. I cannot even remember
what kind of feed line I used but I am pretty sure it was not very fancy. That trip to the library was now becoming increasingly overdue. You can imagine that coat hangers, out
of doors, not only do not make very good antennas, but also, they corrode within days.
Reception was not very good. There had to be a better way. In the next chapter, I will describe how I quickly moved into the real world of wire based antennas.
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Colin Newell grew up on a small piece of farm land on Southern Vancouver Island. Little did he know then, that a brief encounter with a cheap radio would shape the rest of his life.