My Dad brought me home the July, 1962 copy of Radio TV and Hobbies magazine. Inside was a technical dreamland of articles, one of which was “A Beginners One Transistor Radio” which, in the few seconds it took me to read the intro, took me from interested wonder to totally absorbed technical passion. That Saturday morning, armed with the list of required parts, my Dad and I ventured into the city. Walthams trading co. in Elizabeth street simply overwhelmed me. All that stuff! Racks and racks of radios, transmitters, power supplies, things you couldn’t name but which had knobs and dials and numbers. Our mission there was to buy a pair of disposals high impedance headphones which were duly purchased. They were of black bakelite with a single flat spring steel headband. We had to leave then for other stores, but I took with me the sights and smells of that unreachable pinnacle of radio junk land, and a sense that here I had found a kind of doorway into another realm. Next stop was Homecrafts in Lonsdale street. Through the shop, down the stairs and behold! Parts, multi-coloured and various dripped from the walls, lay in glass cabinets and counters, and everywhere was a feeling of bustling insight, as if I had fallen into the secret den of those few who knew and worked the mysteries.
My Dad engaged the attention of one of the counter salesman and I read out my list of parts to him. I didn’t need a gang, my Dad had already found me an old one out of a mantle radio, but they had everything else – except the .0015 capacitors. I was devastated, but kept this somewhat to myself. Naturally I had no idea that any other value would have done as well, nor did the man at the counter suggest any options.
So we came home, and I was determined to build the radio even if I had to leave gaps for the two capacitors I had not been able to get. I was too fired with enthusiasm to let this minor lack stop the ball rolling. I made a base board out of some old pine and a front panel of masonite was duly nailed on. Holes were drilled, tagstrips were screwed in place, the regen pot mounted and the gang was bolted to the front panel. I was ready.
My dad had lots of soldering irons, even a very small one which had a head about ½ an inch square and a neat point. So it was on to the gas on the kitchen stove while I busied myself with putting these strange, newly discovered components into place on the tagstrips according to the wiring diagram in the magazine. I learned colour code that afternoon. I learned capacitor values, I learned how to solder wires with a gas iron and flux and a 50/50 bar of solder. I made the coil as suggested, using a toilet roll and matches to hold the tapped turns out from the former. The wire was very thin, as it came from an old magnet my Dad had brought home. But I dealt with it, carefully scraping the insulation from the part held between the matches.
Looking back, I guess the wire up was fairly messy, but it was good enough for me and when it was done, the real disappointment of the missing capacitors began to set in. But my natural exploratory nature took over and I got my battery – an old 6V lantern battery which I had been playing around with for a long time – and wired up the power leads to the fahnstock clips on top of it. What were capacitors anyway, I wondered? Signals went through them, that was clear enough from the text in the magazine. But what else? I hadn’t reached the concept of DC blocking at that time, so without any other consideration I decided that if signals went through capacitors then it only followed that they had a lot in common with a piece of wire. Simple. Without further ado I connected the base of the transistor to the next terminal on the tagstrip which was the top of the tuned circuit. Then I connected up my big antenna. Noise, music, voices! My joy was complete. I tuned the gang and broadly resolved some of the voices and music into separate stations. I turned the regeneration pot, but it didn’t seem to do anything. That didn’t matter at all. I fiddled with the alligator clips on the coil taps, changing them about until I found I could resolve about four major broadcast stations with a sweep of the gang. Bliss! I then decided to place another wire across the point where the other cap was supposed to be. Disaster! A loud click from the headphones and silence. I quickly removed I the short circuit and all was back to normal. I didn’t question my actions – clearly capacitors in some instances could be eliminated! I ran outside to where my dad was working in the garden and told him how I had made the radio work without the missing capacitors. He smiled in amazement and it was obvious how much he shared my joy. Running back inside, I spent the whole afternoon and evening tuning, adjusting and listening. It was like having my own personal window into a world I could only previously access through the mundane proxy of the household radio; something made by someone else and whose inner workings I could never be privy to. But this, this was the most empowering, the most uplifting insight into a world of new possibilities I could then only scarcely image. Another doorway had opened upon the vast “otherworld” that radio communication was becoming for me.