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World Radio History

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Do you remember the Déjà vu moment in The Matrix movie when Neo sees the same cat repeat the same actions and Trinity says, “A Déjà vu is usually a glitch in the matrix”? (If not, this video snippet will remind you.)  
Well, I seem to be having a somewhat similar problem with people called Bob. As a starting point, I seem to know an inordinate number — some might say “more than my fair share” — of Bobs. And then there’s the fact that no matter where I go and what I do, it’s not long before a new Bob is introduced to me to become part of my collection. The reason I mention this here is twofold — first, if I ever fail to make an appearance, just grab the nearest Bob and ask them what they’ve done to me — and second, I just received an email from a guy called Maurice (I’m joking, of course, his real name is Bob Jones, founder of OriginalityB2B.com). Bob introduced me to an amazing WorldRadioHistory.com website, which contains a vast archive of PDF copies of magazines from around the world, including the USA, UK, Canada, Europe, and Australia. Based in the UK, Bob told me, “It’s fascinating to look back at some of the early copies of Wireless World magazine (still published as Electronics World), which was one of my staple reads as a teenager.” For myself, I was a devotee of Practical Electronics and Practical Wireless. My parents kindly purchased subscriptions to both of these magazines for me. Whenever they were poised to hit the newsstands, I would visit our local newsagent every day after school to see if my issues had arrived. Practical Wireless had a series called Take 20. I Just looked at the May 1970 issue, which would be when I was 13 years old (May is my birthday month). That month’s project was a “Two Transistor Radio.” As we see, the column’s tagline read as follows: “A series of simple transistor projects, each using less than twenty components and costing less than twenty shillings to build.” At that time, the UK was still using what we now refer to as “old money,” which involved 12 pennies in a shilling (also called a bob) and 20 shillings (240 pennies) in a pound (you can read more about this in the Pounds, Shillings, and Pence topic of my Cool Mechanical Calculators paper. In February 1971, Great Britain retired the concept of pounds, shillings, and pence and officially adopted a decimal system in which a pound equaled 100 pennies (they were called “new pennies” at the time). Strange as it may seem, today, the majority of British citizens at that time fought this move toward decimalization tooth-and-nail claiming that the new scheme was far too complicated and would never catch on. Be that as it may, when we look at the Take 20 project, which was a “Two Transistor Audio Amplifier,” in the May 1971 issue, we see the tag line has changed to read, “A series of simple transistor projects, each using less than twenty components and costing less than one pound to build.” In the case of these projects, I used to sit on the wall outside the newsagents skimming through the magazine to see what delights this month had to offer. Then I would hop on a bus to visit Bardwells electronic shop, which — at that time — was located on a backstreet hiding behind the old Abbeydale movie theater. Once I had the components for that month’s project, I would race home to build the little scamp. I fear I am in danger of succumbing to nostalgia. Suffice it to say that I think you will have a lot of fun perusing and pondering these magazines of yesteryear. Quite apart from anything else, it’s amazing to see the number of adverts in these print magazines. It’s also instructive to see what was considered to be “hot” (and “cool”) in those days of yore. If you do decide to take a trip down memory lane, it would be great if you could share your memories of whichever magazines you used to read and whichever projects you remember with fondness.

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Aubrey Kagan

one if the earliest projects I made was a 3 channel colour organ so that we had disco style lights at our parties at university. It came from Popular Electronics.

actually come to think of it, most of my project memories are from that great magazine. One of our projects as part of our practical in 3rd year was a timer for a photographic enlarger. The 555 information came from PE.

and my entry into microcomputers was based around series of articles using the RCA 1802. They have a lot to answer for!

At a later stage there was a project in one of the UK magazines (I can’t remember which) for a VDU. There were so many errors in it that it seemed to me that it was a new way of education. If you could figure your way around the errors and get it working, you really had learned something.

Aubrey Kagan

It’s a remarkable effort when I consider the effort I put into scanning my data books (https://www.eetimes.com/preserving-data-books-from-yesteryear/2/). Unfortunately they are non-machine readable PDFs, so I can’t use the search function. It would be around the ‘73, ‘74 time period. But I can tell you that it consisted of discrete transistors, resistors (including pots) and capacitors and SCRs. I am pretty sure there wasn’t isolation even though we were playing with 220VAC.

And the adverts certainly bring back memories.

Rick Curl

I have a friend here in Birmingham (the one in Alabama) who has amassed a huge collection of manuals for radio equipment, mostly military stuff. He had to manually scan many of these documents. He’s done an amazing job of organizing everything and making it searchable. ….and it’s FREE! Look here: https://radionerds.com

David Ashton

Strangely enough one of my first projects was also 3-channel Disco Lights. (must be a Zimbabwean Rhodesian thing). I also don’t remember where I got the design, I do remember that it had three 6V-mains transformers used the wrong way round, so that the speaker signal drove the 6V windings of the transformers and the 220V side triggered SCRs to light the lights (good old coloured PAR38 floodlight bulbs). This had the dual purpose of isolating the speakers from the mains, and also offering an inductance that could be used to make a tuned circuit that responded to the desired frequency band. I built two complete setups in the case to respond to the two stereo channels. it was great when you had sounds going from side to side of the stereo image. It needed a minimum signal input (no problem as I liked my music loud in those days…) and it had a level control so you could adjust it for different input (ie speaker) levels.

Although it worked fairly well in practice, the selectivity between the channels was really not very good – as I found later when I had an audio signal generator. and fed that into the amp. But it impressed a lot of non-engineering types.

I was just thinking how I would do it now – active filters, opto-isolators etc…

David Ashton

I had a look at an early Practical Electronics and spent more than a few minutes on the Sinclair adverts. Sinclair Radionics was formed by (now Sir) Clive Sinclair in the early 60s and produced many prescient devices as kits and finished devices. Their early calculators were ahead of their time, and they produced radios and hi-fi gear. They had a PWM (ie class D) amplifier (the X10) way before anyone else produced them. Later they produced computers – I had the early ZX81 and also the Spectrum, which had up to 48K of ram, talked Basic, and could be expanded with printers and cassette tape drives. I cut my teeth on these and learned so much.

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