by Jerry Proc VE3FAB

Recently, there was an interesting discussion on the Internet mailing group known as BOATANCHORS. Its 800+ members are devoted to the preservation of vacuum tube equipment affectionately called Boatanchors. Someone started a thread called 'Confessions' in which they admitted to dismembering or trashing radios which have now become scarce or valuable. Other personal confessions surfaced. Some of the stories were humorous and others were sad. Jim Condon AD4YM, exposed the ultimate radio hacker during a recent trip to Italy.

"The man who cannibalized the very first boatanchor was -- Guglielmo Marconi! In October of 1995, I visited Villa Grifoni, the house near Bologna from which Marconi made his first radio transmission in 1895 - a distance of over one mile. Marconi's house is being converted to a radio museum. My guide, an EE professor from the University of Bologna, explained that none of the oldest radios displayed were original, but had to be rebuilt from Marconi's drawings because 'Marconi was too good of an engineer to leave them alone. As soon as he built and used a radio, he tore it apart to make a better one'.

This museum itself is funded by a private foundation and very few locals know about it. Apparently, Italians don't think that anything that is 'only' 100 years old can have much historical significance.

For those of you who have trashed boatanchors, say one hundred 'Hail Marconis' and sin no more.

by Jerry Proc VE3FAB

The strange looking title over this article actually has some meaning. It is intended to best express the frustration one can expect if trying to perform 'brain surgery' on a vintage Marconi CSR5A general coverage radio receiver. Fortunately, I have never had to do this myself, but I do know of someone who was not so fortunate. Let me explain.

In the CSR5A receiver, the band-switching assembly is mounted into a sub-chassis which is called the 'turret'. This sub-chassis is mechanically and electrically attached to the main chassis. In the event that the turret must be extracted for repairs, just follow these simple instructions. First, you remove the receiver from its case and detach the three bottom cover plates - do not be concerned over the 30 screws that secure these plates. Next, desolder 29 wiring connections as outlined in the manual. Following that, there are another 20 screws to remove in order to physically detach the turret. After the turret is repaired, the procedure must of course, be reversed. Do not go insane in the process, or you won't be able to get the pieces back together. Do not attempt this at home. It should only to be left to the pros or the innocent who do not know any better.

This glimpse of 1944 radio maintenance technique has been presented for those of you who might have complaints about 1990's manufacturing methodology.

by Jerry Proc VE3FAB

Some of us have been on the sellers side of the table at a fleamarket as well as the buyers side. For the buyer, following one simple rule goes a long way in purchase satisfaction and has the potential to identify unscrupulous sellers. A typical dialogue might sound like this :

"Mind if I open it up and take a look?" "Could we take this to a place where we can plug it in and try it out? "The real clincher is "Can I have your name and phone number so if I have a problem I can call you and resolve it?" Anybody who won't co- operate with those requests may be consciously disguising the true condition of the goods. At that point, it would be best to say "Not interested!" and walk away.

Few people at fleamarkets are comfortable in attempting the big 'lie'. Many vendors, however, might overstate the condition of the equipment in order to promote a quick sale. Unless the vendor is perfectly honest, statements of condition should be downgraded. In other words, CAVEAT EMPTOR. Listed below, are many popular phrases that can be heard at flea markets and what some of the phrases could potentially mean:

"Worked last time I turned it on" or "I don't know if it works".
Translation: It doesn't work now.

"It has a problem with ..."
Translation: The seller only mentions this because it's obvious to the most casual observer. There are other problems of course, but you can't see them.

"It has a MINOR problem with ..."
Translation: The seller couldn't fix it, either because the cost was prohibitive, he didn't have the expertise or parts are unavailable.

"Works great!"
Translation: Caveat Emptor.

"It might need a bit of tweaking."
Translation: Marconi himself couldn't fix it, much less align it.

"It was used in government service."
Translation: After the government technician tried to solder the loose connections with an acetylene torch, it was stored outdoors on a wooden pallet during the winter season.

"The dial drive may need lubricating."
Translation: The gears are stripped and all the setscrews are hopelessly frozen.

"I plugged it in to check that it lights up."
Translation: The light came from the two foot high flames.

"The audio sounds great."
Translation: The 60Hz hum is faithfully reproduced.

"I'm selling it because I have two of them."
Translation: I'm getting rid of my parts radio.

"You won't find one at a better price."
Translation: "Better", in this case, meaning from the point of view of the seller.

"There are a couple of other people interested in it."
Translation: Someone sat on it briefly to tie his shoelaces while walking past the table.

Many thanks to Jim Garland W8ZR, Bill Sorsby N5BU and Kim Herron of the 'Boatanchor' Internet group for sharing their experiences.


An actual radio conversation released by the Chief of Naval Operations USN, 10-10-95.

Station #1: Please divert your course 15 degrees to the North to avoid a collision.

Station #2: Recommend you divert YOUR course 15 degrees to South to avoid a collision.

Station #1: This is the Captain of a US Navy ship. I say again, divert YOUR course.

Station #2: NO. I say again, you divert YOUR course.


Station #2: This is the Pudget Sound lighthouse. It's YOUR call.

by Jerry Proc VE3FAB

Would you ever buy a radio made by a cosmetics company? You say what? Why would a cosmetics company be in the radio business? Yes, its actually true. A batch of the famous R390 military receivers carry the famous Helena Rubenstein name and of course, there is a small background story.

In the late 1950's, the Helena Rubenstein (HR) company decided to diversify into electronics. Since there was a lot of money to be made in military contracts, they tendered a bid on a US Navy contract for a quantity of eighty R-390A receivers. At that time, HR did not have on a single electronics engineer on staff, so they bid a ridiculously low price. Guess what? - the low bidder won the contract! Immediately, HR hired an engineer to set up an assembly line. He eventually told management how much it would cost and they nearly fainted. To cut their losses, HR purchased eighty off-the- shelf R-390A's from Collins Radio for some exorbitant price, put their own labels on them, delivered them to the Navy and promptly forgot about going into electronics.

A tip of the hat to Harry, N1PG for contributing this item.


How to simulate shipboard life at home. Some suggestions for the land-locked sailor who misses the "good old days".

1) Replace the door on your closet with a curtain and proceed to sleep on the shelf. Six hours after you go to sleep, have your wife whip open the curtain, shine a flashlight in your eyes and mumble "Sorry, wrong rack".

2) Renovate your bathroom. Build a wall across the middle of your bathtub and move the shower head down to chest level. When you take showers, make sure you shut off the water while soaping.

3) Every time there's a thunderstorm, go sit in a wobbly rocking chair and rock as hard as you can until you are nauseous.

4) Put lube oil in your humidifier instead of water and set it to "High".

5) Don't watch TV except for movies in the middle of the night. Also, have your family vote on which movie to watch, then show a different one.

6) Have the plumber give you a haircut.

7) Once a week, blow compressed air up your chimney making sure the wind carries the soot across and onto your neighbours house. Laugh at him when he curses you.

8) Buy a trash compactor and only use it once a week. In the interim, store garbage in the other side of your bathtub.

9) Wake up every night at midnight and have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on stale bread. Optionally, try canned ravioli or cold soup.

10) Make up your family menu a week ahead of time without looking in your food cabinets or refrigerator.

11) Set your alarm clock to go off at random times during the night. When it goes off, jump out of bed and get dressed as fast as you can, then run out into your yard and break out the garden hose.

12) Once a month, take every major appliance completely apart and then put them back together.

13) Use 18 scoops of budget coffee per pot and allow it to sit for five or six hours before drinking.

14) Invite at least 85 people you don't really like to come and visit for a couple of months.

15) Install a fluorescent lamp under your coffee table and lie under it to read books.

16) Raise the thresholds and lower the top sills on your front and back doors so that you either trip over the threshold or hit your head on the sill every time you pass through one of them.

17) Lockwire the lugnuts on the wheels of your car.

18) When baking cakes, prop up one side of the pan. Then, spread icing really thick on the other side to level off the top.

19) Every so often throw your cat or dog into the swimming pool and shout "Man overboard, ship recovery!" Run into the kitchen and knock all of the pots/pans/dishes off the counter onto the floor, then yell at the rest of your family for not having the place "stowed for sea".

20) Put on the headphones from your stereo but don't plug them in. Go and stand in front of your stove. Say to nobody in particular "Stove manned and ready". Stand there for three or four hours. Say once again to nobody in particular, "Stove secured". Roll up the cord and put the headphones away.

21) Set your alarm for 0330. Get up, hang two full Coke bottles around you neck and stand under a sprinkler in the backyard for 4 hours.

Source: "Life at Sea" , courtesy of Jim Julian, from Allen Cronenberg
Center for the Arts and Humanities
Pebble Hill
Auburn University
Auburn, Alabama 36849-5637

This was originally written by Malcom Brown ZL1AZ.
Edited by: Jerry Proc VE3FAB



Approach the ailing equipment in a confident manner. This will give the equipment the mistaken idea that you know what you are doing. It will also impress anyone who is watching and if the equipment should suddenly start to work properly, you will be credited with its repair.


Wave the service manual at the equipment. This will make it assume you are at least familiar with the source of knowledge.
In a forcible manner, recite Ohm's law to the equipment. (Caution: Refer to a reliable text to be sure of your knowledge of Ohm's law). This will prove to the equipment, beyond a shadow of a doubt that you possess some technical knowledge. This is a drastic step and should only be attempted if the first two steps fail.


Disturb the equipment slightly. This may require anything from a one foot to a five foot drop onto a concrete floor. Be sure you do not mar the floor.


Brandish a large screwdriver in a menacing manner. This will frighten the equipment and demonstrate your knowledge of the deadly 'short circuit' technique.


Add a transistor circuit even though the equipment uses tubes. This will prove to the equipment that you are familiar with design techniques and confuse the equipment thereby increasing your advantage. If this doesn't work, proceed to the final and most drastic step.





MONDAY : Our ships at sea.

TUESDAY : Our men.

WEDNESDAY : Ourselves (as no one is likely to concern themselves with our welfare).

THURSDAY : A bloody war and a quick promotion.

FRIDAY : A willing foe and sea room.

SATURDAY : Sweethearts and wives, may they never meet.

SUNDAY : Absent friends and those at sea.

But the standing toast
that pleased the most
"The wind that blows
The ship that goes
And the lass that loved
a sailor!"

by Jerry Proc VE3FAB

The last North American tube manufacturer was a company in Kentucky who closed down their production line in the early 1990's. Many people thought that this situation would be permanent leaving Russia and China as the only source for the few remaining tube types. Now, we have the surprise of surprises. With the price of audio-type tubes being driven into the stratosphere by the tube audio crowd (a large portion of which lives in Japan), a former American tube manufacturer is back in production. Guess who? - Western Electric, the manufacturing arm of the US telephone industry.

Western Electric has been able to restore the original tooling and to find key employees (former and current) to restore audio power tube production at their Kansas City works. The first tube type being cranked out is the WE 300B, a power triode. This tube was selling for $125 wholesale when Western Electric made their last production run in 1988. The suggested unit list price in the current production run is $350. Other types planned for future production include the WE 274B duo-diode rectifier and the WE 212E.

Who can afford tubes at these prices? It seems the audio crowd who favour tube amplified sound will have no problem opening up their wallets. Here are some examples of vacuum tube amplifier pricing from the May 1995 issue of "Vacuum Tube Valley", a magazine which provides a lot of interesting reading and many pictures of high-end audio equipment. The equipment prices are something else. New production audio amps introduced at the Winter 1996 CES Show in Las Vegas Nevada include the Marantz T-1 50 watt Power Amp at $25,000; three new WAVAC stereo single-ended power amps at $12,000, $22,500, and $45,000 each; and the Sunlight Engineering Sunharts MK II speaker at $36,000/pair.

And to think that hams complain about transceiver prices!

Thanks to Michael Burke of Westminster, MA for the source information.

Written by: Frank Reid W9MKV
Edited by: Jerry Proc VE3FAB

Front line communication in World War I relied heavily upon field telephones and landline DC telegraph, both of which used single wire lines with earth return. In contrast, modern field phones are usually used with paired wires but are capable of single wire/ground operation. Deploying communication lines was a dangerous job, and artillery fire quickly damaged the wires. Col. Fuller of the British Army developed an ingenious device which could combine voice and telegraphy simultaneously on a single line, without mutual interference. The major advantage of Fullerphone telegraphy was that it could operate through wires having so much resistance or leakage that they were unusable for voice. It is said that it could even operate through a broken wire if both broken ends touched ground.

For the voice circuit, the Fullerphone employed a conventional local battery telephone and was capacitively coupled to the line. It lacked a sidetone suppressing hybrid network and other refinements found in World War 2 military field phones. The telegraph transmitter was simply a 3 volt battery in series with a telegraph key. Both the telegraph transmitter and receiver were coupled through an L-C low pass filter which suppressed key clicks and prevented audio frequency and ringing signals from being shunted. The telegraph receiver was a sensitive earphone in series with the armature and normally open contacts of a quiet electric buzzer.

Vibrating contacts interrupted DC signals, modulating them into audio. It was extremely sensitive, yet it used no active components. Automatic transmit/receive switching was accomplished by SPDT contacts on the key. Several models of the Fullerphone were produced. The later 'marks' did not contain telephone components, and could be used with or without conventional field phones. Some models included an offset voltage source for nulling galvanic effects; ie - a 1.5 volt battery with a polarity reversing switch was connected to a potentiometer in series with the earphone.

Another way of multiplexing telephone and telegraph (or two telephone channels) on a pair of wires is the 'simplex' or 'phantom circuit' in which the auxiliary channel uses earth return and places common mode signals on the pair of wires through center tapped transformers. There are also balanced configurations using multiple pairs. (Batman has a bat phone but the Phantom has a phantom circuit). Note that the expressions 'earth dipole' and 'earth current' are often used synonymously. Some authors make the distinction that earth currents are natural or man made, while earth dipole defines the equipment which is used to transmit and receive them.

Although not intended for 'wireless' communications, the Fullerphone had a limited earth-dipole receiving capability. It could detect earth currents of nearby single wire DC telegraph circuits. Yet, the Fullerphone's own current was too weak for interception by that method. The British also used Fullerphones in World War II, and Japanese forces apparently used earth-dipole equipment for communication between their underground fortifications on Pacific islands.

The opponents in World War 1 were sometimes able to intercept each others telephone traffic by using battery powered amplifiers and pairs of widely spaced earth probes to detect audio frequency earth currents. Operators of this equipment, quite by accident, discovered the ionospheric VLF "whistler" phenomenon. Whistlers were initially thought to be of man made origin because they sounded like falling bombs and shells.

Other British literature describes a device called a 'Power Buzzer' which was used for wireless through-the-earth telegraphy in World War 1. The transmitter was a large electric buzzer having a secondary step up winding whose ends were connected to a pair of earth probes (bayonets) separated perhaps, 100 yards. The receiver was an audio amplifier connected to the same 'antenna'. These buzzers had sets of removable armatures which produced different frequencies so that receiving operators could use their ears to select the desired signal.

The ill fated inventor Nathan B. Stubblefield used telephone components in his experiments with inductive and earth-dipole communications. Like near-field induction, earth-dipole comm- unication range is inherently limited by inverse cube attenuation. Hams used audio power amplifiers and earth probes for ground wave communications during World War 2 when normal transmitting privileges were suspended. Ranges greater than one mile were claimed.

Today, power line hum is a major limitation of earth-dipole communications. Power line noise has significant harmonic content and cannot be removed by simple notch filters. During World War 1, the battlefield was a dangerous environment for electronics but it was probably very quiet from an electrical and noise viewpoint. There is something to be said about the simple technology of yesteryear.

Bibliography ------------

1. Royal Signal Museum, Maj. R. Picard, curator. Blandford Camp, Blandford, Dorset DT11 8RH, Great Britain.

2. Meulstee, Louis. "Earth Current Telegraphy". Morsum Magnificat issue #9, Autumn, 1988.

3. The Fullerphone. Its action and use. Issued by the General Staff, War Office, 1917. Darling and Son, Ltd., London.

4. Director of Signals Wireless Circular No. 16. Instructions for the use of the Power Buzzer. G.H.Q., 1917.

Return to Radio Reading Room