April 1955 Popular Electronics
[Table of Contents]
People old and young enjoy waxing nostalgic about and learning some of the
history of early electronics. Popular Electronics was published from October
1954 through April 1985. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged. See all
Here is another exciting episode of the sleuthing adventures
starring Popular Electronics' tech savvy teenagers, Carl and
Jerry. The Hardy Boys of electronics are the creation of author
John T. Frye, who created short story adventures for many years
- long enough to at one point require a major modification in
their appearances to reflect more modern attire and eyewear.
This particular adventure begins with Carl considering whether
his ham radio hobby is more useful from its technical aspects
or its social aspects.
Carl and Jerry: Ham Radio
By John T. Frye
Carl discusses the merits of his ham radio hobby and whether
it is more attractive because of the technical or social aspects.
Spring fever had infected our heroes! Carl and Jerry were
busy getting the lawn furniture out of Jerry's basement and
cleaning it. This chore finished, both promptly collapsed into
a pair of still damp chairs in the middle of the back yard.
The "churlik churlik" of busy robins filled the air and overhead
a bright April sun beat down warmly upon them and induced a
delicious, languorous drowsiness.
Jerry sat hunched in his chair with his chubby legs curled
beneath him, his hands clasped across his stomach, and with
his head slumped forward on his chest so that he resembled a
sleeping Buddha. Carl's long legs were stretched out in front
of him, and he had slid down in the lawn chair so that only
the back of his head, the seat of his pants, and his heels dug
into the freshly-green sod were supporting his lanky frame.
The sun shone through the lenses of his horn-rimmed glasses
upon his tightly closed eyelids and created a beautiful, formless,
dark-red void for his languid inspection.
"Hey, Jer," Carl drawled feebly.
"Uh huh," Jerry answered drowsily without stirring an unnecessary
"I'm giving an oral theme Monday on 'What I Like About My
Hobby' Want to help me dream up something on ham radio?"
"I reckon you can sound off on all the reasons you can think
of, and I'll add any I think you miss."
"Okey-dokey. First off, I like amateur radio because it's
a hobby in which you do things. It always sounds funny to hear
some of the fellows griping about there being nothing to do.
You and I can't find time to do half of the things we want to.
There are always transmitters and receivers and test equipment
to build and tryout. New antennas to be constructed and put
up and tested. New circuits must be tried, and of course there's
your amateur station to operate. This last is especially important
because half the fun of any hobby is talking it over with other
people who are as crazy about it as you are. No matter how lonely
your neighborhood is, there are always hundreds of other amateurs
ready and eager to talk ham stuff with you whenever you place
your transmitter on the air.
"Next, it's an exciting hobby. Every time there's a hurricane,
tornado, flood, or other disaster anywhere within several hundred
miles, I can have a front seat just by listening on my station
receiver. What's more, I can often be of real help in relaying
messages in and out of the stricken area for other ham stations
who are right in the thick of things. But even when there is
no emergency, operating a ham station is an exciting and suspense-filled
experience. For example, when I pound out a CQ on twenty meters,
I never know if I'm going to get an answer from half-way around
"Or perhaps from your old buddy right next door," Jerry broke
in with a chuckle.
"True! But that's part of the fun. It's like fishing. You
never know just what you're going to pull out. I like the challenge
to skill and muscular coordination needed to handle messages
at high code speeds. Your nerves must be just as steady to send
good clean code as they are to make a high score in rifle shooting
or in tossing free buckets in basketball. Copying a guy who's
throwing it at you at thirty words a minute means your mind
and muscles have to work together as fast as lightning."
"You're making it sound pretty strenuous," Jerry yawned.
"Don't you have any reasons without muscles in them?"
"Sure, my flabby friend. One thing is that it has prestige.
Not just any stupe can be a ham simply by deciding he wants
to be. That little old ham ticket on the wall says a lot of
nice things about the guy who owns it. It testifies he's had
the gumption to study the code, theory, and laws until he is
capable of operating a complicated radio station. Who says so?
Uncle Sam himself, because that license is granted by the FCC
after giving a stiff examination that's no push-over, even for
people who've spent their whole lives in electronics work. Many
state governments, too, show what they think of hams by granting
them special auto license plates with their call letters. The
armed forces encourage this hobby in every way they can, even
by having military stations work directly with the amateurs.
They know that their best operators and technicians will come
from this group. Red Cross and Civil Defense authorities are
always ready to work closely with hams. Every time there's a
major disaster, you can be sure the newspapers will carry stories
on the wonderful work hams perform in restoring broken communications.
A ham is somebody!
"Another thing I like about hamming is that it allows me
to acquire a lot of pretty complicated technical knowledge with
hardly any pain or strain. When you're actually working with
electronic equipment, reading interesting magazine articles
about it, and talking about it with other guys on the air, it's
amazing how much knowledge rubs off on you without your knowing
it - knowledge that sticks with you, too. It's one thing to
read that a parallel-tuned circuit presents maximum impedance
at resonance and something entirely different to see the beautiful
way in which a final amplifier plate current dips as the tank
circuit is tuned through resonance."
"Now let's not get sickening about this," Jerry objected.
"You're beginning to sound pretty lyrical."
"A dull clod with a slide rule for a soul!" Carl muttered.
"Well, the final thing about ham radio that I like is the social
side of it. By means of my amateur station I've become acquainted
with all sorts of people I'd never have met otherwise. I know
doctors, editors, lawyers, band leaders, radio and TV comedians,
service technicians, policemen, radio station engineers, plumbers,
dentists, school superintendents, and people in just about any
other walk of life you'd care to mention. They call me 'Carl,'
and I call them by their first names. On the ham bands It's
not your age or your money or your fame that counts. All that
really matters is the quality of the signal you put out with
your transmitter and how good is your operating procedure.
"And," Carl concluded, "it's always mighty comforting to
know I can go into any strange city and find ham friends who
will welcome me into their 'shacks,' whether it be a converted
clothes closet or a spacious, beautifully decorated room in
a mansion. A ham has friends wherever he travels."
"That's a pretty good list of reasons you have, Carlos, amigo
mio," Jerry remarked as he straightened up and stretched luxuriously.
"I don't have too much to add, but I might say that while you
like ham radio because it gives you something to do, I like
it because it gives me something to think about. Trying to understand
what goes on inside the transmitter and receiver circuits makes
me call on every bit of math and chemistry and physics I've
ever studied and causes me to realize that I need to know even
more. I'm going to learn more, too; and that's another thing
in favor of the hobby. It's sort of a sweet, juicy carrot that
tempts the ham along the path leading to a career in electrical
or electronic engineering. At the very top of every part of
these fields you'll find men who first became interested in
their work through the hobby of amateur radio.
"Second, I know my hobby will never be outgrown. It has an
equal fascination for all ages. Teenagers, the middle-aged,
and retired people are all represented on the ham bands. Both
of us know hams who have been following the hobby for thirty
or forty years and are just as enthusiastic about it now as
they were when they started. One reason for this, I think, is
the fact that the hobby is a live and growing thing. New techniques
and equipment are constantly being discovered and put to use.
I like to hear the old-timers talk about how they've stuck with
their hobby from the time they built their first rotary-gap
spark transmitter through self-excited vacuum-tube transmitters,
crystal-controlled rigs, the first crude telephone equipment,
narrow-band frequency modulated jobs, mobile installations,
and now single-sideband suppressed-carrier transmitters. Several
hams are actually building and using their own facsimile and
"And I must admit that being a ham does nice things to my
ego. Here I am working with tiny electrons that can't be seen,
felt, heard, tasted, or smelled; yet these powerful little 'assumptions'
hop to my command and will carry my voice half-way around the
world. When I try to explain what goes on in my equipment to
a non-ham, he looks at me as though I were speaking an unknown
foreign tongue. All this makes me feel smart and powerful.
"Another good thing about the hobby is that it's one a whole
family can enjoy right at home. More and more husband and wife
amateur teams are heard on the ham bands these days; and it's
not at all unusual to find families in which the parents and
all the children hold amateur tickets. When so many present
day forces tend to pull families apart, it is nice to discover
a hobby that can draw them closer together."
"Now wait just a little minute!" Carl exploded. "If you think
I'm going to stand up in front of that English class and say
I'm looking forward to having a silly wife and a bunch of little
brats help me work my ham rig, you've got rocks in your head.
I'd never live it down. I can just hear those dizzy dames in
the class snickering right now."
"All right, all right!" Jerry soothed. "Leave it out, even
though it is a good point. Instead, you can sign off with this
thought: as we two have just demonstrated one of the best things
about this hobby is that it has so many different appeals. If
you like to build things with your hands and watch them work,
ham radio is your dish. The fellow who likes to study abstract
theory will find an equal fascination here. Using code will
appeal to the person who likes to master an exacting skill.
If you are the social type and get your kicks out of just yakking
with other people, amateur radio is the perfect hobby. The experimenter
who loves to try new circuits and techniques will never run
out of material in his ham shack. And the person-"
"Hold it!" Carl broke in. "I think I've got the perfect idea
to close the talk. You know how hipped Miss Richason, our English
teacher, is on the use of quotations. Well, I happened to be
glancing through a book on Roman history in the library the
other day - this was my Latin teacher's idea; not mine - and
I read a couple of paragraphs in which the writer was explaining
why that doll, Cleopatra, was able to snow all the guys back
in her day. As he saw it, she could do this because her personality
had so many different forms. As he put it rather neatly, taking
a line from the Bible, she was 'All things to all men.' How's
about my saying that this is a perfect description of ham radio?
All of us are in love with our hobby and never grow tired of
it because it is 'All things to all men.'"
"Perfect!" Jerry applauded. "If that doesn't wangle an 'A'
for you, I'll eat my log book. And now we've talked about ham
radio so much that I'm beginning to feel a nasty surge of ambition.
What say we go down into the basement and put in a few licks
on that two-meter rig of mine?"
"I'm with you," Carl exclaimed as he jumped to his feet.
Jerry: Their Complete Adventures is now available. "From 1954 through 1964, Popular Electronics published
119 adventures of Carl and Jerry, two teen boys with a passion for electronics and a knack for getting into and out of trouble
with haywire lashups built in Jerry's basement. Better still, the boys explained how it all worked, and in doing so, launched
countless young people into careers in science and technology. Now, for the first time ever, the full run of Carl and Jerry
yarns by John T. Frye are available again, in five authorized anthologies that include the full text and all illustrations."
Carl & Jerry Episodes on RF Cafe
- Abetting or Not? - October 1956
- Electronic Beach Buggy - September
- Extra Sensory Perception
- December 1956
- Trapped in a Chimney
- January 1956
- Command Performance -
- Extracurricular Education,
- Treachery of Judas, July 1961
- The Sucker, May 1963
Stereotaped New Year, January 1963
- The Snow Machine, December 1960
Extracurricular Education, July 1963
- Slow Motion for Quick Action, April
- Sonar Sleuthing, August 1963
TV Antennas, August 1955
Succoring a Soroban, March 1963
"All's Fair --", September 1963
Operation Worm Warming, May 1961
The Crazy Clock Caper, October 1960
Two Detectors, February 1955
Tussle with a Tachometer, July 1960
- Therry and the Pirates, April 1961
The Sparkling Light, May 1962
Pure Research Rewarded, June 1962
Hot Idea, March 1960
- The Hot Dog Case,
- A New Company is Launched,
- Under the Mistletoe, December
- Electronic Eraser, August 1962
- Blubber Banisher, July 1959
"BBI", May 1959
Ultrasonic Sound Waves, July 1955
The River Sniffer, July 1962
Ham Radio, April 1955
El Torero Electronico, April 1960
Wired Wireless, January 1962
Electronic Shadow, September 1957
Elementary Induction, June 1963
He Went That-a-Way, March1959
Electronic Detective, February 1958
Aiding an Instinct, December 1962
Posted October 15, 2013