April 1955 Popular Electronics
Table of Contents
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles
published October 1954 - April 1985. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged.
Here is another exciting
episode of the sleuthing adventures starring Popular Electronics' tech
savvy teenagers, Carl and Jerry. The
of electronics" (my designation) 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 the boys' appearances to reflect more modern attire and eyewear (Carl's
original glasses, reminiscent of "The Far Side," had to go). This particular adventure begins with Carl considering whether
his ham radio hobby is more useful from the standpoint of its technical aspects
or of its social aspects. An unrelated electronics-themed comic is included since
it appeared on one of the story pages.
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 muscle.
"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
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 the world-"
"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 television transmitters.
"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
"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
"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. "Let's go!"
Carl Anderson and Jerry Bishop were two teenage boys whose
love of electronics, Ham radio, and all things technical afforded them ample opportunities
to satisfy their own curiosities, assist law enforcement and neighbors with solving
problems, and impressing – and sometimes toying with - friends based on their proclivity
for serious undertakings as well as fun.
- The Black Beast - May 1960
Vox Electronik, September 1958
- Pi in
the Sky and Big Twist, February 1964
Bell Bull Session, December 1961
Boogie, August 1958
- TV Picture,
Electronic Eraser, August 1962
Trap, March 1956
at Work, June 1956
Aweigh, July 1956
Bosco Has His Day, August 1956
Hand of Selene, November 1960
or Not?, October 1956
Electronic Beach Buggy, September 1956
Extra Sensory Perception, December 1956
in a Chimney, January 1956
Performance, November 1958
of Judas, July 1961
- The Sucker,
New Year, January 1963
Snow Machine, December 1960
Extracurricular Education, July 1963
Slow Motion for Quick Action, April 1963
Sleuthing, August 1963
- TV Antennas,
a Soroban, March 1963
Fair --", September 1963
Worm Warming, May 1961
Joking and Jeopardy - December 1963
Santa's Little Helpers - December 1955
Two Tough Customers - June 1960
Pocket Radio, TV Receivers
Yagi Antennas, May 1955
Stomping, March 1962
Blubber Banisher, July 1959
- The Sparkling
Light, May 1962
Research Rewarded, June 1962
- A Hot Idea, March
- The Hot
Dog Case, December 1954
A New Company is Launched, October 1956
Under the Mistletoe, December 1958
Electronic Eraser, August 1962
- "BBI", May 1959
Sound Waves, July 1955
- The River
Sniffer, July 1962
- Ham Radio,
Torero Electronico, April 1960
Wireless, January 1962
Electronic Shadow, September 1957
Elementary Induction, June 1963
- He Went
Electronic Detective, February 1958
Aiding an Instinct, December 1962
- Two Detectors,
with a Tachometer, July 1960
and the Pirates, April 1961
The Crazy Clock Caper, October 1960
Carl & Jerry: Their Complete Adventures is
now available. "From 1954 through 1964, Popular Electronics published 119 adventures
of Carl Anderson and Jerry Bishop, two teen boys with a passion for electronics
and a knack for getting into and out of trouble with haywire lash-ups 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."
Posted April 16, 2021
(updated from original post on 10/15/2013)