October 1956 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 articles from Popular Electronics.
Before the current generation began destroying its hearing with smartphone earbuds, their parents and grandparents (that includes me) destroyed our hearing* with ridiculously powerful loudspeakers, often in boom boxes perched on shoulders right next to the ears (not me). The 'concert hall' - or concert auditorium - experience has been long sought-after since recorded music has been available, which has only been about a century. As evidenced by the sudden increase in articles and advertisements in my growing collection of vintage electronics magazines, the early and mid 1950s saw a sudden swell of articles promoting the equally swelling supply of high fidelity (hifi) recording and playback equipment hitting the markets. Subjects ranging from homebuilt projects to reports of top end commercially products filled the pages each month. Television saw the same treatment in the late 1950s and early 1960s. All, of course, relied on vacuum tubes - with just enough relatively expensive semiconductors thrown in the low power, low frequency audio circuits to enable proclaiming 'transistorized.' So enthusiastic were magazine publishers about the new technology that much ink was dedicated also to articles on how to outfit your home with sound absorbing ceilings and walls, how to arrange furniture for lower sound reflection and multipath, how to concentrate the audio in particular areas in a room, how to run cables to every room in the house for ubiquitous enjoyment anywhere, etc. Short novels were even written based on fantasies of audiophiles. This is one of them.
* Amazingly and thankfully, my hearing is exceptionally good at age 56. I'm blind as a bat without glasses and a couple fingers have no feeling left in them, but at least one of my five senses is still performing at its peak. I never have owned any high end audio equipment and what I had/have never had a speaker rated at more than 20 watts, so that probably helped spare me. Some clowns in my barracks in the USAF used to blast their 1000 W systems on Saturday nights (until the squadron 1st Sergeant shut them down), but that was on the floor below my room. My own personal self-abuse has been running screaming model airplane engines sans mufflers and without ear protectors. Nowadays I use only quite, high power brushless motors with Li-Ion batteries - mainly to eliminate the oily mess and because glow fuel is very expensive. I do miss the screaming engines, though. I fact, I've told Melanie that if I ever go into a coma and traditional tactics fail to arouse me, try the following two stimuli: 1) Wave a spend Estes rocket engine cartridge under my nose. If that doesn't do it then 2) Run a screaming Cox .049 engine next to my ear. If neither works... pull the plug 'cause I'm a goner.
See Kohler's "I Married a Superheterodyne," "Unpopular Electronics," and "Operation Chaos," "Thin Air, My Foot," "High Tide in the Tweeter," "Hi-Fi Guest List," "The R/C Cloud," "Kool-Keeping Kwiz ," and "McWatts."
Perched atop the rocking channel "buoy like an ant riding a gyrating cork, I did my level best to affect an air of savoir faire as the Coast Guard Cutter came thunderously alongside. Moments later, with the tape recorder still safely harnessed to my back, I stood on deck and chatted as nonchalantly as possible with the Commander of the boat.
"What were you doing on that buoy in the first place?" Suspicious military eyes scanned the recorder. "Those buoys are government property, you know."
"Well, officer," I chuckled ... to show that the whole thing was nothing more than a slight faux pas and there was no harm meant. "I went out there to record some seals."
"To what some which?"
"Record the sounds made by those seals.
Guy that lives on the beach assured me I could get some marvelous recordings of those seals if I just quietly sat on the buoy and let them regain their confidence around me."
The look he gave me said plenty. It more than made up for the silent ride all the way back to the docks, where my anxious wife awaited her intrepid Boswell of the Salty Deep. And while I can erase the memory of that officer's caustic expression - in due time - from my shattered ego, I haven't been able to figure out, just yet, how I'm going to erase the adventure from Friend Wife's sadistic sense of ridicule. It's obvious she has no intention of allowing herself (or me) to let a folly, whether originally based upon sincere and painstakingly scientific research or not, quietly fade away.
But I still think the premise was soundly superb - and I've got the fascinating sounds of high tide in the tweeter to prove it ... not to mention the background cries of feeding, rollicking seals.
Here's how the caper came about.
We were peacefully rearranging our music library, composed of both discs and tapes, when I happened upon a long-forgotten set of hi-fi test records ... purchased at the time of installing the complicated, inter-room system which keeps our house well filled with flawlessly reproduced music.
I can thrill to Ravel's Bolero, dreamily soak up Debussy's Clair de Lune, or gracefully cavort to the haunting bars of Jellyroll Morton's Yew Cain't Haul Mah Ashes Anymo.', Baby, 'Cause We Clashes as enthusiastically - if not as impressively - as the next music lover. My tastes range from Night On Bald Mountain to Short'nin' Bread (with or without Nelson you-know-who's aid), and nary a measure is unappreciated to the last quarter-note or flatted fifth. But my real fetish, my true Achille's instep is ... natural sound. When it comes to bizarre, enchanting sounds of hill and dale, town or country, this world or some other - I'm nuttier than an almond grove at harvest time.
Consequently, I was playing these test recordings for, maybe, the sixth time- carefully drinking in the delicate overtones of Santa Fe Limited Passing Signal Green: Full Horn Communications - hen Friend Wife snapped off the phono.
"My God, man, that's enough!" she rasped.
... Perched atop the rocking channel buoy like an ant riding a gyrating cork, I did my level best to affect an air of savoir faire ...
"Don't care for it, eh?" I slid a short stack onto the record changer composed of Boeing Bomber With Flaps Down Approaching Field, Freeway Traffic At The Impatience Point (the contrapuntal effect of the Chevvy horns against the Ford klaxons is the most stimulating thing I've heard since static was captured for the human ear) and Myna Bird With Head Cold Humming Aimlessly. "Well," I observed, democratically, "it would be a dull old world if everyone liked the same things. Would you care to savor the sharp nuances of, say, Seattle Tugboat Leaving Dock, or the more silken treatment as found in Aftertones Produced In The Wake Of Guided Missile?"
... I happened upon a set of hi-fi test records and was playing them for, maybe, the sixth time - carefully drinking in the delicate overtones ...
She beat me to the changer, slamming a stack of archaic (if, admittedly, spirited) Mickey Katz Tribal Chants With No Theme And You Should Have The Variation on the turntable.
"Those test records are enough to drive a girl nuts," she complained, bitterly. "And I've listened to them played enough times to drive a gaggle of girls completely wacky. You play that weird stuff any more and you can reserve me a bench in the funnyhouse, chum."
"Don't care for them, eh?" "Loosely understating it ... No!"
Right then and there, inspiration gave me a swift kick in the nether mental-quarters. A fabulous idea! Only a dolt whose wife loathed test discs would have been so long in seeing the need for interesting, soothing-type test recordings. I hugged Friend Wife gratefully, and bent a merry-eyed grin upon her startled face.
"Thanks to your womanly dissatisfaction, you have just moved sonics and sonic enjoyment ahead by years, love! With me as the feverish instrument of experiment, toil and patient searching -"
"If you're scheming up some madness that requires tearing the whole house apart, again, you can -"
"- always faithfully searching for better ways to better living through electronic study, theory and philosophy -"
"- forget it, chum, because I'm not stumbling over a lot of half-baked nonsense strewn around my house just so you can enjoy hearing a high-register squeak."
I unbent my gracious smile of joy. "Listen, lady," I said coldly. "I have long known it's a marital felony to move anything around this joint but the furniture ... and that only under your restless supervision. But it so happens that this project will take place entirely in the God-given freedom of the great outdoors, beyond your picayune regulations."
"So, get huffy," she chittered, an expression of self-doubt clouding her shamed features. "What dazzling sort of flop do you have in mind this time?"
"I'm going to make recordings of vast import to the hi-fi field. My contribution to sonics - once I offer a select series of sounds captured in the actual sites and under the extemporaneous conditions of Mother Nature - will most likely put the name, Kohler, enshrined for the ages, in the halls of Sound History."
"Break that mish-mosh into English, will you?"
... With the tape recorder on my back, I garnered all manner of sound treasure, among which was the soft "clik-cllk" of multi-colored crabs ...
I flicked a glance of undented dignity at her.
"Simply speaking, I'm going down to the beach and collect the "voices of the sea creatures, the. symphonies and melodies of wind and sea and tide."
"Great!" She leaped to her feet. "I'll go start packing the sunburn lotion ... and wait'll you see how I look in that new sunsuit I bought!"
And while she - naive female of the frivolous mind - prepared to have a typical seaside outing, I retired to my workshack to fit the tape recorder to some sort of shoulder-harness and make ready for sonic adventure.
A day, several miles and much impatience later, found us in a secluded little cove that sparkled under the summer sun, rocks awash in the playful surf, tidal pools glimmering with myriad lights and marine life. Slinging the recorder on my back (Happy Girl having grudgingly consented to aid scientific progress by stitching up the harness I devised), I struck out for the tidal pools and exposed sea-caverns ... forcing myself into an icy calmness as unnatural to the occasion as fresh air is to Los Angeles County.
Behind me, my child-bride dabbled gleefully in the sand, her gaily flowered figure industriously engaged in the juvenile task of building sandcastles. As I stepped lively along the water-carved path of rock and ledge, she rose, waved a girlish arm, and cried, "Don't get shark-bit, chum! Your insurance doesn't cover it!"
I fought back the blinding, hot tears of emotion. Always concerned for my welfare, that girl. Silently, I vowed to make good for. her sake.
In the succession of pleasant hours that followed, I garnered all manner of sound treasure: the soft "clik-clik" of the multi-colored crabs, scuttling among the caverns and crannies of the ebb-tide areas; the raucous chatter of gull and sand-piper; and I gloated to myself as the recorder quietly bagged the divergent noises of the wild and mysterious shoreline. As I wandered across the tidal flats - peering into this cavern, listening at that pool - I could visualize the neatly packaged sounds already: Sea Urchin Bubbling, Seepage From Natural Basin Seeking Own Level, Octopus Threshing Nervously In Shallow Water, Barnacle Cries, Intermittent Murmurs From Clam Disturbed At Sleep, Ground Swells Smashing Low Reef ....
Exultantly, I pressed onward - happier than a recluse with the patent on closed circuits - frequently pausing only long enough to insert fresh tapes into the hungry recorder. And it was during one of these pauses that the young, tanned, skin-diver exploded from the water at my feet.
"What'cha doing with that gismo on your back, dad?" His youthful face was a browned question mark. "I've been watching you for more'n hour. What's the scam, man?"
I explained the scam ... in detail. "See that there buoy out there?" I followed the direction indicated by the muscular, well-toasted arm. Twenty feet distant bobbed a huge, metal buoy, its bell clanging faintly as the wavelets pushed the merciful marker to and fro.
"Yes?" I inquired.
"Lot' sa seals hang out there. The place is lousy with them. You go out there and lay low until they get used to you - you can get the darnedest sounds you ever heard. Honest, dad, they're the craziest! And you wanna collect sea noises and all. What's the collection without seals, I ask ya ?"
What, indeed, I decided. "Sure, but how can I get out there ... dressed for land, not water?"
"Simple, dad. Roll up your threads and stalk out there. In low tide like this, water's only about three feet deep."
Thanking this unwitting contributor to science, I rolled up my trousers thigh-high and, carefully navigating the rocky bottom, was clambering aboard the channel buoy minutes later. I waved cheerily to my departing adviser - who disappeared into the sea like a fallen gull - and lay quietly waiting for the seals to overcome their shyness.
When they began romping and swimming gracefully, effortlessly again around the buoy, I snapped the recorder into action and enjoyed the sweet flavor of triumph: those seals were the most musical stridently melodious loudmouths I've heard in a week of Mondays. And I, I rejoiced, am getting every bark, every guttural snortle! Overhead the bronze bell crooned metallically, setting the beat for the sequence. Mentally, I determined to label this achievement: Seals Frolicking In Hidden Cove.
And, about then, I decided that the sun was getting a bit low and, perhaps, I had best head back for the car. Just as I was readying myself to slide off the buoy (now bobbing forcefully), I noticed that all the rocks, previously high and drying in the brilliant sunlight, were gone. Gone? Gone!
"Obviously," I Whimpered, climbing back to the little flat place on the buoy and clutching the bell supports as if they were long-lost brothers, "time and tide wait for no man."
A nasty ground swell thundered by, tossing the unstable buoy in six directions simultaneously. And that, reader, is where you came in.
In closing, I'd like to inquire if anyone knows where I might place the following test recordings, recently taped by myself under ideal conditions: Lawnmower In Full Cry, Child's Laughter In Front Of TV Set, and Tap Water Hitting Sinkful of Unwashed Dishes.
Posted June 2, 2015