February 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
Based on beleaguered wife Sylvia Kohler's
mention of GE's Electronics Park in this story (surely a fable... or not), she and unintentional antagonist,
superheterodyne hubby (aka 'Happy Boy', but we know him as Popular Electronics cartoonist
Carl Kohler) probably lived in
the Syracuse, New York, area. Electronics Park (technically in Liverpool/Salina) existed during the
hey days of General Electric when the sprawling campus , just north of I-90, designed and manufactured
a plethora of both household (TVs and radios) and military electronics products. GE's
Laboratory ('E-Labs') was the company's pride and joy. Today, a tiny portion of Electronics Park
is still occupied by Lockheed Martin, who bought that GE division in the 1990s, and the rest belongs
the city. I worked there for about two years (see
Street View). But I digress... enjoy the story (I highlighted her reason for referring
to hubby as a Superheterodyne).
See Carl Kohler's "The Great Electron-Pedantic Project," "Dig That Reel
Flat Response," "I Married a Superheterodyne,"
"Unpopular Electronics," "Operation Chaos," "Thin Air, My Foot," "High Tide in the Tweeter," "The R/C Cloud," "Hi-Fi Guest List," "Kool-Keeping Kwiz ," "Boner Box," and "McWatts."
I Married a Superheterodyne!
By Sylvia Kohler
Crouched in a vulnerable position and deeply engrossed in attempting to separate the fat, healthy
weeds from the struggling, puny flowers ... I paid little attention to the distant buzzing overhead.
Without warning, the sound increased in pitch and volume and, before I could lift a glance, something
whacked me cruelly in the nether regions of my anatomy ... whizzed around my startled head ... and departed
skyward again in an angry hum of resumed speed. I thought perhaps it might have been an insect with
glandular trouble, but a frenzied squint at the fast-climbing model airplane put the incident back into
the realm of reality.
In our neighborhood ... if it's radio-controlled and romp-free,
it belongs to none other than Friend Husband! Sure enough; a moment later he raced around a corner of
the house ... wildly manipulating an R/C transmitter and staring feverishly at the gas-model which was
now doing inverted Immelmans with no instruction from the ground.
"It's the doggone receiver!" he wailed, eyes glued despairingly at the plane (now roller-coasting
out of range). "I was certain it would do the trick. Designed it, myself, and just look at ... "
There was a distant, but satisfying, sound of a minor crash ... as might have been made by a model
airplane going to smithereens against a good, solid pavement.
I smothered my glee and retreated into the house for a cup of coffee with which to celebrate temporary
victory ... temporary, that is, because I knew there were two more completed dive-bombers in miniature,
downstairs in the basement, drying their glue and awaiting transfer to "Happy Boy's" workbench for installation
of, gas-engine and R/C receiver mechanisms.
This rude jolt in his private little world of ohms, amps and frequencies was merely the latest in
a long series of misadventures.
For more years than I care to count, I have been the innocent bystander to the most electrifying
succession of activities ever to come off a soldering iron and make life around any normal dwelling
lively ... if not downright horrendous. A lesser woman would have gone stark, raving nuts long ago.
But not yours truly. If I catch me talking to myself, it's only the feedback from the complicated p.a.
system Happy Boy has wired up throughout every nook, cranny and broom closet.
Mother warned me about a lot of things, but Mother never mentioned the rollicking anxiety of life
with an electronics enthusiast ... possibly because crystal sets (then the rage) didn't appear as potential
harbingers of threat to a girl's peace of mind.
Too naive to realize it, I stepped into a rigged arrangement right from the day of the wedding. After
the ceremony he buttonholed the minister, an otherwise saintly old gentleman whose secret passion for
electronics bloomed in a workshop behind the church, and I went on record as the only bride who was
ever left waiting at the altar after the wedding.
Most brides get Niagara, some take a gloriously romantic trip
to a reasonably suitable city, and some have a brief interlude in the Bahamas. Know what? In the interests
of time-limitations, we squandered our two weeks hanging around G-E's Electronics Park so Happy Boy
could visit the site of great strides in things electronic, while I tagged along presumably dazzled
... whacked me cruelly in the nether regions of my anatomy ... and departed skyward in an angry hum
of resumed speed.
If it were necessary to pinpoint the exact day that modulated-folly was wired into our home, I'd
pick the evening we were involved with synchronizing a tape-recorded narrative to the reels of l6-mm.
homemade movies we'd produced of various local subjects. I noticed (call it feminine intuition since
it consisted more of a vague suspicion) that Happy Boy's mind seemed to be occupied with other wisps
of thought than getting the sounds on tape accurately coupled with the pictures on film.
"Okay," I said, cutting into his shifty-eyed silence, "what are you dreaming up now?"
He swung eyes loaded with boyish enthusiasm to my stern face.
"Wouldn't it be bully if we could, somehow, connect this recorder to the radio!"
"Why?" I asked, warily, but knowing that I was undoubtedly steaming full tilt into a trap. "Why,
"Just think of all the fun it would be making up gag announcements and phony newscasts ... then blending
them in with actual recorded broadcasts ... we'd have a rare old time wowing the gang with all the craziest
taped shenanigans ever! Boy, would they be fooled!"
"Boy," I said evenly.
At that moment we were standing before the portals of semi-scientific
experimentation ... the very threshold of imaginative, electronic fun times. But I figured Happy Boy
had just flipped. Everything considered, since, I'm not too sure but that I was right.
I must have inherited the emotional stamina of a double-decked Spartan, because I've weathered (and
appreciated) a goodly number of electronic innovations that run the full gamut from photocell-operated
sliding doors to an intercom switch opening to Junior's faintest cry and gurgle. And I have acclimated
my nerves to a garage door which begins weirdly opening by itself, apparently, when I'm still thirty
feet down the driveway.
Presently, I'm learning to control my hysteria when the oven to the kitchen range - by virtue of
some unfathomable electronic relay timer - starts blasting a Sousa March (audible four blocks away)
via anyone of a dozen loudspeakers the moment a roast has burned to a rich crispness. The ensuing melody-signal
is calculated to bring me trembling with girlish delight, on the double, from any given location in
the house. Convenient? Yes. Relaxing? No.
... I'm learning to control my hysteria when the oven timer starts blasting forth a Sousa March the
moment the roast is burnt.
Progress has its price and I've got the makings of a superb nervous breakdown to prove it.
Somewhere I once read (and reread with persistence until it made sense) that: "A superheterodyne
is a receiver in which all incoming radio-frequency signals are mixed with the output of an oscillator
to produce a heterodyne or beat frequency."
That's Happy Boy, all right. Give a little, take a little ... he's a receiver with an ability to
mix new ideas about electronic inventions and produce them - after alternating between just which one
to spring on me first - with a frequency whose beat has pitilessly hammered me to a complete standstill.
Unlike an electrical
mechanism, he is prone (kindness prompts understatement of the facts) to occasional error. Once, he
crossed his wires somewhere, willy-nilly, while installing a fire alarm system based upon temperature-sensitive
elements scattered through every room. For two days, until he found the faux pas (deep in the innards
of the master control panel which also regulates a number of other systems) , we enjoyed the improbable
phenomena of hearing the doorbell blast through the hi-fi system every time the button was depressed.
The blast was so devastatingly interesting that I've often wondered how it would have sounded if we
only had stereophonic. Somehow, I never hear that four-note chimed phrase now without having it bring
to mind startled callers and frenzied neighbors.
Yes, a lot of kilos and megs have cycled within our walls since this business began and I've decided
that, if we ever design a family crest, it'll be crossed transistors on a field of decibels.
Last week, Happy Boy staggered as stealthily as a herd of steel-shod elephants into the house, carting
a large box which he cleverly hid in a closet. Shortly thereafter, he began pitching proud hints that
when our wedding anniversary rolls around, next month, he won't be caught with his thoughtfulness down.
Wifelike, I took the first opportunity to case the gift-box and see if the contents were my size.
I'm a very, very lucky girl. After all, how many other wives are getting telemetering equipment for
their next anniversary?
I ask you ... how many?
... Happy Boy staggered in carting a large box which he hid in a closet.
Posted March 18, 2016