January 1930 Radio-Craft
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics.
See articles from Radio-Craft,
published 1929 - 1953. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged.
Merriam-Webster defines Christmastide as "the festival season from Christmas Eve till after New Year's
Day or especially in England till Epiphany." In 1930 when this article appeared in Radio-Craft magazine, most likely everyone knew what Christmastide
was, but not so much today; hence, I provide the meaning. Wikipedia
goes into more detail. While reading and scanning vintage magazine articles throughout the year, I set aside ones specific to holidays like
Christmas, Thanksgiving, Halloween, etc., and post them during their respective seasons.
This story is about the
trouble caused by a well-meaning but unqualified family member attempting to fix a radio that wasn't broken by gifting dear old Dad a
Balkite trickle charger (which the radiomuseum.org
website happens to have in their collection of data) for his battery-powered radio set. It also mentions using a potato to test the DC polarity of a power supply or battery. Last but not least
is the "Hemco" 3-way
socket plug adapter, a type of which is still in use today (much to the dismay of some safety advocates).
A Christmastide Muddle
By George F. Carpenter
The street mains in the heart of the city of Washington, D. C., furnish direct current; the pole lines on the outskirts of the city furnish
alternating current, and thereby hangs a Christmas tale.
The old Georgia colonel's home on B Street, Northwest, was the scene of a lively Yuletide gathering; his husky and prosperous boys and girls
with their flocks came to bring their Christmas gifts. Among them, Bill brought Daddy a Balkite trickle charger.
The old Colonel's set was a six-tuber, the joy and pride of the household, built to order by an expert who very cleverly supplied the "A"
and "B" current from a power board consisting of Clarostats and Tobe condensers and a couple of chokes which smoothed out all the pulsating
Bill had an idea that the old Colonel's set was using the "A" battery for filament supply (instead of a part of the filter, as planned) and,
with a show of pardonable pride, he produced his trickle charger, filled the jar with the acid electrolyte and said:
"Now Dad, no more battery trouble for yours." The old man replied, "I haven't any battery trouble whatever; but if this device will make
it any better, why, go ahead."
Bill disconnected the plug which fed the power board, connected the trickle charger to the battery terminals and plugged in his charger on
the direct-current wall socket. Soon there was a smell of something burning followed by a puff of ill-smelling smoke that brought consternation
to all the group. Bill snatched the current lead from the wall socket and disconnected the trickle leads from the "A" battery terminals. He
put back the power plug - correctly, he thought - but he had failed to notice the slot cut in one side of the plug which denoted correct polarity.
The set would not function; wrong polarity. Poor Bill, how was he to know? He didn't have, a voltmeter, nor did he know how to get a polarity
reading with a potato.
I was hastily summoned by telephone: "Dad is afraid his set is ruined; I'll give you $20.00 if you'll only have the set working by midnight;
please come quick, etc." It was then 11 p.m. There had been a family row and a glance at the centre table told its own tale; there lay the ruined
trickle charger - some of the acid had spilled on the top of the beautifully - inlaid mahogany table, and mother was angry.
I went over the power-board panel so nicely secreted in the cabinet; a touch of the test clips on my voltmeter leads told me that polarity
had been reversed; I pulled out the power plug, gave it a turn so that the slot showed on top, threw on the power, turned the dials a bit and
the loud speaker boomed out. "This is station PWX, Cuban Telephone Co., Havana, Cuba." The old Colonel was jubilant and vowed never to allow
anyone to monkey with his set again. The old mother asked me if I could fix it so the colored lights would burn on her Christmas tree and in
the dining room; and I happened to have a "Hemco" 3-way socket plug in my tool bag which solved her problem. On the stroke of midnight I left
the old Colonel's mansion with $20.00 in my pocket, and listened to the church bells pealing forth their message of peace on earth and good
will to men.
Posted December 2, 2015