June 1958 Radio-Electronics
[Table of Contents]
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics.
See articles from Radio-Electronics,
published 1930-1988. All copyrights hereby acknowledged.
The International Microwave
Symposium (IMS) is arguably the largest single annual event for radio and microwave
engineers. According to
IMS2014 event officials the show in Tampa, Florida, boasted of
a 7,500-visitor attendance. European Microwave Week (EuMW) runs a close second place at around 7,000. In 1958, 55,000
engineers attended the Institute of Radio Engineers (IRE - eventually became the IEEE)
in New York City. IMS and EuMW would love to have numbers like anywhere near that.
Maybe the large number of attendees was because dissemination of information was
not nearly as instant (or eventual for that matter), and the absence of the Internet
or even e-mail or online bulletin boards made face-to-face and face-to-product encounters
a vital means of keeping abreast of the latest technology and regulations. Hot topics
like Electronics in Space (on the verge of reality then), and what caught my attention
was this: "Luminescent panels for flat-tube television were discussed by Sylvania
engineers," which coincided with discussions of plasmas. Was that early large screen
TV technology or just reduced curvature CRT planning? Don't know. Raytheon exhibited
a nifty liquid-filled elapsed time indicator that turns from blue to clear after
a predetermined amount of electric charge (20 mAh) had been applied.
News from the IRE 1958 Meet
By Eric Leslie
55,000 electronic engineers gather to discuss another year of progress
This mobile antenna stands almost three stories high - its radiation
center is 24 feet above the ground.
The year's most striking example of how fast yesterday's wonders become commonplace
was probably the 1958 convention of the Institute of Radio Engineers, held in New
York City the third week of March. The engineers not many years ago had thrilled
to the news that a radar mes-sage had been returned from the moon - now they talked
calmly about shooting a manned rocket around it. Medical electronics was married
to computer technology, and the old concept of gas tubes was expanded out of recognition.
(Engineers talked of a plasma of electrons and ions at a temperature of 100 million
degrees, carrying currents several times as great as could an equivalent bulk of
copper, and held in an envelope consisting of a magnetic field that would constrict
the plasma on itself.)
A complete session was in fact devoted to thermonuclear power. Another, a panel,
was entitled Electronics in Space. A more mundane subject that would have been equally
surprising to the old engineer was engineering education. Two sessions were devoted
to that subject, and another to a related one, engineering writing and speech. Devices
that would read books and papers, then prepare engineering abstracts from them,
were described, as well as an electronic Russian translator.
Another complete session was devoted to masers (microwave gas or semiconductor
amplifiers) and atomic clocks. One of these - a gas-cell clock described by Federal
Telephone engineers - was visualized as "necessary equipment on any rocket ship."
Luminescent panels for flat-tube television were discussed by Sylvania engineers,
who pointed out avenues of research in that direction and reported on progress in
producing moving pictures on such panels, but concluded that "major breakthroughs"
would be needed before luminescent panels could he used as TV screens.
The field of sound
Audio was possibly the liveliest subject at the convention. One complete session
was devoted to stereophonic disc recordings, and another to audio, amplifier and
receiver developments. It was at that session that Dr. Peter Goldmark presented
his surprise paper on the CBS compatible stereo-disc system.
It resembles the Westrex 45/45 system in general (Dr. Goldmark suggested that
the 45/45 might be considered a special case of the CBS technique), but avoids some
of the disadvantages of that system by putting most of the program into the lateral
signal fed to the cutter. Only a few percent of the total signal remains for the
vertical component. The record can be played back perfectly (as a monaural recording)
with an ordinary long-play cartridge. As a stereo disc it can be played with any
45/45 setup, or even with a vertical-lateral cartridge. This last feature caused
Goldmark to describe it as "compatible even with the incompatible!" Wear - either
with a stereo or long-play pickup - was stated to be the same as with a regular
[Stereo developments at the convention were sufficiently important to justify
a complete article. This is being prepared by Mr. Norman H. Crowhurst, and will
probably appear in an early issue.]
The Raytheon operating-time indicator tube.
Computers and therapeutics
Biology was one of the important subjects. One session was devoted to medical
electronics and one to biological transducers.
Top item on the medical-biological program was an infrared spectrometer-computer
for analyzing complex biochemical mixtures such as hormones. The instrument, developed
by International Telephone & Telegraph Corp., is expected to be of great value
in cancer research. In analyzing by chemical methods, one constituent is identified
and removed from the compound, then the process is repeated for another - a time-consuming
and laborious process. The new method, explained president Henri Busignies of Federal
Telecommunications Labs (research division of IT&T), is to treat the absorption
spectrum of the compound as a signal and to use the communications man's long experience
with mixing and unmixing signals to discover not only the components of the compound
but also their relative quantities.
A pressure transducer, working on the strain-gauge principle, that can take measurements
of blood pressure inside the human heart, at the same time bringing back blood samples
from the heart's interior, was discussed by electronics researchers of the Ford
Motor Co. laboratory.
Another paper described the use of a Nipkow disc in making· biological microphotographic
measurements, and still another covered the electronic evaluation of the condition
of the unborn fetus.
An electronic office
Experiments in electronic mail sorting had been started before last year's convention.
This year a whole session was devoted to the method being tried at Ottawa, Canada.
Each letter is re-addressed by an operator, the new address being put on the back
of the envelope in fluorescent ink. A simple code, easily learned by unskilled labor,
is used. From this point, the various sortings for province, city and street address
or carrier's route are entirely electronic.
An almost opposite system, which handles preliminary sorts only, is undergoing
experiment at Washington, D. C. Letters fed to the electronic machine are sorted
by states - and a few cities. The apparatus reads type-written addresses in various
sizes of type, but cannot as yet read hand-written addresses nor those written in
A new concept in the broadcasting field was presented by Leonard Kahn, developer
of a compatible single-sideband AM transmission system. Described a year ago in
the Proceedings of the IRE, the system has been tried out by several stations, including
New York's WMGM and WABC. One sideband is greatly reduced in power without making
special receiving techniques necessary, as in conventional types of single-sideband
transmission. The reception in fringe areas is improved, since more power is concentrated
in the single sideband, and fading - often due to interactions between the two sidebands
- is not so marked. Interference can be reduced because of the smaller bandwidth
of the single-channel signal.
Multiplex transmission received a couple of papers. Color TV was represented
by a few scattered papers at different sessions.
The IRE show
The exhibition which is so impressive a part of the annual meetings was on a
highly practical level, following last year's pattern of accenting improvements
on existing practice rather than strange new equipment. One old-timer was heard
to murmur that he could remember when the bulk of the exhibits had to do with entertainment
electronics - broadcasting and receiving equipment - but that now it had become
practically a pure military-industrial setup. A number of striking things did however
appear among the 17,000-odd pieces of equipment exhibited.
One of these was an elapsed-time tube exhibited by Raytheon. It looked like a
miniature tube envelope with two terminals, filled with a bluish liquid. This liquid,
a copper sulphate solution, gradually clears up as current passes through it, till
- at the end of 20,000 microampere hours - it is entirely clear. If one wishes to
find out how long a piece of equipment has been in operation while the tube still
shows considerable color, a colorimeter indicates the number of microampere hours
rather accurately. The device - if it reaches the popular market - should have a
number of interesting applications. The high-fidelity enthusiast would be particularly
interested. He could hook up one of these tubes in a circuit drawing 20 μa dc,
and at the end of 1,000 hours the clear liquid in the tube would tell him it was
time to replace the diamond stylus.
A battery-operated TV set was another interesting exhibit. The battery consisted
of 10 Yardney Silvercells and a solid-state converter manufactured by Interelectronics
Corp. Viewers were informed that it would operate the set up to 6 hours and could
be recharged overnight (at a low charging rate).
Inertial guidance systems were displayed by a number of exhibitors. Inertial
guidance is a method of locating one's position on the globe by starting from a
fixed known point with equipment that tells how far and in what direction one moves.
It consists of a "stable table" that maintains its position with relation to the
earth and to any change in the position of the vehicle carrying it. Three gyroscopes,
one in each direction of motion, give it that stability. Accelerometers take note
of any acceleration in any of these directions, and electronic devices record their
output in terms of direction and distance. It is a system which might be called
super dead reckoning, and can be used - for example - by a submarine traveling under
Arctic ice, to indicate its position accurately.
A number of other displays were impressive in themselves, but revealed no startling
advances in electronics. One, a portable antenna, brought back to the minds of old-timers
the early days of portable radios, some of which were said to be best transportable
by Mack truck. The antenna, exhibited by Kennedy Corp., was a parabola 28 feet across.
It looked substantial enough for any permanent job, but two rubber-tired wheels
were visible part way up the tower, and the whole job could be demounted and towed
by a pickup truck. Probably it is the biggest piece of portable electronic equipment
that is in existence.
Posted July 7, 2022
(updated from original post on