October 1956 Popular Electronics
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles
published October 1954 - April 1985. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged.
Before the current generation began destroying its hearing with
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.
Other Carl Kohler masterpieces: "The
Great Electron-Pedantic Project," "Dig That Reel Flat Response,"
a Superheterodyne," "Unpopular Electronics,"
"Thin Air, My Foot,"
"High Tide in the
R/C Cloud," "Hi-Fi Guest List,"
," "Boner Box," and "McWatts."
Hi Tide in the Tweeter
By Carl Kohler
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
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
"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
"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
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
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
Posted June 2, 2015