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Building the First Radios: Crystal Sets

Updated 25 July 2004

It all started with a bicycle. I was about ten years old and still hadn't learned how to ride a bicycle. I was chicken, that's for sure. I had a very great fear of pain and a very low pain threshold. I lived in fear of skinning my knees or elbows or whatever. So it took me a while to get bicycle riding down. And then one of the neighborhood kids got what they called a "bicycle radio." Or a bicycle with a radio on it.
   It was heavy too. About as heavy as the clunker I had to ride around on. Once I got past the training wheels thing.
   But the idea of a radio on a bicycle captured my attention. I started goofing on how things would work; what happened inside that metal clamshell that was forward of and just below the seat. I drew pictures of boxes of complex looking stuff, like some kind of doodad that scraped the audio out of the air and put it on a speaker. The only problem was I didn't know about speakers or diodes or whatever. I just drew a box and said to myself that something happened in there to get the sound out.
   Then Mom got me a copy of The Boy's First Book of Radio & Electronics, from which I skimmed enough info to have some idea of what tubes looked like and how electrons moved from the cathode to the anode (or the other direction, depending on where you learned electronics theory). I learned that capacitors tuned coils and made radios hear things. And diodes. I learned a lot about diodes.
   Then Dad got me that Remco crystal set. And then I started building my own. Of course, mine were really no different from the Remco kit at first. A big coil & a slider. On a piece of pine plank. I didn't have headphone tip jacks, so I pushed wire into holes on the board and pushed the headphone tips into the holes next to the wires. It was a dirt cheap idea and it worked. Well, at least until the holes got worn wider than the phone tip plugs.
   It was months before I figured out Fahenstock clips, which is another story.
   I also started reading Popular Electronics, which Dad subscribed to for me. I'm telling you, this was a very definite & observable co-dependency thing here, all this radio learning & building. Fearless I was. I even tried making a lightbulb out of wire and a mason jar. Blew the circuit breaker in a neighbor kid's house one afternoon in the summer.
   Simple fact was, I was becoming knowledgeable enough to be dangerous. Which, as you can expect me to say often enough by now, leads to the next page.


Copyright 2004 Nils R. Bull Young