There Was This Old Clock Radio…

When I was a kid, I got into the habit of taking apart all of the clocks, radios, and other electronic gadgets around the house to try to figure out what made them tick. I expect that this was the same for a lot of other Hams. I wasn’t as bad as the comic strip caricature, Dilbert, who had the knack, (The Knack) but it still drove my Mother crazy!

While always interested in electronics, my interests really took off during my freshman year of high school. I was doing all sorts of tinkering in my room, to the point where Mom feared she might get electrocuted if she ventured too far into my room. Everything I had learned about electronics up to this point had been by reading everything I could get my hands on, or by trial and error experiments. Like most teens, I thought I knew a lot, but actually, I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

At the end of the school year, my parents moved the family from California to a small city in Central Nebraska. This resulted in one very angry teen aged kid, who enjoyed (among electronics,) rock and roll, and was just discovering girls. Arriving a few weeks later at what I perceived was the end of the known universe, I chose to punish my parents by moving into the shop in the garage with no intentions of speaking to them or coming back out again.

So here I am in the garage, with my electronics, with only the most rudimentary knowledge of actual electronic theory, and the hope of listening to some good rock and roll music on the radio. Since I’m now located at what I perceived at the time to be the outer edges of civilization, far away from any radio station which played what I considered to be good rock and roll music, I rationalized that I needed a better antenna on my mother’s avocado green, AM clock radio setting on the bench.

As many of you may know, most contemporary AM radios of the time had what is known as a ferrite bar as the internal antenna system. If one had a wire antenna as in days long past, it would be quite long. I’m mean very long. Thus, the smaller ferrite bar was invented. I didn’t understand all this at the time, simply thinking that more metal meant a better antenna. So, I have the back of the radio open, and I’m running the needle nose pliers back and forth along the ferrite bar, until I hear this guy speaking in what sounds like Russian! In my mind I’m thinking I’m on the right track, because I’m now picking up a station on the other side of the planet! Without going into a lot of technical detail, I was right and very wrong at the same time. Correct in that I was listening to something on the other side of the planet, but not because I made the antenna better. I had simply “de-tuned” the antenna so that I was listening to the international short-wave band, near the AM broadcast band. So, as I’m continuing on this train of incorrect thought, I reasoned that if I connected more metal than a pair of pliers to the ferrite bar, I should be able to hear the entire world! I got a spool of wire and connected one end to the largest piece of metal in the house I could think of, which was the copper plumbing in the laundry room, strung out the wire to the radio on the work bench in the garage, grabbed the other end of the wire with the needle nose pliers, (Yes. They were insulated,) and touched the wire to the bar… BOOM! The radio blew up in my face, causing me to roll backwards, chair and all, simultaneously blowing all the circuit breakers in the house!

Mom comes running into the garage to find me flat on my back, still in my chair, with a ring of smoke circling toward the ceiling. I’m unhurt, but rather perplexed why my electronic genius was not on track. Mom made it pretty clear that she was sick and tired, (why is it always “sick and tired,”) of me blowing up her appliances, and that I needed to get some proper training on this electronics crap before I killed myself! She also demanded that I fix the now smoking radio!

I started trouble shooting the radio, and determined the pickup diode was fried. The black scorch marks on the circuit board helped bring me to that quick conclusion… I purchased a new diode from Radio Shack for about .45 cents, replaced the burned-out diode, and the radio worked fine again. Mom none the less got a newer radio, which she zealously protected from me, and I used the green clock radio through college, when the clock, (not the radio) stopped working. It was discarded in 1979 never to be seen again…

The next day, Mom and I went to the local high school to get me enrolled. The guidance counselor got me signed up for all the required classes for a sophomore student, and he then asked us about electives. Naturally, I was enrolled in Band. Then Mom asked, “Do you have any classes for electronics?” We were told that they did indeed have a fine electronics class, but it was reserved for seniors who have successfully completed an advanced mathematics curriculum and one year of physics. Anyone without these prerequisites would never be able to complete the class. Mom firmly instructed the counselor that I probably had more electronics experience than most kids my age, and that if I didn’t get some formal education on the topic, I would likely end up burning the house down by accident. After some thought, he agreed to allow me to start the class, so long as it was understood that I might be pulled out if the instructor felt I wasn’t making the grade. Not only did I successfully complete the class, I was one of the few who actually finished it through to the end of the year!

All and all, I would have to say that this was this episode which led me to three diversely different careers, and ultimately led me to Amateur Radio.

By the way… While surfing the internet, I came across a website specializing in antique radios. Up for sale, was a reconditioned, avocado green, Zenith AM clock radio, like the one my mother had. It was selling for over $200 dollars! Had I known that radio would become so valuable, I would have taken more care not to have blown it up when I was a kid!

Click Here to see a similar radio...

There is also a link to a YouTube Video here from the radio seller showing this green Zenith radio.

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