April 2020

Note from President Dave

Greetings to all my fellow AHRS shut-ins!!

I hope all of you are well at this critical time.

March activities for the Society started with the Birmingham Amateur Radio Club Hamfest and planning for the annual Legends of Broadcast event. The hamfest took place and was a great success. We were very successful with the items we took to the hamfest; using them both as our display and selling many of them. Some of the items sold were from the donations of members Larry Brock and Lynn Simons. We set a new Society sales record at a hamfest. Our forum was presented by Rick Curl. It seems like the hamfest was months ago since so much has happened in the real world since then.

There is nothing to report from the Shop since it was closed and the Legends of Broadcast event cancelled because of the virus. We will advise the membership when the Shop is reopened and Legends of Broadcast is rescheduled.

Sometime in the future, possibly at one of our monthly meeting, it might be interesting to hear from any of you about what activities you found to occupy your time during this “shelter in place” period. I found much to do in my basement. I got the idea that I would complete an inventory of everything there and record it … well it took about 10 minutes before I realized it was an impossible task, unless this lock down lasted about a year !!! Let us all hope that does not happen !!! I did find some boxes that had never been moved or opened since they were brought into the basement. When I inspected the contents of the boxes I had a few surprises. I found items I did not know I owned and a few other items I did not remember purchasing four or five of the same item, at different times. I am sure this has never happened to any other Society member.

These are certainly unprecedented times. The shortage of many items on store shelves reminds me of growing up during World War II. I would go to the store with my dad and sometime found very little. The difference being the problem causing the shortage then was in another part of the world. Today, the problem is all around us. Maybe when this thing passes we will have greater appreciation for the things we do have, but have always taken for granted.

One final memory I have from the war years. Chocolate and coconut were not available. When the war ended and these things were on the shelf again, my dad bought me a Peter Paul Mounds candy bar. I can still remember how wonderful it was!!!! as a kid I thought that if I never got anything else, I had just enjoyed my final reward !!!! (I still like Mound candy bars)

Electronic Class instructor, Boyd Bailey is working on arrangements for an interactive, on-line electronics class. We will keep you advised about the details.

That’s all for now. I look forward to seeing all of you at the Shop soon!!! Until then, may God bless you and your families with safety and good health!!!

One last thought: Since the Society has hundreds of radios, over 10,000 vacuum tubes, and thousands of other parts, should we be considered hoarders, preppers, visionaries or something else?


What is Happening at the Society

First Radio
By Julian Brook

Philco Model 38-12C Compact Table Model (1938) Introduced in June of 1937 as part of the lineup for the 1938 model season. At the time of its introduction this modest radio was Philco’s starter set, listing at $22.50 (as shown). As well as the walnut version seen here, the radio came in ivory.
I found my first radio a few blocks from home at a garage sale.  I made a grand investment in it of $5.00.  It was intact and looked like it would be fun to make it work and to make it pretty.  I had never restored a radio before, but had done a variety of electronic kits, from HiFi amps and tuners, to tape decks, to televisions, to meters and scopes.  So I decided to give it a home and see where it led.

The first task was to remove the chassis, the speaker grill and the dial cover parts and put them aside. The cabinet was scarred and discolored but not damaged. With some steel wool and furniture  refinisher I removed the old finish. I generally use Formby’s or a less expensive generic.  It does require some serious rubber gloves! I don’t like paste strippers. They tend to completely remove any of the old patina and raise the nap of the wood. The refinisher leaves as much of the original as you wish. Sometimes you can simply smooth out the original and leave it intact.

Once the old finish was removed it received a light sanding and several coats of poly.  I also took steel wool to the brass frame around the dial plate, polished it, and put a coat of lacquer on it.  The speaker grill was intact so I just glued a few loose spots and remounted it.

ALL of the wire on the chassis was completely rotten!  Just a light touch would cause it to crumble.  So, with trusty soldering iron I removed and replaced wire by wire, matching color as best I could, and routing the same as the original.  I also had to replace the can capacitors.  Not knowing any better I sliced around the can (behind the clamp if there is one, there was not in this case, or at the crease just below the top.  Then I removed the insides and replaced with new electrolytics inside the old can, glued the “top” back on, and reinserted them.

The power cord was also a mess, so it got replaced.  The tubes turned out to be all ok.  Then I fired it up and it actually played.  With a little tuning it even played well.

A few years later I happened across another one just like it, with a case that had no top but did have several other issues.  A nice piece of walnut plywood later, and some cabinet work and I had a pair.

My only regret is that I did not take “before” pictures of them.  It would be interesting to compare.  Anyhow, that was the first and started a collection frenzy that continues.

The following story was originally mentioned in an article in this newsletter by AHRS member Larry Lokey. Based on that, Don Keith wrote a full article which appeared in a different form in American Legion Magazine.

Christmas Eve at the Front: The Night Radio Brought the Troops Home

By Don Keith

The night before Christmas, a time when so many talk and sing about peace on earth and goodwill among men. That particular year, though, there was precious little peace or goodwill to be found.

Early church services were completed for many. Midnight mass had not yet begun for others. Across America, families, neighbors and friends gathered in parlors and living rooms to share food and conjure up as much holiday fellowship as they could manage. Many of them were purposefully sitting before their radios, the dial lamps offering a bit of cheer, awaiting the start of a show scheduled to begin at the top of the hour. Cabbies, on a typically slow night, parked nose to tail along curbs, engines idling to keep warm and at the ready for the occasional fare, their dashboard radio receivers switched on. In barracks at induction centers and military facilities around the country, men awaiting training or completing preparations to ship out to battlefields around the world gathered near any available radio speakers, ready to listen to what promised to be a very special broadcast. One that featured some of their own brothers-in-arms already over there, at or near the front.

It was one of those rare media events, usually reserved for President Roosevelt’s “fireside chats” or other such major addresses by world leaders during an especially troubled time. But on that one winter night, all four major radio networks in the U.S.—CBS, NBC Red, NBC Blue, and Mutual—turned over their airwaves for an hour and a quarter to a single program, one mostly made up of singing and joke telling. And a show that included several amateur singers and musicians and some truly lame jokes and sketches.

At 10 PM in New York, the announcer on the NBC networks first apologized because their regular shows would not be broadcast that night, pre-empted by this special holiday presentation. Those included Amos ‘n’ Andy, Bill Stern’s Sports Newsreel, and Fred Waring in Pleasure Time.

But, so far as we know, few listeners complained, not about the missed regular programs or the lame jokes.

It was a Friday evening, Christmas Eve 1943, two trying years into World War II. That radio broadcast, Christmas Eve at the Front, was designed to give audiences in the U.S.A. a real-time glimpse of soldiers and sailors, arrayed around the planet during this holiday season, fighting brutal enemies on many fronts. And to allow those servicemen and women the opportunity to speak to the folks back home via the newest and fastest-growing mass medium of the day.

At that time, more than ninety percent of Americans had access to a broadcast radio. News and entertainment programming on the air was, for the first time, rivaling newspapers as the medium of choice for news and entertainment. Even those who could not afford to subscribe to a paper could usually find a radio to which he or she could listen. Important programming attracted huge audiences. Many of the president’s “fireside chats” reached more than seventy percent of the country’s population. Those were Super Bowl-like numbers! Stephen Early, FDR’s press secretary, had had little trouble convincing his boss of the power of the medium when he delivered that first calming nationwide address into a microphone back in 1933, while the nation was still in the throes of the Great Depression.

“It cannot misrepresent or misquote. It is far reaching and simultaneous in releasing messages given it for transmission to the nation or for international consumption,” Early maintained.

On that Christmas Eve, a live audience gathered in a radio studio in Hollywood, ready for the broadcast to begin promptly at 7 PM local time. The show was scheduled specifically so it would air in what was already being called “prime time” across all four U.S. time zones. Those present in the audience that night, coached to applaud and laugh when prompted by flickering, lighted signs, or those who dialed into the program on radios across America, had no idea of the months of work and planning done by technicians around the globe to make this show possible.

Those engineers were about to attempt something thought impossible only a few years before. They were going to bring live voices from widely-arrayed spots on Earth to a single point so their songs, jokes, skits, and greetings could be re-broadcast to eager listeners sitting before their radio receivers back home. The first trans-Atlantic telephone cable capable of carrying voices was still a decade away. Communications satellites were the stuff of science fiction. This big show would have to rely on relatively new technology and the vagaries of shortwave signal propagation if it were to happen.

It was an all-star production and likely would have commanded high listenership even without its technical and heart-tugging aspects. The idea had actually been concocted by the military, who believed such a real-time broadcast would be a tremendous morale boost not only for the fighting men and those supporting them, but also for their families back home, separated during this holiday season by an awful globe-spanning war. Its participants reminded listeners several times that the idea for the show came from the fighting men and women themselves, not from the networks.

When it came time to select the program’s primary host, the choice was obvious to everyone. And the person chosen was enthusiastic about the opportunity.

At the time, Bob Hope’s network radio show, sponsored by Pepsodent toothpaste, commanded huge audiences each week. He started his showbiz career on the vaudeville stage and by 1934 was already working in radio and the movies. Ironically, his first major Hollywood film was The Big Broadcast of 1938. It was also in that feature that he introduced the song “Thanks for the Memory,” which would become his trademark theme. That tune would also have special meaning when Hope used it to close his hundreds of United Service Organization appearances, starting in May 1941 and, with a total of fifty-seven tours during multiple conflicts, lasting all the way to 1991.

However, once the show began, the first voice the radio audience heard was not Hope’s. After a rousing orchestra rendition of “Jingle Bells,” an announcer introduced distinguished actor Lionel Barrymore. Apparently, Barrymore’s portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge in the annual radio production A Christmas Carol made it appropriate that he be a part of Christmas Eve at the Front.

Even so, his deep, sad voice sounds almost out of place after the peppy musical introduction as he begins, “Well, it’s Lionel Barrymore here in Hollywood and here it’s Christmas Eve, the third our country’s experienced in the war. But tonight, I’m not going to play the part of Scrooge.”

Instead, Barrymore promises to take listeners “by the hand to the side of your loved ones fighting at every quarter of the globe.” No small task in those days, but that is exactly what this extraordinary production attempts to do for the next seventy minutes. Barrymore maintains that those tuned in will visit Italy, North Africa, New Guinea, Guadalcanal, New Caledonia, China (“where it’s already Christmas”), India, Panama, Alaska, Pearl Harbor, and even “some of the ships of our Navy.”

Then the actor introduces Bob Hope, “whose name is synonymous with joy to the GI.” “The guest conductor of this world-wide tour,” as Barrymore describes him, immediately picks up the pace and the show is on. When greeted with loud applause, Hope quips, “Thanks, relatives!” As usual, the comic’s jokes are topical.  “It has been so cold in the Midwest that even the Republicans are waiting for the ‘fireside chats.’” Then, after a few zingers, the truly challenging part of the production begins.

The first stop on this electromagnetic journey is North Africa and Algiers. The hum and static of the shortwaves is obvious and the signal fades a bit at times, but an unidentified voice tells us it is just after 3 AM as he reads from a prepared script.  He informs listeners that despite the holiday, this will for the most part be a typical day for the men working there. A soldier from Sheffield, Alabama, comes on mic and, with a deep Southern accent, talks about how he and his fellow troops spent Christmas Eve so far from home.

It is difficult for us today, accustomed as we are to instantaneous, high-definition, live communications from anywhere on the planet, to imagine how impressive this short, wavering presentation was to the audience.  To those in the studio in Hollywood as well as the millions sitting before their radios in living rooms around the country.

Indeed, most of them had recently heard reporter Edward R. Murrow as he dramatically described the Nazi bombing of London live, as it happened.  He had been able to do those riveting reports by employing a shortwave transmitter, just as this Christmas special was attempting to do. But the voice the audience was hearing this night was that of a soldier, a regular guy, and it is Christmas Eve as this first distant transmission wraps up with, “We return you to America.”

There may well have been some wishful thinking in those five simple words.

Bing Crosby, Bob Hope’s usual foil and movie partner, joins the broadcast then, along with the Army Air Force Orchestra, with a very quick verse and chorus of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.”

Some of the segments that night came through so clearly that, based on their technical quality, were almost certainly pre-recorded, most likely using either wire or metal tape recording technology then available. That was especially true of the reports from an aircraft carrier and a battleship, the latter from which a sailor sings a beautiful tenor version of “Jesu Bambino.” Of course, the names and locations of those ships were never given on the air, nor were those segments ever portrayed as anything but live and in the moment.

Except for atmospheric noise and some fading, most of the remote shortwave transmissions were surprisingly listenable. Others were difficult to understand, but that was to be expected. Some transmission paths attempted during the program did not work at all.

At one point, when there was nothing coming through from Alaska, someone off-mic can be heard saying, “No copy,” meaning if there is a signal, it is not readable. Another time, the listening audience can hear someone saying, “Go ahead, Panama,” since those standing by at most of the far-flung spots could not actually hear the broadcast to which those back home were tuned. They had to be prompted over the shortwave radio circuit to begin their presentations.

Knowledge of shortwave propagation was quite limited in those days. That portion of the radio spectrum was still an unfamiliar quantity, mostly occupied by “ham” radio operators. Such long-distance radio transmissions were subject to not only seasonal variations but could even fluctuate day-to-day or hour-to-hour. Northern latitudes are especially problematic. Such glitches were likely an anticipated possibility for the broadcast. Hope and Crosby and the rest of the crew handled the situation smoothly, adlibbing, throwing in their typical jibes at each other until they could verify there would be no bit from that “quarter of the globe.”  Each time a signal from some distant part of the world was not able to make the trip, they moved on to the next segment. The planned ninety-minute broadcast ended fifteen minutes early because of the missed segments.

About forty-five minutes into the program, a message from President Franklin Roosevelt, one recorded earlier in the day, is broadcast. In his typically calm, strong, and positive voice—though stopping a few times to cough and clear his throat—FDR reports on recent talks with other world leaders, discussing not only the continued progress in the war but what will happen when the fighting is concluded. He also takes this opportunity to announce that the new supreme commander of America’s war effort in Europe will be General Dwight Eisenhower. Speaking for about half an hour, the president in effect delivers yet another inspirational “fireside chat.” It is clear from this segment that the president does, indeed, understand the power of this still relatively new medium and how the right words and intonation can positively affect the mood of the country.

Despite the president’s optimistic outlook and strong voice, he would die only fourteen months later, and World War II would rage on for almost two more years.

The Army Air Force Orchestra concludes Christmas Eve at the Front by playing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” And the NBC announcer once again apologizes for the network’s having pre-empted Amos ‘n’ Andy.

It is difficult for us today to imagine what effect this broadcast might have had on its listenership across the country. We know there was a large audience tuned in though there appears to be no ratings information available. We also know it was one of the first times in which participants from so many points of the globe were able to speak live on a radio broadcast, letting their fellow Americans hear—in real time—what life was like where they were and how they were spending the holiday.

Even so, despite so much of the show being obviously scripted and with the expected technical hitches, this historic broadcast almost certainly accomplished its goal. Families had to feel better knowing what their friends and kin—more than three-and-a-half million were deployed overseas at the time of the show—were experiencing at the front. And thanks to this exciting, relatively new medium and the hard work of so many who made it possible, they certainly felt just a bit closer to those loved ones so far from home on that special night of the year.

As noted, Bob Hope was not finished with his efforts to make wars a bit more tolerable for those who were bravely fighting them. He entertained the troops, at home and in war zones, for more than sixty years, performing in more than two-hundred USO shows for men and women in uniform. Hope lived to the age of one-hundred and in October 1997, U.S. House Joint Resolution 75 was signed into law giving him honorary veteran status for his humanitarian work with the military.

Thanks to another media innovation, Christmas Eve at the Front can still be heard today in its entirety—blemishes and all—at several web sites, including on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BT3DyAu9Rqc and the Old Time Radio Downloads site at https://www.oldtimeradiodownloads.com/wwii/christmas-eve-at-the-front/guest-bob-hope-1943-12-24

Listen and maybe you, too, can get a feeling for how this seventy-five minutes of radio, “conceived by the boys who are far from home this Christmas season,” brought just a bit of holiday joy to those who so desperately needed it.

Don Keith is a best-selling author and award-winning broadcast journalist. He writes both fiction and non-fiction including extensively about World War II history and amateur radio. His web site is www.donkeith.com. Don is also an AHRS member and active ham radio operator, holding the call sign N4KC. All of his ham radio books are available in the AHRS library as well as wherever books are sold. His amateur radio web site is www.n4kc.com.

S. S. Kresge Catalog

Submitted by: Steven Westbrook

The S. S. Kresge Company was a 5₵-10₵-25₵ store based in Detroit, Michigan. The store carried a wide variety of items, including radio parts. During this period you ordered your parts separately and then assembled your radio. Below are a few pages from the Kresge’s Radio Catalog and Buyer’s Guide, 1925-1926 Edition. This store eventually became known as K-Mart. Several of the original catalogs are in our library for your review. One more thing, our founder, Don Kresge was a distant member of this family.