Sunday, March 2, 2014

Early Radio Memories (5) Hoisting the Jolly Roger!

Finding electronic components to build an FM transmitter, slightly more powerful and more stable than the one borrowed, was easy.  This was the early 1970s. A time when it was still possible to find television and radio repair shops in most towns.  (Yes, people repaired televisions and radios!)  It was simply a matter of drawing up a shopping list of needed components and handing it to the man behind the counter who always wore glasses and a brown cotton work coat.  (Why did they always wear brown work coats?) He would say something like, "Be ready for you in about an hour." And an hour later a satisfied customer would leave clutching a paper bag filled with resistors, capacitors, transistors and many more goodies.

My local electronic supplier was Jack Porter.  His corner shop stood on the corner of College Street facing the magnificent Worcester Cathedral.  I would pass this way at least twice a day to and fro-ing from school. A dark and dingy shop.  So dark that on some cloudy days it was often impossible to see if Jack was in there at all.  His shelves and back rooms of cardboard boxes were an electronic cornucopia, and he boasted that not only were his prices the lowest in the city but also that he could match and supply any valve (U.S. tube) for any radio dating back to the Second World War.  I wonder what happened to old Jack Porter?  His shop closed many years ago and has been many things since.  Its latest incarnation is an estate agency.  (U.S.  Real estate office.)

Building the transmitter took but a few hours one weekend, but it had to sit on a shelf for another week before I found time to run some initial tests.  I enlisted the help of a school friend called John Buchanan who lived just around the corner.  (I wonder what happened to him also.)  We connected the transmitter to a reel-to-reel tape recorder onto which was loaded a tape of Dvorak's New World Symphony.  A ten foot length of coaxial cable connected the unit to a four foot telescopic antenna - which in turn was mounted atop an old fishing rod and fastened to the corner of the balcony outside my bedroom window.  The battery was connected, the tape was running, and we got on our bikes.

Each with a transistor radio the plan was to test the radius of the transmitter which was tuned to broadcast on 100 Mhz.  John would ride south and I would ride north, noting the signal strength every few hundred yards.  The reception to the north petered out after less than half a mile, but southwards the music was still audible a mile and a half down the road.

Back at the house I realized that I was now in control of a real, working radio station.  We celebrated with a bottle of orange pop and a packet of Jaffa Cakes!  But there were so many questions running through my mind.  What would the station be called?  When would it broadcast?  And what would it broadcast?

Where Jack Porter once stood.

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