Gimmicks For Your Radio

Discussion in 'Radio' started by LizzieMaine, Mar 1, 2015.

  1. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    In the Era, the back pages of popular magazines were filled with gimmicks and gadgets designed to augment or improve your radio listening experience. Many of them were ripoffs and swindles, but some of them did, indeed, work as advertised.

    I recently picked up a gadget called the "F&H Capacity Aerial Eliminator."


    I had been reading ads for this device for years, and was always intrigued by them. There were plenty of gadgets sold at the time which promised to "turn your house wiring into a giant antenna," and such devices are still sold today. I've tried those and none have worked particularly well. But the F&H ads always stress that this device is *not* one of these types of units, but rather an arrangement of capacitors which duplicates the capacity of a long-wire aerial. I don't have room to put up a proper outdoor antenna here -- my backyard is very small, and the trees I could use as anchor points are on the other side of the junkyard fence, and thus not accessible. So I've long wanted to give the F&H a try.

    A few weeks ago I picked one up for cheap on eBay and last night after work I hooked it up to see what it could do. I have a Philco 37-10 console in the living room which I've had hooked up to about twenty feet of bare copper wire run along and around the baseboards. This has always given satisfactory local reception, but not much in the way of broadcast-band DX. I connected one wire of the F&H to the antenna terminal on the back of the set, one to the ground terminal, and then attached the ground wire of the F&H to my existing water-pipe ground wire. There is no connection to any current-carrying part of the set.

    The results were very impressive. I got strong reception from about 700kc to the high end of the band, and got good volume on most of the clear-channel stations, with WCBS at 880kc and WINS at 1010kc coming in as loud and strong as locals. I picked up WBBM, Chicago at 780 kc -- not loud, but it was there, which exceeds the promise of "1000 mile reception" with mileage to spare. Daylight reception has also improved markedly -- where I got only weak reception of WBZ, Boston at 1030 kc during the day using the baseboard wire, the F&H brings it in with full, strong volume. There also seems to be a noticeable reduction in electrical noise -- I have a power-line transformer at the end of my driveway which buzzes to beat the band when it's damp or cold, and while there's still a buzz there, it's nowhere near as obtrusive as usual.

    I'm very impressed with this gizmo, and plan to pick up a couple more of them for the radios in my office and my bedroom.

    Who else has experimented with aerial eliminators, wave traps, subtennas, jim-dandy broadcast-thru-your-own-radio microphones, or other back-page radio gimcracks of the Era? What have your results been?
  2. vitanola

    vitanola I'll Lock Up

    Gopher Prairie, MI

    This unit and its ilk do make a tremendous improvement in reception at the expense of an additional tuning knob, but only on sets of 1927-9 vintage which used an untuned first RF stage as "antenna coupler"

    Somewhere I have an antenna unit which consists of a Jacquard tapestry pad with tinsel mesh hidden I the center which is intended to be placed under a telephone. A metal bodied set with a flat bottom such as the Western Electric 20-AL, 51-AL or the 102 or 202 hand set is necessary. The aerial post on the cet is capacitatively coupled to the telephone lines through the body of the telephone set. This works very, very well, and if the radio is contemporary to the aerial unit, and so has no Automatic Volume a Control, so much the better, for the radio will then be automatically muted when the telephone set is picked up for use.
  3. Talbot

    Talbot One Too Many

    Melbourne Australia
    Not a gimmick, but the metal guttering on my house made for a great antenna back when I had valve consoles.
  4. Just Jim

    Just Jim One of the Regulars

    AHA! This probably explains something I've been wondering about for more than 30 years. Way back when, I was doing some restoration on a house that had wooden gutters. On the back of the gutters, near the bottom, was a piece of copper wire that ran all the way around the house. The loose end of the wire had been cut, but you could see where it previously ran into the house. The house had been gutted, so there were no clues there. . . but it would have worked as an aerial just as you describe using the metal gutters.
  5. 1930artdeco

    1930artdeco Practically Family

    I wonder if I can run bare copper wire in my attic or does it have to be outside for best reception. The metal gutter thing does sound like a good idea though.

  6. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    Attic antennas will work fine if you keep them clear of any electrical wiring. Use nail-it porcelain knobs to secure the wire in place, and run your lead-in along a short, clear route to the radio. Solder your connection between the antenna and the lead in, and experiment with a ground wire to see if that helps.
  7. 1930artdeco

    1930artdeco Practically Family

    Thanks Lizzie.
  8. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    My quest for improved reception in a neighborhood overridden with electrical noise continues. I've been using the F&H Capacity Aerial Eliminator for several years now, but have found that as electrical noise worsens -- smart electric meters, bad pole transformers, neighbors putting out who knows what kind of electrical hash from smart appliances, power line noise, etc -- the quality of my reception's been going down.

    A couple years ago I picked up a Philco All-Wave Aerial kit from the mid-1930s, unused in the original box, and had been planning to set it up in my attic. For various reasons this has turned out not to be an option, and I haven't got a big enough yard to string it to a pole or a tree, so the kit sat in its box in my spare room until I realized I could probably get it to work by stringing it under my porch roof in a zig-zag pattern. So yesterday, I took an hour or so and did exactly that.

    The Philco All-Wave Aerial is typical of the antenna kits sold by most of the major manufacturers during the height of the 1930s shortwave listening craze -- it's designed for optimal reception of the popular SW international broadcast bands from 13 to 60 meters, and incorporates noise-canceling features to improve reception on all bands. The Philco Aerial is a simple half-wave dipole, with the two sections feeding into a matching transformer that in turn feeds a special twisted-pair lead-in system. What makes this antenna interesting is that Philco designed most of its higher-level sets during the mid-thirties specifically to use this system: the terminal board at the back of the set is laid out to take the twisted pair lead-in, and to use the set with a regular single-wire lead in you have to switch a terminal jumper which alters the signal path into the antenna transformers of the set.

    I've owned a Philco 37-10, designed for this aerial, for nearly forty years, but had never actually used it with the correct antenna -- I've had outdoor long wires, amplified "active antenna" whip systems, capacity antennas like the F&H, and just loose wires strung around the baseboards. And what all of these alternatives have in common is that the set is very noisy below about 700 KC, and the 120 meter/90 meter shortwave bands are essentially unusable due to noise. Nothing I'd ever tried changed this, and I figured it was just a design flaw of the radio.

    Well, the Philco All-Wave Aerial did change that. Using the twisted-pair lead-in connected to the "Red" and "Black" screws on the terminal board, and a good ground connection, nulled out probably 90 percent of the noise. I can pick up stations at 560kc, 590kc, 620kc, and 680kc that were lost in the noise before, and the 120-90 meter bands are similarly improved -- there's little to nothing coming in on those bands other than the harmonics from my low-power transmitters and the Canadian time-signal station CHU, but at least I can scan across them without having to turn the volume down to squelch the noise.

    This is a poor time of year for distance reception, so I'll probably have to wait till winter to test that -- during the summertime here, New York is about as far as DX goes -- but there did seem to be improvement on the international SW bands. All the usual suspects came in -- China Radio International, Radio Havana Cuba, Radio Romania, the Voice of Vietnam, and the various Brother Biblethump/tinfoil hatter American SW stations. There isn't much to listen to on shortwave anymore, but what's there came in clearer and louder than it had before -- not a drastic improvement over what I was using, but an improvement nonetheless.

    One important thing to note: the copper antenna wires should not be cut to fit a particular space. The two segments of the dipole are designed to be specific lengths, and cutting them will change the antenna's characteristics. If you can't stretch them out to full length, zig-zag them as I did. You can cut the lead-in wires -- and you have to, to use the lightning arrestor -- but the lead-in is an important part of the system. Keep the wires as supplied -- twisted, in a tar-impregnated cloth jacket. Don't separate them or try to take the jacket off. (The tar will come off on your hands when you're setting the antenna up, but it washes off with soap and water. You might want to keep it away from your curtains.)

    These mid-thirties antenna kits seem to be quite common in new-in-box condition on eBay -- apparently a lot of people bought them along with their new radio and never got around to putting them up. Mine cost about $30. If you have a quality mid-thirties radio and live in a noisy reception area, you might want to pick one up and give it a try.

    MissMittens and 3fingers like this.
  9. Edward

    Edward Bartender

    London, UK
    Not an era-dervied notion, but reading this makes me wonder... Those plug-in, limited range FM transmitters that were popular for a while with folks wanting to use their ipods to play music in the car (before blutooth started to become a norm in in-car entertainment) are still available. (I plan to use one as a easy way to play my mp3s via a 1970s Stereo-Hifi receiver.) I wonder if somebody could tweak one of those for an AM or MW frequency? That would be great for anyone with an older set they don't want to add an FM transmitter to.
  10. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    You can still get little purpose-built AM transmitters -- the best of them, the SSTran line of units, is no longer available because the guy who put them out was overwhelmed with orders and couldn't keep up, but there are other units available on eBay and from various "Part 15 Broadcasting" hobby enthusiasts.

    I have three SSTran transmitters, operating at 990 kc, 1230kc, and 1330kc, each fed by a second-hand Mac Mini loaded with vintage radio material and 78rpm records, with programming controlled by a piece of software called "Daypart," which lets me set up the material to run at specific times of day, and the signals cover about a quarter of a mile. Whenever I turn on the radio I have a choice of programming to enjoy that isn't the ridiculous talk-show blather that our local AM station issues forth.

    If one was of a mind to, it would be easy to take the Internet stream of any FM station and feed it into one of these transmitters and thus enjoy that station on a vintage AM radio. A big living-room type console of the Era is capable of producing very fine sound when restored and set up properly.
    MissMittens likes this.
  11. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    Bit of an update for DX fans -- the broadcast band opened up wide last night for whatever reason, and WGN and WBBM in Chicago -- about 1200 miles from here -- were coming in with strong volume. WLW, Cincinnati was booming in like a local.

    Shortwave's been good as well -- recent catches include Radio New Zealand on 31 meters and the VOA Africa relay on 25 meters, the latter in the middle of the day.

    There's been a bit of interesting "space weather" over the past week, with "unsettled geomagnetic conditions" reported. That means interesting things happen on the AM bands, and if you like to tune around, regardless of the type of receiver and antenna that you use, this would be a good time to try it.
    vitanola likes this.

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