Saturday, January 31, 2009

Electronic technicians

Now electronic technicians do not know how to solder.........anything!
It is all insulation displacement in plugs, sockets, pins, etc,etc,etc.
I learned how to solder by assembling Heathkits, sitting around with a soldering gun that my parents bought me when I was about 7 or 8.
It was a WEN soldering gun.
It burned stuff real good too!
The principle is that you put a current through a metal wire that has a lower resistance than the wire it is attached to and it will heat up.
Like a electric heater that glows red when you turn it on or a light bulb. Which are going to be obsolete pretty soon. And to thing I bough a whole bunch of them on sale , like 20 or so, that will never be screwed in, since I changed all my bulbs to CFE.
Back to the soldering.
There were two companies than built soldering guns. WEN was the first and immediately after came WELLER.
Now Weller is still making them but probably not as many as in the hayday of hte 50's and 60's.
Every radio, television, electronic device has solder connections.
Building Heathkits, was the neatest thing, you could smell the smoke of the burning rosin, get little dabs of wayward solder on your pants and clothes. If it was hot enough it would burn little holes right through down to your skin........Ouch!
We hired some technicians a few years ago, to do general work around the business, install radios and antenna connections etc.
None of them knew how to solder the PL259 connectors on to the coax cable. They were taught only to use crimp connectors.
Don't know how to solder?
Forget the raise. If I have to solder the connectors on, why do I need you?
Back to a one man operation.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Remember When

There was on old song in the 60's that started with, Remember When, then it proceeded with some kind of a thumping music, funny thing is , is that I don't I Don't Remember It!

A fellow blogger Darryl, contacted me the other day with some topics and items and this is appropriate to share them with you!

Here are a couple, for the complete listing check out his posting. It at:

Here are a couple of things to remember.

15 Cent McDonald Hamburgers
25 Cent A Gallon Gasoline
45 Rpm Records
5 Cent Packs Of Baseball Cards - With A Pink Slab Of Bubble Gum
78 Rpm Records!
American Bandstand
Baseball Cards In The Spokes Of A Bicycle
Pop Bottle Openers
Burning Our Trash In The Back Yard
Cigar Bands For Rings
Erector Sets
Having A Weapon In School Meant Being Caught With A Slingshot
Howdy Doody,
Soda Pop Machines That Dispensed Glass Bottles

Check his listing out for a complete rundown of yesteryear, Darryl must have sat down and closed his eyes and did some great remembering. Something we all need to do, quite regularly!
If I may say......

And if you enjoy the Statler Brothers, check this out! This is on You Tube.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Growing up in San Francisco in the 50's was a magical time. Before hippies, riots, freedom marches, drive by shootings and laws like not being able to ride in the back of a pick up truck.

There were no freedom polices, no safety police, you could climb up trees in Golden Gate park and would not be arrested for being a terrorist!

Times have changed.

One of my first heroes, was not superman or the spider man, but it was just the plain "Phone Man"

One day there came a phone truck and parked in front of our house. The phone trucks were not vans like nowadays, they were pickup trucks with utility bodies on the back and a ladder rack painted brown. With a big round bell logo.
The Phone Company was Pacific Telephone before the divestiture that broke up all the baby bells into smaller companies, then years later became one again....kind of funny..
Anyway this man came and told my parents that they needed to run a cable to the back yard and put up a telephone pole.
The next day a big truck came with a whole bunch of workers, they dug a hole and plopped a 4o ft pole into the corner of the back yard.
A couple of days later another truck came and dug up the yard and buried a cable and a concrete box.
A few days later another man came and sat on the ground and stripped all the wires in the cable and sliced them to the cable going up the pole.
All of these guys for some reason tolerated me.
I was about 7.
Then the neatest thing happened, the next day the first guy came back and put on some really big belt and climbed up the pole and was working about 30 ft up. He had a lineman's phone set and was talking to someone. Then they ran wires to some of the houses and occasionally would return to connect wires in the following years. The would let me keep the wire scraps......

Anyway , I really got interested in "The Phone Man" so I found a belt and a couple of tools along with a screwdriver and a pair of wire cutters, and proceeded to climb up the pole.

I would get up as high as about 6 or 8 feet, but it seemed like 20 ft for me, and would hang on the pole, just like the Phone Man.
Well, I got better at climbing the pole and using the tools in an imaginary junction box, the real one was about 40 ft off the ground.

Finally one day, I decided to do some proper work and there was this lead covered cable going up the pole from the ground junction box.
I wonder what would happen if I did some work on it?

I was only able to cut into if maybe a 1/4 of an inch, that was all the work for that day. My assignment was finish and it was quitting time.

Then, the next day a couple of real phone men arrived and were doing some work trying to fix something.
This time I didn't' come out to meet them, a little later I came out to check out and get an colleagues update on the work.

They asked if I had cut the cable.
Who Me?
They had to open up the cable and splice some wires, to repair the problem.
I did get punished. Not my my parents, then never said anything, not by the phone man, the phone pole got me.

One day I was lashed up on the phone pole, maybe 7 or 8 feet up, doing my daily work, and the next thing I knew, I was on the ground, laying flat on my back.
Seems my safety belt which was some old leather belt I appropriated somewhere, gave up it's "safety" margin.

I got a better stronger belt.
Maybe that why I have back problems in my old age.........Naaaa!
So that's my telephone story, kinda funny that my last vocation was telecommunications and telephone systems............

It is hard to describe the enthusiasm I had in dissecting the Allied Radio catalog. It is probably something similar to when people perused the Monkey Ward or Sears and Roebuck Catalogs.
So many goodies just unbelievable that you could imagine using all those parts and things to surround yourself with your hobby items.
So, I ordered my first brand new Amateur Radio Receiver.
It was a Gonset GR212.
I couldn't afford a Hallicrafters, they were twice the price and thrice as nice!

It arrived.

The inside of the box had this smell, so hard to describe.
I plugged it in, turned it on and the pilot lights lit the S meter.
A connected the antenna to the two screw terminals on the back
Turned up the volume,
and spun the dial.
Noise, pulses, chatter, static and more
Excitement. Such that I never had, well unless when I was younger and seeing the stuff under the Christmas Tree.
It was 1962.
I was into Ham Radio. Ham Radio, Ah could spend hours upon hours listening , talking and communicating with faceless other persons with like interests from around the world.
IT was magical.
IT is almost all gone.

That's another chapter.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Film at Eleven

One of my first jobs in the 60's was being that of a news photographer. I started out as a stringer.
A stringer is a person that basically works for free unless you are fortunate enough to get a photo of something happening, then the newspaper would give you 25 or 50 bucks for your roll of film. Fires, car accidents, homicides neat stuff like that!

50 Bucks in 1967 was pretty decent money, the problem was that in those days there weren't that many things that happened between 8 and 2 or 3 in the morning.

Daytime was reserved for staff photographers with lots of seniority and good luck breaking into that lair.
So stringing at least filled the gas tank and bought some 79 cent cheeseburgers.
Then TV entered in to the picture.

I first started shooting freelance or stringing for the a couple of the SF stations. Before video. Before light weight equipment, before fast film, as it was KRON TV the TV hand of the Chronicle Publishing company shot negative film made by Dupont. With negative film they were able to push the development 2 or 3 stops so night film required less light. They would then electronically change it to positive images for broadcasting on TV.

The camera was a converted 16mm Bach Auricon, with a 20 to 120 Angenieux Lens. It then needed a amplifier to be able to record onto a magnetic strip on the film, then there was a Sylvania battery pack for the Sun Gun which was a 12 volt battery to power a 100 watt halogen bulb.
So the camera and film was about 50 lbs, the sound pack and battery was about 10, and the light pack and head was another 20.
So around 75 lbs........

Just think now, you have a hand held high definition color camera with stereo that maybe weighs 2 lbs, and will record 2 or 4 hours.

The 16 mm Auricon could only use 400 ft of film for about 14 minutes................

And that's the way it was in 1970....... We'll be back after this message from our sponsor.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Walkie Talking, got a wheelbarrow?

The first walkie talkie I had was the size of a small phone book. IT actually was call a portable radio. It ran on electron tubes and has a few solid state transistors. It was pretty modern for it's time and even had rechargeable batteries.
Motorola made the first "portable radio" which was all tubes, and had high voltage battery packs, and was really a portable radio pack set. It weighed about 10 lbs and was pretty innovative for the time.
Portables like we know them today were first introduced by Motorola. They were two piece units, one unit was a transmitter and the other unit was the receiver. The first real portable was the HT200. It was also called "the brick" and was called because it was about the same size and almost weighed about the same. Now you are probably thinking this was in the 40's or something......sorry 1960....

Now the bad news. The price on these portables were about $1900 dollars. They were only 2 watts, and the battery was $90 dollars. Compare that with the size of the portables that you can by for camping and stuff, they have the same power, are technically more advanced and sell for $39.00 dollars..... something to think about.
Portables for public safety and commercial units by Motorola run starting at 300 and still go up to 2k or more depending on all kinds of stuff that was not available until several years ago. Stuff like scrambling, multiple frequencies and formats, encryption, etc.etc.etc.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Watching TV and Car Phones a look back.

I had a bright idea of as I was sitting aropund watching a program on the History Channel, I had a weird desire to share some old stories of technology from the past that many of you don't have the slightest idea of what technology was only 30 years ago.
I was thinking about all the people that only think that their pocket sized cell phone has been around for ages.

Not so.

I actually started my business in San Francisco in 1969 selling the GE DTO3 mobile telephone as pictured on the left.

Yep, that was a mobile phone. It was not direct dial. California only got direct dial in most of the state in the mid to late 70's.

This GE unit sold installed for about 2800 dollars.
Just think about how expensive that was in 1970 dollars.
The big unit sat in the trunk of the car, and had electron tubes. I doubt that hardly anyone ones what tubes are nowadays.
The unit had a maximum of 5 channels and consumed about 7 amps of power on standby and about 20 amps while transmitting.
Having 5 channels was interesting. GE and Motorola only came out with 11 channel units a few years later.
Here's how it worked. San Francisco had 3 yep that THREE channels on which you could place a phone call on. So in all of SF only 3 people could be using a car phone at one time. The channels where identified as JL, YL, and YJ. The process was that you would pick up the handset and monitor the channel, if you didn't hear any conversations you would press the transmit button on the handset and in about 10 seconds an operator would answer as " San Francisco Mobile Operator" You would then tell her your phone number, mine was YJ 34704 and then tell her the number you wanted to be connected to and she would call that number and connected you.
This system was quite interesting since you could actually listen into on going phone calls, from people that a lot of the time "forgot" that the line was able to be monitored by anyone.
During boring times, you could get quite a lot of interesting phone calls to amuse you. Naturally it was against FCC law to repeat or divulge anything you hear on the channel..........right!

Oakland had 3 channels also, they were JR, YR and YK. So if the 2 SF channels were busy and your set had the Oakland channels in them you could use those channels also. Imagine having 6 channels on which to place phone call in San Francisco and Oakland.
San Jose had 3 channels, Vallejo had 1 and Novato had 1. That made up the 11 channel VHF mobile telephone system that was operation from about 1955 to 1985.

Calls were 80 cents for the first 3 minutes(each minute) then to discourage long winded calls, it jumped up to $ 1.05 for the air time after that.
Needless to say, my monthly phone bill was running between $150 to 200 dollars a month ( in 1965 dollars).
In the 60's I was a news photographer and cameraman in San Francisco, working the night shifts, from 8 pm to 4 in the morning. Part of my nightly routine was calling various places to inquire if any newsworthy stuff was happening.
The other night crews would all tip each other if something was happening, but only after they were well under way to be their first.

More on part 2.


About Me

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From TV News to owning radio communications business, seen technology grow and change the way we live. Hobbies are still some photography and reading, satellite pickup. Did catering and cooking at wineries, taught cooking classes and culinary related ventures. Do a few regional cooking classes down here at my house from time to time, in between visiting and living in this beautiful country. Some tech consulting and lots of opinionated chatter.