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Surfin’: Visiting Your AM Radio Days

04/01/2011

By Stan Horzepa, WA1LOU
Contributing Editor

Last week’s return to Surfin’s radio roots begat this week’s return to your radio roots.

Last week’s “AM Radio Days” resulted in a small deluge of e-mails in the Surfin’ mailbox, which I will share with you this week.

Robert West, AA4ZT, wrote that his first radio was made by Aurora Plastics -- a crystal set built along the lines of a rocket radio, but housed in a yellow plastic globe with a Saturn-like ring around it. It picked up the two local stations well, but the only DX that Robert ever received was WSM in Nashville and WCKY in Cincinnati, about 100 and 300 miles distant respectively.

Rick Tannehill, W7RT, grew up in Tucson in the ’50s and ’60s when there were no local high-power nighttime AM radio stations. So he specialized in building highly selective and sensitive crystal radio sets with very long long-wire antennas. AM DXing was fun on a crystal set; listening for the weak signals (faded) from a high-power California or Texas station, or KOB in Albuquerque or KOA in Denver.

Of course, AM DXing was much easier with the big Zenith radio console his parents when he hooked that long-wire antenna up to it. The Zenith also doubled as Rick’s first SW radio receiver and got him hooked on international shortwave and ham radio listening.

Bill Bibeau, K1FPV, remembers back in the ’50s listening to WPRO and WEAN in Providence, Rhode Island from his house in Somerset, Massachusetts on an old Scout crystal radio set that he built. It had a cat whisker and was sometimes a hassle finding the sensitive spot on the galena crystal.

A few years later, Bill bought a Knight Kit Span Master regenerative tube shortwave kit with money he earned on his paper route. It is still on his shelf over 50 years later, next to a Ten-Tec RX-340.

Bill happened to hear a local ham talking on his Span Master receiver. So he purchased a copy of the Callbook, got his address and sent him an SWL card. Bill had the Popular Electronics shortwave listener call WPE1EJL (mine was WPE1GYX --- WA1LOU).

To make a long story short, the ham phoned Bill and said he would not send him a QSL card -- Bill had to go to his house to pick it up! So he hopped on his bicycle and went there. Later, he helped Bill with code and eventually Bill became KN1FPV.

Last week, I mentioned that as a second generation Pole whose parents listened to Polish radio 24/7, I liked the Arcane Radio Trivia blog post about “Dick Yash’s Afternoon Polka Party” on WFIF. Jose Fritz, the brains behind that blog, wrote that he managed to track down Dick Yash and hopes to interview him in the coming weeks. So stay tuned.

Long time Surfin’ kibitzer Pete Kemp, KZ1Z, mentioned the passing of Sophie Zembruski, longtime hostess of the Polish Eagles Radio Program, aka The Sophie Zembruski Radio Show, one of the America’s longest running radio programs, heard continuously since 1934 on WATR AM in Waterbury, Connecticut.

Sophie and her Polish band leader/recording artist/radio pioneer husband “The Polish Drummer Boy” Victor, co-hosted the show, which was radioed on several Connecticut and New York stations, in addition to WATR. When Victor suffered a stroke in 1968, Sophie forged ahead as a solo act and was on the air for nearly 60 years.

Unbeknownst to Pete, my parents -- Loris and Stan -- were very acquainted with Sophie and Victor. Sophie’s sister married my mother’s brother Ray, and Victor’s band played at my parent's wedding. Needless to say, the Zembruski radio show was a Sunday morning staple at my house.

By the way, the WATR AM transmitter and studio were only two blocks from my Waterbury home, so if I aligned the fillings of my teeth just so, I could receive WATR without a radio!

Until next time, keep on surfin’!

Editor’s note: Stan Horzepa, WA1LOU, still recalls his first radio: a Remco crystal set. To contact Stan, send e-mail or add comments to the WA1LOU blog.



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