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"I Install My Receiving Set" from Popular Radio

by Ellis Parker Butler
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  • Popular Radio (September, 1922)   "I Install My Receiving Set"   An article. "This article is written for the purpose of giving sound and practical help to the layman who puts up his own radio apparatus with no more experience than that possesed by the author." Includes several black and white photographs of the author. p 26-33.  [HARPER]

from Popular Radio
I Install My Receiving Set
by Ellis Parker Butler I string up my antenna.

For installing a radio outfit some people use a screw-driver and some use a monkey-wrench, but I have found that an ordinary boden works quicker and does a better job. To install my radio outfit I used one large boden and one small one, and the results were perfect. For installing radios I shall hereafter use nothing else.

It was like this: Someone called me up on the telephone and asked me if I had a radio outfit, and I said "No." Then he asked me if I didn't want to buy one, and I said "No!" Then he asked me why, and I said I had a player piano and a phonograph and a pair of twins learning to play the piano and no time to bother with a radio anyway. I told him that I wouldn't have anything to do with radio. I said that three or four years from now, when my small son was big enough to make and install one, he might have one if he wished but that I did not want one and that was all there was about it.

When my radio outfit was delivered at my house three or four days later I found it consisted of one flat cardboard box full of things and one oblong box full of things and some other things. In each box was a paper sheet of "Directions," with a picture of a house and a barn with a wire stretched between them. The picture was evidently taken just after the Mohawk Indians had made an attack on the settlement, for everything was stuck full of red arrows. Some of the arrows were marked "Screw Eye," that probably being the name of the Indian that had shot the arrow. Personally I think Screw Eye is as good a name for an Indian as Rain-In-The-Face or Sitting Bull, but some of the names were peculiar. I can imagine some romantic Indian mother naming her child "Insulating-Entrance-Bushing" but, if I was an Indian mother and had forty children I don't believe I would think of naming one of them "No. 14 Copperweld Antenna Wire." And yet one of the arrows was marked that. It was also marked "75 to 150 feet long, 25 to 50 feet high." If this was the size of the Indian that shot that arrow he must have been a giant. He was probably the Chief.

At exactly 10:45 Sunday morning I spread out the direction sheets and counted the things in the boxes. This is always a safe way to begin. It looks efficient. Then I counted the things mentioned on the sheet of directions and found that they agreed in number and variety with the things in the boxes. There were thirty-three things, thirty-one of which I did not know what to do with. The other two were screw eyes. A man with a mechanical turn of mind such as mine is not often fooled by a screw eye. As soon as he sees it he knows it is meant to screw into something. The only question was what I had better screw the screw eyes into.

The man who brought my radio outfit to my house -- when I was not at home -- had taken a look around and he had told my father to tell me that he thought I had better string the antenna wire from the roof of the house to the tree out back there. This was all right except that the tree was beyond my fence and in Mr. Bourguignon's back lot. It was not my tree; it was Mr. Bourguignon's tree. Of course I might have bought the tree and had it moved into my yard, but no one would have moved it on Sunday, even if Mr. Bourguignon wanted to sell it, and I wanted to get through with the job that day. The other alternative was to leave the tree where it was -- it was a big tree -- and buy Mr. Bourguignon's property, but his property has a house and six garages (five cement ones and one frame) and a chicken coop and a tennis court and other things on it and it hardly seemed worth while to go to the expense of buying it.

I might have gone to Mr. Bourguignon and have asked him to loan me one cubic inch of the tree to screw the screw eye into, but my wife has a garden and the Bourguignons have chickens. The Bourguignons keep their chickens cooped up and out of our garden in the nicest way possible, but one can never tell. A cyclone might blow down their chicken coop and let the chickens into my wife's garden and a chicken might eat a petunia! Then, if in hot anger I murdered the chicken, Mr. Bourguignon might climb the tree and chop down my antenna just when Galli Curci was going to sing an aria or something, and that would be a catastrophe.

You can see by this what tremendous difficulties we radio engineers have to contend with. So I put the large flat cardboard box on the grass at the corner of my house and hung the loop of antenna wire over my arm and lighted my pipe and read Article 1, Section 1, of the Constitution and By-Laws, which said, "Select location for antenna as free as possible from trees, buildings, towers, etc."

This was a stumper! The only two places I knew of that were as free as possible from trees were the Sahara Desert and the Arizona Desert, and that was not where I was. It was not where I wanted to string the antenna. I wanted to string it in my own back yard.

The directions then said that "except at ends, antenna wire should not come closer than ten feet to any of these objects." Then "Wire may be supported from buildings, poles, or trees." Direction 2 said "Uncoil Copperweld Antenna Wire and lay along ground between supports."

This was something like business! This was something to do. I began at once.

I am confronted with a technical problem.

"Here!" I told my young son; "Take the end of this wire and walk down to the fence with it and hook it onto the fence."

I said this calmly and with seeming indifference, but, as a fact, I was deeply agitated. I had meant to come out of the house, rig up the antenna, put it through a window, hook it onto the doojah that you hear through, and then sit down and hear the morning sermon. That was allowing fifteen minutes for the job, and to a man of my capabilities it should have been sufficient. It is all right for a ten-year-old boy to take an hour to two to build and install a radio outfit, but a man -- and a busy man -- cannot afford to waste time.

Unfortunately I saw at once that if the "No. 14 Copperweld Antenna Wire" was to be "25 to 50 feet high" I would need a ladder. I can reach eight feet high, and if I stand on a chair I can reach eleven feet high, but I cannot reach fifty feet high. And I had no ladder. In stringing an antenna wire between a house and a barn properly a ladder is almost a necessity. There is only one thing that can take its place; this is a boden.

My son took the end of the wire down to the fence and as the wire unrolled off my arm it took the form of a spiral. It was like a seventy-foot bedspring, and I had a lot of wire left on my arm. It was evident to me right then that the wire was not going to lay itself down on the ground as flat and neat as a stretched string and then boost itself up into the air where I wanted it, and behave like a properly trained antenna, with soldered connections and everything.

At that moment a voice behind me said:

"Hello! Putting up your radio?"

I turned and saw the very boden I had been needing. Perhaps it is better to spell it with a big B, like this -- Boden.

"Yes," I said to Boden, and he came up to the fence.

"I am spending this Sunday collecting money for the Flushing Hospital," he said, and added: "You can't unroll a coil of wire that way, as if it were a rope; it twists and kinks if you do. I'll show you how to unroll a coil of wire."

So the Boden -- perhaps it is better to say it with a Mister, like this -- Mr. Boden -- came over into my yard and unrolled the coil of wire. It reached from where I was to the fence and back, and as Mr. Boden wanted to show me how to straighten a wire that had spiralled itself into kinks I let him show me. I held the end of the wire while he showed me.

I was now making good progress and was well pleased. Mr. Boden came and took the end of the wire out of my hand and placed it on the lawn. The difficult part of my work was now to be done: the brain work. That is my specialty. I felt at home. I spread out the sheet of directions and picked up a screw eye. Then I put the screw eye back in the box. I am never afraid of good hard work.

"The picture on these directions," I said, "shows a single antenna wire, and the directions say 75 to 150 feet. As it is only seventy feet from my house to my barn I guess seventy feet will do."

Having settled that once and for all I was well pleased. I like to get things settled definitely. I detest indecision. Once I had decided on a single wire seventy feet long the rest was easy. I lit my pipe while Mr. Boden decided that my aerial was not to be a single wire but a double wire hung with spreaders and insulators. I lit another match and remarked that I did not have any spreaders and that I had only two insulators. Mr. Boden went over to his house and got two hickory spreaders that happened to be nicely wired and to have holes in them where holes were needed, and also two more insulators. I then lit another match -- I smoke damp tobacco -- and Mr. Boden said my aerial was going to be fastened to my kitchen chimney with a rope and to the barn with another rope. I told him I had a rope, and he seemed pleased. One's labor is made much more pleasant when installing a radio outfit if the Boden used is the sort that seems pleasant now and then.

Having proceeded this far I looked at the barn and said I would probably need a ladder, so Mr. Boden went home and got a large ladder that was in two sections. He brought it into my yard and put the two sections together and stood them up against the barn.

I was now ready to get down to solid work. I took out a fair-to-middling looking safety match and struck it while Mr. Boden strung the antenna wire through the spreaders and made them fast there, wiring the insulators where they should be. As there was a slight breeze the match went out, and I lit another. This assistance greatly inspired Mr. Boden and he sent a junior Boden home for his soldering outfit while he uncoiled the 35 feet of No. 14 B & S gauge insulated copper lead-in wire and twisted it neatly to the antenna wire at the proper place.

Having allowed Mr. Boden to solder the joints neatly and permanently I was now ready to begin work in real earnest. I took out my watch -- it was given to me by the citizens of Flushing because of the tireless manner in which I do any job I undertake -- and while I wound it Mr. Boden got a large length of stout wood out of my barn and, climbing the ladder, nailed it upright against one of the dormer windows of the barn. I then permitted him to come down, because he wanted to go home to get his saw, and when he had brought the saw and several pieces of board into my yard, I showed him a good place to put the boards while he sawed them into braces. Then he went up the ladder and nailed the braces in exactly the place I should have selected myself.

Luckily for us all, Mr. Boden, when he went up the ladder, had taken one end of a rope with him as well as the two screw eyes. He now screwed the two screw eyes into the upright length of stout wood and ran the rope through the eyes of the screw eyes. With my usual indefatigability I tied the other end of the rope to the antenna business so that he could pull it up and fasten it snugly in place. You can imagine my pride when I saw that glistening copper wire high above my head ready to receive the mysterious electric waves that are the marvel of the twentieth century, and knew that I had done the whole job myself without assistance of any kind.

"Boden," I said, "I have done a good job."

"I have to go home for dinner now," he replied.

"In that case," I said, "it is time for me to rest and refresh myself with a little food. I believe a laboring man deserves his full hour at noon."

After dinner I looked around for the full sized Boden but he was not to be seen. I was a little hurt to be thus deserted just when I was ready to begin the really intellectual part of my job -- hooking up the lightning arrester and connecting the batteries and the Type NF Style 319564 Receiver and attaching the telephone earpiece doodads. Fortunately I am a man of resourcefulness. To do all this delicate work I had nothing but a pocketknife and a small sized Boden. For a reason which I shall mention a little later I was unable to insert the "insulating entrance bushing" through the side of the house to poke the wire through, so -- temporarily -- I opened a window and put the wire through the opening thus created. As the window was large I had little difficulty in putting the wire through the opening. I then laid the second sheet of directions on an almost-mahogany table while the small sized Boden attached twelve or fourteen wire ends to different parts of the lightning arrester and receiver. When I had thus hooked on the various wires my real work began.

I let my neighbor bore the hole.

In installing a radio outfit it is necessary to have what we technical experts call a "ground wire." This is a wire that connects the aerial with the earth. The idea seems to be that when the radio wave leaves its distant home and roosts on your antenna it immediately becomes homesick and wants to get back home. If you give it a "ground wire" it slides down it and goes right home by subway, giving your receiver a kick as it goes. This is what puts life into your receiver, but if you do not give the wave a "ground wire" it roosts on the antenna and dies there and falls off and never squawks again. This explanation may be too technical for some of my readers but those who have made a life study of radio will understand it. It therefore became necessary for me to save the lives of countless radio waves. I did so. I took the coil of wire -- one end of which the junior Boden had fastened to the lightning arrester -- and threw it out of the window. I then went outdoors and wrapped one end of this wire around the spigot I use to fill the watering can when I want to fill the birdbath.

It was now 3:45 P. M. and I was quite exhausted. I went into the house and found that the junior Boden had attached the ear things and had pushed the glass bulb into the place that was meant for it and done something to several dials. At exactly 3:46 P. M. I put the earpiece to my ear and broke right into the middle of a Mother's Day sermon that was coming through the air from Newark, New Jersey.

This shows what a man can do when he is not afraid of work and makes up his mind to do a thing, no matter how difficult or laborious it may be. Nothing dismays such a man. Nothing can conquer him. He decides to do a thing and he does it.

And I am not a radio installer by profession either; I am an author. The fact that I am an author makes the work I did in installing my radio outfit all the more wonderful, but it led to the second and final triumphant day of work.

The room in which I had temporarily installed the radio receiver is the room in which I do my authoring and I soon found that having the receiver one foot and three inches from my desk cramped my style. It is almost impossible for an author to turn out work like Thackeray's and Shakespeare's while he is listening to WJZ give the weather forecast, the final baseball score, an orchestral concert, a lecture on Oral Hygiene and a talk on "The Hopeful Side of the Cancer Problem." It is almost annoying to write with ink when two twins, three minimum sized boys, a wife or two and a few neighbors are sitting on the desk, the inkstand and sheet 6 of the manuscript, listening to radio. So I decided to move radio to another room and install him permanently there according to a column and a half of new fire and lightning regulations.

No sooner said than done! Unhooking all wires I threw them out of the window. And now came the strenuous part of the work. A week had passed by and again it was Sunday morning. I went out in my yard and waved lengths of wire in the sun but no Boden came to the fence. I leaned against a fence post and studied the sheet of directions but no Boden appeared. I feared some other radio enthusiast was using my Boden, but I discovered this was not so; he had gone to church.

I had purchased thirty-five more feet of lightning proof wire and a lot of porcelain thingumbobs. The thingumbobs I screwed to the side of my house and on them I strung the wire. This brought me to the window casing in which I wished to insert the "insulating entrance bushing" without which no modern home is complete. As it looked as if it was going to be impossible to push a baked clay "insulating entrance bushing" through a hard pine window casing I went inside the house. To do this I had to go half around the house, up the back-porch stairs, through the back entry, through the kitchen, through the butler's pantry, through the dining room and into the "little room." Having done this I looked at the floor. It was a hard floor. I must bore a hole through the hard floor into the cellar and run the "ground wire" down to a water pipe there. I went out of the "little room," through the dining room, through the butler's pantry, through the kitchen, through the entry, down the back porch steps, across the yard, into the barn and looked at the tools there. The only tool I saw that would bore a hole was a gimlet, so I took the gimlet and went out of the barn and across the yard and up the steps and through the entry and through the kitchen and through the butler's pantry and through the dining room and into the "little room."

I put the final touches on the installation.

I next decided to bore the hole and bored it. As the hole was not big enough to admit the wire I went out of the "little room," through the dining room -- well, anyhow, I went to the barn and got a brass rod that I found there, and a hammer, and went back and hammered the brass rod down the gimlet hole. Immediately the far end of the brass rod hit something as solid as the rock of Gibraltar -- solider, even. It was the foundation of the house. Then I tried to pull the brass rod out of the hole and it would not come. It was stuck there.

I went out to the barn and got a puller and went back to the house and pulled the brass rod out of the gimlet hole. I chose a spot three inches from the first hole and bored another gimlet hole in the floor. This time the brass rod, when driven into the gimlet hole, struck the foundation of the house. It was the same foundation of the same house.

When I had pulled the brass rod out of the gimlet hole I went down cellar and looked at the foundation and came upstairs and bored another hole. I drove the brass rod into this hole and hit something medium hard. I went down cellar and looked for the end of the rod, but I could not see it, and I went upstairs and looked at the rod and downstairs and looked for it again and upstairs and measured from the window edge to the rod and downstairs and discovered that the cellar window was not as wide as the room window. So I went upstairs and outdoors and measured from the edge of the cellar window, and went downstairs and measured from the edge of the cellar window there, and discovered that the gimlet hole was undoubtedly immediately above the washroom partition. So I went upstairs and bored another gimlet hole in the floor.

This time the brass rod, when hammered into the gimlet hole, went through and took a part of the cellar's plaster ceiling with it. I pulled the rod out of the hole and poked a quarter of a mile of insulated wire down the hole and went down cellar to sandpaper the water pipe and attach the patent "ground clamp, Style 319501." There was no wire! A quarter of a mile of wire had gone down the gimlet hole and mysteriously disappeared!

Later I found it between the cellar's plaster ceiling and the floor above, and eventually I coaxed it -- by speaking to it gently -- to go down into the cellar.

I was now all ready to perform the final operation of the installation of the radio outfit, and while I waited for the sermon in the Congregational Church to conclude I attached the lightning arrester to the wall. By this time I heard a noise like a Boden next door and I wandered over in that direction and casually remarked that the directions said a five-eighths bit was a good size to use in boring a hole for the "insulating entrance bushing." My priceless Boden immediately went down into his cellar and returned at once with a brace and a bit about a yard and a half long.

I had intended boring the hole myself, so that I could say that I had installed my radio outfit myself and without any help whatever, but the Boden went for the brace and bit so cheerfully and returned so promptly that I thought I would reward him. I let him bore the hole.



Saturday, October 07 at 1:12:39am USA Central
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