‘We all rushed to examine this marvel’

From our March 2012 issue

By Russ Stewart – Victoria, B.C.

During the lean years of the 1930s, a ray of light came into our lives in the form of a radio.

Dad paid $2 for it at an auction sale. He and Uncle Charlie carried it in the door late one fall afternoon and set it on the table. We all rushed to examine this marvel.

Even before it found its voice it was an awe inspiring object. I remember it was a King, a large black rectangular metal box full of vacuum tubes and all sorts of other mysteries.

There were some dials on the front and a big black bakelite horn that sat on top of the box and was connected to it by two wires.

Dad wasted no time in setting up a tall poplar post in the yard and stringing an antenna to the house and attaching it to the radio.

Heard voices from afar

He tuned it in and was immediately hooked. The thing gave wonderful reception.

Salt Lake City and even Mexico City came in loud and clear, especially during the winter when the evenings were longest and the farm demanded the least work.

Unfortunately we get a thorn with every rose. After a few days the wonderful voice began to fade.

The machine was energized by a dry battery and a two-volt wet battery, and the wet battery was becoming discharged. The remedy was to take it to the garage in town and get it recharged.

This was not a large inconvenience or a prohibitive expense, but it soon became evident that the radio had a remarkable appetite for two-volt energy.

Weekly trips to charge the battery would be required if we were to continue to enjoy the gossip from CKBI Prince Albert and Foster Hewitt’s broadcasts of Hockey Night in Canada.

Extended charge time

Dad solved this problem by acquiring a six-volt car battery and using one of the three cells at a time to power the radio, thus extending the time between charges to about three weeks.

When the old King eventually expired we got a new mantel radio. It was powered by a battery pack, which was essentially two large dry batteries packaged together in a carton about the size, shape, and weight of a one-dozen case of beer.

This arrangement relieved us of the trouble and expense of having a wet battery charged.

The problem with it was that one part of the pack tended to become discharged before the other part did. The remedy was to substitute a telephone battery for the ailing part.

Another problem was that the packs were relatively expensive – $10 or more as I recall – and most families could only afford to buy one pack a year, usually after harvest.

By the following summer the pack would be completely exhausted but that mattered little to most people because farmers were busy on the land and children spent most of the time outdoors.

Ominous news

I clearly remember a Sunday morning in the fall of 1939. Our battery pack was long dead and we hadn’t yet gotten a new one.

We walked up the road to meet the neighbour children for the walk to Sunday School at the little church a mile farther along across from the school.

The neighbour’s radio was working and they told us that war had been declared against Germany and we all realized that great events were about to unfold.