When I was Eighth Grade my best and I went to visit his uncle. That day his uncle was removing what looked like a coil out of his AM radio. Then he found a similar coil in an old television. He removed that coil and placed it in the radio. Turning on the radio, instead of receiving AM stations, the radio was playing shortwave stations.
Well that was it for me. I instantly wanted to learn more about radios and electronics. The coils are known as Intermediate Frequency or IF Transformers. They are used to step down the frequency so that the detector can separate the audio from the transmission signal. Since a mixer is used with the IF signal to receive the specific transmission frequency, and changing the transformer changes the intermediate frequency, a different range of transmission frequencies can be received. The tuner in this case now works at a band of shortwave frequencies.
At every trip to the store I looked for either Radio-Electronics or Popular Electronics magazines. By Tenth Grade I was no better than knowing resistor color codes or how to build the projects in the magazines. However, the year before there was an opportunity to go to the Vocational High School in my county and after applying, I was accepted. The field I chose was Radio and TV Repair – the perfect vocation in the Seventies. This field was dying but it taught radio electronic theory all three years, just enough to continue my education in the U.S. Army.
TV repair was not only dying, the most skilled technicians made little to nothing. Seeing that it was a dead end, my Uncle who was a recruiter at the time, saw my test scores and talked me into going for the best electronics course in the Army. This was probably a good idea because I wanted to get into meteorology, something better suited in the Navy or Air Force. At eighteen, I was off to a nine-month electronics course that not only rehashed radio electronics, but also included digital electronics. Field station and tactical posts gave me experience in all types of repair.
After the Army it was hard to get a job in Delaware, but a buddy hired me in Virginia and I repaired manufactured circuit boards for a RF Switch Matrix. Later, it was my job to get the entire system acceptable in field testing. The design of the boards fascinated me because coils on the boards minimized crosstalk while signal diodes were used to control the signal path. There were no big shields soldered to these boards. There was little Intermodulation Distortion and the signal-to-noise ratio was great. With buffering circuits, the only thing to watch out for was too much input gain. That affected the built-in signal tester, which would then give false switch failures. I enjoyed this, but the travel was ending and the company would fold in a few years.
I found a job in Maryland that was all digital electronics and it trained me for network packets and TCP/IP, the Internet protocols. As a technician radio electronics is far better a field than bit-chasing on circuit boards that were too expensive to repair. Setting up test equipment and learning to write self-test programs, this led me after five more years to become a Unix/Linux Systems Administrator and Engineer.
My total electronics career spanned seventeen years. I could go back in a heartbeat, but when an entry level sys admin makes more than an experienced RF tech, something’s wrong. I never pursued an Electrical Engineering degree, and my knowledge of electronics was judged by that. As long as I’m alive in this world, there will always be a place for electronics that tickles my fancy. Rock Music has always been a fun pastime and modifying electric guitars and amplifiers has always been a co-equal endeavor.
My first amplifier was a broken radio. I had no desire to fix it and in high school I had no sense of ethical returning – I kept a friend’s radio and used the working audio section to amplify my guitar. Later on, another friend had bought a used tube amp that he thought sounded fine, but discovered later that it didn’t and he asked me if I could fix it. It turned out that one of the power tubes wasn’t working well and that particular tube was expensive. A matching set was needed for a fully-working push-pull power circuit; the tubes would cost over $100! My thought was to go ahead and replace the tubes with the standard Fender-type 6L6s that cost $40 per pair. I designed and rewired the circuit to correct the differences. This was my proudest work up to now.
A couple of years ago, I built a fuzz pedal. Since then there has been a desire to design and build pedals. Lack of money has kept me from getting started, so instead I made my dream guitar. I’ll write about that soon. My future plans are to get the breadboarding setup and start building – both analog and digital pedals. I’ll never be a rock star and likely will never start a pedal company, but there will be some pedals out there with my name on it. This will be for fun.
Electronics is something that is fun and is fascinating to know. Not enough appreciation is given to discovering it – it is something so many take for granted. It is also something that would be missed if it were to go away and never work again. Then, life will be the same as it has been for 99% of man’s existence.