Thursday, August 7, 2014

Radio Man Needed a Job

By: Bill L. Cou;lter

My dad-well he had this problem, he could not pronounce electricity, he would say “lectwistdy so he would not use the word unless he had to. All my Dad knew about electricity was that it could kill you and the fact he didn’t understand it scared the hell out of him. Later in life when I became more knowledgeable about electricity I helped him understand it even to the point he could change a light switch.

I had grown up fooling around with old radios, knob twisting, tube pulling and just plain experimenting. I had this big old wooden cabinet multiband radio and could pickup overseas broadcast and yes it would pop and crack whenever we had a thunderstorm and lightening. Damn near drove my Dad nuts tuning through the bands at night and I’d tune in one of those beat-frequency oscillators going from a low frequency pitch to a very high frequency pitch which I thought was pretty damn cool. Made me think I was some kind of science wizard. I remember my first experience with a McIntosh Amplifier that used mercury vapor rectifier vacuum tubes. When you turned on the amp the mercury vapor rectifier tubes would glow purple and when you would speak into the microphone the purple glow would flicker. It was called modulation.  No need to explain it here, as I did not understand it all back than but one day in the future I would be making mercury vapor rectifier tubes at Western Electric.

One of my many turning points was when I built my first Jacob’s ladder. You know where you take two pieces of metal coat hanger and hook them to the output of a transformer and bend them to where they are parallel to one another, plug in the transformer and a nice blue spark walks up the wires. I loved the smell of ozone in the morning.  I was getting pretty close to putting Igor out of a job down there in the Frankenstein Lab. I didn’t know crap about electronics at the time. Wonder I didn’t electrocute myself but I thought it was cool stuff. The last straw was a little trick that I played on my sister. I learned that I could take a ignition capacitor from a car touch the body to the car’s engine block and the end of the wire to a spark plug it would charge up the capacitor. I charged up one of those capacitors and laid it on the coffee table in the living room and went to my room. I than called to my sister to pick up the capacitor and bring it to me. When she picked it up an arc jumped about an inch and it shocked her pretty good which started a bawling fit. My Dad was not amused and I was severely punished.  All this stuff with electricity was growing short on my Dad he thought I was more of a wise guy than a wizard.

I was just getting out of high school and Dad made it clear he was not going to pay for me to go to some college and party. My dad was very conservative to say the least, went to work every day, eight hours work for eight hours pay and doing the job right. Not going to work made Jack a dull boy and that was my dad’s first name Jack. I was working with him at the time he had gotten me a job as a laborer on a job he was working on.  We were on the last phase. Forming and installing rebar for a concrete drive when the contractor - we’ll call JR - stopped by to check our progress.  The location was on the corner along one of the main streets in town.  JR, after looking over our work, called my Dad over and said “Jack we don’t need to dig this out as deep as you are digging.  We can save a lot on concrete cost JR told my Dad”. Now it was not in my Dad’s principles to take short cuts for the almighty dollar.  I saw my Dad unbuckle his tool belt and toss it in the back of his truck and he said to me “Son pick up the tools and put them in the truck”. I was familiar with the tone of my Dad’s voice and there was no hesitation on my part I was picking up tools. I heard JR say “jack what are you doing”? My Dad looked at JR and said, “I have been out here on this job for almost three months and a lot of people that I know in this town have driven by this job and when all this concrete begins to breakup because it was not poured thick enough they will say “that’s a job that Jack did”. My Dad looked JR straight in the eyes and said, “Send my check or drop it by, oh by the way, if you have a job you want done right call me”. There you have it that was my Dad in a nutshell. I needed an education and I needed a job – enter the military.

 In the late 50’s Army Recruiters had quotas and were more persistent then a 21st century telemarketer. The recruiter explained that I could have a paying job plus I could go to school. Sounded good to me just what I wanted to hear. So I was looking at entering the military service voluntarily.  If I volunteered the Army would let me choose a military occupation status (MOS) that could lead to a career. I was thinking about electronics and the Army Recruiter suggested either radio operator or radio repairman. I had chosen MOS-296.1, which was Field Radio Repair. The electronic Gods must have been watching over me at the time. I was to learn later that radio operators where referred to as ditty-dumb-dumb operators, you know that Morse code stuff, and I had already had a hard time learning pig Latin so no more code stuff for me. Yes sir, as a field radio repairman I was going to be a technician. Technician sounded pretty important when I was eighteen years old. I was later to learn that a field radio repairman was an infantryman with a Simpson 260 voltmeter strapped to his butt. That’s right we were going to learn how to troubleshoot, repair and fine-tune electronic equipment under combat conditions.

I signed all the necessary papers in exchange for a train ticket to St. Louis and a bus ride to Fort Leonard Wood where I would get eight weeks of basic training. After basic training I was taken by bus to Springfield, Missouri Airport and boarded  a twin engine tail dragger for Newark, New Jersey and than another bus ride to Fort Mammoth, New Jersey US Army Signal School. The US Army had made good on their promise I was working and going to school.


  1. I liked the story very much. People's stories of their childhood, growing up experiences are wonderful, like standing at the window and watching it unfold.:)

    1. Thanks Mary for your comments. At my age I stand at the window and wonder were did it all go?