What to do with my life?

What to do, what to do? Junior high was where I decided what I wanted to be when I grew up. I had read every science fiction book in the library and most of the astronomy books as well. So it was obvious; I would become an astronomer. This held for a short while, until I figured out that nobody much hired astronomers and they had to work at night. That was not for me. Could there be something else? Science was interesting. I had no artistic abilities. What would I do? Weighty questions for an eighth grader. The insides of things fascinated me. Toys. Clocks. Radios. Televisions. I started taking them apart every chance I had. Radios and televisions became my favorite. I learned about the tubes and parts that made up most home radios of the fifties and sixties. These were little radios that sat on the kitchen counter and played only AM stations.

From Wikimedia commons. Public Domain photo.

A vacuum tube, similar to the ones I played with.

I was also the proud owner of an old AM broadcast and shortwave radio, one of the old floor standing models that you see in pictures from the thirties. That’s the one I used to scan the dial for clear channel stations like KOA in Denver and KOMA in Oklahoma City. I strung a long wire from the radio’s antenna connector into the back yard to get a better signal, then looked up possible stations in the amateur radio magazine to see which frequencies the clear channels broadcast on. I enjoyed listening for their call letters, and hearing the latest music (even on WSM) and news updates. Stations only broadcast their call letters on the hour and half hour, so it was a challenge to verify which station I was listening to. Static and distant thunder storms added to the challenge.

By the time I was in high school I had taken apart enough of the table radios to know how they worked and how to repair them. Just about every radio set used the same design, based around the “All American Five” tube set. (Nerds, please look it up on Wikipedia.) I could turn on the radio, look in the back and usually guess which tube was bad or what the problem was. Numbers like 50C5 and 6AV6 were second nature to me. Radios soon gave way to television sets. They were a little more complicated, a couple dozen tubes instead of five. Some high voltage stuff and the picture tube. I loved getting two nonfunctional sets and ending up with one that worked. These were a little tougher to diagnose, but I got pretty good at identifying which tubes to check at the drug store.

All this activity presented an opportunity. Maybe TV repairman was in my future? I was making good progress figuring these things out on my own. There were a couple of repair shops in town, as televisions broke down regularly. Repairs were usually quick and relatively inexpensive. Maybe that would be the life for me? Continue reading