There were always connections helping me find a job. My friend Don gave me his job sweeping floors at the downtown dress shop. My mother got me a job at the cemetery. Jim got me the job at the Credit Union League, which taught me a lot. My first real job, found sort of on my own, was at the college radio station. Just like other jobs, it came to me through connections. This connection was my friend Cliff O, who lived in the room next door in the dorm.
KDSU was the college radio station, a public radio station before there was National Public Radio. The hours were limited, going on the air in late morning or early afternoon, signing off just after midnight. The fare was classical music in the afternoon, some news in the evening, more classical music, then jazz to close out the night. Most of the staff were nerds like me, more interested in radio technology than radio, and weren’t afraid to talk to a microphone.
Back in high school I had been part of the radio club. (My memory is dim here.) I had befriended one of the KEYJ announcers and put together some programs for high school news. That experience and my hobby of taking apart radios and televisions made me ideal for the job at KDSU. All I needed was a third class radiotelephone license. As I recall all I had to do was send in my name and address.
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.
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