In the Oct.
25 issue of Radio World, James O'Neal
asks an interesting question. His article,
Anyone Build Anything Anymore??", showed
hand-built electronic equipment at broadcast
stations in the 1960s and '70s.
My answer to his question is "yes," Some of
us still do create solutions by hand, even
in this plug' n' play world.
A BIT OF HISTORY
Back in the 1920s, 30s and even the 40s,
most station engineers built their studio
and transmitter equipment. There was some
broadcast gear available from RCA, but it
was very expensive until after WWII, when
competition from other manufacturers
I was licensed in amateur radio starting at
age 16, in 1963. My greatest interest was
designing and building electronic circuits.
With a good understanding of Ohm's Law and a
desire to work with my hands, I have always
enjoyed creating handy devices for use at
radio stations. It is fun and rewarding.
Fig. 1: Don Kelley in the KVBR main
Fig. 1 illustrates that point, it features
a main studio that I built at a small radio
station in Brainerd, Minn. The announcer is
Don Kelley. Sorry, it is a fuzzy vintage
Looking closely, you see a number of
interesting innovations. On the lower left
is a painted wooden box with a metal panel
containing numerous knobs and switches for
dealing with multiple audio feeds to the
1964 vintage Gates Yard tube-type studio
If you know that audio mixer, you'll wonder
what the second meter is to the right. Well,
it is the modulation monitor. Announcers
could easily see their studio audio levels
and the resulting transmitted audio. That
extra meter was in a painted metal box with
the same size and front panel tilt as the
audio console. It was an extension for the
console, not just a box that did not fit
well into the studio environment. Atop that
was a keyset for selecting phone lines to go
on the air.
Further to the right was an ITC triple-deck
cartridge playback machine. Remember those? Attached to its right side is a box with
pots to control the audio level of each
cartridge playback deck. It made sense to
make the final audio product a good one,
even in the hectic live studio environment
of the time. Yes, those are Magnecord PT-6
reel-to-reel tape machines in wooden boxes
on the wall with space below for other
broadcast gear. The arrangement made maximum
use of available space.
Fig. 2: KVBR Newsroom 1975.
Fig. 2 shows the station newsroom. Yes,
radio stations did real news
reporting back then. (The handsome skinny
guy with the clipboard is me!)
Of greatest interest here is the six-input
audio console. No, you won't find one in a
manufacturer's catalog. I built it from
scratch and loved doing it. The console was
designed and sized for that particular
situation. There are boxes above, including
one with an analog clock timer so news cuts
could be timed. What's missing is a computer!
Well, those came later.
One radio station was not enough for the
young and energetic person I was. So it was
off to do more in the world of radio
|Fig. 3 A Hand-built antenna
That included Fig. 3, building AM
directional antenna systems from the ground
up with coils and capacitors instead of
installing manufactured phasors. You can
still do that if
someone wants one!
Fig. 4: A five-tower AM phasor
Fig. 4 shows a phasor controller for a
five-tower AM array. Why buy when you can
build one instead? This one has no less than
24 relays on the chassis behind. I designed
and built it using real-world experience for
what goes wrong during lightning strikes,
etc. That controller and AM directional are
still working after more than 30 years of
service. (Manufacturers need to do more of
that kind of thinking when designing
HOW TO DO IT
I came from a point-to-point wiring
scheme world where resistors and capacitors
were wired and soldered directly to tube
sockets and the like, so my circuit boards
do not have etched lands to connect
Instead, I have always preferred running
wires on the non-component side of a board.
Fig. 5: Vector board
I like Vector-brand prototype boards, which
have convenient holes every 1/10th inch.
They are great for traditional dual inline
package integrated circuits and many relays.
Fig. 5 shows that. The reasoning here is
they are quick and easy to wire, especially
in situations where maybe only one board is
built for a particular need.
TAKE PRIDE IN YOUR WORK
Fig. 6: A main/auxiliary
Fig. 6 shows a more recent shop creation to
select one of two antennas. It is on a rack
panel that is 3-1/2 inches high. Labels came
off an inexpensive Brother P-Tech label
machine in just seconds. Other label
printers do that too. The lettering is white
on a clear strip to let the panel's black
color show through. (Now this is
starting to look like it came from a factory
and something to take pride in.)
Don't forget to create a schematic, even if
it is hand-drawn. Every electronic device
needs documentation so it can be serviced
and/or modified in the future.
Fig. 7: The backside of the
Fig. 7 shows the backside of that same
panel. Again, it is point-to-point wiring
with a small circuit card for two relays and
other components including an input/output
connector. Note also that there is a
wall-wart (wall mount) power supply.
I am afraid nowadays to connect a 120 VAC
power cord to even one of my creations. The
liability is very high. That problem goes
away when I use UL approved external power
supplies with outputs of less than 30 volts.
Almost all are lightweight switching power
supplies with small form factors. Another
benefit is they save time and money because
a DC power output is already tightly voltage
Fig. 8: An EAS relay panel.
Fig. 8 is a relay panel used for controlling
audio to multiple radio stations by one EAS
unit. This project makes use of readily
available Potter & Brumfield brand circuit
cards with relays. There is even room to
hand print labels on each relay card. Again,
there is a wall power supply to decrease
It is true that almost no one builds
equipment anymore. It takes a well-equipped
shop with a drill press to make equipment
that does not look haphazard. The person
doing it must have a good understanding of
the electronic technology he or she is
I feel great about making something that is
useful and looks much like what a
manufacturer might mass produce.
However, like many engineers of my vintage,
I am about to retire. At age 70, I am going
to close the shop at the end of 2017.
The problem with continuing in business is
$5,000 in taxes, accounting and insurance
per year, which is not a good plan for an
old guy like me. It is up to younger
engineers to carry the torch of
broadcasting into the future.
You can still build equipment though. It
makes perfect sense.
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