Thursday, April 09, 2009

Remember Crystal Sets? Pt. 1

Originally published in the March, 2009, Old Radio Times.(

Anyone Remember Crystal Radio Sets?
Ned Norris

Like many people of my generation I was brought up under strict conditions. Bedtime was at a certain rigid time every night. Lights out meant no reading; it meant sleep. It certainly did not include listening to radio broadcasts.

But as a child of thirteen, I discovered the delights of the crystal set. It was probably what started my love affair with old time radio. But it was a frustrating affair. The workings of my crystal radio set have remained a complete mystery. How, I wondered then, could a lump of gray mineral possibly capture radio waves and do so without a battery?

Now, several decades later, the answers are easy to find on the Internet –– here I quickly discover that crystal sets, and the parts to make them, are readily available today –– even though they look vastly different from the crude thing I had. In comparison, today's look . . . well …positively modern.

To my amazement, according to Google there are 245,000 pages that contain the phrase "crystal set". There is even The Xtal Set Society which says it is "dedicated to once again building and experimenting with radio electronics." It advertises books, parts and kits. One kit is called the Quaker Oat Box Radio Pack. It contains one roll of 24-gauge hook-up wire (100 feet), one germanium diode, one 47,000-ohm resistor, one alligator clip, and one crystal earplug. Sounds just about as basic as my old set……but I don't remember the otherinstructions that come with this kit: "You will need to provide your own antenna wire and oatmeal box. "The advertised price is $8.95. Do some reverse inflation calculations and you will know better than I now remember roughly how much I paid for my set back in 1947. Any money I had in those days was 'earned' by not spending my lunch money at school, so I know the set I had was dirt-cheap.


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