26 April 2012

Treasure! -- Rex Baker and the Wireless

Treasure! I've found treasure!

I found a cassette tape that I recorded in Christmas 1980 and February 1982. It is full of family stories, and it literally brought tears to my eyes to hear the voices of my grandparents, Noel and Marion, and my Great-Aunt Harriet and Uncle Leonard, and my Dad -- all of whom are gone now. And it also made me smile to hear my own 10-year-old voice, so kid-like.

I need to get it digitized so I can post it and share it with the family. In the meantime, I've transcribed one of the stories that is directly relevant to this most recent letter I've posted.

Tubes as used in a tube amplifier.
Courtesy of Mikah Taylor via Flickr
It is the story of how Noel got interested in building radios, and specifically the amplifier that George has been trying to sell in the letters. It also explains how Rex Baker fits into the family.

I can't express enough how excited I was to find this story on tape, because I knew Grandpa had told me the story, and it was driving me crazy that I'd forgotten the detail. (See my previous post on the amplifier.)

Here it is from Christmas 1980. The audio file and the transcript are below. I've cleaned up just a little bit of the background chatter out of the transcript. (4/30/12: Added audio file.)


Noel: "I started playing with radios in Wellington, New Zealand, and that would be right around 1920-21, when the first broadcasting stations were starting up. We had the crystal radios and I used to make radios to listen to the radio station in Wellington.

"And then when we moved to Australia, we had an English boy called Rex Baker come to live with us and help around the yard, and he was very interested in radio. So we started off  making all kinds of radios.

"We used to make radios to listen to -- a one-tube radio -- to listen to WKDA [should be: KDKA] in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. That was the only station in the United States that had enough power to get ... that we could get the signal in Australia on.

"We used to make these radios, and make them and make them and play around with them, and then from that we went to making radios to get, to try to get 2LO London. We never did make one to get 2LO London. But we made a radio that we got, we used to get up at 2-3 o'clock in the morning to get JOAK Japan, in Tokyo, Japan."

Marion: "Were you successful in getting that?"

Noel: "Oh yes, we used to get that one regularly.

"But we'd build our own coils and everything. And then from that we went to amplifiers.

"When I came to America, I had a big amplifier that we'd built that nobody knew what to do with, but Dad ultimately sold it to a country theater, a movie theater, for their movie house as their power amplifier. Boy, that was quite a piece of equipment."

Marion: "But he sent you the money. You were quite hard up in those days."

Noel: "He sent me £75. He sold it for £75 which in those days was worth around ... that would be about $300."

Marion: "Boy, that came in handy for you. You were broke and it was Depression times."

Noel: "That was quite a project, that was quite an amplifier. The main output tubes, plates of the tubes, we used to run them cherry red."

Marion: "What would make them cherry red?"

Noel: "We boosted the power into them to get larger response from it. More noise."

Marion: "Boy, how'd your mother survive all that racket?"

Harriet: "Oh your mother used to tell me, when she came to this country, she used to tell me about how Noel was a little boy, when he was young how he used to play with the wallace. 'He was always working on the wallace.' "

Haley: "What is a wallace?"

Harriet: "That's what I was wondering. I would think 'what kind of thing is a wallace? It wasn't until sometime later that I said, 'Noel, whatever was a wallace that you played with so much when you were young?' You said, 'Wireless. The radio. The wireless.' "

Marion: "And then she told me that he was always putting antennas up on top of the house. He was up there wandering around on the roof putting up the antennas, and then after he left for America, the roof began to leak and they had to get a repair man over to see what was the matter. The repair man said, 'Well, somebody's been walking around up here and they've worn out the roof.' And they had to have a complete new roof because of him fussing around with his antennas up on top of the house."

Noel: "It was corrugated iron roof. Walking over it, you know, you smash out the corrugations, and where they overlap, then they started to leak."


And that is where that story ends.

On a side note, I was just talking with my mother today, and she repeated a comment that Auntie Edie once made. She said that after Noel moved to the United States, Edith always knew what the weather was in Chicago, because she could get it on the radio -- one of Noel's radios.

No. 19 -- 11 Nov 1931

Mr. N.A. Hughes,
C/o Y.M.C.A. College,
5315 Drexel Avenue,

My dear Noel,

We are expecting a letter from you today as the mail arrives at midday and will probably be distributed this afternoon. In view of this we cannot answer any enquiries that may by raised in your letter, which we hope will reach us this afternoon.

 All the folk at home are well, although mother has had a rather painful swelling on her chin which has every appearance of being a boil. She has treated it, but somehow it does not seem to respond to ordinary treatment and she has had a good deal of throbbing pain from it.

Keith and the kiddies are all well and I am likewise. Ruth, unfortunately, was off work for a day or two with a poisoned finger. Evidently she cut it in some way and inflammation took place with the result that she had to have it lanced. That is better again and she has resumed duty.

We are also pleased to say that Keith has another ship in just now. This will keep him busy for about a week. Fortunately there are two or three other ships expected in before the end of the year, so that in this way he will be earning a little money to assist him in his incidental expenses. He sat for portion of the Intermediate Accountancy examination last Friday, and has another examination tonight. This is more in the nature of a "try-out" as we do not think it is possible for him to pass with but six months of tuition. It is really a kind of "preliminary canter," preparing him for the May examinations of next year.

Keith is now playing for the Y.M.C.A. seconds Cricket team and seems to be doing fairly well on the whole. I think I told you that he is bowling fairly well and that a Saturday or two ago he made in the two innings 65 in one and 11 in the other.

Rex Baker has been away again. His job seems to be holding fairly well although I should not be surprised if he is to be put off as soon as the Christmas rush is over.

The Argus (Melbourne),
Saturday 14 November 1931, page 22
We have just had the Armistice Service in the Memorial Room and had quite a nice company of the folk present. Today is Armistice Day as you will probably remember.

Last Saturday (Nov 7) Ivor Burge was safely married and is at present away on his honeymoon. It was quite a nice wedding and the ceremony took place at All Saints St. Kilda. Lem.  Griffiths and Lindsay Stevens were groomsmen for Ivor,  and the two Miss Lauries officiated for Ivor's wife. The wedding breakfast was held afterwards in the Sunday School Hall, and was attended by about 70 folk. The Board, Staff and other groups in the Association made presentations, and Ivor was very delighted with the cordiality shown towards him and his good lady, by all the folk.

The Suburban Clubs' Gymnastic Competitions took place last Saturday night. Five teams competed in Calisthenics, Pyramids, relays, etc., and the whole show was exceedingly good. They asked me to adjudicate in the gymnastic section, which I did.

This week we are observing the world's Week of Prayer and each evening we are having short services of intercession in the Memorial Room. On Sunday, I spoke at the Y.M.C.A. Combined Gathering of Y.M., Y.W. and the Student Movement. On Monday night, I took charge of it, and tonight the Residents are responsible; Thursday the Vikings, and Friday the Boy's Department.

I think I told you in my last letter that we would probably have to face a considerable number of adjustments in staff because of the financial position. The Board, last night, decided to dispense with the services of Jim Gray in the pool and as pianist for the Gym. classes, and also to dispense with Reg. Gray in the Dormitory work. The responsibility for the Dormitory work will have to be carried by the other members of the staff. There has been a steady diminution in the number of permanent residents, and we are now down to 50 odd, and in view of this, the Board decided to do without a Dormitory Secretary meantime, until business improves. Other adjustments are also to be made which will effect a considerable saving to the Association.

I think the December issue is likely to be the last of "Melbourne's Manhood" unless we can secure a printer who will be prepared to publish Manhood for us without cost to the Association and be prepared to make it a payable proposition for himself through the advertisements. If we cannot secure such a printer, we must close down on publication. This will be a very serious loss to us in our work, and I hate the idea of it, but then we cannot go on losing on an average of £250 a month and expect to carry a number of these things which we know could be dispensed with, although it would be bad business for us in the long run. We are effecting further economies totalling £1300, so that you will see we are getting down to a position where  there will be considerable difficulty experienced in effectively manning our work. However, we cannot help it, much as we hate all these revisions and adjustments.

We are doing our best to keep intact our programme departments, so that we may render our best service to our membership under the special conditions.

I have not heard from Clive Glover for a long time. I have been wondering how he is getting along. I am glad to say I have had letters from several of the English Secretaries including Cyril Bavin, D.M. Gunn, Frank Carter, and J. Chamberlain, in which they mention having met you at the conferences. Please be good enough to give me the names of those whom you saw, who were on the cards of introduction I gave to you.

We have made no progress with the disposal of the Amplifier. This is an unfortunate business and I know you must be in need of the money. I do not know what to do about it. Rex. Baker has had one or two along to look at it, but no sale has resulted. I think we will have to dismantle it and sell the parts for the best prices we can secure.

There will be another mail before Christmas so that we shall hope to write you again in time to reach you before that event. This should reach you somewhere about the time of your birthday. You can be sure, boy, we all unite in the best of good wishes on that occasion.

We are anxiously awaiting news regarding your entry into college. I must close now. You know we are thinking of you every day, and praying that you may be helped through your difficulties, and encouraged in your work. Please be perfectly frank with us and tell us if there is any special way in which we can help you.

With warm love from us all,
Yours affectionately,