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.

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