The Radio Boys at the Sending Station, Allen Chapman, 1922, pages v - vi:
BY JACK BINNS
SINCE this volume was written an epoch making invention has been announced to the radio world. It is the super-regenerative system developed by E. H. Armstrong, the wizard of Columbia University. This system is bound to revolutionize the art of wireless communication in every branch, and is in itself the most important discovery since Marconi put into operation the first crude form of wireless apparatus.
I am mentioning this fact because there is the romance of youth overcoming every obstacle placed before it tied up in the history of Armstrong's remarkable achievements, and the story of this romance should stand forward as an incentive to American boyhood.
Fifteen years ago when radio amateurs first began to send out wireless telegraph messages, the federal authorities in Washington were at a loss to devise some means that would regulate them. It was then that a bright official conversant with radio said: "Put 'em down below 200 meters, and they'll soon die out."
He knew perfectly well that it was almost impossible to operate on those low wave-lengths with the apparatus in existence at that time--hence his sardonic proposal. The amateurs however, refused to "die out." Faced with the inexorable regulation, they set to work to devise apparatus which would operate successfully. Among them was E. H. Armstrong, a youth who at that time was attending Columbia.
It was a really lucky thing for the world that the official in Washington thought of his clever scheme to kill the amateurs, because it provided just the incentive needed to set Armstrong to work. The result has been that within ten years he has produced three epoch-making inventions, any one of which would have been a remarkable life achievement in itself.
Such, briefly is the story of one radio boy overcoming difficulties, but of course in this case it is a real story. It emphasizes the fact that even in these highly developed and organized times there is always an opportunity for boys to improve upon existing conditions, and since this is the theme of the adventures of "The Radio Boys," I am very glad to write the foreword to the series.
THE RADIO BOYS AT THE SENDING STATION
"But talking about radio reminds me that we ought to get busy with that lightning arrester we were talking about."
"What has lightning done that it ought to be arrested?" joked Herb.
"Now as to this lightning arrester," resumed Bob, leaving Jimmy to regain his equanimity. "We've got to put it up, for the regulations require it and we ought to have done it before."
Jimmy pricked up his ears but said nothing.
"I don't think there's really much need of it," objected Joe. "It's too nice an afternoon to work. We've got a lightning rod on the cottage anyway."
"It isn't so much for the cottage as the set," said Bob. "If the lightning got into the receiving set it would make short work of it. Now here's the kind of lightning switch we'll have to have," and he launched into an earnest discussion of a type that was required by the radio regulations. Jimmy took no part in the discussions, but they attributed this to a touch of grouchiness and gave him time to get over it. Bob after a while glanced at him, and saw that he wore a broad grin on his face.
"What's the joke, Jimmy?" he asked, a little suspiciously.
For only answer Jimmy broke into a peal of laughter.
"Of all the boobs," he chortled.
They looked at him and then at each other in bewilderment.
"Do you think the sun has affected his brain?" asked Herb, with affected anxiety.
"It might have, if he had any brain to be affected," replied Joe, in the same strain.
"Let us in on it, Jimmy," pleaded Bob. "Don't be selfish and keep it all to yourself."
"Why, you thick heads," replied Jimmy, with more force than politeness, "don't you know that you don't have to have a lightning arrester with a loop aerial?"
There was a moment's silence while they let this sink in, and then a sheepish grin stole into their faces.
"Sure enough," owned up Bob. "I knew that too, but I had forgotten it for the time. I was thinking of the outdoor aerial. Of course on an indoor aerial there's no need of a lightning arrester."
AT THE WIRELESS STATION
"Well, now about the wireless," interposed Bob, anxious to change the subject. "These friends of ours are a new addition to the army of fans and we want to put them next to some of the wonders of radio."
"It's a great army all right," laughed Harvey, "and we're always glad to welcome new recruits. They're coming into the ranks by thousands every day. Nobody can keep count of them, but they must run into the millions.
"And they're great in quality as well as quantity," he continued, warming to his favorite subject. "The President of the United States has a radio receiving set on his desk. There's one in the office of every one of the ten Cabinet members. The Secretary of the Navy is sending out wireless messages every day to vessels scattered in all parts of the globe. The head of the army is keeping in touch by radio with every fort and garrison and corps area in the United States. On last Arbor Day the Secretary of Agriculture talked over the radio to more people than ever heard an address in the history of the world. But there," he said, breaking off with a laugh, "if I once get going on this line I'll never know when to stop. So I'll say it all in one sentence--the radio is the most wonderful invention ever conceived by the mind of man."
"You don't need to prove it to us," laughed Bob. "It's simply a miracle, and we become more convinced of that every day. I'm mighty glad I was born in this age of the world."
The boys crowded around Mr. Harvey as he explained to Larry and Tim in as simple a way as possible the radio apparatus of the station.
"When I press this key," he said, "an electrical spark is sent up into the antenna, the big wire that you see suspended from the mast over the station, and is flung out into space."
"Travels pretty fast, doesn't it?" asked Larry, to whom all this was new.
"Rather," laughed Mr. Harvey. "It can go seven and a half times around the world while you are striking a match."
"What!" exclaimed Larry incredulously. "Why, the circle of the earth is about twenty-five thousand miles."
"Exactly," smiled Harvey. "And that spark travels at the rate of one hundred and eighty-six thousand miles a second."
"You're sure you don't mean feet instead of miles?" suggested Tim dubiously.
"It's miles all right," laughed Harvey. "Electricity travels at the same rate as the light that comes to us from the sun and stars."
"What becomes of this electrical impulse after it gets started on that quick trip?" asked Larry. "How does the fellow on the other end get what you're trying to tell him."
"That fellow or that station has another antenna waiting to receive my message," replied Harvey. "The signal keeps on going through the ether until it strikes that other antenna. Then it climbs along it until it reaches the receiving set and registers the same kind of dot or dash as the one I made at this end. It's like the pitcher and catcher of a baseball battery. One pitches the ball and the other receives the same ball. At one instant it's in the pitcher's hand and the next it has traveled the space between the two and is resting in the catcher's hand. Sounds simple, doesn't it?"
"Sounds simple when you put it that way," laughed Larry. "But I have a hunch that it isn't as simple as it sounds."
"Well, to tell the truth, it isn't quite as simple as that," confessed Harvey "There's a whole lot to learn about receiving and transmitting and detectors and generators and condensers and vacuum tubes and all that. But my point is that there's nothing of the really essential things that are concerned in getting entertainment and instruction from radio that can't be learned with a little application by any one of ordinary intelligence."
"I wonder if I'm in that class," said Larry quizzically, and there was a general laugh.
Another half hour was spent with great profit and interest in the sending station and then the boys arose to go.
"How are you getting along with that regenerative set?" asked Mr. Harvey of Bob.
"Pretty well, thank you," answered Bob. "It's the proper adjusting of the tickler that's giving me the most trouble."
"Be careful not to increase it too far," warned Harvey. "If you do, the vacuum tube oscillates and becomes a small generator of high frequency current and in that way will interfere with other near-by stations. Then, too, the speeches and music will be mushy instead of being clear. Drop in again when you have time and we'll talk the matter over a little further."
The visitors bade their host farewell and trooped out into the bright sunshine. Larry and Tim were enthusiastic over the new world into which they had been introduced.
"The most wonderful thing in the world," was their verdict.
"How's the wireless coming along these days?"
"Fine and dandy," responded Bob. "After we get back to Clintonia we intend to build some big sets so that we can receive signals from all over the country."
"But where do you get all the money to buy that stuff?" asked Larry. "Some of it must be pretty expensive, isn't it?"
"Not as expensive as you might think, although some of the apparatus, like audion bulbs, certainly run into money," replied Bob. "But we can easily sell the apparatus that we already have, and make enough on that to buy the new things with. There are plenty of people ready and anxious to buy our sets, because we can sell them for less than the store would charge, and they work as well or better than some store sets."
"Who's talking of selling our sets?" broke in a well-known voice, as Joe, Herb and Jimmy came, pellmell, into the room.
"I was," said Bob, in answer to Jimmy's question. "I was thinking of selling your set to the junkman, for what it would bring."
"Huh!" exclaimed Jimmy, indignantly. "I'll bet a junkman wouldn't even buy yours. He'd expect you to pay him to take it away."
"Say, you fellows must have a high opinion of each other's radio outfits," broke in Tim, laughing. "But if you want to give one away, here's Tiny Tim, ready and waiting."
"No chance," said Jimmy, positively. "I worked too many hot nights on mine to give it away now, and I guess Bob thinks he'd like to keep his, too, even though it isn't really much good."
"It was good enough to take the Ferberton prize, anyway, which is more than some people can say of theirs," Bob replied, grinning. "How about it, Doughnuts?"
"That was because the judges didn't know any better," said his rotund friend. "They should have made me the judge, and then there's no doubt but what my set would have won that hundred bucks."
"But we'll have the radio just the same," Joe pointed out. "That's one of the good things about it; you can take it with you wherever you go."
"Yes, I was reading an article in one of the radio magazines a little while ago about that," said Bob. "The article was written by a trapper in the northern part of Canada. He told how he had set up his outfit in the center of a howling wilderness and had received all the latest news of the world in his shack, not to mention music of every kind. He said that the natives and Indians thought it must be magic, and were looking all over the shack for the spirit that they supposed must be talking into the headphones. That trapper was certainly a radio fan, if there ever was one, and he wrote a mighty interesting letter, too."
"I should think it would be interesting," said Herb. "I'd like to read it, if you still have it around."
Bob rummaged around in a big pile of radio magazines and finally found what he was looking for. The boys read every word of the letter, and were more than ever impressed by the wonderful possibilities of radiophony.
No longer would it be necessary for an exploring expedition to be lost sight of for months, or even years. Wedged in the Arctic ice floes, or contending with fever and savage animals in the depths of some tropical jungle, the explorers could keep in touch with the civilized world as easily as though bound on a week end fishing trip. The aeroplane soaring in the clouds far above the earth, or the submarine under the earth's waters, could be informed and guided by it. Certainly of all the wonders of modern times, this was the most marvelous and far-reaching.
Something of all this passed through the boys' minds as they sat in ruminative silence, thinking of the lonely man in the wilderness with his precious wireless.
"I suppose we should feel pretty lucky to be around just at this stage of the earth's history," said Bob, thoughtfully. "We're living in an age of wonders, and I suppose we're so used to them that most of the time we don't realize how wonderful they really are."
"That's true enough, all right," agreed Joe. "When you step into an automobile these days, you don't stop to think that a few years ago the fastest way to travel was behind old Dobbin. The old world is stepping ahead pretty lively these days, and no mistake."
"It can't step too fast to suit me," said Herb. "Speed is what I like to see, every time."
"Oh, I don't know," said Jimmy, lazily. "Why not take things a little easier. People had just as much fun out of life when they weren't in such a rush about everything. I take things easy and get fat on it, while Herb is always rushing around, and it wears him down until he has the same general appearance as a five and ten cent store clothespin."
LEARNING TO SEND
"I'VE got two customers for those sets we wanted to sell," announced Bob, a few evenings later, when the radio boys had congregated at his house as usual. "It was so easy, that I'll bet we could sell all we make, if we wanted to."
"Who's going to buy them?" asked Joe.
"Dave Halley, who runs the barber shop near the station, wants one, and there's a big novelty store on the next block whose owner will take the other. I promised that we'd set the outfits up and show them how to work them."
"That's quick work, Bob," laughed Herb. "How did you come to land two customers so quickly?"
"I was getting a haircut in Dave's shop, and he told me that he was thinking of buying a good set, but hated to spend the money. So I told him that I could sell him a good practical set for quite a little less than it would cost him in a store, and he jumped at the offer. Then he told me about Hartmann, the owner of the new variety store. Hartmann wants to get one because he thinks it will draw trade. I went to see him as soon as Dave got through telling me how much dandruff I had and how much I needed some of his patent tonic. Mr. Hartmann was a little doubtful at first about buying a home made set, but I told him if he wasn't pleased with it he didn't need to pay us for it and we'd take it back. That seemed to satisfy him, so he said he'd buy it. It was dead easy."
"Well, that's certainly fine," said Joe, admiringly. "That will help a lot toward getting apparatus for the new sets."
"You're a hustler, Bob," said Jimmy. "I'd like to be one but I guess I'm not built that way."
"It was more luck than anything else," disclaimed Bob. "Let's go down to the store after school to-morrow and pick out what we need. I want a couple of audion bulbs, and I suppose you fellows do, too. I want to price variable condensers like the one Doctor Dale brought us at Ocean Point last summer, too."
"We've got to keep busy if we want to keep ahead of some of the other fellows in this town," said Joe. "Lots of the fellows at high have got the radio fever bad, and are out to beat us at our own game. I guess we can show them where they get off, all right, but we may have to hustle some to do it. I heard Lon Beardsley at noon to-day boasting that he was going to be the first fellow in Clintonia to receive signals from Europe. I asked him what kind of set he intended to do it with, and he said he had been working on one all summer, and was putting the finishing touches to it now."
"He ought to have something pretty good, if he's been working on it that long," commented Herb. "If one of us had been working on a set all summer, I think we'd have had it done before this."
"Probably we would. But you've got to remember that we've had more experience at the game than Lon," Bob reminded him.
"It seems to me that we'd do better all to work on one big, crackerjack set than each to make a separate long distance set," said Herb. "In the first place, it's more fun working together. And then we could put our money together and get better equipment than we could the other way. What do you think?"
"I think it's a pretty good idea," said Jimmy. "You can hear just as much over one set as you can over four, as far as that goes."
"I was thinking of something like that myself," said Bob, slowly. "It would certainly cost us less, and, as Herb says, we'd probably have a better set in the end."
"I guess we're all in the same boat," agreed Bob. "But now that we're fed up and feeling strong, how would you like to practice sending for awhile? I was just beginning to work up a little speed while we were at Ocean Point, but now I suppose I'm getting rusty again. Who's game to send? I'll bet nobody can send faster than I can receive."
"I'm willing to try it, anyway," said Joe, picking up a magazine. "I'll send right out of this magazine, so when you say 'stop' we'll be able to check up how much you've caught."
"All right, that's fair enough," agreed Bob. "Just wait a minute until I get a paper and pencil, then shoot as fast as you can."
Seating himself at the table, with a blank sheet of paper before him, Bob made ready to scribble at high speed, while Herb held a watch to time him. As for Jimmy, he was content to curl up on a sofa and act the part of self-appointed judge.
"Start sending as soon as you like, Joe," said Jimmy. "I'm all ready for you. I'll bet I can fall asleep before you can send fifty words."
"I wouldn't take that bet, because I believe you can," replied Joe. "I'd be betting against your specialty, and there's no percentage in that, you know."
"Don't forget me, though, will you?" said Bob, in a resigned tone. "I don't want to hurry you, but any time you're both through that interesting conversation I'm waiting to begin."
"All right, then, here goes!" said Joe, and started sending as rapidly as he could with the practice key and buzzer.
Bob's pencil fairly flew over the paper, and for five minutes there was no sound in the room save the strident buzz of the sender and the whisper of Bob's pencil as it moved rapidly over the paper.
Then, "Time," called Herb, and Bob threw down the pencil.
"Whew!" he exclaimed, reaching for a handkerchief. "That's pretty hot work, if any one should ask you. Count 'em up, Herb, will you, and see how many there are? Seems to me there must be a million words there, more or less."
"Quite a little less," laughed Herb, after he had counted the words as requested. "But you've written ninety-one, which is mighty good."
"That's a little over sixteen a minute," said Bob. "It's not near as fast as I want to get, but it's fast enough to get a license, anyway."
"You bet it is!" exclaimed Herb. "And there are very few mistakes," he added, as he compared what Bob had written with the magazine text.
"Joe's getting to be some bear at sending, too," remarked Bob.
"Oh, the sending is a lot easier than receiving," said Joe. "But now, if you don't mind, Bob, you can send me something, and I'll see how fast I can take it. I'm afraid I can't come up to your record, though."
Joe did very well, however, averaging about fourteen words a minute.
Then Herb took a turn at sending and receiving, as did Jimmy, and they both did well. The boys found it all very fascinating, as well as useful, and discussed many plans for the future, although they did not intend to go in much for sending until they had perfected a first-class receiving set. They agreed before parting for the night that they would meet the following day after school at the radio supply store, where they could buy some audion bulbs and whatever other apparatus they might need.
"Don't let's bother even thinking about them" said Bob. "Come on in and we'll buy the stuff we need."
The four friends went on into the store, where they found several of their schoolmates, bent on the same mission as themselves. All exchanged greetings, and many good-natured jokes were bandied back and forth as they made their purchases.
"You fellows will have to step lively to get ahead of me," said Lon Beardsley, who was older than any of the radio boys and was in the senior class at High School. He was one of the brightest boys in his class, and the others knew that competition from him was not to be despised.
"Stepping fast is one of the best things we do," said Bob, in answer to this friendly challenge. "You may be some speed, but we're not such slouches, either."
"Do your worst! We defy you!" cried Herb, striking a melodramatic attitude.
"All right," said Lon, laughing. "Remember, though, I've given you fair warning. I see you're buying vacuum tubes," he added, curiously. "You must be going in pretty deep, aren't you?"
"Ask us no questions and we'll tell you no lies," parried Bob. "Besides, we're not the only radio fans in this town, Lon. Maybe some one else will beat us all out."
"Oh, I'm not worrying," said the other, as he prepared to leave with his purchases. "Are you fellows going my way?"
"You'd better not wait for us," replied Bob. "We've got a few things to get yet. See you at school to-morrow."
Meanwhile, the radio boys were going about the building of their big set with enthusiasm, spending all their spare time at the fascinating pursuit. Most of their work was done at Bob's house, as he had an ideal workroom in the cellar, and his position as leader, moreover, made it seem the natural place for them to meet.
"Say, fellows!" exclaimed Jimmy one evening, tumbling down the cellar stairs three steps at a time, "have you heard the news?"
"What news?" asked Herb, who had arrived only a few minutes before him. "Has there been a big fire? Or did some one die and leave you a million dollars?"
"No such luck as that," replied Jimmy. "But I know you'll be mighty glad to hear it, anyway. "Chasson's vaudeville is going to be in Clintonia next week. That's the show Larry and Tim are with, you know."
"Good enough!" exclaimed the others. "Where did you hear about it, Jimmy?" asked Bob.
"There was a bill poster putting up the programme on a fence as I came along," answered Jimmy. "I saw the name 'Chasson,' and of course I stopped and looked to see if Larry and Tim were on the bill."
"Were they?" asked Herb.
"You bet they were! And in pretty big type, too," responded Jimmy. "Say! It will be great to see them on the stage, won't it?"
"I should say it will," said Joe. "If they're half as funny on the stage as they are off it, they'll surely make a hit"
This met with the unqualified approval of everybody except Herb, and then the boys set to work on their new radio set. As this was Saturday evening, they had no lessons to prepare, and they worked steadily until ten o'clock. They wound transformers until Jimmy declared that it made him dizzy even to look at them, and when the time came to stop work they all felt that substantial progress had been made.
The Layton family had hardly finished their evening meal when there came a ring at the doorbell, and Bob jumped up to admit the expected guest.
"Hello, Mr. Brandon!" exclaimed Bob, as they both shook hands heartily. "It seems great to see you again."
"I can say the same thing about you," replied Frank Brandon. "You're tanned like a life guard at Coney Island. I'll bet you haven't been far from salt water all summer."
"You're right there," smiled Bob. "I was in the water so much that it's a wonder I didn't turn into a fish. The whole bunch of us had a wonderful time of it."
"Good enough!" Brandon exclaimed, heartily. "Where's all the rest of your crowd this evening?"
"They'll be around soon now. I'm expecting them any minute. There's Joe's whistle now! I thought he'd be along soon."
As he finished speaking Joe came bounding up the porch two steps at a time, and he had hardly got inside and shaken hands with Brandon when Jimmy and Herb appeared together. There was great excitement while they exchanged greetings, and then they went into the parlor and were made welcome by Mr. and Mrs. Layton.
"It seems good to get back in this town again, said Brandon, in a voice that carried conviction. "You folks have made me so welcome ever since we became acquainted that it seems almost like my own home town."
"That's the way we want everybody to feel," smiled Mr. Layton. "Clintonia is a neighborly town, and we always do our best to make visitors feel at home."
"I hear you've done a good deal of traveling since you were here last," said Mrs. Layton.
"Yes, I had a little commission to execute for the government down in Miami," said Brandon. "A radio inspector is apt to be sent anywhere on short notice, you know."
"Are you building any sets at present?"
"You bet we are!" cried Bob. "Come on down to my workroom, and we'll show you what we're doing. We're working on a regular set this time."
"I'm with you," said Brandon, heartily. "Come ahead and let's see what you've got. I suppose you'll be giving me pointers pretty soon."
"Not for a little time yet, anyway," grinned Bob. "The government hasn't been after us yet bugging us to take jobs in the radio department."
"You never can tell," replied Brandon. "There's a big demand for radio men these days, and we're getting some pretty young chaps in our division."
"We don't feel as though we'd much more than scratched the surface of radiophony yet," said Joe. "There's such an immense amount to be learned, and then there are new discoveries being made every day. It would take almost all a fellow's time just to keep up with new developments, let alone learn all the fundamentals."
"That will all come in time," said the radio inspector. "You're on the right road now, anyway, and traveling pretty fast. Say!" he exclaimed, a moment later, as he was ushered into the workroom and caught sight of the new set, which was partially completed. "You're certainly going into it pretty heavily this time, aren't you? I didn't imagine you were working up anything so elaborate."
"We thought we might as well make something pretty good while we were about it," said Bob. "It won't be much more work to make this set than a smaller one, and we expect to get a whole lot better results. Don't you think so yourself?"
"There's no doubt about it," agreed Mr. Brandon. "When you get this set finished, you ought to be able to catch pretty near anything that happens to be flying around. Let's see how you intend to hook things up."
The boys explained their ideas and methods in detail, while the radio man nodded appreciatively from time to time. Sometimes he interrupted to ask a question or make a suggestion, which was duly taken note of by the enthusiastic boys.
"There doesn't seem to be a whole lot that I can tell you," remarked Frank Brandon, after they had gone over everything in detail. "You seem to have thought it out very thoroughly already, and outside of the few minor things I've already told you, I can't think of much to suggest. It looks to me as though you'd have a pretty good set there when you get through."
"There's one tip I want to give you though," he went on. "And that is to be careful about your tuning. You've noticed, no doubt, that sometimes you get first-class results, and then again the reception is so unsatisfactory that you are disgusted. Now in nine times out of ten the whole trouble is that you haven't tuned your receiver properly. You can't do the thing in a haphazard fashion and get the signals clearly. You know what Michelangelo said about 'trifles that make perfection.' Well, it's something like that in tuning your receiver.
"Now I see that in this receiver you have separate controls for the primary and secondary circuits. To tune in correctly you have to adjust both circuits to the wave length of the special signal that you are trying to get.
"First you start in with a tentative adjustment of the first primary. Fix it, let us say, for between a third and a half of its maximum value. I see that here the coupling between the primary and secondary is adjustable, so place it at maximum at the start. Of course you know that maximum means the position in which the windings are closest to each other.
"Then you fix up the secondary circuit for adjustment to the wave length, turning it slowly from minimum to maximum until you come to the point where the desired station is heard. When this is found, you again readjust the primary until you find the point of maximum loudness.
"Now you see the advantage of this double control. If an interfering station butts in, just decrease the coupling between primary and secondary and then tune again the two circuits. You can feel pretty sure of cutting out the interference and getting clearly just the station that you want."
"That's mighty good dope," said Bob. "I've had that trouble more than once and haven't been quite clear as to the best way of getting around it."
"Then too," went on the radio expert, "you must be careful in adjusting the tickler that gives the regenerative effect. Start in slowly by turning the control knob toward the maximum. You'll soon strike a point where the signal will be loud and clear. Now when you've got to that point, don't overdo it. If you get too much regeneration, the quality of the notes becomes distorted and before you know it you have only a jumble. Let well enough alone is a good rule in tuning, as in many other things. When your coffee's sweet enough, another spoonful of sugar will only spoil it. Keep to the middle of the road. It isn't the loudest noise you want but the sweetest music.
"Be careful, too," he urged, "not to have too brilliant a filament. It's wholly unnecessary to have it at a white heat, and you don't want to burn it out any more quickly than you have to. You can save money in reducing the filament brightness by increasing the regeneration, which will make up for the loss of brilliancy.
"Now by keeping these things in mind," he concluded, "you'll be able to operate your set to the best advantage and get the satisfaction you are looking for."
"We certainly hope to, anyway," said Bob. "We've put a lot of work and quite a little money into this outfit, and we'd be mightily disappointed if we didn't get good results."
"There's not much doubt about that, I think," remarked Frank Brandon. "You ought to see some of the sets I come across! They look to be regular nightmares, but they get passable results, anyway. Radio is certainly getting to be a country-wide craze. Only the other day I was at one of the big broadcasting stations, and the manager told me that they were actually having trouble to get performers, there is such a demand for them. They seem to be especially hard up for novelty acts--something out of the ordinary. People get tired of the same old programmes night after night."
"Say!" exclaimed Bob, struck by a sudden thought. "Why wouldn't that be just the thing for Larry when he gets a little better? He could do his bird imitations just as well as ever, and he could do it as well sitting in a chair, as far as that goes."
"Bob, you said something!" exclaimed Joe, slapping him on the back. "That's just the kind of thing that would appeal to people, too. I'll bet he'd be a hit from the beginning."
"Who is Larry?" asked Mr. Brandon, curiously.
The excited boys told him all about their acquaintance with Larry and Tim up to the time of the almost fatal accident in the theater. Brandon listened attentively, and when they had finished sat thinking for several minutes.
"Yes, I think it could be arranged all right," he said at last. "I know the manager of one big New Jersey broadcasting station personally, and I'm sure he'd be willing to give your friend a tryout. If he's as good as you say he is, they'd probably be glad to put him on the pay roll. From what you tell me, his act is certainly a novelty, and that's what they want."
A GLAD ANNOUNCEMENT
"WE'LL go and see Larry as soon as we get out of school to-morrow, and see what he says about it," said Bob. "But I guess there's no doubt of what he'll want to do. I know he's mighty worried about the future. He told me he didn't have much money saved up, and what he did have must be about gone by this time."
"You do that," agreed Brandon. "And if he thinks favorably of the idea, I'll find time to go with him and you to the station I spoke of, and give him an introduction to the manager and see that he gets a try-out."
"That's mighty good of you, Mr. Brandon," said Joe. "Larry is such a fine fellow that when you get to know him you'll feel as interested in seeing him get along as we are."
"That's likely enough," said Brandon. "Anyway, if we didn't help each other out a little, this old world wouldn't be much of a place to live in."
"But you've arrived in time for supper, and that's the main thing. How did your young friend make out? Didn't you bring him back with you?"
"No, they intend to include him in the bedtime programme for kiddies this evening," explained Brandon. "It starts at seven o'clock, and Larry's performance should come in about half past seven. We'll just about have time to eat before we start listening for him."
In a very few minutes they were all seated about Dr. Dale's hospitable table, and it is hardly necessary to record the fact that they did full justice to their hostess' cooking. As they neared the end of the meal, Dr. Dale glanced at his watch.
"I know it is considered very impolite to hurry one's guests," he said; "but just the same, it is so near now to the time that Larry is scheduled that I propose that we postpone dessert until after we have heard him. Then we can take our time, and do both Larry and the dessert full justice."
They all acceded laughingly to this proposition, and a few minutes later filed into the room where the doctor kept his radio apparatus. His set was equipped with a loud talking device, so that individual headphones were not necessary.
With a few touches he adjusted his coils and condensers, and had no difficulty in picking up the broadcasting station. At the moment some one was telling a "bedtime story" for the little folks, and, as it happened, this was the last thing on the programme preceding Larry's act.
When the narrator had finished, there came a short pause, and then the familiar voice of the announcer.
"The next number on this programme will be a novelty, an imitation of various bird calls and songs, given by Mr. Larry Bartlett."
The sonorous voice of the announcer ceased, and the little group in Dr. Dale's house waited expectantly for the first notes of their friend's performance.
"Hooray!" shouted Jimmy, as the first notes of the mocking bird's song floated clear and true from the horn. "Hooray for Larry, the champion whistler of the universe!"
The others laughed at his enthusiasm, but they were almost as excited themselves. When at last their friend concluded his performance with a trill and a flourish, they all gave the three cheers that Jimmy had suggested, and wished they had a sending set so that they could congratulate Larry on the spot.
"That surely sounded well," said Dr. Dale, when their delight had somewhat subsided. "This may be the beginning of big things for Larry, because it will not take him long to become known when he has an audience of somewhere around a half a million people every evening."
"That's true enough," said Frank Brandon. "But it seems hard to realize that science has really made such a thing possible."
"I'm ready to believe that nothing is impossible these days," said Dr. Dale. "If I read in the paper some day that we had got into wireless communication with Mars, I should believe it easily enough. In fact, I'd hardly feel surprised."
"I'm sure I shouldn't," agreed the radio expert. "A person has to have a receptive mind to keep up with these quick-moving times."
"That's one of the failings of human nature: to rate ourselves too highly," interposed Dr. Dale, with a smile. "But now, how would you all like to go in and hear the rest of the concert? We've missed only the first part, and there's still quite a good deal to come."
They all acceded to this proposal with alacrity, and found that, as the doctor had said, they had not missed much of the programme. The wireless apparatus worked to perfection, and they could hear everything perfectly.
"The static isn't nearly as bad to-night as it was a month or two ago," said Dr. Dale. "At times last summer it interfered a good deal with my receiving."
"Yes, it's always a good deal worse in summer than in winter," remarked Frank Brandon. "I always advise beginners not to start at wireless in mid-summer, as they sometimes get such poor results with their small sets that they get discouraged and give up the game altogether. It's better to wait until fall, and then by the next summer they've had experience enough to know how to reduce the bad effects of static."
"It used to get pretty bad sometimes at Ocean Point last summer," observed Bob. "Once or twice our concerts were almost spoiled by it, while at other times we'd hardly notice it."
"With that set, you ought to be able to get any broadcasting station in the Eastern States," said Brandon. "And if you have luck, and conditions happened to be just right, you might even get something from the other side, although of course that isn't very likely."
"Oh, we've been talking about that, but we don't really expect to," said Joe. "We might be able to get the wireless telegraph signals from the other side, though, don't you think?"
"That's likely enough," answered Brandon. "The best time to get them is late at night, when the broadcasting and amateur stations are not sending. I've often sat and listened with Brandon Harvey to the big station at Nauen, Germany, or to the Eiffel Tower in Paris."
"Jimminy!" exclaimed Herb. "We'll have to bone down at our language courses at high school, fellows. I suppose that they send in whatever language the people speak where the sending station is located, don't they?"
"As a rule they do, but not always," replied Frank Brandon. "It depends to a great extent where the message is being sent to. If it is being sent to this country, it is often in English, while if it were being sent to France, it would be in French, naturally."
"Yes, I suppose it would have to be that way," said Bob, thoughtfully, "although I never thought about that side of it before. It won't make much difference what language they're sending in, though, so long as we know that we can get their signals. It will be a lot of fun, though, trying to make out what they're saying."
"It will be a good alibi, anyway," said Jimmy. "If we can't understand the dots and dashes, we can just say that they're sending in German or French or Italian. Nobody could expect us to know all those languages."
"If we can once get you interested in radio, Larry, you'll be as stuck on it as any of us," said Joe. "It's interesting right from the beginning, but when you dig into it a bit, it gets more fascinating all the time."
"Oh, I'm interested in radio all right, don't make any mistake about that," returned Larry, with a twinkle in his eye. "It's my meal ticket now, you know."
"Yes, but I mean in the way of recreation," persisted Joe.
"Yes, I suppose it must be mighty interesting, for a fact," admitted Larry, more seriously. "Just wait until I get strong again, and maybe I'll take it up in earnest. I've seen enough of it to realize that there are wonderful possibilities in it, anyway."
"Well, we'll be glad to initiate you any time you say the word," offered Bob. "We don't know enough about it to keep us awake at night, but we can probably explain a few things to you."
"Oh, I'll ask questions until you wish you'd never mentioned radio to me," laughed Larry. "If I do take it up, I'll have to start at the beginning."
"That's where most everybody starts," announced Jimmy. "You won't be a bit worse off than we were, will he, fellows?"
"I should say not," answered Bob. "When we started, we hardly knew the difference between an antenna and a ground wire. We had our own troubles at first; and we're still having them, as far as that goes. There always seems to be something new coming up that you have to work out."
"If I keep on getting good pay from the broadcasting station, I'll be able to buy a set, anyway," said Larry. "What's the use of working so hard over one, when you can buy them all made up? All you have to do is hook them up to a small antenna, and you get your music right off the bat."
But the radio boys all scouted this idea.
"Of course you can buy one all made up," said Bob. "But there's not half the fun in operating that kind of set as there is in one that you've made yourself. And besides, you can get a lot better results when you've made the thing yourself and understand just what's in it and how it works. If you don't get good results some evening, you know where to look for the trouble."
"It's like driving an automobile when you don't understand the mechanism," added Joe. "As long as everything goes all right you go sailing along, but let something go wrong, and you're up a tree right away. You haven't any idea of where to look for the trouble."
"All right, all right," laughed Larry. "Don't shoot, and I'll promise never to mention it again."
"See that you keep it, then," said Bob, laughing. "But anybody who buys a made-up set isn't entitled to be called a real radio fan; at least, we don't think so."
"I suppose you're right," agreed Larry. "It must be half the fun of the game when you do the job yourself. But remember that everybody can't build elaborate sets the way you fellows do, even if they want to. They haven't got the knack."
"I suppose that's so," conceded Bob. "But almost anybody that can drive a nail straight can do it. It's mostly a matter of hard work and a little study."
Shortly after supper that evening they all met at the Layton home according to appointment. As it was Sunday, they did not do any work on their new set, but the whole Layton family gathered around the loud speaker that evening, as a prominent preacher was to deliver a sermon by radio, and they were all eager to hear it.
Before the sermon there was an organ recital, and they heard this perfectly, after the boys had succeeded in tuning out one or two amateurs who sometimes made them trouble. Of course, everybody enjoyed the recital, and also the sermon, which was delivered in very effective style.
"This is certainly being up to date," commented Mr. Layton, when the sermon was over. "When I was the same age as you boys, I was expected to be in church every Sunday evening without fail. But now it does not seem quite so necessary, when it is possible to have religious services right in the home, as we have had them this evening. I think the Layton family is indebted to you boys, as the chances are neither Mrs. Layton nor I would ever have become interested in it if Bob and you hadn't introduced us to it."
"I'll bet you never thought much of it when we first started to build an amateur set, now did you, Dad?" accused Bob.
"As I don't see any way out of it, I suppose I'll have to confess that you're right," laughed Mr. Layton. "But you must remember that you boys were among the first to take up wireless in Clintonia, and at that time nobody in town had thought anything about it. I guess we didn't realize its possibilities."
"It was a surprise to me when that first set that you boys made really worked," admitted Mrs. Layton. "I remember that it sounded very nice right from the start, too."
"Yes, that was a good old set," said Bob. "It didn't satisfy us for long, though. It was all right under favorable conditions, but you couldn't do much tuning with it."
"Not only that, but the range was pretty limited, too," chimed in Joe. "When I think of all the planning we had to do before we got it made, I feel like laughing."
"It was no laughing matter then, though," said Herb. "If it hadn't worked, we'd have been a pretty disappointed crowd."
"I'll never forget the sensation when that first music came in over our set," said Bob. "It was certainly a grand and glorious feeling. I only hope our new set comes up to scratch as well as that one did."
"I guess there isn't much doubt about the new set," observed Joe, confidently. "It will just have to work."
"Look out," laughed Mr. Layton. "Don't forget the old saying, that 'pride goeth before a fall' "
"Yes, we may have an awful bump coming to us, I suppose," said Joe. "But we'd be awfully sore if it didn't work, after all the labor we've put on it."
"We'll make it work, all right," predicted Bob. "Maybe not on the very first trial, but we'll get it going in the end, I'll bet a cookie."
"I surely hope it will be all right, because I know how bad you would all feel if it didn't," said Mrs. Layton. "I never knew boys would work so hard at anything, just for the sake of the fun they expect to get out of it."
"They may get a good deal more than just fun out of it," remarked Mr. Layton, seriously. "It looks to me as though radiophony were only just starting at present, and it seems certain that it offers a big field for any one who has the desire and ability to take up that line of work. It may turn out to be a fine thing for them later on."
"I suppose that's very true," said his wife, thoughtfully. "Although that side of it never occurred to me before."
After a little further conversation, Joe, Herb, and Jimmy said good-night and took their leave, thinking, as they walked home, of what Mr. Layton had said. They had all entertained the same idea before, but his words had encouraged them. Why not? Surely there must be many openings in so large a field for bright and ambitious young fellows, and in their dreams that night the boys had visions of fame and fortune attained through the medium of wireless telephony.
Entering the office, they had little difficulty in seeing the manager, and he readily consented to have the boys look over the station, turning them over to an assistant, as he was too busy to take them around himself.
Mr. Reed, the assistant, did not appear particularly pleased with his assignment at first, but when he found that the boys were well grounded in radio, his attitude changed.
"I get tired of showing people around who don't know a thing about radio, and do nothing but ask fool questions," he explained. "But when I get some one who knows the subject and can understand what I'm showing him, that's a different matter."
He showed them over the sending station from the studio to the roof. The boys listened with the keenest interest as he described to them the methods by which the broadcasting was carried on, which every night delighted hundreds of thousands of people within range of the station.
In a little room close to the roof they saw the sending apparatus which really did the work. There was a series of five vacuum bulbs through which the current passed, receiving a vastly greater amplification from each, until from the final one it climbed into the antenna and was flung into space. To the casual onlooker they would have seemed like simply so many ordinary electric bulbs arranged in a row and glowing with, perhaps, unusual brilliance.
But the boys knew that they were vastly more than this. Where the electric light tube would have contained only the filament, these tubes at which they were looking contained also a plate and a grid--the latter being that magical invention which had worked a complete revolution in the science of radio and had made broadcasting possible. From the heated filament electrons were shot off in a stream toward the plate, and by the wonder-working intervention of the grid were amplified immeasurably in power and then passed on to the other tube, which in turn passed it on to a third, and so on until the sound that had started as the ordinary tone of a human voice had been magnified many thousands of times. This little series of tubes was able to make the crawl of a fly sound like the tread of an elephant and there is no doubt that a time will come when through this agency the drop of a pin in New York City can be heard in San Francisco.
The boys were so fascinated with the possibilities contained in the apparatus that it was only with reluctance that they left the roof and went to the studio. This they found to be a long, rather narrow room, wholly without windows, and with the floors covered with the heaviest of rugs. The reason for this, as their guide explained, was to shut out all possible sound except that which it was desired to transmit over the radio.
"What is the idea of having no windows?" asked Bob.
"So there shall be no vibration from the window panes," replied Mr. Reed. "I tell you, boys, this broadcasting hasn't been a matter of days, but is the development of months of the hardest kind of work and experiment. We have had to test, reject, and sift all possible suggestions in order to reach perfection. I don't mean by that to say that we have reached it yet, but we're on the way. New problems are coming up all the time, and we are kept busy trying to solve them.
"It seems a simple thing," he went on, "to talk or sing into that microphone," pointing to a little disk-like instrument about the height of a man's head. "But even there the least miscalculation may wholly spoil the effect of the speech or the music. Now, in a theater, the actor is at least twenty feet or so from the nearest of his audience and the sounds that he makes in drawing in his breath are not perceptible. If he stayed too close to the microphone, however, that drawing in of breath, or some other little peculiarity of his delivery, would be so plainly heard that it would interfere with the effect of his performance. So, with certain instruments. A flute, for instance, has no mechanical stops, so a flute player can stand comparatively near the microphone. The player of a cornet, however, must stand some distance back or else the clicking of the stops of his instrument will interfere with his music. These are only a few of the difficulties that we meet and have to guard against. There are dozens of others that require just as much vigilance to guard against in order to get a perfect performance. It's a pleasure to explain these things to you, boys, for you catch on quickly."
"We're a long way from being experts," said Bob, "but we've done quite a good deal of radio work and built several sets of our own, so we can at least ask intelligent questions."
"Well, fire away, and I'll try to answer them," replied Mr. Reed. "You may be able to stick me, though."
He said this as a joke, but before they had completed a tour of the building the boys had asked him some posers that he was at a loss to answer.
"I almost think you fellows should be taking me around," he said at last. "Blamed if I don't think you know as much as I do about it."
"You don't get much applause now," laughed Bob. "How does it seem to perform for the benefit of a telephone transmitter instead of an audience?"
"It never bothered me much," replied Larry. "It seems to be pretty hard for some of the actors, though, especially the comedians. When they spring a funny joke they're used to hearing their audience laugh, and when they don't hear anything, they get peeved sometimes. They can't get used to the blank silence after their best efforts."
"I can easily understand how it would have that effect," said Bob. "It might save them a lot of trouble, though. Take the case of a black-face artist. He wouldn't need to put on any make-up at all, if he didn't want to."
"But if they don't, they don't feel natural, and it's apt to spoil their act. An actor is pretty temperamental, you know."
"Well, I'm beginning to feel that way myself," sighed Joe. "I wish it were time for us to spring our stuff on an unsuspecting public and get it over with. It must be pretty near time for the first number now, isn't it?"
"It sure is," answered Larry. "We'd better go on up to the transmitting room. The worst crime a public performer can commit is to be late, you know."
"And to think that I'm the poor fellow that's supposed to open the show!" exclaimed Bob.
"My, I'll be as glad to get it over with as you will, Joe."
"That's saying a mouthful," replied his friend. "Oh, what a relief it will be!"
"If the audience can stand it, you two ought to be able to," said Larry, cruelly. "Quit your worrying."
"I guess if the audience can stand you, it won't mind us," returned Bob, giving Larry a friendly poke in the ribs. "Guess that will hold you a little while, old timer."
Before Larry could think of a suitable retort they had entered the transmitting room, and he had to postpone his reply for the time being.
Mr. Allard was already there.
"How do you feel?" he asked them, in greeting. "Probably a trifle nervous?"
"Just a little bit," Bob admitted. "I think we'll make out all right, though."
"Good!" replied the manager. "Don't get rattled, and you'll go over all right. From what Mr. Brandon has told me, you don't either of you rattle easily, though."
"We're ready any time you are, sir," was Bob's comment.
"All right, then," said Mr. Allard, crisply. "It's time now, Morton," addressing the announcer. "You can go ahead and announce Layton's act."
This the announcer did, and then, tense with excitement but thoroughly master of himself, Bob stepped to the transmitter and propounded the first of his conundrums. With book in hand, Larry stood at his elbow to prompt him in case he forgot anything, but his friendly services were not needed. Bob went through the whole list without a mistake and with no fumbling, speaking clearly and distinctly into the transmitter. Although he could not see his audience, he nevertheless sensed the listening thousands, and felt the lift, and exhilaration that come to the successful entertainer. His part in the programme was short, a scant ten minutes, but he enjoyed every minute of it.
When he had asked the last riddle, he stepped back, and mopped big drops of perspiration from his face.
"Whew!" he exclaimed. "I'm glad that's over, although it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be."
"You've got to go all through it again when you give the answers," Larry reminded him, cruelly.
"I guess I can stand it," said Bob. "Did I do it all right?"
"Sure you did," they all assured him. "It was good work."
In a little while the time came for Joe to give his recitations, and he, too, did good work. It was easy to see that the manager was pleased with both of them, and, indeed, he did not hesitate to say so.
"If you fellows didn't live so far away, I'd be glad to make you a regular part of the programme," he told them later. "You both have a good delivery, and I can see that Brandon was right when he said you didn't lack nerve. It's too bad you don't live in this town."
The special set that represented the advance they had made in radio reception included the regenerative principle. This feature added immensely to the sensitiveness of the set. It consisted of a coil, variously known as the tickler, the intensity coil, and the regeneration coil. It involved three controls, the wave-length tuning, the regenerative coil, and the filament rheostat. The result of the combination was not only that the radio frequency waves could be carried over into the plate circuit, but that they could be amplified there by the energy derived from the local battery in the plate circuit without change of frequency or wave form, and that they could be fed into the grid circuit, where they increased the potential variations on the grid so that the operation constantly repeated itself.
This "feed-back" regeneration enormously increased the loudness of the receiving signals, and its value to the boys was demonstrated one night when the air was unusually free of static and they clearly heard the signals from Nauen, Germany, and the Eiffel Tower, Paris. They looked at each other incredulously at first, and then as they heard the signals again too certainly to admit of doubt, they jumped to their feet, clapped each other on the shoulder, and fairly went wild with delight.
"The first boys in this old town to pick up a message from Europe!" cried Joe. "What next?"
"Asia perhaps," suggested Jimmy.
"Then Australia," ventured Herb.
"Or Mars," predicted Bob. "Who knows?" he added, as he saw the smile of doubt on his comrades' faces. "Marconi thought he might, and he's no dreamer. What is impossible to radio?"