The Mysterious Radio Adventure
Always TinkeringBy Doug Leahtem
La Porte, Indianna
As a young boy, I was always tinkering with electronic devices. One of my first prize possessions was a vacuum tube AM table radio. In the interest of obtaining maximum reception, I ran a long copper wire out the window of my bedroom, connecting it to the antenna of the radio. My spirits soared when I was able to receive radio station WWL in New Orleans from my suburban Philadelphia location.
One night I was listening to a Lone Ranger episode in the midst of a large thunderstorm. There was a nearby clap of thunder and I thought I saw a brief flash of light from my radio. Nevertheless, the radio continued to play and I thought nothing more of it. Half an hour later, the storm had subsided and I turned the dial of the radio to switch to another station to listen to The Shadow as I recall. To my amazement, no amount of knob turning would change the station.
I was solidly locked on one frequency! My curiosity mounted as I rotated the volume knob to turn the radio off. Imagine my consternation when the radio continued to play, even after I had turned it off. I began to wonder if some ghostly spirit had taken full control of my radio.
What happened to Doug's radio?
With some degree of apprehension, I pulled the plug from the wall outlet. The radio finally stopped playing! Now it was time to determine just what the cause of this bizarre behavior could be. Peering inside the back of the radio I discovered the problem. The radio had a traditional air tuning condenser consisting of large, interleaved metal plates. My homemade antenna had been touching this tuner. When lightning struck nearby, an electrical charge traveled down the antenna and into my radio, firmly welding the two sets of metal plates together. Thus, my tuning mechanism continued to work but was mechanically frozen in one position. At the same time, the welded antenna wire bypassed the power switch on the volume control. A simple flick of the small weld with my finger and my radio returned to completely normal operation. Now, whenever I read about Ben Franklin's lightning experiments, I think about my own very risky behavior!