"50 jobs (and 500,000 watts) in 50 years"
March 23, 2010 11:38 AM   Subscribe

Meet Powell Crosley Jr., lifelong American inventor and entrepreneur. After making a mint in auto parts, Crosley started in on phonographs and radios. Like many radio manufacturers of the time, Crosley stepped up demand by building a radio station; a BIG radio station. At 500,000 watts it was both the largest-ever commercial radio station with potential coverage of most of the country. With that much throw, it seemed a natural fit for the fantastical: radio facsimile machines. Crosley would later get into appliances, sports, and eventually back into his first love, automobiles.
posted by Ogre Lawless (17 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Gosh, I sure do miss clear channel stations. When I was a kid I used to listen to KFI from LA, all the way in Phoenix. Made me feel metropolitan when I was out in the desert.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:48 AM on March 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've got one of these sitting in my house.. darn thing still works.

So, how many of you remember when you could go to the local drug store/hardware store and find a machine that let you test tubes and purchase new ones?

older than dirt
posted by HuronBob at 12:06 PM on March 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

I love shit like this. I'm not sure what "shit like this" exactly is, but I love it. Great post!
posted by marxchivist at 12:10 PM on March 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

So, how many of you remember when you could go to the local drug store/hardware store and find a machine that let you test tubes and purchase new ones?

*raises hand*
posted by marxchivist at 12:11 PM on March 23, 2010

Listening to KOA in Denver from my bed in Oklahoma is one of the reasons I later got a job in radio. Working a 100,000 watt transmitter for four years during high school was a lot cooler than flipping burgers.
posted by mrbill at 12:13 PM on March 23, 2010

Test... the tubes? Like "ping www.google.com"? Why do you have to go to the hardware store for that?
posted by backseatpilot at 12:20 PM on March 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

backseatpilot - electronics (like TVs and radios) had multiple vacuum tubes in them. When the device stopped working, you'd remove the tubes, use a tube tester to find the bad one, and buy a replacement.
posted by djb at 12:33 PM on March 23, 2010

posted by entropicamericana at 12:38 PM on March 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I actually own a tube tester. Genuine US Gov't surplus in an indestructible metal case. Comes in handy when you have tube gear.

It's a reminder of the days when people actually fixed their electronics instead of tossing them away.
posted by tommasz at 12:42 PM on March 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

My mom just bought a Crosley LP to CD recorder similar to this; so they are still around in some form.

Also, I remember tube testers in some convenience stores as well.
posted by TedW at 12:51 PM on March 23, 2010

So, how many of you remember when you could go to the local drug store/hardware store and find a machine that let you test tubes and purchase new ones?

*raises hand*

Thrifty as I recall had one. I remember I tried to find the commercial on You Tube and I had no luck.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:08 PM on March 23, 2010

"So, how many of you remember..."

I remember when radios and TVs weren't just entertainment, they were space heaters too! So I get a laugh when people say tube amps sound 'warm'.

Get this: I was reading about a new one-tube 'audiophile' amp yesterday. For several hundred dollars. They offered an 'optional' 12AU7 for $40. !!!
posted by Twang at 2:52 PM on March 23, 2010

Tubes and radio -- real electronics! Dad was a ham (radio amateur) so when I was a kid (in the early 70s) life was all tubes. It was fitting that a device that brought you sound from miles away took a while to get going after you first turned it on, and generated a lot of heat -- you had to open the top of the radio to play it for more than a few minutes. You could see things working -- air-gap tuning capacitors and inductors, and the glow of electrons working away. I could talk to scientists in Antarctica -- how cool was that? Radio was magic. Radio had presence. Radio was important. Radio had Gravitas.

And then the transistor. I can still remember the first time I saw a transistor radio -- I heard a program about the Munich Olympics, 1972. It beggared the imagination -- how could the magic of pulling words and music out of the air, something that required the substantial instruments I knew and loved, be done by that tiny -- 2.5 inches square and half an inch thick -- and puny -- one AA cell -- piece of fluff? Worst of all, it was a closed book -- you open it up and there are lots of little plastic beads on tiny wires attached to a piece of bakelite with patterns of copper film. WTF??? With a vacuum tube you can see what's happening -- the little heater makes electrons boil off the cathode and fly to the anode, and obviously a grid of wires in their path could control that flow. But what the hell happens inside a transistor? I opened many of them, and they just looked like tiny wires connected to a tiny piece of something.

After that transition, integrated circuits (and then computers) were meh. If a transistor was just a tiny little grain of silicon, well then of course you could put lots of them in a slightly larger piece of it.

(Dad used to be a radio engineer, so I saw a few of those monster tubes like the ones in the WLW pictures. Then he moved to computers, so my playthings went from being radio transmitters to mainframes.)
posted by phliar at 3:53 PM on March 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

"So, how many of you remember when you could go to the local drug store/hardware store and find a machine that let you test tubes and purchase new ones?"

I also own a tube tester, though sadly I've never had to use it. When my dad was working for GE in the early 60s he got to service an early microwave oven that ran on two vacuum tubes each about the size of carton of milk. Each cost more than he made in a month.

I'm flabbergasted I've never heard of water cooled tubes before though it makes perfect sense. Are there data centres around that use fountains to get rid of waste heat instead of cooling towers?
posted by Mitheral at 7:58 PM on March 23, 2010

I grew up outside of Cincinnati and well remember WLW's unusual (not quite unique) Blaw-Knox diamond-shaped transmitter tower (in Mason, OH, adjoining the VOA antenna farm). When I was a young ham and short-wave listener WLW would drive you nuts. Their signal got into everything.

BTW, I attended a few baseball games at Crosley Field, too.

Oh, and when I was a kid our family had a Crosley station wagon ('48? '49?). It had an engine made out of sheet tin that was originally designed as a starter motor for B-17s. The beastie couldn't get out of its own way climbing the hill up Columbia Parkway -- 38MPH with your wingtips through the floorboards. Speaking of which, they were actual boards and some of them -- weren't there.

BAM! The Future of Rock 'n' Roll. . .
posted by Herodios at 8:07 PM on March 23, 2010

The first car my father bought was a Crosley. He was married and had two kids then. I don't know if he bought it in a hardware store. This was probably 1949. One day we drove out to a place where you could go fishing. Time to leave and the Crosley wouldn't start! Somehow a rock had gashed a hole in the gas tank and all the fuel had run out. I learned a few new words that day. Shortly afterward my father bought a Plymouth.

But I admire Powel Crosley. He belongs right up there in the prescient inventor hall of glory with Bill Lear of Learjet and eight-track fame.
posted by CCBC at 2:13 AM on March 24, 2010

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