20 years of progress: Solid-state electronics
As our magazine celebrates its 20th year, Art McDole takes a look at progress in electronics and radio.
My interest in electronics started in the 1930s when I heard a radio broadcast from Denver, nearly 100 miles from my home in the mountains. I used a radio with banks of batteries and four vacuum tubes. Following World War II, I became an amateur radio operator in a time when all radio equipment had vacuum tubes.
The first solid-state device I remember was a 1N34 diode about the size of a pencil eraser.
In 1949, I became a sergeant in the Monterey County (CA) Sheriff’s Office. My job was to maintain the radio system, including a 1kW base transmitter on 1,674kHz (kc/s in those days) and talk-back mobile AM transmitters on 35.220MHz (Mc/s). These curren-thungry vacuum-tube units were built on-site. When a deputy depressed his push-to-talk switch, the dynamotor hummed and the vehicle lights dimmed.
At this time, we were transitioning to a “modern” VHF FM system, also with vacuum tubes. In the early 1950s, we obtained several lunchbox-sized “portable” radios with many batteries and “peanut tubes.”
The first all-solid-state radio I remember was the Motorola HT 200, fondly referred to as “the brick.”
I saw an early computer in the 1940s at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey. Envision a huge, refrigerated room filled with equipment banks with hundreds of vacuum tubes.
I remain in awe of solid-state progress from massive transistors to microchips. Public safety communications equipment includes impressive miniaturization, reduced power consumption and performance. The millions of cellphones on extensive networks seem like works of science fiction.
None of this could have happened without solid-state electronics and the exponential development of computer science.
As electronic devices become smaller and more complex with higher operating speeds, we should remember that we owe a debt of gratitude to the engineers who developed and who continue to find means to further this incredible world of solid state.
McDole is an original member of our editorial advisory board. After 41 years with Monterey County, he retired as communications director in 1990. A life member of APCO, he is co-chairman of APCO’s Project 25 Steering Committee and APCO’s frequency adviser for Northern California.