The Pioneering Age of Radio & Security (Part One)


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From Tubes to Transistors

Prior to the mid 1950’s vacuum tubes lit up the insides of TV’s, stereos, radios, and telecommunications gear. The large tubes emitted a lot of heat. They were fragile, consumed a large amount of electricity and were susceptible to vibrations when used in bulky two-way radios installed in the trunks of vehicles.

<featured photo by The Tube Store

Boris Karloff’s Dr. Frankenstein might have reveled against the backdrop of the industrial-sized glass tubes that glowed in his lab while the monster was laid out on a gurney in front of him. Other than their use in sci-fi movies, tube based electronics instruments were easy to repair. I remember pulling out the tubes out of our T.V. set and taking them to the Thrifty Drug Store near us. They had free tube testers on display.

Years before, in 1947, a single invention would slowly begin the pioneering age of radio and security. But, it took a while for the transistor to evolve. In 1955 a hot item—the TR-63—hit the shores of the U.S.

The Japanese Invasion and the Communist “Red Scare”


Pearl Harbor in 1941 was not the only time Japan invaded the United States. Japanese transistor radios flooded the American market, beginning in the mid-1950’s. Sony’s cool, hip TR-63 became an item with the younger American crowd. “Made in Japan” suddenly became a familiar term on the polka dot bikini streaked beaches of California. It coincided with the Rock n’ Roll revolution being spawned by the likes of Elvis and Buddy Holly.

From 1955-60 American made transistor radios also hit the market. The transistor radios had small triangles between the 6 & 7 and the 12 & 16 on the frequency channel dial. These CD marks (Civil Defense) were to be tuned in for CONELRAD (Control of Electromagnetic Radiation) broadcasts in the event of a nuclear war. This was specially true during the 1962 Cuban Crisis when President Kennedy confronted Soviet Premier Khrushchev with the arms blockage. Can you imagine when the school test alarm went off and the students rushed under their desks, some clutching transistor radios? We all had faith that JFK would keep the public safe from “The Bomb.” Such were the times (read more about this in next message).


Fast Forward to the Future

Way back when, comic strip hero Dick Tracy’s two-way wrist radio was a mere fantasy. If we had known that it would become a reality with a Smartwatch half a century later, I think our world would have imploded. Fortunately (or unfortunately for some), time paved the way for technology to prepare the American people for the incredible changes ahead. For those of us that experienced that era, like someone once said, “The journey was more fun than getting to the destination.”

The Rise of Technology Combats the Rise of International Terrorism

After JFK’s embargo stopped Khrushchev and the Russians in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the world took a collective sight. But a new nemesis would soon arrive on the scene. Experts say “international terrorism” began with the “Six Day Arab-Israeli War” in 67’, which is probably the reason for this writer getting hired by the U.S. Department of State’s Foreign Service several years later.

For security purposes at U.S. missions abroad, Foreign Service Officers, FSO’s, desperately needed small, more compact handheld radios. The rapid development of sophisticated solid-state components (transistors and integrated circuits) excelerated the pioneering age of radio and security. It was geared toward the U.S. government (specifically the defense sector). The Office of Communications (OC) at the State Department benefited from the new technology. Upcoming contracts in the 1970’s with RCA Communications and General Electric would fulfill OC’s urgent requirements at U.S. missions abroad.

The transistorized computer would be a natural replacement for the U.S. State Department’s (SECSTATE) message capabilities at U.S. missions worldwide. During the latter part of the 1970’s the mechanical Teletype machines that clattered away in the Communications & Records Units offices in the top floor of embassies would be replaced by T.E.R.P., Terminal Equipment Replacement Program, a computerized system that utilized floppy disks. The CRU would be renamed the CPU, the Communications Programs Unit, to reflect the changing times.

Like everyone else, the embassy and its Foreign Service staff would have to learn to readjust for a future of change. Regarding this, the Pioneering Age of Radio and Security (Part Two) will show the effects of “solid state technology” on Foreign Service Officers’ lifelines abroad—the handheld two-way radio, and security.

(to be continued)

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