Category Archives: Classic Vintage Products

Radio Shack Archer Base CB Antennas in 1976

I purchased my first CB radio in August, 1976. Since I was only 12 and too young to drive a car, this meant I needed a base station antenna. Of course, the first place I looked was in my handy, dandy Radio Shack catalog. There were 4 options:

RS_Antennas_1976

Because I was on a tight budget, I chose the Archer 1/4 Wave Ground Plane. Catalog number 21-901. This was the favorite of poor kids like myself who were operating mobile rigs off of old car batteries because we couldn’t afford a power supply! Mounted 10′ off the roof on an eave mount and fed with 35′ of RG58/U coax, it was a decent performer. It was also easy to assemble. I put the 1/4 wave together by myself in about 15 minutes. No SWR adjustments were needed or possible without cutting the antenna. Just fasten the sections together with the enclosed sheet metal screws and you’re good to go. The Radio Shack 1/4 wave CB antenna was a great example of something that was simple, easy, and worked.

The Archer 1/2 Wave Ground Plane (catalog number 21-902) is the only one of these that I never owned. At a price of $24.95, it provided a theoretical gain of 3.75dB over the 1/4 wave. In the catalog listing, it claims to have a 5 section aluminum radiator. This is incorrect. The 1/2 wave had a four section radiator. It’s big brother 5/8 wave had the 5 section radiator. In later years, the static discharge arrestor “loops” on the top of this antenna were replaced with a “top hat”, similar to the 5/8 wave.

The Archer 5/8 Wave Ground Plane (catalog number 21-1133) was Radio Shack’s top of the line base station antenna for 1976. Retail price was $34.95. Frequent sales brought the price down to $24.95. I owned 2 of these at various times, both purchased used. With 4.00dB gain, it was a solid performer. However, the construction quality did not hold up well in Minnesota winters. These antennas were notorious for being damaged during wind and ice storms. The aluminum used was not very strong, so the sections were prone to bending and breaking. Another cost-cutting move was the use of sheet metal screws to attach the sections instead of the superior clamps used by Hy-Gain and other manufacturers. Over time, repeated flexing of the vertical radiator during storms would cause the screws to strip and fall out. Then, the affected section would slide down, rendering the antenna unusable until repairs could be made. But since the Archer 5/8 wave was priced about 25% below the similar Hy-Gain CLR2, Radio Shack sold quite a few of these antennas.

The Archer Crossbow III 3-Element Beam (catalog number 21-933) was a later arrival to my rooftop. Priced at $37.95, it was your basic 3 element beam. It was small and light enough to be turned by an inexpensive TV antenna rotator. 12 foot boom, 18 foot half wave elements, and 9dB forward gain. This antenna could be mounted either vertically or horizontally. The price was later raised to $39.95 before being discontinued a few years later. I was fortunate to grab one of these little beams on clearance in October, 1980. At the $24.95 clearance price, it was a steal! My parents happened to be on vacation for a week. A 3 element beam, rotor, 20′ of masting, 3′ tripod, and 4 guy wire anchors magically appeared on the garage roof while they were gone. The amazing thing is that my did didn’t even notice until several months later. I just told him it was a “radio project” that I worked on while they were out of town. Something to keep me out of trouble, of course. I knew with an explanation like that, he wouldn’t make me take it down. He didn’t 🙂

I also owned the Micronta Regulated 12-Volt Power Supply (catalog number 22-124) at various times. Priced at $25.95, this item NEVER went on sale! No need for Radio Shack to put this item on sale. Since it was priced below most comparable power supplies, they sold a ton of these. The Shack also sold an unregulated supply with lower output for $19.95. This was designed for use with car stereos. I remember some kids tried to save money by purchasing the cheaper supply for CB use. Not a good choice. The 1.75 amp output was too low to power a transmitter. Also, because it was not regulated, you’d get a nasty 60 cycle AC hum in the background as you talked. Live and learn, kids!

And no, I never purchased the 40′ telescoping mast. I wanted to! I actually know one guy who mounted a .64 wave on his roof using one of these! I knew better than to push my parents too far with the CB antenna stuff. Well, most of the time, anyway!

Remembering Columbia House Record & Tape Club

Okay, so this doesn’t directly involve radio. However, it is certainly a geeky, guilty childhood pleasure that many of us can relate to. Do you remember the joys of the Columbia House Record and Tape club?

When I was a kid, buying a new record was always cause for excitement. There was just something about the smell of new vinyl and dropping that needle for the first time. However, the ULTIMATE thrill was getting my introductory shipment from Columbia House. I’d tear the postage-paid card out of the magazine, fill out my name and address, put it in the mail, then wait…wait…wait…

When the magic day finally arrived, it was was like Christmas in July or April or October. I’d come home from school, walk in the front door, and Mom would say “You got mail today!” There it was: right there, on the kitchen table, in all it’s glory! That beautiful brown box which contained not just 1, not just 2, but ELEVEN brand new record albums!

Columbia_House

The most difficult part of the Columbia House experience was deciding which one to play first. Should I open them all at once and have a record-playing marathon? Or should I open one per day, giving me a new album every day for the next week and a half? (Since I’ve always been a saver at heart, I chose the latter.)

In a world filled with instant .mp3 downloads (legal and otherwise), kids will never know the sheer ecstasy of opening that package from 1400 North Fruitridge Avenue in Terre Haute, Indiana!

Radio Geek Heaven’s Virtual Vintage CB Radio Museum

Were you a CB’er in the 1970s and/or 1980s? Do you remember waiting anxiously for the Radio Shack catalog to arrive each fall so you could see the new models? Do the names “Cobra 139XLR”, SBE Sidebander II, “Browning Golden Eagle”, and “Kraco CB Super De Luxe” mean anything to you? (I can’t believe I just mentioned Browning and Kraco in the same sentence!) If so, you’ll want to check out our new online Virtual Vintage CB Radio Museum!

Previously, Radio Geek Heaven featured a page with 1970s & 1980s Base and Mobile CB Radios. The response has been great, so I decided to expand it. Now, there’s an entire category devoted to those classic mobile and base station units that we all knew and loved. Each has a photo and description of the radio. I will be adding more manufacturers and models as time allows. If YOU had one of these radios (or maybe you still have it), please tell us about it via the “comments” section.

The Radio Geek Heaven Virtual Vintage CB Radio Museum starts here:

KCON-AM 1230 Conway AR Antique Clock Sign

KCON_1230_Clock_Sign

Wow! I guess I’m not the only one who loves vintage radio clock signs! Since posting the rare KYNT memorabilia yesterday, I have already received several e-mails. Want to see another? Of course you do!

This clock sign is for KCON-AM 1230, a now defunct station in Conway, Arkansas. Conway is unique in that it originally had 2 AM stations, both of which have since gone dark. There are also no commercial FM stations. KMJX-FM 105.1 is part of the iHeart Little Rock cluster. KCNY-FM 107.1 is located in Conway, but licensed to nearby Greenbrier. The only stations licensed to Conway that are actually in Conway are KUCA-FM 91.3 at the University of Arkansas and KHDX-FM 93.1, an 8 watt station on the campus of Hendrix College.

Back to KCON: as with many standalone AMs, this station fell on hard times as the new millennium began. KCON’s status was “on again, off again” for several years. UCA provided programming for a time. But often, it was just a simulcast of KUCA-FM. Finally, the “off again” became permanent. KCON went down for the last time, the license was returned to the FCC, and the 1230 frequency allocation to Conway was deleted. This clock sign reminds us of KCON’s glory days. A few years ago, I was in downtown Conway for Toad Suck Daze and there it was in a storefront window. My guess is that it was manufactured in the 1950s or 1960s. Anyone know for sure?

KYNT-AM 1450 Yankton SD Antique Clock Sign

KYNT_Clock_Sign

Check out this beauty! My good friend Wayne came across this while visiting Kilroys, a slot machine, jukebox, and antique store in downtown Minneapolis.

This clock sign was custom manufactured for KYNT-AM 1450 in Yankton, South Dakota. Yes, Yankton actually had TWO radio stations in the old days. Most people are familiar with the mighty 5-7-0 WNAX. KYNT is Yankton’s other AM station. These clock signs were popular in the 1950s and 60s. Stations often gave them away to their top clients in exchange for being loyal advertisers and supporters of the station.

Does anyone know when this KYNT clock sign was produced? If you must have this for your collection, I have good news: it’s for sale! According to the price tag in the upper right corner, it can be yours for only $295.00.

1973 Action Jackson CB Radio Walkie Talkie Helmet

Action_Jackson_Helmet

What in all of Radio Geekdom is THIS? If you are a child of the 1970s, you may remember the Action Jackson Walkie Talkie Helmet. These were manufactured by the Mego Corporation and sold at Radio Shack stores during 1973-74. This is a rare instance of Radio Shack selling an item produced by another manufacturer. Most Radio Shack merchandise was self-branded as Archer, Realistic, Micronta, Science Fair, etc., during this time.

Action Jackson was a 1970s line of toy action figures produced by Mego. Attached to the helmet was your typical “kiddie talkie” of the time. It had a simple regenerative receiver, operating on CB Channel 14. I’m guessing the output power was somewhere around 50mW. Typical range to another walkie talkie was around 1,000 feet. The thin one piece metal antenna was flexible in the middle with a loop on top. This allowed it to be clipped to the helmet or extended fully for greater range. Power source was a standard 9 volt transistor radio battery.

I was able to sweet-talk my parents into buying me one of these for Halloween 1973. I decided to dress up as a “spaceman”, so this was part of my costume. Slick, eh? If I remember correctly, the Action Jackson Walkie Talkie helmet sold for $14.95. This was somewhat expensive as you could buy two Archer Space Patrol walkie talkies with basically the same electronics for an identical price. Of course, you’re paying extra for the novelty, the helmet, and the Action Jackson name. These were great for talking while riding your bike. It gave children an incentive to wear a bike helmet long before this was required by law. Although I’m not sure how much “protection” this thin plastic helmet would provide. This toy would likely be banned today due to the long metal antenna. You’re gonna poke your eye out with that, kid! I sure had a lot of fun with this when I was 9-10 years old.

Radio Shack Battery of the Month Club

As a kid with very limited funds, one of my favorite Radio Shack promotions was their “Battery of the Month Club.”

RS_Battery_Month_Club

Here’s how it worked: You would go into your local Radio Shack, sign up and be issued a card. Bring the card back each month and redeem for one free standard Radio Shack ‘AA’, ‘C’, ‘D’, or 9-volt transistor battery. The salesperson would mark off that month on the back of the card. Return next month and repeat the process.

This was an ingenious promotion. Batteries only cost a few cents each, so this was a cheap way to bring people into the store. The hope, of course, was that you would purchase expensive electronics gear while you were there. You only received ONE free battery. So unless you got a 9-volt cell, you needed to purchase between 1 to 7 more batteries to power anything. As I said, ingenious!

I quickly figured out how to “work” Radio Shack’s Battery of the Month Club. We were lucky enough to have about 5 stores in our area, so I obtained one card for each store. Then, I had my mother and little sister do the same. There was no age limit and each card was exclusive to that store, so this was completely “legal.” About once per month, I’d have Mom make the rounds so we could collect our free batteries. Usually 9-volts, since these were the most expensive and also because I used them the most. Quick math shows I was able to obtain about 15 free batteries per month. Just enough to keep all my equipment running without having to shell out any allowance money!

Radio Shack 1921-2015

We all knew it was coming. We just didn’t know when it would become official. Radio Shack has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection after suffering through 11 straight quarterly losses.

Much has been made about the causes of Radio Shack’s demise. This has been covered extensively in other forums. Here, I’d like to focus on their glory days. As a child of the 1970s, there was no finer place on Earth than a Radio Shack store! My mom would drop me off at the front door. I would then spend hours looking at all the items and talking electronics with the salespeople. Of course, this was a time when Radio Shack salespeople actually knew something about electronics and mothers did not get reported to Child Protective Services for leaving their kid in a store unattended. I learned a lot about consumer electronics and radio this way.

I could spend all day writing about Radio Shack products that I have owned and loved over the years. These 4 were my favorites:

1) MY FIRST STEREO:

RS_Stereo_1972

This wasn’t my first record player. My grandparents gave me a General Electric portable for Christmas when I was 4. Four years later, this was my first stereo. Also one of the first electronic devices that I purchased with my own money. I still remember proudly walking up to the counter with 32 mostly one dollar bills (sales tax was 4%), pointing at the stereo, and telling the guy behind the counter “I want one of THOSE!” It’s a rather unique design: one of only two phonographs I’ve ever seen with the tonearm located behind the platter instead of mounted on the right side.

2) MY FIRST CB RADIO:

RS_Base_Station

8 days after I bought that little red stereo, I received this Archer Space Patrol Base Station for Christmas, 1972. Very soon thereafter, it became my favorite piece of electronic equipment. I already owned a pair of walkie-talkies, but they were nothing like this machine. For starters, it received all 23 CB channels. Unlike the cheap regenerative walkies, this baby had a sensitive superheterodyne receiver. Combined with a long antenna (about 5 feet), the Base Station allowed me to listen to all CBers in my area. Another advantage: the transmit crystal was in a socket instead of soldered to the board. This allowed me to easily switch out the supplied Channel 14 crystal and replace it with Channel 21 which was used by most of the CB stations closest to me. The external mic provided a quality sound. Using 6 “D” cell batteries gave this Archer an honest 100mW power output. I sounded like I was using a “real” CB radio, not a typical off-frequency kiddie walkie-talkie with crummy audio. Later, I constructed a crude 1/4 wave ground plane antenna by duct-taping wire to a bamboo fishing pole. Mounted it on the upstairs deck and ran wires along the railings for radials! I also increased the power output by using a 13.8VDC CB power supply as an “AC Adapter.” I used this for 3.5 years until finally saving enough to buy my first “real” CB in the summer of 1976. Best $30 that Santa Claus ever spent!

3) MY FIRST PIRATE RADIO STATION:

RS_AM_Broadcaster

The Science Fair AM Broadcaster was introduced in 1974. Instantly, I wanted one! I’ll never forget the eager anticipation of putting the kit together, winding the coil, connecting the 9-volt battery, and then…the moment of truth…talking into the microphone as I slowly tuned my radio across the dial. Would it work? IT DID! IT WORKS, IT WORKS! I was the happiest kid on the planet as I “played DJ” for my family and the next-door neighbors. Shortly thereafter, I read some library books and learned how to modify this little transmitter for extended range. Eventually, I got it to transmit about a mile 😉

4) MY FIRST 800MHZ SCANNER:

PRO_34

I got hooked on public service band monitoring when I was given a Wards Airline 6 band portable radio for my 9th birthday in 1973. Later, I messed around with crystal scanners. Also owned one of the earliest programmable scanners: the Tenelec MCP-1. (Anyone else remember those?) But the PRO-34 represented a quantum leap forward for me. Being used to 16 or 20 channel capacities, I thought TWO HUNDRED channels was simply amazing! The frequency coverage of this scanner was also amazing. It could hear EVERYTHING! I carried it everywhere for about 2 years until I foolishly set it on the roof of my car while I fumbled for my keys. You can guess what happened next. About 1 mile down the road, I realized what I had done. Of course I went back and looked everywhere, but my beloved PRO-34 was gone. Since I did not find it smashed along the road, I assume someone grabbed it before I had chance to come back and search. Replaced shortly thereafter by a Uniden Bearcat 200XLT.

As the song goes, “these are a few of my favorite things” from the heyday of Radio Shack. It has been a sad, slow demise for what was once a cutting edge technology company. The Shack may soon be a thing of the past. But we’ll always have the memories. If you’re lucky, you also have a few Realistic, Archer, Micronta, Science Fair, Space Patrol, Clarinette, Modulette, Supertape, Concertape, NOVA, Optimus, Mach Two, SELECTaCOM, SERVO-ROTOR, Chronomatic, Flavoradio, Patrolman, Jetstream, or Deskube products still in service around your house.