The Green Glow

Recent emails from two friends brought new insight into a blog that I had been intending to do for some time.

As has been mentioned on more than one occasion, I discovered radio at the age of 10, after reading an article about shortwave-listening in a drugstore magazine. My father was able to rescue an old GE cathedral from grandpa's downtown barbershop, where it sat gathering dust for several years in the back room storage space. Fortunately, it immediately came to life when plugged in and soon after dad spent an afternoon scurrying about on the roof of our 3-story house in central Vancouver, my radio-adventures began.

As I recall, the first couple of weeks were spent listening to radiotelephone traffic between various tugboats and their dispatchers, in the 2 megacycle marine band. Initially it took me awhile to figure out what I was listening to but found it fascinating to hear the tugboats up and down the coast getting their daily marching orders.

It wasn't too much later that I discovered the international shortwave bands and I was soon keeping detailed logs of my catches and mailing for a coveted QSL. Friday nights were always special as it meant I could DX well into the night and not worry about having to get out of bed for school early the next morning. My 3rd floor bedroom shack was the true definition of 'warm and cozy' and a memory I will always cherish.

Up to this point I had yet to discover ham radio. I must have tuned across a few conversations on phone but evidently hadn't been too awestruck at what I had heard ... perhaps I didn't know what I was hearing or was unable to comprehend some of the expressions they were using or what they were talking about when describing their gear. For whatever reason, the ham radio 'trigger-event' had not yet transpired ... but it soon would.

By this time, I had moved upward, from the Boy Cubs to the Boy Scouts. I must explain that these activities were forced upon me by my parents and not something I particularly enjoyed, especially the midwinter camping trips that were always pouring rain or freezing. Again, from grandfather, I had been provided with an old, virtually uninsulated, WW1 sleeping bag, that wouldn't have kept anyone alive at the western front for longer than a week. These all too regular winter excursions to the rain forest were pure misery and if I wasn't freezing to death then my sleeping bag was usually getting soaked from the river of rain running through the tent ... most of these weekend outings were sleepless and left me feeling like a zombie for the next few days. But ... not every scouting experience was bad and in fact, it was a scouting event that would soon provide my ham-radio 'trigger'!

The opportunity arrived for those that wished, to visit a local 'ham station' to partake in some sort of 'on-the-air experience'. This would have been in 1958 and having been already familiar with shortwave radio, I immediately signed-on.

A few weeks later, about six of us found ourselves in the basement shack of Ernie Savage, VE7FB. Although a stranger to me, Ernie was a well known 75m phone traffic man and an ardent 75m mobile operator. Although he was only about five-foot two, Ernie was a powerhouse of a personality and most of us cowered quietly as Ernie tweaked the dials and with a tight grip on his large microphone, barked louder than his small stature might suggest ... all of us quietly prayed that Ernie wouldn't pass the microphone to any of us.

And then I saw it! Although I didn't know it at the time, it was a pivotal moment in my development and would shape all aspects of my life from that point forward.

courtesy: Paul's Tube Radio Restorations
As Ernie reached up to change the frequency of his mammoth Heathkit DX-100 my eyes gazed upon and then became fixed on the big Heathkit's green dial ... the magical green dial that could take him anywhere he wanted to go, with just a twist of the wrist. There was something about its semi-transparent, alluring green shade that just grabbed hold of me. It was one of the coolest things I had seen in my first experience with amateur radio and I knew, from that moment on, that I wanted to get involved in this amazing hobby. Instead of just listening to signals, I could be making my own!

Heathkit VF-1 VFO Dial
Like so many memories from my youth, this moment is still fresh in my mind ... I can still visualize everything in that room as if I had just left Ernie's shack. Although the warm orange glow emitted by the dials of the equally mammoth Hallicrafters SX-28 'Skyrider' were stunning, it was the inviting glow of the little green Heathkit dial that I found myself focused upon ... how odd this all seems to me now, thinking about it over sixty years later.

Perhaps the Heathkit engineers had learned of the 'power of green' from those earlier genius Hallicrafter's draftsmen ... can anyone deny the alluring appeal of a Hallicrafter's front panel or dial?

Hallicrafters SX-42 Dial
Whatever the reason, Heathkit engineers were no slouches either when it came to luring young radio-crazed boys as well as full-grown men with their eye-appealing ads and clever designs.

As a young teen, I could never afford to buy a DX-100 but I was able to buy a VF-1 and added one to my Heathkit DX-20 magic transporter. With the lights turned off in the high attic bedroom shack, the orange dials of the Super Pro and its backlit S-meter combined with the seductive green glow of the VF-1. It just couldn't get any better!

Until recently, I had no real idea of why I had found the green dials so enchanting but an email from Mark, VA7MM, finally made it all perfectly clear. Mark offered the most plausible explanation ... the diabolical Heathkit and Hallicrafters engineers had been putting Kryptonite in their dials ... the stuff that even Superman found overpowering and unable to resist!

It was now so obvious why countless thousands of young boys and grown men had found these products so difficult to resist ... seems we never had a chance.
Steve McDonald, VE7SL, is a regular contributor to and writes from British Columbia, Canada. Contact him at [email protected].

14 Responses to “The Green Glow”

  • Mark W4MMR:

    Awesome story, Steve, just awesome.


  • Steve VE7SL:

    Tnx Mark … also tnx VA7MM for getting to the bottom of the mystery!

  • AK1F:

    Great story, so similar in many ways to my own path towards amateur radio

  • Bill Taylor KC5DPJ:

    Very interesting story sir. Thanks for sharing with us.

  • Robert VA3AOD:

    Fascinating story Steve.

    We are approximately the same age. My interest in electronics started in the late 50s or 1960 with the gift of a Heathkit crystal set from my much older brother-in-law who had been a navigator in WWII. I also had a Zenith Trans-Oceanic with tubes. Around the same time, I went to an American summer camp that had an amateur station. I was hooked!

  • Denis F5VJC:

    The Green glow did it for me too…

  • Denny - K0LGI:

    Although I did use the Heath VF-1 also, the most memorable ‘Green Glow’ for me was from the Hallicrafters S40B receiver dials used at the time while searching for DX on 40 meter CW.

  • Joe Cro N3IBX:

    Hello Steve, I really enjoyed your story! Who wouldn’t be awestruck by a Heathkit DX-100 or a Hallicrafters SX-42, particularly the receiver! I think it and a few others Hallicraftersw produced were the work of a designer named “Lowry”. I think he also designed the original Hallicrafters S-38 rx as well.

    BTW, that tombstone or cathedral you have is a knock out! It is a GE from 1934 (I forget the model number), and electrically identical to the famed RCA model 128. The only difference between the RCA and the GE is the dial. It is round and the GE you have is square. I have A GE that is identical to the one you have and think it’s a terrific performer.

    The best of luck to you and thanks for sharing your story with everyone!

    73, Joe Cro N3IBX

  • Bob KK5R:

    Thanks for the memories, Steve.

    I also remember the old Philco 650 that my father bought for me sometime in 1955. A classic that my brother now owns — and it still works. It came from a small second-hand store and did not work until I attended technical school and found a shorted bypass capacitor in the final amp screen circuit. Nothing else has been replaced in the radio.

    I got my interest tweaked by an article in Radio & TV Experimenter in the early Fifties about a shortwave converter that would make any AM broadcast receiver a pretty good SW receiver. Reading about it and what it could do got my attention. Later, when I picked up the major European SW broadcasters on the Philco 650, I got a sense of “arriving” but visions of Ham Radio Paradise did not occur until I visited some Brazilian ham radio friends and saw their stations. He also had a Heathkit DX-100 and it was considered the ultimate station transmitter at that time. The beams were built by them and the antenna rotator was an Armstrong design: The antenna mount extended into the shack area and was rotated by a strong arm by twisting a car steering wheel that was mounted on the shaft.

    Those were the days…

    I hope others will provide some of their memories here. I’m still smiling at Steve’s experiences with the little green light. For me, this was a welcome break from things like noise ceilings and phasing ports.

    Bob — KK5R

  • xe2pmg pedro melendez:

    Hi very interesting commentary on rays old in my house there is a 1915 and small radio listened to mazatlan sinaloa mexico from there boats I was born be amateur my distinctive xe2pmg already are 32 years congratulate you for these comments greetings 73/dx pedro chihuahua mexico


    Well Steve I joined you and the ranks in 1959 from Evansville, IN as a novice KN9BUG. Ran a globe chief on CW and listened on an NC?(cheap) receiver. Maybe an NC60? Had a foiled dipole made of tv plastic ribbon leadin. I made some really good contacts including fitrst dd-French station. Still have the qsl card! Heck maybe we crossed paths on 40 some night.
    Enjoyed your story very much and writing this comment. 73 my fellow ham operator. It never gets old. Bi.l

  • Steve VE7SL:

    Terrific comments all and thank you! So many of us were struck at a tender age it seems and are still enjoying this great hobby.

    73, Steve

  • Tom Hayes VE6WCF:

    Great story. In the 70s I spent many hours in my folks garage stripping parts from old TVs and listening to a Zenith transOceanic radio. It peaked my curiosity to hear voices from all over the planet. I lived in a remote farming location in northern Alberta: This was my glimpse into the world before the Internet. Maybe kids are so
    Connected now they would perceive that s gift in the same light as myself. However now over 49 years later amateur radio has brought significant fun, curiosity andhours of sharing that I would never have been exposed to otherwise.

    Thanks to my Elmer and silent key Ray Nadeau, VE6SF, for allowing me the time to e poorest and understand under his wing!

  • Geoffrey Lotz ZR6XZ:

    A lovely piece of writing…I just remember seeing wires in the sky above the house of a friend of my dad and wondering what they were.
    My father dismissively told me his friend was a ‘ham’ and that he spent all night sending morse code to other hams all over the world, as if it was an affliction.

    Well, I thought it sounded like the coolest thing imaginable.

    And here we all are today – afflicted!

    Kryptonite….nothing quite like it!

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