My First Radio Station was a Walkie-Talkie! 1971-74

April 9, 2020

As I mentioned in the previous chapter, the thing I most wanted as a kid was to be on the radio. No other desire even came close. When I was 7 years old (1971), I was given a pair of inexpensive walkie-talkies for my birthday. 99.99% of the population used these to talk to another person. You’d give your friend one of the “talkies” and both walk around the neighborhood, talking to each other. Not me. I soon realized that if I took a piece of my dad’s duct tape and wrapped it tightly around the press-to-talk button, the walkie-talkie would transmit continuously. If I then placed the unit in front of my record player, I could walk around outside with the other walkie-talkie and hear the record. Instant radio station! Granted, it was a very crude method with horribly bad audio quality. But it was a functional radio transmitter. The light had gone off inside my brain. The genie was out of the bottle.

My next big discovery came about a year later. I’m not sure how I came to notice this but one day, I realized that the output of my little walkie-talkie could also be heard just above “108” on any FM radio! This was the fourth harmonic frequency, of course. The walkie-talkie transmitted on 27.125Mhz (CB Channel 14.) Which meant it would also transmit a slightly weaker signal on multiples of it’s intended frequency. In this case, 27.125 x 4 = 108.500 Mhz. Just above the upper limit of the FM broadcast band but receivable on nearly all radios. Fortunately for me, digital tuning had not yet been invented. I then discovered that if I connected our rooftop TV antenna to the walkie-talkie, it would transmit much further than with it’s telescoping antenna. Now, I had a signal that could be heard for about 1/4 mile on any FM radio! Never mind that the distorted audio sounded even worse as an AM transmission on an FM receiver. I was thrilled! I had a radio station! KDRS-FM 108 was born. Drew’s Radio Station!

For Christmas 1972, I was given an Archer Space Patrol Base Station. This offered several advantages over my walkie-talkie. First, it had more power (100mW) and cleaner audio. It also had a lever that could be placed into continuous transmit mode. No need for duct tape! The Base Station had an external power jack. This meant I could (and did) buy an AC adaptor so that I was no longer spending all my allowance money on batteries. Finally, it had an external microphone and jack. I replaced the microphone with a patch cord to the speaker jack of my record player. (By this time, I had also upgraded my record player from a simple mono unit to a stereo phonograph with 2 external speaker jacks.) Taken together, the Base Station represented a significant advancement in broadcast quality from my previous facilities!

Still, I faced a sizeable problem: this was the early 1970s. Most of my neighbors did not own an FM radio. Or if they did, they had no idea what it was used for. All the action was still on AM, at least in my little corner of the world. That fancy new Archer Base Station with it’s 4th harmonic on 108.5 was no good if people could not receive my broadcasts on their radios. I needed to get on AM. This would become my next project as you will read in Chapter 3.