December 9

December 9.  Two notable radio-related things happened to me on this day, 40 years apart.  Of little interest to anyone other than me, but this is a blog and that's what blogs are for.


On this day in 1976, I bought one of these:

Well, almost like this.  Mine was branded Lloyd's CB-2123 and not Spark-O-Matic.  Otherwise, it was identical.  I didn't realize it at the time but the reason this was being offered for the unheard-of price of $79.99 (about half of what the cheapest radios had cost all that summer) was that they were being dumped on the Canadian market.

On January 1st of 1977 -- mere weeks after I bought the radio in question -- the FCC was to increase the number of Class D CB channels from 23 to 40.  While this was great for the CBers who would nearly double the number of available channels, it was a big problem for manufacturers.

Once the news of the FCC's new rules (surely a Report and Order after a Notice of Proposed Rule-making) got out, the bottom dropped out of the CB market as consumers didn't want to be stuck with "obsolete" 23-channel radios.

Some manufacturers reacted by including a coupon that would allow for a free "remanufacturing" of the 23-channel radio into a 40-channel unit after the first of the year.  I have no idea how that worked given that most 23-channel rigs used a crystal matrix to synthesize the 23 (or, more often, 24!) channels; only the most expensive units had phase-locked loop digital synthesis.

The Canadian market offered a way out for some.  The Canadian Department of Communications didn't plan their CB expansion -- legally the General Radio Service, or GRS, a name no one used -- until April 1st of 1977.  So US-based manufacturers started dumping them north of the border.  In this case, Spark-O-Matic evidently worked with or otherwise struck a deal with Lloyd's, a Canadian company that sold consumer electronics gear, to sell these radios in Canada.

Worked for me:  I was finally able to afford a CB radio!  Something I had coveted all through the summer of 1976.  Many hams look down on CB for some reason and while in my area there were certainly a number of jerks on the air, most people were quite pleasant.  We even had directed nets on busy nights and had RDF contests.  We had fun.


So today, 40 years later to the day, I'm in the car on the way to work.  The radio stops scanning on AO-85's VHF downlink frequency and I hear the recorded voice of the little girl who IDs the satellite when the voice transponder is activated.

One of the regulars is on but there is not the usual cacaphony of stations trying to make contacts.  There is a lull and I kerchunk (my radio is programmed with the UHF uplink and VHF downlink in the same memory slot).  I hear a gap in the audible hash that is caused by AO-85's Data Under Voice telemetry (at least, I think that's the noise) and that gap is about the right delay given the distance to the satellite (over the Great Lakes at that point).  So I decide to give out my callsign and grid locator. AND I GOT A REPLY!

I had no idea that you could work satellites (of the low-earth-orbit variety in this case) on a regular FM dual-band mobile radio and basically a unity-gain antenna (Comet SBB-1NMO).  Ironically, I had had no luck at all over the summer and fall with AO-85 using my HT and an Arrow-II satellite antenna, a setup I've used quite a bit with SO-50.

Interestingly, the FT-90 installation in the car is sort of half-assed, with power being drawn from the cigarette lighter.  On most of the regular repeater channels, I have the power set down at the 5- or 10-W level so I don't blow the fuse (it's hardly needed for the local repeaters).  When I checked the memory settings after I made my QSO this morning, I found that it was set to high for AO-85!  I have no idea why the fuse didn't blow.

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