Electronic amplification is one of those processes that are so common that nobody is even curious about it. If you do think about it, it seems almost like a miracle. A weak signal is changed into a strong signal. How is that done? Questions like that fascinated me as a child.
In those days boys built ''crystal sets'' out of parts or kits. These were crude radio receivers that had no power cords or batteries. They used nothing but the almost unimaginably minute power an antenna could pick out of the air from the radio stations. Those antennae had to be many yards long. You could faintly hear local stations on ear phones or ear plugs.
If you wanted to drive a speaker and make it loud, that signal had to be amplified, made strong. This was accomplished by warm glowing bulb-like glass ''vacuum tube'' amplifiers inside ordinary radio sets. They were the invention of Lee De Forest in 1906. All that glowing and warmth was actually power-consuming waste. Small, light, efficient ''solid state'' transistors replaced the vacuum tubes starting with the Regency portable radio in 1955. This all but single-handedly created the phenomena of teenagers as we know them and of rock 'n' roll.
This 1947 Westinghouse WL 211 transmitter amplifying tube is in the collection of the Fenton History Center.
On the other end, at the radio station, the transmitter had to take the feeble signal from the microphone (actually from the modulator that imposed the sound signal on a radio frequency carrier wave) and amplify it to several hundred or even several thousand watts to be sent to the antenna tower which propagated it out into the air. This was also done by tubes, but much bigger ones than in home receivers. We recently received one of the transmitter amplifier tubes from the original 1947 WJOC transmitter that was replaced in 1950. This same station erected the tower on top of the Pri Ad or Furniture Index Building on West Fourth Street that was just brought down last July 23. What we have is a first stage power tube, a Westinghouse WL 211. It sold for $10 when ordinary receiver tubes sold for under a dollar. It is seven inches high. It boosted the signal 12 fold. The amplified signal was then made stronger yet by even larger final stage amplifier tubes. The final output was 250 watts. Today, even the final stage amplification in radio transmitters can be and is handled by transistors or solid state devices.
Our tube is in the original box. Recorded in ink on the tab is ''Received 4-10-47.'' WJOC originally was affiliated with the no-longer-existing Mutual Network that broadcast its regular programs six days a week rather than five like the competition. WJOC became WXYJ on Aug. 10, 1961, then WKSN on Dec. 28, 1963, when Lowell ''Bud'' Paxson bought it. Paxson is the same man who later founded the Shopping Network for cable television in Florida. He also was behind the 1967-1969 UHF television station on Orchard Road. In 1968 he moved WKSN into the same building as the television station where Media One is located now. The station's offices and studios were moved to the Gas Light Motel in West Ellicott by 1970 shortly before Paxson sold WKSN. Meanwhile, in 1971, WJTN had moved into the Orchard Road building WKSN had vacated. Early in 1979 WKSN moved its studios and offices to 202 Front St. but continued to employ the Fourth Street tower. Media One bought WKSN in 2003 and began consolidating back at the Orchard Road site. The Front Street building was demolished Feb. 13, 2009, and the tower is now gone too. It was one of only two roof top towers in New York state. It stood 63 years without guy wires. WKSN now uses the same tower as WJTN, located in the swamp land between Jones and Gifford Avenue and the Outlet.
The purpose of the Fenton History Center is to gather and teach about southern Chautauqua County's history through artifacts, ephemeral and oral histories, and other pieces of the past.
The Hometown History column is presented by the Fenton History Center and The Post-Journal. Each Friday, a distinct item from the Fenton History Center collections or archival special collections will be featured. Learn about your hometown history through parts of its past.
If one of the items featured brings back some memories or brings up a question, please contact the Fenton History Center at 664-6256 or firstname.lastname@example.org to share your memory or get an answer to your question.
Visit www.fentonhistorycenter.org for more information on upcoming events.
If you would like to donate to the collections or support the work of the Fenton History Center, call 664-6256 or visit the center at 67 Washington St., just south of the bridge.