Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Name that DJ!

How about this for memories of Radio 1! All the DJ's back in the 1960s and 70s!
Let me try to name them:
Back Row: I can see Tommy Vance and Paul Gamboginni,
Middle Row: Tony Blackburn, Annie Nightingale, Andy Peebles, Steve Wright, Noel Edmunds, Jimmy Saville.
Front Row: Paul Burnett, David Jenson, Mike Reid, Dave Lee Travis, Simon Bates , John Peel.
(but where is Alan Freeman?)
These days a lot of the DJ's on Radio 1 are from around here, Mark Radcliffe, Sarah Cox, Vernon Kay. My mate Steve Kay (brother of Vernon) works with me at school and appears on Vernon's show on Saturday morning with the Maths Problem. I have spoken with John Peel at B.I.T. back in the 70's and also DLT at Rivington Barn at a great do!
Trouble is that Radio 1 is not what it was and some of the original DJ's are now on Radio 2 and other commercial stations. John Peel, Tommy Vance and Alan Freeman are no more, but Johnny Walker and Bob Harris are still around on Radio 2 along with Steve Wright and Paul Gambougini.

This year I launched a project to produce our own school Radio Station with some professional input. Steve Kay (Vernon's brother) has taken up this project and it looks good! We already have a Radio Station (not quite Radio 1) but some thing unheard of back in the 70's!
Have a look at this:
We have come such a long way with digital technology, it is now possible for anyone to have their own on-line Radio Station and be a DJ as well!

Saturday, December 27, 2008


The end of an era! Woolworths closing forever!
So many memories, right back to when I was four years old when I got my head stuck in a revolving door in Woolworths at Blackpool. I loved 'going in town' with my Mam where we would go to Woolies to look at the toys and get some 'pick n mix' to take home. It was best when the counters were long with different stalls, make-up, cheap toys, stationary, pick n mix with the girls in the middle and you paid at each counter. I remember a girl called Carol that worked on the make-up counter. When the checkouts arrived so did the queues and Woolworths changed as we know it. My daughter Jacquie worked Saturday and Sunday at Woolies, her first job. I collected repairs from Woolworths when I worked at TAM and usually had to wait ages while they found them!
When they opened up the new 'Super Woolworths' in place of Burnden Park I was a bit confused, how could they sustain a huge store with stuff that could be bought at ASDA? Even the selection of toys was dubious. I must admit that I did get some bargains at the new store, like the first video mobile phones which they sold at a giveaway price of £45. I bought a telescope from Woolworths at less than half price and this launched me into the world of Astro-imaging.

I seem to remember that Woolworths were bought by Comet at one stage. Woolies never did get it right in the modern world ...such a pity that the store is closing ...so many memories!

Woolworths were everywhere, in Radcliffe (now Homemakers), in Farnworth and in Walkden. When I worked at Thornley's Butchers in Walkden with my Uncle Tom, when I was about 16, we were quite pally with the manager at Woolworths so when the shops shut on Saturdays Tom would sort him some meat and in return we got as much 'pick n mix' and we wanted! One of the girls I worked with at Thornley's, Gill, came from Woolworths, such a small world!

Saturday, December 13, 2008


I can't finish this year without a mention of 'BEANO' my favourite comic that celebrates 70 years this year! I still buy Beano, especially when i'm on holiday.

Back in the 60's I eagerly awaited the paper boy or girl pushing it through the letter box at 7.00 on Thursday morning. Before going to school I would sit next to the fire in the kitchen and read part of the comic, but save the best till I got home from school. The best bits were always 'Bash Street Kids' and 'Q bikes.'

Q Bikes always had a soft spot for me, they had bikes with Radio Transmitters fitted and an aerial on the back. They wore a helmet with a microphone so that they could communicate with each other. Q Bikes originally had five members and later six. I even tried to form my own Q Bikes club and put a stick for an aerial on the back of my bike along with a tin for a transmitter!

How things have changed...

Now we use digital mobile phones to communicate, cyclists can use hands-free kits to talk to anyone in the world.

I can still picture the Q Bikes badge that my Uncle Bill designed one Sunday afternoon and we talked about transmitters. I think this was the beginning of something that captured my interest in analogue technology back in 1967.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Do they know its Christmas?

I love the weeks before Christmas at school!
Last week we recorded a CD of songs sung by the children. A recording studio was set up in the hall, recorded, mixed and digitally edited and enhanced.
The results are fantastic!
We grown-ups got together and sang 'Do they know its Christmas' no practice at all!
Here it is:

Don't you just love digital technology!
So how do you wish everyone a Happy Christmas in this digital world?

Try this!

Please accept with no obligation, implicit or explicit, our best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low stress, non-addictive, gender neutral celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practised within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion or secular practices of your choice, with total respect for the religious/secular persuasions and/or traditions of others, and their choice not to practise religious or secular traditions at all... and a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2009, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make Britain great (not to imply the Britain is necessarily greater than any other country nor is it the only "BRITAIN" in the northern hemisphere), and without regard to the race, creed, colour, age, physical ability, religious faith, sexual orientation and choice of computer platform of the wishee.

By accepting this greeting, you are accepting these terms. This greeting is subject to clarification or withdrawal. It is freely transferable with no alteration to the original greeting. It implies no promise by the wishee actually to implement any of the wishes for her/himself or others, and is void where prohibited by law and is revocable at the sole discretion of the wisher.

This wish is warranted to perform as expected within the usual application of good tidings for a period of one year, or until the issuance of a subsequent holiday greeting, whichever comes first, and warranty is limited to replacement of this wish or issuance of a new wish at the sole discretion of the wisher.


Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Snow joke!

I can't remember the last time we had heavy snow before Christmas!

On Tuesday morning the snow caused havoc, roads were gridlocked, schools closed (including mine) cars abandoned, motorways like car parks!

In this digital society we simply cannot cope with something as simple as SNOW. Even the most advanced digital technology cannot cope with it. Mobile phones used to 'text' parents to tell them that the school is shut. Weather forecasting is so accurate that it will give advance warning of snow, the MET Office has the most powerful computer in the world!

Trouble is...we rely on the technology, but not ourselves without it.

What did we do in the 1960's when snow was something that we accepted and simply adjusted to it. I can't remember my school ever shutting because of snow, people just got on with their life and got to school or work the best way they could.
Tonight on the news I saw the latest digitally controlled snow plough fitted to the front of a gritter! Fine...but will it solve the problem with snow?

Back in the 60's we would wake up and scrape the ice from the window so that we could see the snow. My Mum would put the oven on to heat up the kitchen and wrap us all up ready for the walk to school. When we stepped outside icicles hung from the gutters and window sills and we loved to pick them and suck them on the way to school. Snow drifts sometimes came to my waist and we made 'slides' in the playgrounds.

In those days Winter meant just that, these days it is rare that it snows, especially before Christmas. (Global Warming?)
We need to cope with it!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Monkees

Back in 1967 I thought The Monkees were great!
I hated the TV programme, it was a bit silly, but just loved the music.
The first record I ever bought was 'I'm a Believer'. The later records like 'Daydream Believer', 'Pleasant Valley Sunday' and 'Alternate Title' were just lovely songs! I learned all the words and sang along with them, particularly 'Alternate Title'. Most of these songs went to number one or two in the charts and I remember Alan Freeman playing them. We didn't have a tape recorder at that time, but my mate Keith Taylor had one and we would sit in his bedroom recording the charts back in Summer '67!
I spent a whole day with Joyce who lived next door to my Uncle Bill one Sunday. She was a Monkees fanatic! We listened to all her albums and she new everything about them (A bit like Take That!) Where are you now Joyce?
I collected all the Monkees cards back in 1967, I think there were 44 of them, with black and white photos on one side from the TV series and part of a bigger colour picture on the other side. It took me a while and chewed a lot of bubble gum, but I finally collected two sets of cards. One I kept for the photos and the other I stuck together to make the big colour photo and pinned it to my bedroom wall!
Why am I bringing all this up?
After all you could be laughed at being a Monkees fan, they were the original 'Boy Band' put together by a record company to compete with The Beatles. They couldn't play (or sing) but through sheer hard work and determination they made records that are timeless! I bought The Definitive Monkees' CD not long ago and tonight I played it and still love it!
Now digitally re-mastered!
Don't knock it...some classic songs!

One song called 'This just doesn't seem to be my day' really touched a nerve, but it is not on the compilation CD!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Helicopter visit

Not everyday that a Royal Navy Lynx MK III helicopter drops in, but yesterday it really did at my school!

A big surprise for the children and staff. All the children had a chance to sit in the helicopter and talk to the crew. The Lynx helicopter is about twenty years old and I was quite surprised to see the many analogue indicators and meters. Reminded me of my radio shack in the olden days. I think there must be a hybrid of digital and analogue technology in this helicopter, a wonderful machine and a wonderful sight to it land and take off.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Digital Soccer

Tonight I watched England beat Germany 2:1 in Berlin on television. A super match with a great England team!
Everytime England play Germany I think back to July 1966, just before my 12th birthday when England won the World Cup.
That afternoon the world stopped!
Our whole family sat in front of a 19" Black and White Television on 405 lines watching a low definition picture. We were glued to it! No distractions, just good commentary and focus on the game. I pinched a Union Jack from the rummage sale at school (thinking it was a pair of shorts because I didn't have any for football) and nailed to a stick. I sat in front of the TV with it by my side. I remember charging down the street to my friend Pauls house waving the flag and chanting in the street!
Well tonight the game was great, but why do we have to have constant digital moving adverts flashed before our eyes? I found it difficult to concentrate on the game and my eyes constantly being drawn to to the digital technology in our midst. The commentary on ITV is awful, too much information, I don't want to know all the statistics and constant distracting 'blurb' I just want to know who is kicking the ball!

With so much digital 'light pollution' from adverts around the ground the players must be distracted themselves when playing imortant games. Technology gone mad!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Analogue A35

The ultimate in 'fly by wire' technology must be my old Austin A35 car! This wonderful machine cost £50 and was my first 'bought' car.

When I turned 21 I left my job at Telefusion and went working for Harlow Electronics where I had a company car. This didn't work out well and a year later I went back to my old job at telefusion but without a car. I needed four wheels desperately, so I bought an A35 (can you believe it...I had a brand new Ford Escort at Harlow!)

So many memories of this little car, got me to and from work in Heywood every day, to and from Kaths house in Radcliffe, days out and a real workhorse!

The picture above is Kath and my A35 in Anglesea (OK, it did run out of steam going up a 1 in 5 hill and was rescued by a man with a milkcrate full of water!)
The A35 had a novel design ... stop by wire!
The front brakes were hydrolic, but the back brakes had cables which simply didn't work, in other words this little beast couldn't stop, in fact needed about fifty yards to stop at 30mph!!
The engine was superb, started first time, lively and ran on 'essence' of petrol. I put £5 in at the ELF garage in Whitefield and it would last weeks! Indicator was a big switch on the dashboard, no SatNav, digital readouts, cd player you just drive by the seat of your pants!
Of course I had my rig installed, Pye Bootmount Cambridge with cables to the back of the van and quarter wave home made mag mount sat near the 'chimney' on top of the car.
I still have vivid dreams about this little car and wonder what happened to it, I sent to a scrap yard because it failed it's MOT miserably!
RIP A35!

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Topband Contest

Well, i'm listening to topband at the moment on my Yaesu FT-817. It's the club station contest and I am truely amazed!
I have never heard so many stations on 160m before!
Stations from all over the country coming in, all club stations and some with some great antennas. Although I can hear them, I don't have enough power to work these stations with the FT-817, only about 4 -5watts and a piece of wet string as an antenna. I'm listening to G0RAF at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire at the moment, a terrific signal, but he can't hear me! I am very tempted to bring down my FT101E from the loft and power it up just to see what I can work while there are so many stations on Topband.
Gosh... I remember the days when I went on air every night on 160m with my AM rig, lots of stations then back in the 1970's, nowadays you are lucky to hear anyone on topband. Tonight shows just how good topband can be!
Oh...its 11.00pm and the contest has just finished, topband is completely dead again!

Monday, November 03, 2008

Radio Rally

Radio Rally pictures are a bit rare, I never took any pictures myself even though I must have been to hundreds over the years. The picture above is from the Bolton Rally at Silverwell St.
This was one of my favourites as I have had a stand of my own a couple of times and really enjoyed it. The Radio Rally back in the 70's, 80's and even 90's were the place to go to get all your bits and components you needed to build your projects. Wear your badge and meet other radio amateurs as well as having a pint or two!After Silverwell Street sports centre shut down the rally moved to Horwich Leisure Centre, not quite the same, but still good.Alas, rallies are not what it was, last year I went to one and was totally disapointed, no atmosphere, few dealers, cold and wish I hadn't bothered!

Looking back though... some great rallies:

The highlight was Leicester at the Granby Halls. (without doubt!)

Drayton Manor (Brilliant Rally!)

Bolton Rally at Silverwell Street.

Bury Rally at the Castle Leisure Centre.

Preston Rally at the T.A. on Deepdale Rd. (My first ever rally!)

Tamworth Rally (in the shopping centre)

Monday, October 27, 2008


This must be the only picture on earth of the TELPRO colour television!

Here is Brian (my mate) fixing one of the Telpro models made by Telefusion back in about 1975. The photo is actually a crop of a bigger photo with me on it as well. You can see some detail of the chassis and its layout along with the novel way in which the Line and Field output tower tilts down for servicing (right) . The Telpro circuit is in fact the same as the Decca Bradford Chassis, but with cheaper components.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Analogue Knickers!

This album is a timeless classic!
I bought this 'vinyl' album back in 1972 and took it every party at the time which went down a treat as the record was wrapped in a pair of white knickers! I was playing the digital CD version of it tonight and sang along with all the words, how could I forget them. (The CD don't come with knickers!)

Some of the lyrics are just brilliant:

"All I need is a holocaust to make my day complete"

"He wanted an Einstein, but he got a Frankenstein"

"Whisky on your lips and earthworms through your brain"

The West Side Story send ups are great..."Street Fight" takes an angle of alley cats and the last track "Grande Finale" is an instrumental that brings everything together in the album.

"A sly incitement to delinquency. A rollicking send-up of America's most sacred cows. A blistering rock and roll workout. Alice Cooper's 1972 LP School's Out' is one of the cleverest and most engaging concept albums ever recorded"

and guess what...

When I met Kath (my wife) she had also bought this album along with all the other Alice Cooper Albums at the time!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Early Projects

Here is a picture of my shack soon after getting married and moving into our house. The strange thing about this photo is that I am sitting in the same room looking at the same wall while typing this 30 years on!
On the left was my home built 160m / 80m SSB Transeiver with the gorgeous Eddystone 898 dial. This was probably one of the biggest projects that I built. The receiver and most of the transmitter used the Plessey SL600 chips, some bought new and others untested from the 'Birkett' stall at rallies. The PA was an EL81 which gave about 10w RF output on 160m. The most expensive bit was the SSB filter which was a Kocosi filter. I remember going to the Leicester Rally with a list of bits needed to finish this project and managed to get everything!
Next to this was my trusted 2m transmitter, QQvo310 in the PA and plug-in 8MHz crystals for the frequency. (Remember this was days of tuning high to low!)
Next the famous Hallicrafters SX24 receiver, shortly after taking this picture it's mains transformer melted filling the house with a disgusting oily smell. I later replaced the transformer and the receiver was back in action.
On the top shelf was my 70cm transvertor. It used two QQVO350 valves, the first tripled the 144MHz input and then the second provided 10w output. This was built originally for transmission of television signals using grid modulation.
It worked well!
Ther is also a Pye Cambridge on the right of the picture, but you can only see the microphone.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Clare May Ball

Here is Neil (G3ZPL) spinning the discs at the May Ball at Clare College, Cambridge!

(Anybody remember RECORDS?)

That was an amazing night, I even got chance to play the records myself and enjoy my first attempt at being a DJ! I'm still trying to read the year on the balloon to determine when it happened. I think it was 1976 because I was in Cambridge for a week on my own as Kath was working and couldn't come.

St. Edmund Ale, Abbott Ale, Greene King...can I say more?

It was an amazing week...hot, sunny and plenty of cocktail parties at all hours of the day. We did the disco for the May Ball in the JCR (Junior Common Room) at Claire College, a bit like a crypt underneath the college. Neils equipment was state of the art, he built all himself...complete with flashing lights and special effects on the sound (phasor) SP25 decks, sliders and superb sound quality!

I need to go back to Cambridge again ... so many memories!

Saturday, August 30, 2008


The last few days have brought warm nights.
While sat in the garden sipping my amber nectar a bat flutters around my discone antenna. I have tried a few times to capture an image of this silent little creature. Is it really a bat I can see or is it a bird?
Well tonight I finally cracked it, here it is... a cute little bat!
Here it is close up...

Amazing to watch, flying at high speed twisting and turning but never bumping into anything.

So is it digital or analogue?

I works like radar a thing called 'echolocation'
Acoustic features of bat echolocation calls:
Frequency Modulation and Constant Frequency: Echolocation calls can be composed of two different types of frequency structures: frequency modulated (FM) sweeps, and constant frequency (CF) tones. A particular call can consist of one, the other, or both structures. An FM sweep is a broadband signal – that is, it contains a downward sweep through a range of frequencies. A CF tone is a narrowband signal: the sound stays constant at one frequency throughout its duration.

Definately sounds analogue to me!

A nice link for a more technical explanation: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Animal_echolocation

Friday, August 29, 2008

The Morse Test

The Liver Building - A magnificent structure!

In 1971 however it was a bit mucky. This is where I had to go to take my Morse Test having just passed my RAE (Radio Amateur Examination) Using Georges Tapes (G3ZQS) I finally mastered the CW and was able to send and receive at a speed of around 20wpm (words per minute) and applied for my test in Liverpool.

I can remember the day so well. (I was a nervous wreck!)

My Dad took me to Liverpool and I had to arrange time off work at Telefusion. We travelled down the East Lancs Road into Liverpool, I remember shops having metal shutters, something we never saw in Bolton then! When we arrived my Dad stopped a man near the docks to ask for directions, he told us how he was on strike!

We entered the liver Building and climbed up three flights of stairs to the maritime bit for my test. My Dad waited outside when a man came along and I was taken into a small, long room with a table with three morse keys, one made of solid brass.

"Try them out" the said! When we were ready he sent me morse code groups at 12wpm. I was happy with that, but when it was my turn to send I thought I had fluffed it! The guy laughed and said "You held on a bit there....but fine...you have passed!"

Well. you can imagine...it was like passing my driving test! I was over the moon!

Digital communication, text messaging...what the hell...I can still send and receive morse code after all this time! Whats more...I can send morse code faster than my daughter can text on her phone!
Morse code is not digital, you learn by listening to the 'rhythm' not counting dots and dashes!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Digital London Bus?

The closing ceremony of the Bejiing Olympics was awesome!
Our 2008 Team GB were fantastic - 19 Gold Medals, 4th Place!
London 2012 coming up!

Handover to London...
Well what can I say...a red London Bus? Come on?
Jimmy Page playing 'Whole Lotta Love' from 1969?
Leona Lewis in a Spanish Flamingo Dress?
Boris on a 60's trip?
Was Cliff Richard driving it?
Come on GB, look to the future if we have one! The athletes have done their stuff, how about the rest of us?
By 2012 China will leave us in the dark ages, look at the digital technology used during the games, everything from digital satellite links to digital fireworks. While we still ride around London in big red buses China control the digital technology. They have a stranglehold of digital technology production and export to our country. They buy up our scrap metal and things that we don't want and produce goods that we buy!

It's time GB woke up, if we fall out with China and Russia turns the gas off, we can't afford London 2012!

Will the last person that leaves Britain please turn the lights off!

Why do we rely so much on other countries for technology, we have the brains but not the brawn!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Codar AT5

I never used one of these famous 160m / 80m transmitters. A friend of mine from college had one and I spent one lunchtime having a look at it. So small and compact, unbelievable that this was a valve rig (and unbelievable how this thing was stable looking at the chassis layout!)

I know the circuit of this transmitter back to front.

I built my own 160m transmitter back in 1970. The valve line up was EF91 (VFO), EF91 (Buffer), 5763 (PA) ECC83 (AF PREAMP), 6BW6 (AF AMP/MODULATOR) the design came from Short Wave Magazine by F.G. Rayer G3OGR. Frank Rayer produced many variations of the famous Codar AT5, basically the same circuit!

When I built mine I had all kinds of problems, particularly winding the coils and obtaining a suitable PA anode choke. I eventually got one from the shop on St Georges Rd who reluctantly let me have one. He asked me how old I was and am I really old enough to buy a transmitting choke! The modulation choke was a sod to find as well. I needed two air spaced capacitors (500pf), one dual gang I got from an old radio, but the second had to be pretty substantial. I ordered one from Modern Radio, when it came it was brand new and cost me an absolute fortune. I had it up and running long before I got my licence, but boy was it unstable...dip the PA capacitor and the VFO went up the band causing havoc! I borrrowed my transmitter to George G3ZQS and he used it for a while on 160m but drifted up and down the band! While he was using my rig we had a heck of a thunderstorm while he was working Neil (G3ZPL) and Chris (G4AGJ) his antenna got hit by lightening and the plates of the air spaced capacitors got welded together!

I just had to add this photo! This is me in back in 1970 using the rig, the front panel is actually green, made from steel made by my Dad at work. To the left is my R109A receiver and then my WS38 (which I didn't use much) The lamp on top of the R109A is my 'Dummy Load' which was used to replace the antenna to test the transmitter - a 15w bulb that lit brightly!

Needless to say when I finally got my licence I rebuilt the transmitter on a better chassis with more screening and it worked a treat!

Thursday, August 07, 2008

The Verve

After ten years The Verve have made a comeback. I watched in awe at their performance at Glastonbury this year. It was incredible! Tonight I watched in awe again at the Radio 1 studio performance. Richard Ashcroft and the guys have matured but at the same time got better.

Back in 1998 The Verve and Richard Ashcroft wrenched some of my feelings and put them into words, yet soothed me through the awful times of the infamous OFSTED inspection. I sat in my loft room writing my lesson plans while listening to 'Bitter Sweet Symphony' and the rest of that classic album 'Urban Hymns'.

Tonight I cried when I listened to 'Lucky Man' and 'Bitter Sweet Symphony'. When Verve performed at Glastonbury I cried at the same songs...they are so powerful!!

The video of Bitter Sweet Symphony is so simple, but its my favourite ... it depicts life in such a vivid yet subtle way.

Rock on Richard..older but wiser!

Monday, August 04, 2008

Sunflower magic!

My garden must have stange electo-magnetic properties. Melissa planted a feeble looking little sunflower that she grew from a seed at school in May and just look at it now!

Sunflower magic!

In fact every Sunflower that we have planted in our garden have grown into enormous beanstalks. I put it down to the effect of my aerials that attract RF radiation and cause the famous 'Sunflower Effect!'

Friday, August 01, 2008

Torchy - The Battery Boy

Was this the starting point? Was this my first inspiration? I was only 4 years old, my mum and dad had just got a television and I lived in a flat in Draycott Street. I still went to bed with my 'dummy' and I loved TORCHY! It was electric!

This is extreme nostalgia!

I have always remembered the words of the Torchy Song, but until tonight (50 years later) I have never seen him! I watched the first episode on YouTube and the strangest thing happened...I could remember the words spoken by the characters and almost knew what was coming next!

Another Gerry Anderson Classic, he harnessed the technology at the time.

'Four Feather Falls' was another one that I used to watch, but I can't remember 'Twizzle'
Some great links here:
Was Torchy really that scary?
I read somewhere that he was the model for 'Chucky' We were so innocent in those days, you never noticed the strings on the puppets and there was nothing at all wrong with a 'toy boy' or 'bossy boots' or a drunken Irishman that played with little children in his garden!

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Steve Zodiac - Analogue Puppet!

I remember watching one of the first episodes of Fireball XL5 in black and white back in the 1960s. Steve Zodiac and Dr Venus were visiting a strange planet and making their way through some spooky caves on their jetmobiles. Venus was attacked and fell from her jetmobile ... blood...blood on her head ... what would Steve Zodiac do?
I was about 7 years old at the time and it scared me!
Steve Zodiac, Venus, Mathew (Matt) Matic, Robert the Robert (On our way home!!) and that strange creature Zoonie.
The series was way ahead of its time, imagine if they made the series again using digital technology?
They remade THUNDERBIRDS using real life characters and changed the look of the crafts .. it was awful!
Let's remake FIREBALL XL5 using computer animations similar to Shrek or Ice Age

Some great Fireball XL5 websites and images:

Friday, July 18, 2008


Today was my last day after an incredible year at my new school site. Moving into a new level of digital technology makes me reflect on where I was this time last year. Last night and this afternoon the children leaving school presented their end of year Mass to their parents and rest of the school, part of this was our Powerpoint Presentation. I have done this a couple of times with the children before, but this time the feelings came right to the surface - a real tear jerker. This along with the school play (Joe White) and some wonderful kids brought to life the technology behind it.
The Powerpoint was so popular that we needed 60 copies of it on CD in half a day. The kids responded and set up a production line of disc burning using Dell Laptops churning out discs in packets ready for distribution!
These are nine year old kids!
They harnessed the digital technology!
The song by Avril Lavingne 'When you're gone' was used in the presentation and will never be forgotten ... Rock on Avril!!

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Disco Diva!

Back in 1991 I became a DJ!
I can't believe that some of this equipment is being used at this moment at school in the same hall that it was was originally designed for...
The story...family night discos at The Moss School where my children are and one night the disco does not turn up. The hall is full of parents and children waiting for a disco and we have a problem. Some quick thinking and I decided to wheel in the school hi-fi connect it up and run home to get some records and tapes along with a couple of children. We now had a disco!
I became a DJ overnight and had a great night, the parents and kids didn't even notice the lack of disco! After this I decided to build some equipment and have a disco of my own to use in school. I have lost count of the number of discos that I have done over the years, first with two twin SP25 decks and then added one and even two CD players. We had flashing lights and a superb 100 watt FET Amp (Kit from Maplin) Speakers are brilliant, I later added tweeters which further improved the quality. A couple of years later I bought a Maplin Mixer Unit which I still use today.
The photo shows the new equipment ready be used along with my BBC Computer and twin disc drives, printer and modem in 1991.
On Friday in our new school building (Re-built The Moss School) we presented our Summer production in the same hall area as 1991 and with the same equipment - it still works!!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Digital Narnia

Premier of the new 'Chronicles of Narnia' film 'Prince Caspian' (Edmund, Lucy, Susan, Peter and Prince Caspian)

Back in class 5 at primary school we had a brill teacher called Mr Dewhurst. He read us 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe' and then 'Prince Caspian' in class. I was totally begotted with the first story. When I became a teacher myself I have read these to the children and they love it! The british cartoon version of the story is super and Jacquie loved to watch it. The BBC version was disappointing, especially when Lucy asked "Are you a Faun?" having never seen or heard of one before!!
Now we have the digital versions...
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is fantastic, the whole school went to watch it at the cinema and loved it. Now comes the next bit ... Prince Caspian! I must admit that I didn't fully understand this story when I was in Year 3, but I can't wait to see the digital film version!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Jazzy FM - Digital Radio!

Jazzy FM is our school internet radio station!

Radio...but not as we know it...making radio broadcasting accessible to all through on-line radio.

An intresting concept because it has meant that children in my class at school now control their own station through RADIOWAVES - an on-line facility for children to safely create their own Podcasts and broadcasts using MP3 digital recording then publishing them onto the school radio station.

We have been doing this for a couple of years, but now I am launching our new JAZZY FM station. We use a program called 'Audacity' to edit and produce podcasts.

Check out other stations on Radiowaves!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Analogue Holiday!

Talk about a working holiday...how about three weeks in a holiday camp!
Monday morning July 1972 and I have just returned from a week in Wales with Mum and Dad. Arrive at work and am told "How do you fancy a couple of days at Pontins?" "Great!" I said. Right...need you in that lorry at 9.30 to Rhye...rush job!!!
Err...I have no money....or clothes....and my Mum and Dad don't know! "No problem" says Martin Foy, my boss. "Send you some money and we will phone Mum"
So off I went with Brian to join a load of other TV Engineers at Camber Sands on the South Coast in glorious weather!
The mission...to replace 900 duff televisions in 900 chalettes at Pontins at Camber Sands with new ones.
Alice Cooper and Hawkwind were at the top of the charts and Mungo Jerry 'In the summer time' was about to become number one. I remember watching Top of the Pops in the chalette were we stayed for the first week and a half until we got thrown out! We stayed for the rest of the time in a pub in Lydd which was great!
'Slot TV' was the analogue buzz word then...you put 50p into the slot in a box on the back of the TV to watch the television for a couple of hours.
Today's digital equivalent is 'Pay as you view' on SKY or VIRGIN MEDIA...but no slots!
Back at Camber Sands we struck some good deals with the punters by bypassing the slot. I remember doing this with a group of great girls from Camber Sands who worked behind the bar ... result...cheap (and free) beer!
In the last week it was my 18th Birthday my Mum and Dad sent me a 'TELEGRAM' to the camp. I was amazed how this crude analogue device managed to find me on my birthday. The girl at reception made a big thing about it and anounced it over the camp loadspeakers!
Speaking of which...we managed to get hold of a 'LOAD HAILER' and at 7.00 in the morning we drove around the camp (ten in the van) shouting 'MORNING CAMPERS!!!' (No wonder we got chucked out!)
A fantastic three weeks and I came back in the clothes I went in!

Saturday, April 05, 2008

BBC Computer

The BBC 'B' Computer...digital icon!

In 1989 I 'upgraded' my computer system to the famous BBC 'B' Computer. Before this I used my Sinclair Spectrum, which was a superb machine!

In 1989 I gave up my job in electronics to start a PGCE course at Uni, my placements involved teaching ICT to students using the BBC 'B' computer. Gosh...I remember teaching 24 hairdressing students at Salford College using BBC computers, quite an experience!!

I set up a bench in the loft with my BBC computer along with monitor, 5 1/4" disc drives and dot-matrix printer. I had a pile of computer software on floppy discs. I used this set up to complete my assignments for Uni and print them out for submission (I still have them in the loft!!) I remember once having to meet the deadline for my final assignment and spending two nights typing in my work on 'WordStar' then closed down the programme before saving my work! In those days you didn't get a message that said 'Do you want to save your work?'

I lost it and stayed up all night typing it in again!
I used my BBC to back up and repair copies of the BBC software at school, a wonderful machine, but expensive. In 1989 it would cost £350 plus disk drive and software. I bought mine for £150 including two disk drives and software.
I sold my Sinclair Spectrum and used the BBC for a while until taking the plunge and buying a new PC!

Monday, March 24, 2008

BC108 Analogue Gem

The BC108 transistor along with it's companion BC107 and BC109 became the heart and soul of project building! This general purpose silicon device (which sort of replaced the old OC71 germanium device) could be used for audio pre-amps, drivers, oscillators, multivibrators and even switches. I even used them to replace odd sounding NPN transistors in televisions, audio units and video recorders. Faulty japanese and foreign transistors that were impossible to find or expensive to order could usually be replaced by this lovely 10 pence little gem!

Later, the black plastic BC148 came along which was the printed circuit version and the BC158 which was the PNP version.
You can still buy the BC108 at Maplin and Modern Radio...
An analogue gem!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Analogue Daleks!

Not what it seems...this famous Amstrad HI-FI system looked good in the corner of a living room, but was probably the worst audio system in the world! Not seperate units, but four big screws that lowered the whole front panel built into the wooden case. Record Deck a waste of space and speakers rubbish. These objects were like Daleks and would often take over the workshop as they were so unreliable! In the words of Alan Sugar (Managing Director of Amstrad) "Your Fired!!"

I stumbled onto this while searching for a picture of the old Thorn 3000 chassis! I could have changed some of the words to make it sound like my own experiences and believe me...it is all true!
By Jim Ollerhead

"I vividly remember getting a 'belt' from a CRT final anode, especially the Thorn 3000 series colour TV. This was a panel-swap model, the guys in the field just changed the circuit boards and we fixed the panels back in the workshop; we used to sneeringly call the field engineers ‘panel pushers’. Anyway when you got a shock from this TV you involuntarily snatched your hand out from the box-shaped chassis and all the soldered joints under the panels left a fine lattice of scratch-marks on the back of your hand, eeeeek! Happy days, not!

Working inside the back of a colour TV can be a hazardous business, especially to the backs of the hands...

When I first joined Rumbelows black and white 405-line TVs were still around but they were being phased out as I started my early career as a telly engineer. This was at the beginning of colour broadcasting in the UK and Beeb 2 used to show those peculiar European test transmissions, or just a test card.

The first sets I worked on were Baird valve jobs in huge spine-breaking cabinets. As an apprentice I used to go out with the "collect and loan" bloke. At the time there were also loads of black and white dual-standard (405/625-line) sets around with a 12-inch long system switch across the back of the circuit board. This was often the main cause of problems and was usually fixed by some judicious squirting of Genklene whilst vigorously waggling the switch side to side. It was then topped off by a final spray of Amberlube, which didn't evaporate like Genklene

There were lots of Baird mono TVs around back then, but my favourite was the Thorn 1500 model because it was such a doddle to fix. It always brings to mind the Led Zeppelin track Black Dog (on LZ4) that has a line in it that says "I don't know but I been told a big legged woman ain't got no soul". Amongst my fellow engineers this became: "I don't know what I been told but C98 got no frame hold’. C98 was the bypass capacitor for the PCL805 frame oscillator valve and it used to fail regularly and cause a rolling picture in the 1500.

Don't even get me started about setting the static convergence on a Thorn 3000 TV, trying not to let your hand tremble as it twisted the circular magnets on the (bloody high voltage) scan coils, whilst trying to hold a mirror and looking at the cross on that 'orrible kid's chalkboard on Testcard F. it's amazing any of us survived!

70s TVs like this one relied on replaceable circuit boards or 'panels' that were swapped by a visiting engineer and then taken back to the workshop for repair

We used to carry with us workshop-cobbled "tube-bashers". I think the circuit came out of the now-defunct Practical Wireless or Television magazines and consisted of a few components but it had a quite impressive 60W light bulb on the top that flashed as the basher did its work. Basically it hammered the cathode of the tube to try and burn off accumulated deposits to eke a few more months’ life from the picture tube after the images had begun to take on a 'silvery' appearance.

I well remember power supplies in Thorn 3000 series TVs, These had large ‘dropper’ resistors and after a while they began to look like a bunch of grapes. They failed frequently so engineers just ‘bridged’ the faulty one by soldering on new droppers.

Latterly I became the "audio bloke" and this coincided with the influx of cheap and crappy music centres, which took over from coffin-shaped radiograms. There was one long standing problem with a Waltham music centre. It kept coming into the shop with blown output transistors and I couldn't understand why. It was fixed checked and sent out in fully working order but the next day it always came back.

The ubiquitious 1990's 'music centre, this one is a cheap and cheerful fake Hi-Fi stack system and the bane of service engineers

It finally dawned on me that when you screwed down the transit screws on the record deck -- two big fat screws that stopped the deck falling off its coiled spring legs when it was being moved -- the deck touched the heat sink tag of the output transistors. If the transit screws were not undone as soon as power was applied the transistors blew.

Another music centre I’ll never forget was the Thorn Pilot, I even bought one. I thought it looked really compact and neat with it’s rounded contours. The problem with this one was the tuner cord -- basically a string that connected to the tuner knob to a pointer that moved along a tuning scale. The cord path was a bit of a nightmare (as were many others) because if you had never seen it threaded up and it snapped, trying to guess the route the cord took around the pulleys and tuner spindle was a near-impossible task. Of all the things I hated most about being Mr Audio, restringing tuners was the worst.

It wasn’t only music centres that caused me grief. Some customers seemed to think that if the tape reels in a Compact Cassettes stopped turning a liberal dose of 3-in-1 oil would free it up. In fact the mechanism was quite complex and relied on friction to work properly. I got so pissed-off with people's DIY efforts to fix cassettes that I wrote a two-page article, which was published in Amstrad Action magazine.

During the early 1980s the pace of technology was accelerating and a friend at Rumbelows lent me a Sinclair ZX80 computer. I recall being thoroughly amazed at this tiny machine's ability to allow you to type instructions into it and to actually follow them. This was the dawn of my desire to find work as a programmer. I have worked in IT for some 22 years now but it's all too easy to forget those early days.... "

Friday, March 14, 2008

The AVO 8 - analogue battleship!

I've got to agree with this, the AVO 8 was a suberb instrument. The one I used to own was the next model up, just different knobs. When I left Servicescope I should have kept hold of the AVO as it was mine! It fit nicely into a Mothercare box and went everywhere with me!

"In my opinion you are now looking at one of the finest electrical test and measuring instruments ever built and until a few years ago, if you ever needed to have a piece of electronic equipment repaired there’s a very fair chance an AVO meter, and quite probably a Model 8, had something to do with it.

By current standards the AVO 8 is fairly basic; all it does is measure AC and DC voltage and current and electrical resistance. You can buy a pocket test meter in Maplin for under a tenner that does all that, and quite a bit more besides, and probably more accurately -- but I absolutely guarantee it will not be still working in 40 or 50 years time. AVOs even older than that are still in daily use. What an AVO 8 and analogue meters lack in fancy features they more than make up for with the extra information they provide about the circuits they are being used to test. It takes a while to learn and understand the behaviour or a wiggling moving coil meter but it’ll tell you more than a bunch of digits ever will. However, what really sets the AVO 8 apart from almost every other test meter is its rugged construction. In short it’s built like a brick outhouse and can take a ridiculous amount of physical punishment, and if you do abuse it electrically the fast mechanical cut-out usually saves the day."

They don't make 'em ilke that anymore!!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Walkie - Talkie!

Speaking of Pirates......

Back in 1968 my friend Paul aquired a 27mhz walkie - talkie like the one above. In those days these were illigal and could not be bought in shops. I seem to remember that he won a set of these at Bingo at Pontins! These things were pretty nasty...range of about 100 yards and a super-regen receiver that created a huge amount of noise. Paul lived about 200 yards down the street from me and with the walkie-talkie's own telescopic aerial it just didn't reach bedroom to bedroom. So I decided that if I connected my own outside longwire aerial to the walkie- talkie we should be able to increase the range. It did! I could sit in my bedroom and talk to Paul in his own bedroom - brilliant!!
So one afternoon my Dad came into my bedroom to see what I was up to, I was talking to Paul on the walkie-talkie. As a joke, my Dad took the walkie - talkie and said "Hello...Victor...Victor...netting started..."
Paul was shocked...he thought the Police were on to use!
My Dad carried on with this for a while until Paul came running up the street heading for our house. We played on a bit longer before telling him it was my Dad winding him up!
We used these walkie-talkies for a while until one night I had a knock on the door from a woman who lived at the back of us. Their Television was completely blanked out. When I went round to investigate, I discovered that it was the RECEIVER that caused the problem not the transmitter. It seems that when the receiver was running every television in the neighbourhood was wiped out. Details of the walkie-talkie are here:
Needless to say I soon closed down and hid the beasts!!
Nowadays walkie-talkies and other 27 Mhz equipment is legal and can be bought anywhere. I now have several remote-controlled airplanes digitally controlled. Great!
This website is fantastic some super retro stuff here that brings back memories!

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Pirates of the Topband

The famous WS19 set as used by all good pirates!

Thinking about reel to reel tape recorders brought back some memories of the golden days of pirates. The Topband Pirates of Bolton!

Many an evening and Sunday afternoon they could be heard, signals as rough as a bears arse and as wide as a barn door that completely blocked out the 160m band. Cheeee Coooo, Cheee Cooo from G3Y Cheee Kaay!!! There were usually four or five of these guys, mostly in the Breightmet area.

Back in 1970, one Sunday afternoon, I went to my friend Neil's house in Astley Bridge. Neil had just completed building a topband transmitter and waiting for his licence to come through. He also had a tape recorder, a Marconiphone if I remember right. He had connected this reel to reel beasty to his Topband Transmitter and Receiver. That afternoon was probably the most hilarious afternoon on the radio ever! As the pirates called to each other we recorded their messages and then played them back on Neil's transmitter which totally confused these IQ1 pirates. We led them astray for the best part of two hours before they realised that someone was taking the p**s! The best bit was when one guy jumped in, in a state of panic, and shouted "It wernt me, I were peeling spuds at the time!"

A wonderful time was had!

The Pirates of Topband stayed around for a while until the local GPO guy, Gerry Openshaw decided to pay them a visit. Before this however, we decided to pay a visit to 'Vic' who signed himself G3YCK. We knocked on his door one Sunday afternoon and was invited in to see his equipment. There, in the corner of his front room was this enormous ex government transmitter, no furniture, or carpet...just this analogue monster and a load of kids running amok around the house!

Those were the days!

In the digital world, Hackers, Advertisers, Spammers and the Virus Pirates are the ones to watch....and you can't just knock on their front door!

Friday, March 07, 2008

Reel to Reel!

This is not the exact reel to reel tape recorder that i'm talking about, but fairly close.
Back in 1967 my Dad came home with a TAPE RECORDER that he bought from my Uncle Bill. With it came a tape of Herp Alpert and Frankie Lane.
Reel to Reel Tape recorders were an absolute luxury then!
It was an Ekco reel to reel tape recorder similar to the one above with the same BSR tape deck. The button on the left you pushed up when recording and pushed the right button up at the same time. At the bottom was a 'Magic Eye' to display the recording level.
What an amazing piece of technology! Every Sunday I would record the top twenty, at first using the microphone, but later by using a lead to connect directly to the radio speaker with crocodile clips which meant you could talk while recording.
I used to listen to the top twenty every night in the kitchen and carried this heavy beast down to my friends house to listen when his Mum and Dad went out.
Later, I used the reel to reel to learn morse code with George's tapes and listen to Blaster Bates recordings that came with them!
It certainly got a lot of use by me!

Friday, February 22, 2008


Back in 1964, when I was in my last year at primary school, Mods and Rockers ruled!
You had to be either a Mod or a Rocker, if you liked The Beatles you were a Mod, if you liked The Rolling Stones you were a Rocker. (Well, thats the way we saw it back at school)
You would be stopped in the street by kids that asked "Are you a Mod or a Rocker? Sometimes you had to judge whether they looked Mod or Rocker - a bit like Trick or Treat!
My Dad had a scooter - a Lambretta, and when I started secondary school Dad took me to school on my first day on his Lambretta. I can see it parked in the porch outside the coal shed and hear it's wonderful sound in my head. A woolley, smooth sound, like the Mods and their Vespas and Lambrettas!
Why am I writing this?
Last night I watched the film 'Quadrophenia' on television for the first time.
I always thought that Quadrophenia was a musical film like 'Pinball Wizard' because of the album by 'The Who' so tended to avoid it. Wow, not so...this was probably one of the best films I have seen for a while. It was filmed in 1979, but represented 'Mods' back in 1964.
A real classic!

Friday, February 08, 2008

J. Birkett

At every Radio Rally I went to you could always rely on the 'Birkett' stall! This guy sells cheap, reliable and hard to find components and in bulk as well! You could buy 'untested' semiconductors that would normally cost a fortune and they always worked. The Leicester Rally was a dream, but the biggest and best was Birkett. I would spend ages looking through the little wooden display boxes to find things that I wanted or would be useful in the future.

Capacitors, tuning capacitors, RF Transistors, minature relays, leds, pots....you name it he had it! Probably the best supplier in the country at rallies and by post. Sometimes he had some of the more unusual stuff. In the loft I have a UHF SWR bridge and Power Meter made from one bought for £2 from Birkett and UHF Relays that I used on my 23cm transverter along with the PA Transistors that cost about £3 at the time.

Above is a picture that I found of his shop in Lincoln...an Aladdin's Cave!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Korting and Decca

The Korting Colour TV (Bottom) and Decca 2230 (top)

Never thought I would see these again.

When I first started work at Telefusion the Korting was the only TV sold or rented. It was made in Germany and at the time (1970) was state of the art colour TV technology. It actually had 6 buttons on the tuner and a tint control (bottom left) They were very reliable, but a sod to repair if they did go wrong apart from the valves.

Neil (G3ZPL) bought one of these, but the screening was awful, TVI (Television Interference) was there all time when Neil was on air. Lots of memories about these wonderful machines, they were later replaced with the Decca 'Bradford' Chassis - Decca 2230.
The Decca 2230 was build in modules (panels) which would allow you to replace or repair faulty panels. Originally it was built in 1973. The chassis dropped down for easy access, I can still remember the layout of the panels and the huge smoothing block that I replaced many times, not to mention the CRT's and LOPTX's. The Decca used the Decca 30 hybrid chassis which combined valves and semiconductor technology.
Both of these Televisions had beautiful wooden cabinets, real piece of furniture!

The Keracolour

These sets use the DECCA 'BRADFORD' chassis.
The chassis sits on a wooden shelf at the bottom of the globe, the only thing that stops the chassis moving about are stikkle bricks!!, which are riveted to the chassis and screwed to the wooden shelf. I fixed one of these for a collectables dealer, it took me a long time as it was in a bad state. I found the set almost impossable to carry through doorways without crushing my fingers on the door posts, it was 27" wide in all directions!. The dealer sold it for £600.

I remember installing one one of these in Bromley Cross, Bolton. It weighed a ton and it's awkward shape made it difficult to carry, but the size was the biggest problem!

It would not go through the doors of the house, so we ended up taking the internal doors off it's hinges and the back panel of the TV. It was a real 'Heath Robinson' of a TV, but when it was set up in the front room it looked fantastic!

When I first saw it in the 'Trident' Showroom, it was the future, everyone would want one these. It never really happened, but what an innovation at the time!