Norris Chambers Old Timer's Tales

Crystal Radios Are Fun

by Norris Chambers

   While browsing through an army surplus store, I stumbled over a big box of metal balls about 3\8 of an inch in diameter. What could they be used for? The first thing that I thought of was a domino counter. Most old timers are familiar with the sliding balls on five rods that you move to keep up with the score. There were thousands of the balls, each with a hole in the center.

  "How much for the whole box?" I asked the clerk. He picked it up, testing it's weight, then said, "Two dollars." I offered him a dollar, and struggled out with the box of goodies.

  After a few minutes of sawing, bending welding rod and drilling, I had a pair of nice looking counters. The question was, could I sell them.

  There are many enterprising mail order people out there who mail circulars for a very modest fee. Your circular is mailed with many others of a non-competing nature to a list of people called "opportunity seekers," who have been known to buy from mail order advertisers. I printed up 1000 circulars with a picture of the counter and a few endearing terms such as "Little Gem - Handy Dandy Score Keeper and Calculator." The calculator part was the old Chinese abacus. An instruction sheet told how to use it as a game scorer and as an adding and subtracting device.

  I built and boxed a few, complete with fresh varnish, and waited for the orders to roll in. But the demand just wasn't there. There must have been fewer domino players out there than I suspected. I sold a few at 2 for $1.50. I didn't actually lose money on this project, but I didn't make any. But I had fun.

  But with my thousand or more balls, I had to try something else. I had once built a crystal radio set using a metal ball sliding over a coil. The balls would make excellent sliders when strung on a spring wire and attached to a coil form. I decided to sell the units as a kit, with the coil wound over a 2" wooden dowel and mounted on a 1X4 base. A few thin aluminum strips served as connectors. I purchased a crystal detector unit and a few clips. A small headset and assembly instructions completed the kit.

  Again I made up a circular, showing the picture and dwelling on the fun and fascination of building your own radio. I even hinted that it might be a good Boy Scout project.

  That last hint was what made it a success. I began to get orders from Scouts, and their friends told other scouts. I sold hundreds of the kits over a period of several years.

  I only got one complaint. A boy wrote me saying: "I built the radio and it works, but the programs on it are not good. Could I exchange it for one with better programs?"

  My answer was: "We don't have any with better programs, but if you lived in the Metroplex area, you could turn on your TV and listen to Icky Twerp. He puts on a real good program." The answer must have satisfied him, for I never heard from him again.

  And oh, yes! About the rest of the metal balls...I sold them as the latest whistling ammunition for sling shots. They really made a nice sound when zipping through the air! I wish I had another box full.


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