1924: A Five Watt Sending Set for $25

The first question about a transmitting set that a fellow wants answered, —or maybe it is his dad who wants answered—is, “How much is this thing going to cost?” Well, that all depends. You can buy all of the fixin’s and do-gadjits and make a set that cost a couple of hundred dollars and still have only a 5-watt set, or you can buy only a few things, make the rest of the parts yourself, hook ’em up in a good old circuit, and talk to amateurs several hundred miles away for $25. The latter sounds the best.

Mason, H.F., “A Five Watt Sending Set for $25” QST, Vol 8 No. 2 (Sept 1924), p. 56.
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1920’s-Style Homebrew Mica and Glass-Plate Capacitors

One of those not-so-safe things. This transmitter is full of homemade components.

Building a radio with homemade condensers (that’s the old word for capacitor I’ll be using herein) is an art as old as radio itself, but one that had largely passed away by the mid 1920’s. Constructing a condenser for your spark transmitter was a right of passage in the days before radio licenses. The old spark sets often used tin foil and various materials for dielectric: glass, mica, oil or oil-soaked paper, etc. Air could be used, but it was both mechanically difficult and the relatively low dielectric constant and breakdown voltage was a challenge for the amateur who needed a large capacity at at least a few kilovolts for a small set. Oil dielectric was a messy but viable option, especially for its self-healing properties in case of an arc (and is still used in high-voltage capacitors today). Power loss due to corona discharge from the edges of a the metal plates in air were a problem with the RF voltages involved, and this was often mitigated by rounding corners of the plates and even immersing the whole sandwich of materials in a high-dielectric-constant binder such as shellac or paraffin. Using a solid binder also tended to improve the physical construction. Discarded window glass and 4×5″ photographic plates were popular materials; it helped to be friends with a glazier or photographer.

For typical example of homemade glass-condenser construction for a 1 kW amateur transmitter, see the July 1914 issue of Wireless Age, p. 847, available over at American Radio History. The only materials are shellac, glass, and tin, so quite a bit of of money would be saved compared to purchasing a commercial mica condenser, like the ones here:

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