Bob Cooper Profile

From Rhombics to Routers

"Here is something I brought back from New York (the city). Let's see if we can make it work", suggested my father. "Something" was a 7" picture-screen metal cased Hallicrafters TV receiver, originally offered to the world in 1949 as a relatively low-in-cost starter TV set. The time: early 1950. The place? 540 Cayuga Heights Road, Ithaca (New York).


Our nearest TV stations were Syracuse WSYR-5, Binghamton WNBF-12, and further afield, Rochester's WHAM-6. At that point in time there may have been 10, perhaps 20, but no more, TV equipped homes in all of Tompkins County and none of these were in or near Ithaca primarily because TV signals (then, as now) travel in more or less straight lines from transmitter to receiver and Ithaca was/is in a deeply seated valley beyond reach of these early, low power TV stations. Based upon our home experiments, Ithaca would shortly build one of the earliest moderate scale cable television systems.


The adventure of my life was beginning; age 12.


Dad's Civil Engineering background, and his position operating a Research Laboratory for North American Philips/GLF, provided the tools that created the very first in-Ithaca TV reception. My interest in becoming a licensed 'ham' radio operator provided the fuel and enthusiasm. Our Cayuga Heights home was far below the surrounding hill tops so a 80 foot steel mast was constructed. Even 80 feet above ground, Syracuse and Binghamton channels were blocked for direct reception because of the surrounding hills leaving only Rochester as a target; nearly 100 airline miles.

   The first images were terrible, offering every opportunity for improvement. First we built large aluminum fringe-area reception antennas, added a difficult to service signal booster at the antenna, 80 feet straight up a steel mast, and to my mother's consternation every week a local radio set dealer would arrive with a new 'sample' TV receiver to trial, hoping against hope the latest technology would clear up the almost-pictures. For more than a year, as many as ten different TV sets simultaneously consumed our living room. My assignment: to quantify the reception quality of each on a logging-form each day.




Curiosity led me to trade publications (such as Radio-Electronics) and a tiny advertisement from a fellow named Buchan (W0TJF) in rural Minnesota. He had designed something called a Rhombic Antenna for his 125 mile distant reception from Minneapolis and for the princely sum of $5 plans would be forthcoming. Two months later I connected this sizeable antenna to our living room test sets and wonder of wonder, back slapping and jumping up and down - almost perfect images! Dozens of copies of my copy quickly followed; any yard large enough to contain this wire system rapidly sprouted #12 wire and porcelain insulators. TV had come to Ithaca!


   Fast forward through the latter 50s (TV boosters, translators), 60s (exceptional growth of cable TV), the 70s and 80s (the appearance of the original C-band home satellite dishes), the 90s (first small-dish Ku-band satellite) and into the 21st century (high quality, even high definition TV via Internet and your telephone line or cell phone). On this PC, as I type these words, in a corner of my LCD screen is a reduced-in-size TV program. Through the magic of yet another ham radio inventor, Kenny Schaffer, amateur N2KS and his TV2Me system (Google; as well as his 'PNG' system), I can change channels, even select origin points: Moscow, London, Hong Kong, Los Angeles, New York - and dozens more, literally thousands of channels. Presently live on my screen is New York City's WCBS-TV flagship station with the big-apple area evening news (8 hours ahead of me in New Zealand, and, a day behind). One button push away, the same image shifts to a 42" plasma screen - every bit as good quality as my local New Zealand television.

From rhombics to routers in almost precisely 50 years. And it is just the beginning! If the 50 year maturity of television intrigues you, the real story of the original (ham radio inspired) inventors and creators is a read you should not miss: TELEVISION'S PIRATES.


RB Cooper, 23B Bayside Drive. Coopers Beach 0420, New Zealand