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   Chapter 1 TOM TAKES UP RADIO

The Radio Detectives By A. Hyatt Verrill Characters: 15719

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


"Oh, Dad! I've made a new set," cried Tom, as he entered the dining room.

"That so, Son?" replied Mr. Pauling interestedly. "Seems to me you boys do nothing but junk your sets as fast as you make them and build others. Does this one work better than the last?"

"It's a peacherino!" declared Tom enthusiastically. "Just wait till you see it and listen to the music coming in."

"I'll come up after dinner," his father assured him. "Let me know when the fun begins. I've some papers to go over in the library first."

Throughout the meal the talk was all of radio, in which Tom and his boy friends had become madly interested and in which Tom's father and mother had encouraged him.

"Go to it, Tom," his father had said when the boy had glowingly expatiated on the wonderful things he had heard on a friend's instrument and had asked his father's permission to get a set. "I'm glad you're interested in it," he had continued. "It's going to be a big thing in the future and the more you learn about it the better. But begin at the beginning, Tom. Don't be satisfied merely with buying instruments and using them. Learn the whole thing from the bottom up and use your mechanical ability to build instruments and to make improvements. Wish they'd had something as fascinating when I was a kid."

Tom had lost no time in availing himself of his father's permission, and of the roll of bills which had accompanied it, and there was no prouder or more excited boy in Greater New York than Tom Pauling when he triumphantly brought home his little crystal receiving set and exhibited it to his parents.

"I can't understand how a little box with a few nickel-plated screws and some knobs can do all the things you say," was his mother's comment. "But then," she added, "I never could understand anything mechanical or electrical. Even a phonograph or an electric light is all a mystery to me."

Mr. Pauling looked the instrument over carefully and listened attentively to Tom's graphic explanation of detectors, tuners, condensers, etc.

"H-m-m," he remarked, "I guess I'll have to take a back seat now, Son. You evidently have a pretty good grip on the fundamentals. Sorry I can't help you any, but it's all Greek to me, I admit."

"Oh, it's all mighty simple," Tom assured him. "Frank's coming over this afternoon and we're going to put up the a?rial and then you and mother can hear the music and songs from Newark to-night."

But despite the fact that Mrs. Pauling declared it the most remarkable thing she had ever seen or heard, and his father complimented him, Tom was far from satisfied with his first set. He didn't like the idea of being obliged to sit with head phones clamped to his ears in order to hear the music from the big broadcasting stations; he felt that it was mighty unsatisfactory for only one person to hear the sounds at one time and he soon found that despite every effort he was continually interrupted by calls and messages from near-by amateur stations.

Being of a naturally inventive and mechanical mind and remembering his father's advice to try to improve matters, he spent all his spare time studying the radio magazines, haunting the stores where radio supplies and instruments were sold and arguing about and discussing various devices and sets with his boy friends. Hardly a day passed that he did not arrive at his home carrying some mysterious package or bundle. Accompanied by his chum Frank, from the time school was over until late in the evening he kept himself secluded in his den while faint sounds of hammering or of animated conversation might have been heard within.

"What's all the mystery, Son?" his father had asked on one occasion. "Going to spring some big invention on an unsuspecting world?"

Tom laughed. "Not quite, Dad," he replied, "but I'm going to give you and mother a surprise pretty soon."

When at last all was ready and his parents were invited to Tom's holy of holies they were indeed surprised. Upon a small table were various instruments and devices and a seeming tangle of wires, while, tucked away on a bookshelf, was the little crystal set which had so recently been Tom's pride and joy.

And still greater was their surprise when, after busying himself over the instruments, the faint sounds of music filled the room, coming mysteriously from the apparent odds and ends upon the table.

"It's all homemade," Tom had explained proudly. "But it works. Frank and I rigged it up just as an experiment. Now I'm going to reassemble it and put it in a case and have a regular set."

"Wait a minute, Tom," his father had interrupted. "You'll have to explain a bit. If that lot of stuff can give so much better results than the set you bought, why didn't you make it in the first place, and what's the difference anyway?"

"Well, you see, Dad," Tom tried to explain, "I had to start at the bottom as you said and a crystal set's the bottom. This is a vacuum tube set. Those things like little electric lights are the tubes and they're the heart of the whole thing, and I've a one-step amplifier and that has to have another tube. I didn't have enough pocket money to buy everything so Frank lent me some of his. You see it's this way--"

"Never mind about the technicalities," laughed his father. "As I said before, go to it. Get what you need and keep busy. It's a fine thing for you boys. Now turn her on again, or whatever you call it, and let's hear some more music."

From that time, Tom's progress was rapid although, as his father had jokingly remarked, the boy's chief occupation appeared to be building sets one day only to tear them down and reconstruct them the next.

Tom's room had assumed the appearance of an electrical supply shop. Tools, wire, sheet brass, bakelite, hard rubber knobs, odds and ends of metal, coils and countless other things had taken the places of books, skates, baseball bats and papers, and the fiction magazines had given way to radio periodicals, blue prints and diagrams. Mrs. Pauling was in despair and complained to her husband that Tom was making a dreadful mess of his room and expressed fears that he might get hurt fooling with electricity.

"Don't you fret over that," her husband had advised. "Tom and his friends are having the time of their lives. As long as they are learning something of value, what does it matter if they do keep his room in a mess? Besides, it's clean dirt you know-and it's orderly disorder if you know what I mean. They're exploring a new world and haven't time to look after such trifles as having a place for everything and everything in its place. That will come later. Just now they are fired with the zeal and enthusiasm of great inventors and scientists. We mustn't interfere with them-such feelings come to human beings but once in a lifetime. I consider this radio craze the best thing for boys that ever occurred. It gives them an interest, it's educational, it keeps them off the street and occupies their brains and hands at the same time. Do you know, if I didn't have my time so fully occupied, I believe I'd get bitten by the bug myself. Besides, they may really discover something worth while. I was talking to Henderson of our staff to-day-he had charge of our radio work during the war-and he tells me some of the best inventions in radio have been made by amateurs-quite by accident too. I expect Tom knows that and that's what makes the kids so keen on the subject-it's a wonderful thought to feel you may stumble on some little thing that will revolutionize a great science at any moment."

"Yes, I suppose you're right, Fred," agreed Tom's mother resignedly. "But I do wish it were possible to have boys amuse themselves without tracking shavings all over the halls and burning holes in their clothes and having grimy fingers."

But Tom's mother need not

have worried. Gradually order came out of chaos. As the boys progressed, they found that the accumulation of odds and ends and the disorder interfered with their work; many experimental instruments and devices had been discarded and were now tossed into a junk box in the closet; a neat work table with the tools handily arranged had been rigged up and Tom and Frank had developed a well-equipped and orderly little workshop with the completed instruments on an improvised bench under the window.

Both Mr. and Mrs. Pauling had noticed the gradual improvement, as from time to time they had been summoned by Tom to witness demonstrations of the latest products of the boys' brains and hands, and both parents congratulated the boys on their handiwork and the strides they had made. So, on the night when Tom had assured his father that his latest set was a "peacherino," the two grownups entered a room which, as Mr. Pauling expressed it, reminded him of a wireless on a ship.

And then, after Tom with the glowing eyes and flushed face of an inventor and the pride of a showman, had exhibited his latest achievement and had explained its mysteries in terms which were utterly unintelligible to his parents, they sat spellbound as the strains of a military band fairly filled the room.

"Fine!" declared Mr. Pauling when the concert ended. "You have got a 'peacherino' as you call it."

"Oh, that's nothing," declared Tom deprecatingly. "I can get Pittsburgh and I can get spark messages from Cuba and Canada, and last night I picked up a message from Balboa. I'll hear England and France before I'm satisfied."

"Bully!" exclaimed his father. "Tell you what I'll do. I'm off to Cuba and the Bahamas, Monday, you know. I'll radio from the ship on the way down and after I get there you can see if you can pick up my messages direct and can talk back."

"Oh, I can't do that, yet," declared Tom. "I haven't a sending set. You have to get a license for that, but I'm going to get at it right away. It will be fine to be able to hear you. I'll bet I can get your messages from Cuba and Nassau. Say, it will be almost like hearing you talk."

"How shall I address them?" chuckled his father. "Tom Pauling, The Air?"

"Gee! I hadn't thought of that," ejaculated Tom. "I haven't any call letters-only sending stations have them-I've got it! When you send a message, just address it as if it were a regular message and then I'll know it's for me. And send them the same time every time-then I'll be sure to be here and waiting to get them."

"Righto," agreed his father. "I'll be sending a good many official messages, I expect, and I can get them all off together each day-say 7:45. How will that be?"

"That'll be fine," assented Tom. "I'll be here at half-past seven every night listening. Say, Dad, do you suppose those smuggler fellows use radio?"

"Why, I don't know; what made you ask?"

"Oh, I just happened to think of it," replied Tom. "I guess your speaking of sending official messages and starting for Cuba and the Bahamas just put it in my head."

"Well, if we don't find how they're getting liquor into the States by wholesale pretty quick, I'll begin to think they're sending the booze in by radio," laughed Mr. Pauling. "It's the most mysterious thing we've been up against yet. Can't get a clue. Perhaps they are using radio to warn one another, or maybe they're onto our codes. Suppose you keep track of any odd messages you hear, Tom. I don't suppose there's anything in it, but it will give you another interest and one never knows what may happen through chance or accident. Remember that coup I told you about that we made during the war-that meaningless message that passed all the censors and that, by pure accident, led to the capture of the worst lot of German plotters in the country?"

But Frank had not heard the story and so, from radio, the conversation drifted to Mr. Pauling's experiences as an officer of the Department of Justice during the war and from that to his present problem of tracing to its source the mysterious influx of liquor which was flooding New York and other ports despite every effort of the government to stop it.

It was on this work that he was leaving for the West Indies, and long after he and Mrs. Pauling had left the room, Tom and Frank remained, talking earnestly, and with boyish imagination discussing the possibilities of aiding the government through picking up some stray information from the air by means of their instruments.

"We ought to have better sets," declared Tom. "These are all right for getting the broadcasted entertainments and spark signals, but we can't get the long waves from the big stations. And we don't always get farther than Arlington or Pittsburgh with this. Last night, we heard Balboa, but the night before that we couldn't get Havana. If we're going to hear Dad from Nassau or Cuba we want a set we can depend upon."

"I'll tell you what we'll do," replied Frank. "Let's put everything that we both have together and have a fine set here in your room. I'll bring my stuff down and we can work together-have duplicate sets and everything-and I'll just keep that little old set of mine so I can use it when I happen to be home."

"That's a good idea," agreed Tom, "Dad's so interested in our work I can spend a lot more money on instruments and he won't mind and school will soon be over and we can devote all our time to it. Gosh, I bet we have the best sets of any boys in the whole of New York! Say, won't it be great when we can hear messages from England and Germany and France?"

"Yes, and we want to get busy on a sending set too. It's twice as much fun when we can talk to others as well as hear them. And say! my folks are going to Europe next month. If your mother and father don't mind I could stay here with you."

"That's bully! Of course mother won't mind and Dad will be glad to have you," declared Tom. "We're not going any place this summer and so we can give all our vacation to radio. Say, we may make some big discovery or invention. I was reading the other day about how many things there are to be done in radio yet and the fellow that wrote it said he believed some of the big things would be discovered by boys or beginners accidentally."

Mrs. Pauling was very glad to have Frank plan to stay with Tom while his parents were absent and for several days the two boys were busy packing up Frank's radio outfits and carrying them to Tom's house.

When at last everything was there the boys had a veritable treasure trove of materials, for Frank had not been stinted in the amount he could spend on good tools, supplies and instruments and, while he did not possess the mechanical or inventive ability of Tom, yet he was a very careful and painstaking worker and everything he had was of the best.

Tom, on the other hand, preferred to make everything himself and, although his father was willing to let him have any sum within reason to carry on his radio work, he spent most of the money for tools and supplies and had built a number of special instruments which even Frank admitted were big improvements over ready-made devices. In addition, he had a very complete library of radio books as well as scrapbooks filled with clippings from the radio columns of the various newspapers and periodicals. Hence the two boys made most excellent partners for carrying on their experiments and building their sets. Fortunately, too, they were not the type of boys who soon become tired of a subject and take up one fad after another and, while they were both strong, red-blooded, out-of-door boys, always ready for the most strenuous games, long hikes or hunting and fishing, they found radio so much more fascinating than football, baseball or other sports that practically everything else had been abandoned.

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