Capital Region Scrapbook: Electronic electives (with photo gallery)

In 1967, mobile phones and ham radio opened lines of communication locally, globally

Monday, May 21, 2012
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Young electronics fans at Van Antwerp build ham radio equipment from spare parts in May 1967. From left are Fred Schempp, George Abrahams, Grant Fullman, Edward Boucheron, Martin Chader and Frank Ayers.
Young electronics fans at Van Antwerp build ham radio equipment from spare parts in May 1967. From left are Fred Schempp, George Abrahams, Grant Fullman, Edward Boucheron, Martin Chader and Frank Ayers.

Jane Cary and Fred Schempp were both part of a communications boom in Schenectady in 1967.

Cary talked to local friends on the mobile telephone tucked under the dashboard of her Chevrolet Impala convertible. Schempp used a ham radio to reach folks all over the world.

Cary could talk on her mobile phone without any worries about breaking the law in ’67. And texting was still decades away.

“An increasing amount of women now have the mobilfone, which can come in handy especially when she runs out of gas or has a flat tire in a remote area,” wrote reporter Art Isabel of the Schenectady Gazette.

Isabel’s source on the subject was Schenectady Telephone Answering Service Exchange, which supplied and serviced the phones and also sold radio pagers. Doctors loved the small transmitters; a medicine man or woman on a golf course would hear a shrill “beep” from the pocket machine. The alert told doctors a message was incoming; he or she pressed a button on the transmitter and heard a brief advisory like, “You’re needed at Ellis Hospital. This is an emergency.”

Central command was at Schenectady Telephone’s headquarters at 611 Union St. Operators took messages and passed along the information. The company’s transmitter atop a hill on Crawford Road was capable of bouncing beeps and conversations to the Adirondacks, Vermont, Hudson and Canajoharie.

Besides doctors, real estate salesmen and women, repairmen, reporters and funeral directors signed up for the service.

Reaching folks anywhere

Schempp and about 14 of his friends at Van Antwerp Junior High School in Niskayuna were in the ham radio brigade. The electronics fans had been assembled in February 1967 by Robert Brown, who taught industrial arts at the school.

Brown wanted to encourage interest in electronics and communications, and said his seventh- and eighth-graders had built their code oscillators and radio transmitters from old components.

The hams used Morse Code transmissions, and operated with low power inputs. Brown said that was enough — under ideal conditions, the kids could reach people all over the world.

Amateur radio fans are still making their points. But car mobile telephones and pagers have mostly been replaced by smartphones. The new communicators let people check the weather, baseball scores and restaurant locations — in addition to calling for help on flat tires.

 

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