Monday, April 4, 2016

Ashley Sterne My Ideal Wireless Set


I stumbled upon this wonderful article by Ashley Sterne in Scribd.  The article was published in the 21 December 1923 issue of Radio Times.

From the Scribd description of the Radio Times issue:

“The much-loved Christmas edition of the Radio Times made its first appearance in 1923.  It was all very different to today’s multi-channel, on-demand world. There was only radio, and London station 2LO had a meagre five-and-a-half hours of programmes on Christmas Day.”

[Note: the English wireless enthusiasts refer to radio tubes as “valves.”]


My Ideal Wireless Set

By Ashley Sterne, the Popular Humorist


The wireless set I possess at present is really a very handsome affair; everything of the best, including the hole in the window-frame through which the lead-in passes.  My aerial is solid wire throughout, and very popular with the robins, three of which, as I write, are examining with keen interest two pairs of socks and my other shirt, which a myopic menial has just hung up to dry thereon in mistake for the clothes-line.

A Novel Tie-pin

My crystal is a beautiful thing, best 24-carat referendum, and when not in use for listening purposes I wear it as a tie-pin or a centre-stud, and try to imagine I’m Jolly Soel.  My cat’s whisker is so true to nature that the mice won’t go near it, while my tuning-in coil is capable of such delicate adjustment that it will even enable me to pick up a Marcel permanent wave.

If I have a fault to find with my apparatus it is that the head-phones are liable to give me hot ears.  I’ve got a 7 1/4 head, whereas my head-phones were apparently designed to be worn by a mackerel or a canary, or some other animal with an attenuated skull.  However, I’ve made some ear-pads out of a couple of crumpets, which afford considerable relief, and the risk of my contracting chronic radio-ear is now happily obliterated.

A Pleasing Ornament

The complete instrument, mounted on a small pedestal which reposes against my drawing-room wall, between a stuffed bear holding a card-tray and a life-size plaster cast of Ajax defying the licence, forms a very pleasing ornament, and it is with no little pride that I nightly demonstrate its wonders and point out its beauties to my many Scottish friends and radio-enthusiasts.

At the same time my installation is not all I would wish it to be.  I want to make it a kind of ideal set which will cause other zealots to go home and swallow their valves or garrot themselves with their aerials out of sheer envy.  To this end I am conducting a series of experiments which, if brought to a successful issue, will add considerably to the pleasure of listening.

I possess, however, a very meagre knowledge of electricity, even of that sort that goes on wires all the way, while my knowledge of the wireless variety, and ether, and Herzian waves, and so forth, is only comparable with an Angora goat’s knowledge of the Nebular Hypothesis.  Yet I feel if I potter about long enough with an accumulator in one hand, a condenser in the other, and a negative pole stuck behind my ear, I shall one day solve the problem of seeing the broadcasting chappy simultaneously with listening to him.

This will be a great advantage.  I shall be able to see my favourite uncle, for instance, when he’s telling me my bedtime story, and I feel perfectly certain that the moral of the Onoto who wanted to become a Swan will go home to me with far greater force when I can see his dear old dial, with its shiny bald head, three chins, and tufts of asparagus-fern whisker, that when, as at present, I have to sit with a Kruschen advertisement on my knee in order to conjure up a vision of him.

Then I’m at work on another device for chatting back with the studios.  A few weeks ago somebody was telling us all about the instruments of the orchestra: how the oboe quacked like a duck, and the bassoon bellowed like the bull of Bashan, and how one could manipulate the double-bass so that it didn’t go to the head.  Well, that put me in mind of an awfully good story I once heard about a short-sighted old lady who used a trombone as a hair-slide and ate a whole flute in mistake for a stick of liquorice; and if I could only have got it through to the lecturer — well, the rest of the entertainment would have fallen as flat as an amateur tenor singing “Where my caramel has rusted.”

Which reminds me that this new device of mine will enable us to encore things if we want to.  The other night the band played that lovely little thing, “Rhapsody in A flat (with vacant possession)” by — I fancy — Giddy and Giddy and Giddy and Giddy.  I clapped like any old thing.  But did we have it again?  No; we got a north-easterly gale and a waterspout allotted to us for to-morrow’s weather instead.

Bouquets and Bricks

Lastly, I am anxiously seeking some method whereby a listener can hand up a bouquet or heave a brick at the artiste who has specially delighted or annoyed him.  At present we have no means of expressing our emotions at headquarters, and I am strongly of opinion that some device for laying our tributes at the artiste’s feet or for smacking them across his face is urgently needed.

Some few months ago, you may remember, a ruffian with a name precisely similar to my own and looking exactly like me, only more so, broke into 2LO and broadcast something about installing a wireless set.  Notwithstanding that he delivered it in more or less my own inimitable style, manner and Oxford Street accent, he was clearly a forgery.  For instance, his voice was harsh and strident, like sand-papering a rhinoceros; mine is soft and seductive, like mashed potatoes.  He dropped all his h’s; I could hear them crashing on the floor.  I pronounce my aspirates so emphatically that they make the electric light flicker.

Now, had I only perfected the Sterne Telekinetic Brick and Banana-Skin Projector that impudent imposter would have topped the bill at the next coroner’s inquest.  Unfortunately I have at present only invented the title; but have no fear; my Ideal Wireless Set will come along one day.


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