The crystal set or self powered radio has introduced many boys to electronics. I remember the thrill of hearing a radio station on a radio I had built with my own hands. Conversations with many friends revealed they too had embarked on a lifetime of involvement with electronics after the same experience. That’s why I heartily recommend you encourage your child to build a crystal set. It is a far more rewarding experience than winning a video game.
There are many web sites dedicated to crystal radios. I highly recommend you click on the links and follow a few of them around the web. Building crystal sets is very popular and nostalgic among those who are involved in electronics. When you look at some of the designs, you will clearly see that there are many areas of refinement. The art of making high Q coils is just that. An art. In addition to the common solenoid wound coil there are spider and honeycomb coils. As you travel to different websites you will see tutorials on how to make these esoteric coils. You’ll also delight in experiencing the improvement these coils make in your crystal set.
The galena detector of antique crystal sets has been replaced with a germanium diode. This makes operation of the crystal set a lot easier and consistent. Solid state electronics has made many advances.
A good antenna can make a huge difference. The ability to hear distant stations is directly proportional to how much signal you can acquire. It is also important that the antenna have lightning protection, and a good ground. Better safe than sorry.
Since you are building the radio yourself you can select the frequency or spectrum you wish to listen to. Many web sites offer instructions regarding how to construct the coil and how to select the right size tuning capacitor so that your radio will receive the band you’re interested in. Shortwave in many ways is quite different from the AM broadcast band in America. In some portions of the shortwave bands you will hear privately owned stations communicate with other privately owned stations that are hobbyists. Radio hobbyists exist all over the world,communicate with each other and form friendships. So you see short wave listening can be an amazing hobby. You can also listen to frequencies lower than the broadcast bands. If you go low enough, you can listen to earth sounds. Some people monitor these to gather information about propagation, about earthquakes, and a lot of other things. You don’t have to listen to people chat, you can actually become involved in measuring earth processes. The humble crystal set can embark on a youth onto a lifetime of science and research.
Visit your local library and see what books they have on radios and crystal sets. Amazon and other booksellers also have extensive listings on the topic. On the web I would recommend the crystal set society http://midnightscience.com/. They publish a newsletter as well as sell kits and parts. They’re a good resource.
I got my start from a book that was given me at Christmas and the memories are some of the fondest in my life. Amazing how something as simple as giving someone a book can change their life. It did change mine.
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