Vintage Electronics Magazines Predicted Our Current Future

Do you remember the magazine Popular Electronics? What about Radio Electronics? These magazines were often the first exposure we had to the world of hacking. In December we learned that Americanradiohistory.com has gone to the trouble of scanning nearly every copy of both, and continues to add many many others — posting them online for us to enjoy once more. Since then we’ve been pouring through the archive pulling out some of the best in terms of nostalgia, entertainment, and fascinating engineering.

Yes much of this material is very dated; CB Radios, all-mighty computers, phasors, stun guns, levitating machines, overly complex circuits for simple tasks, and aviator eyeglasses. But found among all of this, many innovative mixed-signal circuits and other interesting ideas that have been developed into our tech-centric world. Many of those modern inventions you’ve welcomed into your life actually started long-long ago in the forward-thinking hacks shown off in these publications. The Google Glass precursor seen above is but one example. Keep reading to see the early roots of the tech we tend to think of as “new”.

Watch out Google Glass!

Much has been written about the demise of Google Glass but for readers of Radio Electronics we know that Glass really came in 2nd place.

Engineers and Technicians in the 70’s and 80’s

As innovators of bleeding-edge technology we are not typically known for our fashion sense. This is apparent when paging through our favorite vintage electronics magazines.

Computers Around the World and in Your Hands

In the mid-70’s and 80’s computers could do anything. Can you imagine having computers connected together throughout the world, or a computer that you hold in your hands?

Advertising Bizarro:

Some of the ads and a few of the projects stretch the boundaries of reality.

Breaker Breaker

In the 1970’s it’s all about CB radio. For those of you around in the 70’s lets not deny it, you probably still have that CB radio in the basement or garage. I admit it, even in the early 90’s I owned two CB radios and had a great deal of fun with them.

Testers testers and more testers:

What’s up with all of these testers? There are numerous projects for transistor testers, IC testers, and many other fairly complex testing devices.

whats up with all of these testers RE Sept 1984
Useful and relevant circuits:

It’s been fun joking about our electronics past but in all seriousness many of the projects in these magazines were very good and the magazine provided excellent documentation. Many show examples of clever blending of analog and digital circuits. Others provide in depth explanations of basics of audio power amplifiers, how to use unusual vacuum tubes, or even how to build your own laser from scratch.

EEVBlog Wades Through a Huge Collection

Even [Dave Jone] gets into vintage electronics magazines on occasion.

Take a stroll through memory lane to have a few laughs and learn a thing or two about analog circuit design. Our hacker heritage has been documented well by Popular and Radio Electronics magazines. Who knows, there might be a few great unrealized ideas still lurking on those pages waiting for you to rediscover them!

56 thoughts on “Vintage Electronics Magazines Predicted Our Current Future

  1. I wonder if any explanation for the Hydronic-Radiation Experiments was ever forthcoming. I recall reading the article back in the day when it firts came out, and nothing about it thereafter.

  2. I still have most of “electronics today” Plus “101 electronic projects” and “Canadian computers”and “computers now”.
    I kick my self in the but for getting rid of about 300 electronic and computer mags.
    I also have engineers notebooks. I am only missing one of them.
    I will never give them up it is fun to look at them they go back to 1974.

  3. Radio-Electronics used to post a list once a year of the title, issue, and page of the previous years articles.
    I once cut a bunch of those pages out, so they’d be in one place. I even planned to OCR the lists and post them somewhere online, especially after Gernsback publications died.

  4. In Radio-Electronics (or was it in its successor?) I found an error in a schematic in one of Robert Grossblatt(?)’s column.
    All of the diodes were backward. I sent them a postcard mentioning the error. They never responded.

  5. Indeed. At 8 years old and not having a single person around me that knew anything about electronics, Pop electronics, Radio Electronics, and later – Circuit Cellar, and Nuts’n’Volts – is where I first learned about how to read schematics, logic gates, passives, etc… I still remember picking up my first mag while mom dragged me grocery shopping with her. I was hooked immediately.

    At 13, I had designed a Z80 micro-computer intended for a robot lawnmower (completely unheard of at the time.) Obviously my allowance didn’t quite make that happen.

    1. I even figured out how to write Z80 assembly from decyphering the code listings in several issues.

      Man, if only my brain were still as squishy as it was back then. I may not have known more, but I was a hell of a lot smarter then than I am now.

  6. I was just sharing a link to this site with some co-workers at the recording studio here. They also have tons of audio and radio magazines, RCA engineering journals, etc.

  7. I’m not positive it is still out there, but years ago, I snagged a mostly all-inclusive PDF bundle of these mags from ‘our favorite place to find stuff like that.’ I had to toss my physical collection many many years ago like others here.

  8. These magazines didn’t predict the future… they CREATED it! The articles inspired people to actually BUILD things that weren’t otherwise available. Many of today’s scientists and engineers got their inspiration and technical education from these projects. They learned to build things, and went on to INVENT still more things that otherwise might not exist today. :-)

      1. Nothing much. Mostly clones of whatever app is the most popular at the moment.

        People are morons today. If there isn’t an intense fear now of what’s found in those magazines of yesteryear, there is a complete lack of understanding of how it all works and absolutely no experimenters drive to explore anything new or interesting.

        Hardware and software environments are locked or ensconced and are mostly spoonfed to todays generation.

        People cite tools like the Arduino as the new experimenters platform, I argue otherwise. Arduino is a nicely packaged suite of functions that largely hide the dirty nuts and ahem… volts in much the same way a Windows or Android or nearly any other environment does. It gets the job done but it’s unlikely the average schmuck plugging wires into his 74*595 LED thingamajig actually bothered to read the datasheet.

        The very notion of “hacking” carries such a negative connotation that a elementary grade child is expelled for bringing his “accelerometer in a bottle” to show and tell. A teenager has a bomb squad called on him because he didn’t have time to drop off his school science project (a soda machine) at home before going to work.

        Yeah, I don’t expect much from the coming generation in 40 years.

    1. Or, more likely, these magazines had a large amount of content covering many technologies, a fraction of which are still exciting today. Somehow the things that didn’t “predict the future” didn’t get written up in a blog post about vintage electronics magazines predicting the future.

  9. Wow makes me feel dated, most of my early days in electronics were spent in the sixties. Early Pop-Tronics, Radio electronics Electronics Illustrated and more. It is amazing the extent we nad to go to to make things work. A mostly analogue world and what digital logic there was was early RTL or discreet transistor / diode logic.

    How many of us lived within walking distance of a source of new parts?
    I did, I guy had a fix-it shop and would sell me parts when I needed them.
    Electronics parts suppliers were all over the place here Now there are 2 surplus stores, and 3 suppliers that will sell to the public, so much easier to click on what you need from Mouser and have it on your door step in a few days.

    1. I was within a bike ride of a Radio Shack, this was about 1976. A friend of mine & I bought several Forest Mins books on understanding electronics and built a number of projects. I would of loved to have a surplus electronics store anywhere nearby!

  10. I’m sure we will see “Google Glass” show up in the headlines in another 20 or 30 years with a new name from some other company claiming “it’s the next big thing”.

  11. Always wondered about those “amazing” devices. Anybody ever build one of their kits? A friend of mine tried making the “pain field generator” and it turned out to be a near-ultrasonic generator/speaker. As I remember, it was at least painful to my ears!

    1. When i was about 10 or 12 years old i did make one of the shocking devices. I do not recall which one, but you could charge up small value capacitors with it to high voltages. The kit was very raw, not even a PCB. Just a bag of parts and a perf-board, but it was all there.

      1. In the late 50s, my high school had Electric Shop, which was one of the shops where kids could take classes, along with Metal Shop, Wood Shop, etc. I took Electric Shop, and one of the things we’d do to prank one another (out of the teacher’s sight) is to take a capacitor, bend the wires around so they’d fit into a 110V AC wall socket, then plug it in momentarily.

        If we caught the AC on the right part of the cycle, the capacitor would be charged, and we’d sneak up on an unsuspecting victim and touch the wires to their skin, usually giving them a jolt. If the capacitor was unplugged at the wrong part of the cycle, it wouldn’t be charged, and nothing would happen. Usually, it worked.

        No kit needed.

  12. Wow.. I have liked dave since first seeing his show – but really its incredible that he dug out this old-ass magazine and lo’ n behold, there is some advanced level project he submitted as, presumably, a young teenager.

    Whatta badass.

  13. Ok let me be honest the era of the paper back magazine is over.
    Now websites rule the roost.

    Now I predicted in 1995 that by 2015 paper would become obsolete to convey information.
    I have read many good magazines but many of them are vanishing.. i found hackaday and moved on.

    Same way a gaming magazine in south africa has moved to a digital medium.

    I’m 31 years old… and as a hardware and gaming fanatic i don’t fear the future but embrace it.
    Everything is pushing to crowd published live discuss of everything.

    Btw does hackaday have a chatroom?

    1. Most articles on Hackaday lack in substantial quality. I can’t remember one article who was at least as informative as a magazine article. Besides that, it should be renamed to Arduinoaday.

      1. Then go read popular electronics for your ‘quality articles’

        – Really though, this is a particular type of blog – it isnt journalistic articles – it is editorial blurbs written about ‘hacks’ – with links to the projects, many of which are very informative.

        Perhaps popular electronics quality articles will appeal to you more.

  14. Anyone recognize the widescreen terminal by the guy holding the tape in the picture before the silver Firebird(?) on Turbovecs? It looks like it might be Photoshopped to me.

    1. It is a underdash graphic equalizer with a 20 W amp, and the car is a ’76 Firebird). The display was actually mechanical, but looked cool. Most had a fader knob to adjust your front-rear balance. Also, most stock after market radios were only 5W per channel, so lots of people opted for an additional booster amp. I had a similar setup in my ’75 Firebird.

  15. I actually have a copy of the one the first image came from. Never got to scanning it, I almost feel ashamed, good to see they’re all there.
    Made a thread on an imageboard, glad to see I’m not the only one who noticed.

  16. Thanks for the posting the link to the scans of Radio Electronics. I had been looking for the article on the Penniac, April 1970. As a teenager at the time, this intrigued me and beyond my budget. Today I would not build it with discrete logic but in software, probably C#. I wanted the article for the algorithm.

  17. I built a HeNe laser from one of the articles in Popular Electronics (maybe early 90’s). I had a ton of fun building it. Once I had it working, the cat (named SpeedBump) discovered the dot on the wall of my workshop. He was fascinated by it. After a couple of rebuilds, I had something that could be picked up and moved around without fear of electrocution. SpeedBump went nuts! It became his only goal in life to catch the dot. The power supply made a high pitch tone that the cat could hear. All I had to do was turn it on. The cat would come running like the house was on fire. RIP SpeedBump.

  18. I’m pushing 70, and when I was about 7 or 8, my Uncle John lived next door. He had every issue of Popular Electronics, Radio Electronics, Popular Mechanics and Popular Science. We’d sit and read the articles together, and when I got a little older actually built some of those.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.