We mentioned last week how robotaxi provider Cruise was having a no-good, very bad week, after one of their driverless taxis picked a fight with a semi, and it was revealed that amorous San Franciscans were taking advantage of the privacy afforded by not having a driver in the front seat. It appears that we weren’t the only ones to notice all the bad news, since California’s Department of Motor Vehicles issued an order to the company to cut its robotaxi fleet in half. The regulatory move comes after a recent Cruise collision with a fire truck, which injured a passenger in the taxi. Curiously, the DMV order stipulates that Cruise can only operate 50 vehicles during the day, while allowing 150 vehicles at night. We’d have thought the opposite would make more sense, since driving at night is generally more difficult than during daylight hours. But perhaps the logic is that the streets are less crowded at night, whereas daytime is a more target-rich environment.
Here in 2023 the field of electronics covers a breathtaking variety of devices and applications, but if we were to go back in time far enough we’d enter an age in which computers were few and far between, and any automated control systems would have been electromechanical at best. Back in the 1950s the semiconductor industry was in relative infancy, and at the consumer end electronics were largely synonymous with radio. [Shango066] brings us a transistor radio from that era, a Jewel TR1 from about 1958, that despite its four-transistor simplicity to our eyes would have been a rare and expensive device when new.
As you’d expect, a transistor radio heading toward its 70th birthday requires a little care to return to its former glory, and while this one is very quiet it does at least work after a fashion. The video below the break is a long one that you might wish to watch at double speed, but it takes us through the now-rare skill of fault-finding and aligning an AM radio receiver. First up are a set of very tired electrolytic capacitors whose replacement restores the volume, and then it’s clear from the lack of stations that the set has a problem at the RF end. We’re treated to the full process of aligning a superhet receiver through the relatively forgiving low-frequency medium of a medium-wave radio. Along the way, he damages one of the IF transformers and has to replace it with a modern equivalent, which we would have concealed under the can from the original.
The video may be long, but it’s worth a look for the vintage parts if not for the quality of radio stations on the air today in California. For many readers, AM broadcast is becoming a thing of the past, so we’re not sure we’ll see this very often.
The Great Automotive AM Radio War of 2023 rages on, with the news this week that Ford has capitulated, at least for now. You’ll recall that the opening salvo came when the US automaker declared that AM radio was unusable in their EV offerings thanks to interference generated by the motor controller. Rather than fixing the root problem, Ford decided to delete the AM option from their EV infotainment systems, while letting their rolling EMI generators just keep blasting out interference for everyone to enjoy. Lawmakers began rattling their sabers in response, threatening legislation to include AM radio in every vehicle as a matter of public safety. Ford saw the writing on the wall and reversed course, saying that AM is back for at least the 2024 model year, and that vehicles already delivered without it will get a fix via software update.
We get results! Well, sort of. You may recall that in this space last week we discussed Ford’s plans to exclude AM reception on the infotainment systems of certain of their cars starting in 2024. We decried the decision, not for the loss of the sweet, sweet content that AM stations tend to carry — although we always enjoyed “Traffic on the 8s” back in our dismal days of daily commuting — but rather as a safety concern, because AM radio can reach almost the entire US population with emergency information using just 75 stations. To our way of thinking, this makes AM radio critical infrastructure, and eliminating it from motor vehicles is likely to have unintended consequences. Now it seems like there’s some agreement with that position, as former administrators of FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Administration; and no, not FEDRA) have gotten together to warn about the dangers of deleting AM from cars. Manufacturers seem to be leaning into the excuse that EVs emit a lot of radio frequency interference, rendering static-sensitive AM receivers less useful than other,
more profitable less susceptible modes, like digital satellite radio. That seems like a red herring to us, but then again, the most advanced infotainment option in any car we’ve ever owned is a CD player, so it’s hard for us to judge.
With a long history of nearly universal hate for their products, you’d think printer manufacturers would by now have found ways to back off from the policies that only seem to keep aggravating customers. But rather than make it a financially wiser decision to throw out a printer and buy a new one than to buy new ink cartridges or toners, manufacturers keep coming up with new and devious ways to piss customers off. Case in point: Hewlett-Packard now seems to be bricking printers with third-party ink cartridges. Reports from users say that a new error message has popped up on screens of printers with non-HP cartridges installed warning that further use of the printer has been blocked. Previously, printers just warned about potential quality issues from non-HP consumables, but now they’re essentially bricked until you cough up the money for legit HP cartridges. Users who have contacted HP support say that they were told the change occurred because of a recent firmware update sent to the printer, so that’s comforting.
Car makers have been phasing out AM radios in their cars for quite some time. Let’s face it, there isn’t much on AM these days, and electric vehicles have been known to cause interference with AM radios. So why have them? For that matter, many aftermarket head units now don’t even have radios at all. They play digital media or stream Bluetooth from your phone. However, a U.S. Senator, Edward J. Markey, has started a letter-writing campaign to the major car makers urging them to retain the AM radio in their future vehicles.
So does that mean AM lives? Or will the car makers kill it off? The letter requests that the companies answer several questions, including if they plan to discontinue AM or FM radios in the near future and if they support digital broadcast radio.
Restoring a vintage radio receiver has the potential to be a fun weekend project, but it pays to know what you’re up against. Especially in the case of vacuum tube electronics, running down gremlins in the circuits isn’t always a straightforward process (also, please mind the high voltage that is present in old vacuum tube equipment). [Mr Carlson] has a knack for getting old radios humming once again, and his repair of a 1960s General Electric barn find radio receiver is a thorough masterclass in vintage electronics servicing.
Seriously, if you’ve got a spare ninety minutes, the video (after the break) is a thorough and unabridged start-to-finish diagnosis and repair of a vintage radio, and an absolute must for anyone interested in doing the same. This barn find radio was certainly showing its age, and it wasn’t long before in-circuit testing found an open filament in one of several vacuum tubes, but the radio was still stubbornly silent. Further testing revealed that the IF transformers were out of spec, requiring servicing and alignment. After fine tuning both the IF and RF sections of the radio, things were definitely looking (and sounding) better.
Fine tuning the various components in the radio went a long way to living up to its “long range” claims, and by the end of the video, it’s almost impossible to find dead air on the AM dial of this radio. If you’ve never had to make fine adjustments to a receiver, especially of this vintage, this video has all the details you’ll need. With the board exposed, [Mr Carlson] also took care of some preventative maintenance, including replacing the original filter capacitor with newer components, as well as replacing the mains safety capacitor with an even safer modern alternative.
We can’t get enough of these restorations, so make sure to check out our detailed write-up of restoring a WWII aircraft radio.