Monday, October 19, 2015

Bruce D. Fleming

Bruce D. Fleming
Recently, the museum received the donation of a collection of homemade crystal radios created by the late Bruce Fleming.
Born at Booth Memorial Hospital in Boston in 1943, he was son of Hartwell and Irene Fleming, Lieutenant Colonels in the Salvation Army in Portland, ME. Shortly thereafter the Fleings were transferred to Rochester and Concord, NH where Bruce attended elementary school. Eventually, they transferred to Philadelphia where Bruce graduated from Northeast High School.

Shortly thereafter he sought out a career in electronics finding employment at Technitrol Engineering in Philadelphia where he worked with the Air Force on the Gemini Space Project. In 1966 he entered The Salvation Army College for Officer Training located in the Bronx, NY. After serving fourteen years with The Salvation Army, Bruce worked for General Dynamics Electric Boat Division in Groton, CT for eighteen years. He was a sonar electrician working on construction of the country’s nuclear submarines. After retirement from Electric Boat, Bruce and his wife, Lorraine, served as officers (ministers) in The Salvation Army in Ohio and Pennsylvania. He previously served as Administrator of The Salvation Army Day Care Center in Dorchester, MA and Assistant Administrator of The Salvation Army Booth Hospital in Cleveland, OH.

A skilled photographer and model builder, Bruce also spent time building crystal radios. His interest in crystal radios began with his reading of Boys’ Life as an eight year old. He eventually shared his passion for radio building with workshops for kids until his death in 2013.

As Fleming has said, “it’s a hobby of childhood simplicity and flavor at first glance, but it possesses technical complexity that creates a never-ending quest for resolution and design variation.” “I build crystal radios,” said Fleming, “you’ve heard of them…maybe you made one or listened to one sixty years ago. It’s an awkward collection of homely parts that seem to have no relationship to one another, yet they draw a radio station to your ear. Interestingly, all radios today use the same design as the crystal sets of 1920.

What sets these beauties apart is that you don’t plug them into the wall socket…they use no batteries…no solar batteries, yet they are always “ON”. It’s the ultimate “green” radio. They draw their required energy from the electro-magnetic field created by the radio station. That “field” is the pull you feel when you bring a magnet near metal. I’d like to have a car that does that!

One of my radios has a base made from an old oak stair riser. I wound a tuning coil with Litzendraht wire from Germany; we call it Uberlitz because we like it. Then added a variable capacitor from Montana…a few switches removed from WWII military gear…Galena “crystal” from South America…and so on.  That radio won the 2004 International Crystal Radio Contest by receiving 141 stations.

Donation of Lorraine Fleming, Willowbrook Collection, 2015
The hobby offers an opportunity to design and create radios with a direct connection to the days of early inventors such as Nicholas Tesla. It affords the ability to follow the progression of electronic development and see the positive and negative effects brought on by a century of change. This world looks today like it has experienced drastic change when; in fact, there has been little change.  




Radio Buff Tunes in Yesteryear

The following is an article that appeared about the late Bruce Fleming of Old Orchard Beach, ME. Mrs. Lorraine Fleming has donated examples of her late husband's homemade radios.

Radio Buff Tunes in Yesteryear ( Valley News Dispatch, February 25, 2007)

He builds crystal radios with antique components.

By Tamara Sampson, for the Valley News Dispatch

People often question what it would be like to travel back in time to an era where things were much different. In a small way, that’s what Lower Burrell resident Bruce Fleming does when he works with his crystal radios, which were used in the early 1900s.

A wooden tea box becomes the armature for one of Bruce Fleming's radios.

C.R. Gold tea box crystal radio.

Observe the cat's whisker to the right.

Fleming’s hobby of building crystal radios has led him to scavenge antique shops and eBay packages that advertise a box of “old wires and stuff” someone found in his late father’s attic. He’s hoping to find components such as coils, wire and old capacitors to build the radios.

A cigar box crystal radio.


Although he can buy newer wires for his hobby, the old fashioned components lend to the authenticity of the radios.

“I have one authentic radio, and all the components of that particular radio were built with antique parts,” he said. “It’s as close to what they experienced in 1920 as you can get. It took me over a year to find the parts over the Internet and at antique shops.”

This vintage tuning capacitor is one of many that the Late Bruce Fleming sought and found
for his crystal radio constructions. Donated by Lorraine Fleming, Willowbrook Collection
The tool that pulls the components together, making them successfully tune in a radio station, is an LC meter. An LC meter measures inductance and capacitance, according to Fleming. He described inductance as the value of a coil, and capacitance is what makes the radio sound the station that the coil’s tuned to.

“For example, if you’re listening to AMK radio,” Fleming said. “Say you want to listen to KDKA, You’d want a coil with the number of windings tuned to the frequency 1020, but the capacitor would resonate that coil and make it tune in KDKA.

The radio’s ability to harvest radio waves in the air, using no electricity or battery power, is the reason it continues to be used---especially in military settings.

Fleming said crystal radios were popular in the early 1900s, but around 1922, the tube was invented. That changed the future of radio.

However, during World War II, the crystal radio was crucial. Fleming said GIs built crystal, or foxhole, radios---they are simply wire wrapped around a toilet paper roll with other attachments they would have had readily available.

This foxhole radio is one of Fleming's making, although it mixes elements of the original type including a single edge razor blade, pencil lead, and a safety pin to recreate the "cat's whisker". It also includes more durable materials like the PVC pipe for a coil rather than a toilet paper roll. These sets were ubiquitous during WWII as Fleming points out as they were easily constructed and could be hidden. Donated by Lorraine Fleming, Willowbrook Collections.
“The crystal is made up of a rusty razor blade and pencil lead out of a regular pencil and hooked to a safety pin,” he said.

 Crystal radios were the lifeline for Germans who wanted to get news on the war. Tube radios could be detected by the Gestapo and were therefore dangerous to use.

“tube radios emit an oscillation that can be heard by another receiver,” Fleming said. “When the German army would come through town, they looked for people who had radios. They went by houses with receivers and could hear oscillation in the house.

“The foxhole radio did not oscillate, so you could have it running, and no one could detect it. It’s a way during that period of history that people could listen to the BBC or Radio Europe and hear the news without worrying about detection.”

Fleming’s affinity for the inner workings of electronics led him to jobs with the Gemini and Apollo space programs in the 1960s and contract work as an electrical technician on Navy nuclear submarines from 1980 to 1998.

Now a major with the New Kensington Salvation Army, he uses crystal radios to illustrate the radio waves in the air in his sermons.


Monday, October 12, 2015

New Crystal Radio Set Collection Exhibit, Donation from the late Bruce Fleming, Old Orchard Beach, October 5, 2015

Recently, Willowbrook received the donation of homemade crystal radio sets created by the late Bruce Fleming. His wife, Mrs. Lorraine Fleming of Old Orchard Beach has seen that the museum was offering crystal radio set building workshops, as part of our summer history camp each camper created their own wood based radio set. As we go forward with this seem, we have received much assistance from Rex Harper of Limerick who actually markets a Ham Radio Set on the Internet and has had much experience with radio kit building. In conjunction with this summer's program, he built a AM transmitter for the purpose of generating radio to pick up on our crystal radio sets at the museum. The geography, or rather topography, is not right for picking up the very weak AM radio signals available in this area. With Mr. Fleming's collection of his own handmade radios that include a razor blade trench radio, cat whisker type crystal sets as week as more sophisticated vacuum tube set ups, we will be inspired to make more crystal radios. We will be scheduling a building class soon, and this will be announced on our website:

Summer History Camp, August, 2015: We made crystal radios from purchased components. We set up a AM transmitter for the purpose of making the strongest AM radio station available to our radio builders at the museum campus that is unfortunately place for picking up AM radio and cell service.

Here we see a loopstick tuner; we will improve upon this for our next radio build.