Friday 20 September 2019
Implications of the Crystal Set Radio
When I was about seven years old, a friend showed me a radio receiver he called a Crystal Set. This was the middle 1960s, and there were amplified valve radios plugged into the electric mains in all homes, and battery powered portable transistor radios becoming increasingly common (although generally not owned by children).
But this Crystal Set was extraordinary. It was small and had very few components - too few, it seemed, to be able to do anything like pick-up a radio signal. But what amazed me, and in a sense changed-the-world for me, was that the crystal set had no source of power - no battery or anything. You simply made the set, tuned it, listed to the ear-piece - and then you could hear what was on the radio channel: music, speaking, weird noises...
At first this seemed like something-for-nothing - a real life perpetual motion machine. Somehow the speaker in the little ear piece was generating sound, without any power.
Later on it began to dawn on me that the power must be coming from the radio waves themselves, from whatever broadcast radio program I was listening to; from the energy with which the radio station was being broadcast via an antenna somewhere.
The Crystal Set was picking-up the radio waves, both tuning-into them and and also using the energy of the radio waves to power the tiny loudspeaker.
This was both exciting and troubling. I realised that I was, all the time, being bathed in radio waves that had power, energy, information - these were going-through me; All The Time (at least, wherever a radio signal could be detected).
I found this very strange to contemplate - and still do.
Since it is a rule of Life that one never gets something for nothing, this must be a trade-off. If there is enough energy in radio waves to power an ear-piece there is enough to do other stuff; most of it, on average, bad stuff.
And there is, of course, manyfold magnitude more energy from electromagnetic waves going through me now than there was fifty years ago; and a great deal more planned for the near future.
That Crystal Set seemed to have the whole essence of electromagnetism in microcosm - the obvious marvel and usefulness of the device, and the occult, implied... well, something else.