My belief in the power of lightning and the importance of reading instructions began when I was in seventh grade in Webster, NY, 12 miles east of Rochester—an area partial to nasty weather year ‘round. The whole thing started innocently enough; my best friend had a serious shortwave radio (a beautiful Hallicrafter) and after listening to the mysterious and romantic locations he could reach with a turn of the dial, I really wanted a shortwave myself.
That Christmas, my parents (who had no money, nor any knowledge of shortwave radios) gave me a small plastic Philco table radio. Proudly, they showed me the small switch on the back that when turned on was supposed to give the little receiver the ability to pick up distant stations.
Alas, the only far off stations the Philco could pull into my bedroom late at night were the CBC in Toronto and the Cleveland Airport tower—somewhat interesting listening, but clearly not the evening news from Moscow that I was hoping for. However, upon closer inspection of the back of the radio, I discovered another feature labeled: “ANT” – antenna. Eureka! This was the key to the magic kingdom. What I needed was an antenna!
And so I build an antenna for the ages! I connected the little Philco to about 200 feet of light copper wire and strung it in endless loops around the attic. With the wire in place, I was confident I would soon be picking up radio transmissions from Mars and beyond.
Imagine my disappointment when in addition to slightly clearer signals from Toronto and Cleveland, I could only get the pork futures from Indiana and a bible-thumping preacher somewhere in the south.
But, Mother Nature was clearly listening. As spring advanced into summer, lightning came to call at our house with such vengeance and regularity that our dog was driven nearly insane by the blasts of thunder. One time, lightning struck and destroyed the television set in the living room—the whole thing was reduced to a blackened sculpture. Another time, a bolt hit a window screen in my bedroom, arced across the room and exited through a screen on the other side of the room! Scary stuff! Similar incidents occurred all summer long.
But incredibly enough, no one in our household associated the idea of 200 feet of live copper wire hanging around in our attic with attracting lightning! That fall, I finally gave up on trying to pick up remote radio stations, turned the switch on the back of the radio off, and wonder of wonders, the lightning looked for a different location.
It wasn’t until years later, when I was living in Toronto (The CBC was a siren song) and owned a real shortwave, that I read the simple instructions that came with it.
“If an external antenna is installed, disconnect in the event of a thunderstorm. Failure to do so may result in permanent damage to your radio or other appliances.” Duh!
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