Charles Hallinan
The Life and Times of a Tube Man
By Thomas G Siglin
 
 
 
Charlie Hallinan grew up in downstate near New York City. His first acquaintance with radio was in the tavern his parents owned. In an effort to improve the business Charlie's father commissioned a radio to be built in the hopes of attracting customers. The project was successful in that the radio was finished and Charlie recalls it playing in the bar room. This early version was probably a TRF design and drove a horn speaker at listenable volumes. Radio being a specialized field at the time, required an engineer to be brought in to control this new contraption! Charlie was forbidden from even touching the new toy! Nevertheless, this introduction to the field of radio would set the stage for his future in the field.
 
Charlie continued his involvement with technology by attending RCA institute in New York City. He completed his studies by taking the FCC radio test. He was proud to have passed the exam and related to me the part of the test where he had to draw a schematic of a complete AM transmitter, from oscillator, modulator to the RF stages. This was not the time of the multiple choice (or multiple guess tests in Charlie's words).
 
His graduation into the field of electronics occurred at the startup of World War II. He was called up and put his new knowledge to work as a radio inspector. He was assigned to quality check parts and equipment at General Electric in Schenectady New York and other locations in New York and Pennsylvania. I think he thoroughly enjoyed himself working in the radio and manufacturing field at this young age. He stayed in this job until the end of the war when he took advantage of the situation, starting to accumulate excess parts and materials that were no longer needed for manufacturing. He loaded a friend's car up with surplus radio parts and headed toward Binghamton NY. Later he would use these parts in the construction of WKOP – AM.
 
Charlie's early radio days in Binghamton were involved with several of the local stations but he settled in at WKOP. An engineer's duties of the day were not just maintenance of the equipment. He actually had a hand in physically constructing the transmitter building on the hill. This facility at one time was both the transmitter and studios of the station. Charlie was stay at this upstart station until his retirement. When the station management decided to get involved in FM, he had a hand in that project as well.
 
One story I recall was Charlie's method of determining a problem antenna radiator at the FM station. The antenna design in use at that time consisted of many individual antenna elements fed by a phasing harness. This particular design apparently had problems and he would climb the tower with a florescent lamp to check the relative power being radiated from each section.  This technique today would make most engineers cringe just from the thought of the RF energy levels the body was subjected to in the process of the test.
 
Charlie married and settled in at his home just down the road from the WKOP – AM transmitter. With no children, they practiced a bit of dairy farming, gardening and led an uncomplicated life in Binghamton until the death of his wife from heart complications. The 30-year absence of anyone to constrain Charlie in his habits led to an interesting development. He had a deep passion for collecting and soon the house he lived became filled with electronic equipment and radio station cast-offs. This continued until he made friends with women, Clair, who persuaded Charlie to repent and give up some of his collecting habits. The rooms of the house slowly started to yield up treasures of his working days to become usable for their intended purposes. Most of the items stored away were from the tube era. Charlie liked tubes and had little love or appreciation for solid state equipment. He liked tubes so much that I threatened to throw some tube in his grave when he died, just to keep him warm!
 
It was on the second walkthrough that I noticed an odd looking item. It turned out to be a Hallicrafters dual diversity receiver that was purchased from a friend living near New York City. The radio needed a new home and Charlie obliged. I asked him what he was going to do with it and he replied it had to go but he was not going to give it away. So… a monthly payment arrangement was made and I made plans for my new toy. Charlie had succeeded in infecting me with his collecting habit.

 

Due to complication from old age and diabetes, Charlie spent the last couple of years of his life in and out of the hospital and nursing home. On SBE meeting days, friends would spirit him away to the meeting and back. Since his early days as one of the founders of SBE, he had a great love for the group and spent a lot of time trying to improve or change the organization to conform to his ideas. However, SBE had outgrown the bounds of his personal control and grew on its own under new leadership.
 
Charlie died on ~ and his last wishes were to have a simple burial with few or no attendees. Many of his friends fought that plan and persuaded his executor to have at least a memorial service to say good bye to a friend and fellow engineer. My plan for Charlie's local burial was to toss in a couple of 6L6 tubes but a cousin took control of his final arrangements and left town with the body. The new intentions were to place him at a family site in Westchester County of NY State. That was the last we thought we would ever hear of him: Until I received a call from his cousin. It seemed Charlie had been cremated and the cousin was looking for a suitable urn for his ashes. The cousin attempted to have a radio bronzed for the purpose but that did not work out. I explained my parting shot of burying some radio tubes with Charlie as a tribute to his love for them when the idea of actually placing his ashes in a tube came up. I contacted Econco tube rebuilders in Utah asking for a dud that was large enough for the purpose. (Econco is now located in Woodland, CA)  My request was met with less than belief but they said it would be considered. In what seemed like only minutes Econco called back wanting to know where to send the tube. It was shipped to another of cousin in California, an artist, that  commissioned a base to be made for the tube outlining a few details of Charlie's life. Charlie was placed into the tube; it was epoxied shut and mounted on the base.
 
His final resting-place is in a cemetery in downstate New York. Charlie was finally at peace.
Additional information about Charlie can be found on the Binghamton SBE website: