A Confession and A Puzzle

-December 15, 2013

We had this old Zenith AM/FM radio back in the 1950s which looked just like this one. As a small child, I used to turn the tone control on the side up and down, over and over again as Mom listened to station WOR, first to John B. Gambling's morning broadcast "Rambling With Gambling", then to Dorothy and Dick, then to Ray Heatherton's "Luncheon at Sardi's", then to Carlton Fredericks in "Living Should Be Fun"  and finally, I think, to Kate Smith. It would be interesting if anyone else remembers those programs besides yours  truly.


Also, it's a wonder that Mom didn't hide me good for changing the sound's tone up and down over and over again while she was listening. I guess she loved me.


As the years went by, the radio's tubes wore out so the sound got lower and lower, eventually to the point where my parents retired this radio and replaced it. Years later as I started getting interested in "radio", read that as "electronics", they gave me permission to take this set apart to see what was inside and so I did.


I still have the 19T8 vacuum tube that was used in the FM detector stage.


The front panel had a neon lamp pilot light. You can see it in this photo as a little spot of light set 45° up and to the left of the "Z" in the name "Zenith". It glowed orange when the radio was operating and so I wanted to light that little thing up after extracting  it.


I didn't know anything about needing a ballast resistor.


Foolish as foolish can be, I took the lamp over to a wall outlet and inserted its leads into the slots. The lamp immediately avalanched, flared and then this odd little floating and glowing dot just hung there in free space right before my horrified eyes and then it sank very, very slowly to the floor while remaining lit. When it got to the floor, it went out and whatever it was completely vanished without a trace!


Rest assured that I never told anybody what I had done, but by now, I guess I can't get into too much trouble over my confession.  The puzzle is though, just what was that floating dot?


It had enough energy of some kind to keep glowing for those several seconds which makes me think about an effect called "ball lightning". Was that what it was?


I never have figured that out.

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