After I added these vintage pyrex antenna insulators to my 40 meter dipole I began to hear weird and exotic DX signals in my receiver. But how could this be? Was it my imagination? Or was it....




(and other mysteries)



The fantastic power of the doobies is known to but a select few. Legend has it that the most sought-after examples were RCA president David Sarnoff's personal set of jade-green pyrex insulators, which were said not only to have been responsible for his receiving the TITANIC's distress signals, but to have pulled in the squawkings of distant galaxies!

Not so on the ill-fated TITANIC. The 6-wire, flat-top antenna installed by the Marconi Company had hard rubber insulators at its end junctions. Wireless operator Harold Bride begged to be allowed to replace these with glass or porcelain type insulators, but both Marconi and White Star Lines management refused, stating "we find no particular advantage to modifying the present system".

On April 15,1912 as the Titanic was sinking, Bride desperately tapped out his distress call for several long minutes before the first reply was heard. "UR SIGS WEAK OM" answered the vessel Carpathia, "TRY USNG GLASS INSLTRS". Back in New York, young David Sarnoff listened in fascination as the signals poured into his headphones.

In light of the subsequent disaster and loss of life, shipboard and coastal wireless installations promptly replaced exisiting rubber and wood insulators with glass or porcelain ones. In radioman's slang, these new antenna insulators were called "doobies".



You won't find these at any Radio Shack store. I first observed their otherworldy properties after finding them at a flea market table in Derry, New Hampshire many years ago, quite by accident. I purchased two of them for 50 cents, and set them to work on a 40-meter dipole made from hard-drawn copper wire that same day. My aged Hammarlund Super Pro fairly leaped to life. Signals began to drift in from the Artic Circle to the Caspian Sea! My speaker thudded with bleeps and groans, the cacaphonic honks and tweets of legions of ham operators pounding telegraph keys in far-flung lands!

That night, the old Super Pro glimmered in the darkness, its twenty-odd tubes thumping with the barrage of microvolts pulsing through their circuits. I found that I typically enjoyed up to 3db gain in received signals. Had I run across an odd temperature inversion, sunspot surge, solar flare, or other temporary anomaly of ionospheric propagation? No, by God -- it was the doobies!



When it was time to move, I packed them away, thinking I'd save them for some future day when they'd serve as part of the ultimate antenna system. Years passed. Boxes were shuffled about. When I next went to look for them, they'd vanished. Over the course of several moves they'd somehow been misplaced. I searched high and low, to no avail. I resigned myself to the fact that they were indeed gone forever.

But the mystical power of the doobies would draw me to them anew. Just last year, I ran across a notice on the Internet for a small ham radio flea market to be held in -- of all places -- Derry, New Hampshire! Something told me that this was not mere chance. I begged Hank, my friend in New England, to go there in search of these elusive talismans. After much persuasion, exhortation, and outright threats, he relented.

On that chilly Saturday in October, Hank drove through torrential rains and hubcap-deep mud to arrive at a centuries-old Elks lodge nestled among the pines. In the basement, a handful of damp figures milled among worn-out radio gear. Hank searched the sparse tables for signs of insulators, but none appeared. Finally, as he was about to leave, he spotted an old gentleman hacking a throatful of phlegm behind a card table in the dank cellar. He approached him and asked " You don't by any chance have any glass antenna insulators?". With great difficulty, the old man produced a crumpled box from beneath his table. "How many of the dang things do ye want?" he wheezed.

There, before Hank's eyes were the fabled pyrex insulators of legend in their original boxes! He quickly negotiated for four of them at $5 each. "Ayep. I almost didn't come out heah this morning," added the man, "c'ept I knew I had to sell off these things before I die, which'd be any day now".

And so, once again, the sounds of faraway lands burble and burp from my speaker. No matter how weak, or how distant, there's nary a signal that can't be heard by my fashionable Japanese transceiver. Because tonight, out at the ends of my dipole antenna, a pair of pristine, pyrex doobies glint in the moonlight.

(If you think this story is a bunch of hooey, check THIS out)