James Shaw IV

Why I Have No Mobile Telephone

Dan Dare's Radio isn't wireless

toy dan dare radio in cardboard box
Dan Dare Radio Station

I am sometimes asked why I don't own or use a mobile cell phone. It all goes back to the Dan Dare Radio Station.

Just down the road from our house was a toyshop. It was the last shop in the row before turning the corner towards our house so we always stopped to take a look whether returning from a shopping errand or after getting of the bus from primary school.

One day I stopped to find the Dan Dare Radio Station, centre stage in the window. Wow! Here was everything a boy could want! Two-way radio, morse key, morse decoder, searchlight, planet finder. This was the toy I had to have!

Imagine, the base station could stay at home and I could take one of the handsets to school. I didn't expect the range to be too far but a couple of hundred yards would be OK to call mum to say I was about to arrive. So every time I passed this shop I stopped to look at it, trying to work out what it did and how I could use it. Sure enough there were the radio waves drawn on the box lid and the key words 'transmitter'. Back in those days 'transmitters' were strictly controlled and only open to the BBC and those Amateurs that built big aerials in their back gardens.

The following Christmas there was a big box in my pillow case full of presents. Could it be? Yes! The Dan Dare Radio Set!

Opening the box I removed all the items, including some bits of wire. There was a short piece that was clearly needed to connect one of the handsets to the base station. But what was this long ten-foot piece for? The other handset? What is going on? What is the little pull-out aerial for? What about the interplanetary call buttons on the handset?

Great disappointment, a glorified telephone with a range of ten feet. The call buttons were just sprung balls that did nothing, the morse decoder was just a look-up table attached to a knob and the searchlight went up and down in an unpredictable fashion as the bowden cable driving it flexed. I couldn't even get it to work at first as it wasn't too clear which sockets to use on the side.

There was a square of four sockets and I think you were supposed to plug in the cable pairs top-to-bottom and I had done it side-to side. As for the planet finder, this was a free-spinning needle attached to a buzzer that could be operated by the morse key. The vibrations from the buzzer caused the needle to wander about in a random fashion.

One thing I did gain from it was that my dad broke off the plastic 'mushrooms' holding the cardboard back on and traced out the circuit for me and drew it out on the back. He then welded the back on again with a soldering iron. I expect it was probably the first circuit diagram of any complexity that was of interest to me.

However the hurt was still there - mobile radio, you failed me at the time I wanted it. I'm just not interested now! You had your chance and blew it!