Monday, November 12, 2007

BOOK WEEK Pt. 1: The Hardy Boys

...Yes, a whole week dedicated to the use of radio in juvenile literature. It's a new peak in the obscurity of Arcane Radio Trivia.

The Hardy Boys Mysteries first appeared in 1927 at the veritable dawn of the golden age of radio. They like many other forms of print media eagerly incorporated themselves into the ephemera of radio. The plot outline is the same every time. The perpetual teenagers, Hardy brothers Frank and Joe discover and solve a mystery that even the police cant solve. Today new stories are still being produced almost a century later.

While Frank Dixon is credited on almost all Hardy Boys books, he too is a fictional character. It's a pseudonym. There is no Frank W. Dixon, and several people wrote under the name. In the case of this particular radio-centric book Leslie McFarlane was the author.

Mr. McFarlane a native Canadian was probably the best-known of the Dixon ghost writers and is attributed with authorship for the bulk of the Hardy Boys catalog. He wrote a total of 21 of the Hardy Boys books. But he also wrote over a dozen more manuscripts for the Stratemeyer Syndicate's Hardy Boys-clones including Dave Fearless and Dana girls. Later in life he became a respected screen writer.

In this Hardy Boys The Shortwave Radio Mystery brothers Frank and Joe and their friend Chet have Amateur Radio calls VN16J and VY84Y. The story involves the theft of radio parts and how they are craftily hidden inside taxidermied animals.

I was surprised to find that another radio man, Richard McVicar already reviewed the book for us. He had also noticed that their description a radio wave is painfully wrong.
"Think of lightning. You know how jagged that is sometimes." "You mean it's not a straight line? It goes up and down and has lots of points to it?" asked Jimmy.
"That's right. Well, radio waves are like that, only you can't see them," said Frank.

"The more points they have and the narrower the line is, the farther the waves can travel."

Richard McVicar also points out something I'd never have known otherwise. Later revisions of the book rewrite that and other passages. They replace the completely inaccurate lightning analogy with a more technically accurate piano analogy. They also update the call letters to match contemporary nomenclature. VN16J and VY84Y are replaced by N2XEJ and N2XOB.

Apparently this was all changed in a 1966 edition. Interestingly enough the modern calls are are available according to this. But here an issue of the Radio Hill Gazette informs me that other versions of the book also use the WB2XEJ call sign.

Upon further examination I notice other significant changes. Chapter names are changed, passages excised and others added. The books modern pressing opens with the dots and dashes of Morse code. The theft of radio parts is changed to the theft of stuffed animals, and the radio element in reincorporated as the embedding of "bugs" hidden inside the animals.

The 1945 version opens on chapter I with the following text:

"Try him again, Frank! He ought to answer any minute." "It's eleven o'clock. he's probably in bed asleep." "Try him once more." "All right, but I'll bet we don't get him. Chet Morton wouldn't stay up this late. You know how he likes to sleep." Frank hardy re-tuned the short-wave transmitter. His brother Joe crouched beside the receiver, listening. Weird hums, squeals and screeches echoed through the attic. For more than half an hour the boys had been trying to contact their chum, Chet Morton. It had been Chet's idea that the Hardys fix up their old shortwave sets, and he assured them that his own would be in operation that night.
"VN16J calling VY84Y. . . calling
VY84Y . . . VN16J calling VY84Y," droned Frank.

The 1945 version opens on chapter I with the following text:
DIDAHDIT . . . dahdahditdit . . . didididahdah . . . daidahdit. . . Frank Hardy's fingers deftly pounded out the CW-key sign- off: "R" 73 C U AGN AR WB2EKA DE
WB2EKA SK." Then the dark-haired eighteen-year old ham operator jotted an entry into a black logbook. "Coming in clear tonight Joe." "Sure is, let's see what else we can pick up." Joe hardy, blond and a year younger, flicked the phone switch and played the transceiver dial along the 2-meter band. The Hardy brothers, both licensed radio amateurs, were enjoying an hour of short-wave hamming in their newly equipped attic "shack". Static and bits of conversation crackled over the speaker. Suddenly a weird garble of nonsensical voice-like sounds broke in.

To the credit of the revision, the jargon is much improved. But to it's detriment the books barely resemble each other. the net effect being that it's hard to consider it a revision.