Glowing tubes on a winter night

On a cold winter night many people enjoy the warm glow of a fire in their fireplace. As a kid spending his formative years living in Bay Village, on such an evening I instead found myself drawn to the warm glow produced by the vacuum tubes incorporated in my hand-me-down stereo system.

The reality of this year's winter actually producing winter-like weather conditions after teasing us northern Ohioans with a rather mild start, combined with other events in the news, has created a sense of nostalgia in me for listening to album-oriented rock over FM radio with my old tube-powered stereo set.

Vacuum tubes operate on a principle that requires an electrical heating element within each of them. Depending on the purpose and design of any particular tube, its internal heating element can produce a visible orange to yellow glow of varying intensity. My old stereo rig incorporated a fair number of tubes, each emitting a moderate orange-yellow glow.

While not considered a best practice for energy efficiency these days, in many of my teen years I tended to fall asleep for the night with my trusty old stereo turned to a low volume level. (Being tube-based, the stereo’s energy efficiency was already inherently low, but few were terribly concerned with that in its day.) In that the set’s top cover was nothing but a sheet of perforated metal, with the room lights off the tubes in my stereo cast a nice, warm glow against the nearby wall and ceiling. In fact, the cover’s perforations added their own pattern to the tubes’ emitted glow.

To provide historical background, tubes were the first “active” components to be used in electronic equipment, dating back to the early 20th century. They tended to be fragile and consumed considerable electrical energy. In the mid-20th century transistors had been developed and over time increasingly replaced tubes in electronic circuits. Transistors are generally much more rugged and energy efficient in their function than tubes.

At the end of the 1960s devices known as integrated circuits began seeing widespread use in electronic equipment. Integrated circuits are small chips with numerous transistors and other electronic components etched in to them on a microscopic level. Entire electronic devices can be encased in an integrated circuit and, being the building blocks of much of our modern electronic equipment, their rapid development continues to this day.

In any case, the combination of warm glow from my old stereo’s tubes and low volume music did indeed create a cozy feeling, especially on a cold winter night.

(For those into electronics trivia, my stereo rig consisted of a late 1950s to early 1960s vintage EICO HF-81 stereo amplifier with a matching EICO HFT-90 FM tuner and outboard multiplex adapter, allowing the reception of FM stereo. Unfortunately I learned the HF-81 amplifier, in particular, had considerable appeal to tube-based audio equipment enthusiasts long after I parted ways with it.)

Dan Hirschfeld

I'm a longtime resident of the Bay Village and Westlake area (Bay 1965 to 1977, then Westlake since) who has always enjoyed living here while seeing lots of change over the years.

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Volume 8, Issue 4, Posted 10:06 AM, 02.16.2016