Asheville Home Theater and Audio presents Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Austin Healey 3000

I know this story of my first sale of a stereo product is taking a number of twists and turns and please forgive me, today’s will be even a bigger turn.  Perhaps it will be the size of a U turn today.  But in the end it all pans out and makes sense.  I promise.

I had completed the construction of my own console stereo system, a tall, thin wooden box that stood about four feet high.  The system consisted of a top-mounted turntable and below it a tubed all-in-one amplifier and below that, a sealed 8″ woofer with a small whizzer cone for a tweeter.  I had managed to find some grille cloth to cover the woofer and painted the contraption nicely.  It was a beauty and my best friend David was quite envious of my creation.  I spent many an hour in my basement room playing records and the stereo (it was actually mono) sounded great.

This must have been a time of acquisition in my life because I had also just acquired the car of my dreams.  I had long wanted to be cool and impress the ladies at my high school.  As a 17 year old boy there wasn’t much that interested me more than that.  I wasn’t a “jock” and had few interests other than my stereo system so the only means of attracting the opposite sex was through a car.  And I had my eye on the coolest car ever.

Near the radio store where I bought the components to my stereo system was a used car lot.  On this lot sat a red, 1959 convertible Austin Healey 3000.  The car was in pretty bad shape.  The top to the convertible was gone, the interior wasting away from constant exposure to sun and rain because of it.  The doors to this car were frozen shut and required one to hop over them to gain access to the car.  The car’s electrical system was only marginally operative, the brake, tail and headlights inoperative.  But it ran.  And driving that car on a test drive with the dealer convinced me I had to own it.

This particular British sports car has twin exhaust pipes that curved up behind the car and the sweetest sound ever came out of those pipes.  As you accelerated through the gears, the sound of the engine through those exhaust pipes, right at the moment where you had to shift into the next gear, was music.  Beautiful, throaty, precision tuned music like I had never heard before.  Me, in a red convertible sports car would be the talk of the town.  What young high school chick could resist?

I bought the car for $500 of borrowed money.  It was one of the best moments of my 17 years.  I now had my own stereo system, my own red and convertible sports car and I was unbeatable.  As cool as they come.  Life was good.  That is until I started driving the car on a regular basis.

It seems the Anaheim police department took a dim view of cars without brake and tail lights.  Go figure.  I got pulled over within the first few days of driving and got my first ticket.  The officer told me it was a “fix it” ticket which apparently meant all I had to do was fix the problem and they would call it good.  That weekend my friend and I hopped under the car and hood to figure out how to restore operation to the brake and tail lights.  Oops.  Turned out that the previous owner was starting a restoration on the car and ripped the entire wiring harness out of it.  Nothing remained.  The lights had no wires going to them at all.  The car wasn’t just broken, it was completely messed up and I had no clue how to fix it.

That wasn’t going to stop me.  Screw it.  I drove the car anyway.  Turns out the same cop pulls me over again.  Of course he remembers me and writes me another ticket, wagging his finger at me.  I figured that these fix it tickets didn’t have any teeth behind them.  To heck with this guy.  Over the next two weeks, the same cop lay in wait for me near the school and every day he pulled me over and wrote me another ticket.  I promptly tore up the ticket and ceremoniously threw the crumpled paper onto the passenger side floor where it eventually flew out through the car’s open roof.

In fact, I got 14 tickets for the same offense within a three week period.  I threw them all away and simply chose a different route to school where the cop wasn’t laying in wait for me.  I had beat the system!  Several months went by without further incident.  Then the boom lowered down.

Upon coming home on a Friday my mom told me there had been a police officer at the door with something called a warrant for my arrest.  She had assured the officer I would show up in court that evening and handle whatever the problem was.  My parents had no clue what I had done.

Tomorrow, the trial.

Asheville Home Theater and Audio presents Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

A trip to the radio store

In yesterday’s post I relayed the story of being banned from playing the kind of music I liked on the family stereo.  Not to be deterred, I set out to build my own stereo system so I could close the door to my room and play whatever I wanted.  I figured all I would need was a turntable, radio and a speaker.  I would build these three elements into a cabinet and have myself an awesome music making machine.

In the early 1960′s we had radio stores.  They don’t really exist any longer, but these stores typically had a radio repairman in the back of the shop and out in front various makes and models of radios, turntables, amplifiers and loudspeakers were laying about.  The store I was familiar with had a crusty old guy named Al that never put prices on any of the equipment in the front.  Whenever I would come in to browse Al would lift one eyebrow and glare at me, making sure I didn’t steal anything.  I’d never purchased anything from this guy but I did hang out a lot.

I had a budget of about $50 to work with having earned money over the summer as a darkroom tech at the local newspaper, the Anaheim Bulletin.  I certainly didn’t want to tell this old guy my budget but rather wanted to try and impress upon him the seriousness of my buying power, hoping he’d actually want my business.  I found an old hulk of a record changer sitting in a corner of the shop and asked Al if it worked.  ”It spins, the record changer’s broken, but it works.”  Since I didn’t own more than one or two albums at the time it seemed to be ok that the auto changing part of this turntable didn’t work.

“How much?”  Al would always size up his customers to see how much he could charge.  He knew I didn’t have any money.

“$10 bucks as is.”  Sweet!  I now had a turntable.  Since this unit was pulled out of an old console stereo, it had a couple of screw terminals in the bottom for the AC power and a few signal wires from the cartridge just dangling there.  I was pretty sure I could make this work in my new dream system.  But I still needed an radio.  ”What’cha gonna hook it up to?”  Al had this way of asking piercing questions as he peered over his Ben Franklin glasses, taking a drag of his Camel cigarette.  He always made me feel stupid.  I’ll never forget the ugly brown stains on his smoking fingers.

“I don’t know.  I need a radio to hook it up to.”  I was trying to sound like I knew what I was talking about in the hopes of getting some credibility out of the old duffer.

“You don’t need no radio, you need an amp.  Like this one.”  Out from behind the counter Al pulled an old, dusty tube amp out.  It was ugly.  It had obviously been inside some piece of stereo equipment in its long past and now it stared back at me looking for a home.  ”You put your turntable wires in here, connect your speaker up here and add a plug here.  It works.”  He lit a fresh Camel.

“How much?”  That took a while as Al sized me up.  He already had me for $10.  He took a long drag on the smoke, blew it up in the air in a thoughtful gesture.

“$50 and I’ll test the tubes for you.”

“I only have $50 total and I need a speaker too.”  I pulled the coveted wad of two $20s and a $10 from my front pocket and laid it on the table.  He just stared at the money, then looked at me in disgust.  He crushed the stub of his camel in an overflowing ashtray.  It felt like that’s what he wanted to do to me.

“Ok kid.  I’ll give you the amp, changer and a woofer for $70.  You can pay me later.”  Wow, I walked out of the store with a cardboard box filled with my new found treasures.  I was in.

Over the weekend I put together a tall cabinet the width of the turntable changer.  I had that mounted on the top of the cabinet.  Right below it was the amplifier with it’s power switch, volume and tone control knobs sticking out the front.  Below that was another box housing the single 8″ woofer.  That woofer had what is known as a whizzer cone that was supposedly a tweeter.  It was all magic and wonderfulness to me.

I wired everything together, got my good friend David Wiley to help me haul it down to the basement and there it was.  The most beautiful piece of audio equipment in the whole world.  David and I just stared at it.  He wanted it for himself.

Much to our surprise, it worked.  Tomorrow, the trouble begins.