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Two Artifacts of the Cold War

Growing up during the Cold War, I was always aware that political unrest or misinterpretation could quickly lead to a nuclear war in which the entire country (and particularly my city next to a SAC base) could become a battlefield.  There were products that met some of the needs of that time.  Here are two.

 All of us understood the danger of radiation after a nuclear blast (if you watched movies).  If the worse case scenario ever happened you might need to know if it was safe to enter an area.  The Geiger counter moved from laboratory instrument to consumer product.  Sylvania even made a portable radio in 1957 with a built in Geiger counter and a compass to boot.  Hey—that made for an ominous Christmas present!  I don’t have one of those, but here is a handy Geiger counter someone gave me as a kid. 

It is the Radiacmeter IM-179.  From what I’ve found, these were made in the 1960s.  You can still buy a calibrated one today on the web for about $150. 

 Better keep it in the green!

Our next cold war veteran is a broadcast-band radio.  It is the Morrow CM-1, made in Salem, Oregon. 

Like other radios of the time, it has the Conelrad Civil Defense markings on the dial, but it did more than a regular radio. 


First, some background on Conelrad.  If you look at most radios made between 1953 and 1963, you will find marks on the dial at 640 KHz and 1240 KHz.  In the days of airplanes carrying nuclear bombs, it was assumed that American radio and television stations could easily be used as beacons to guide enemy bombers (a broadcast station was used by the Japanese as they closed in on Pearl Harbor during World War II).  Conelrad was an elaborate system that would shut down most radio and television stations.  A single station in an area would transmit emergency information on either 640 or 1240 KHz.  The public could easily tune in the emergency transmission by following the markings on their radio dials.  After a few minutes, that station would shut down, and another in a different location would take its place.  This geographical hop-scotch would significantly lessen the usefulness of broadcast stations as an aviation navigation aid.

 But back to our little radio.  Ham radio operators were also required to immediately shut down their transmitters in the event of an impending attack.  This specialty radio did just that.  The amateur operator tuned the Morrow to a local broadcast station.  If that station went off the air, the Morrow would operate a relay that shut down the ham station as well.  Pretty slick! 


There are less and less reminders of our earlier efforts at homeland security.  I remember the big Sears store where we shopped had signs on the outside and the inside directing us to fallout shelters within its thick walls.  When I was a kid a Sears salesman showed me the stacks of olive green barrels full of supplies and food in case the end did come.  By the time I was a young adult I remember seeing some of those green civil defense barrels recycled into trash containers by the gas pumps of an East Texas filling station.  Times change.

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