Elmer G. Osterhoudt
and
The Modern Radio Laboratories Catalog 

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MRL No. 2 CRYSTAL RADIO

 
 
The greatest legacy of MRL is probably the No.2 Crystal Set, which you can still obtain today from the MRL website.
Of course, Elmer Osterhoudt couldn't see into the future. The catalog entry for the No. 2 Crystal Set is a footnote at the bottom of page K-1.

Page K-1 is an entire page devoted to the MRL No. 2-A single dial set. Elmer states that both sets have been made and improved upon since 1933. If MRL was established in 1932, these sets must have been some of the first items in his inventory.

At the bottom of the page it states that HB-2 (or Hand Book 2) is 50 extra. It has a copyright date of 1945. In the back of HB-2 there are five pages of testimonials in a closely typed small font. Elmer claimed to have hundreds of reports in a stack six inches think. By the time he published Detail Print 22, the size of the stack of testimonials had doubled.
 
This is the top of Detail Print number 22. In typical Elmer Osterhoudt fashion, the drawings are made face on or a side view without the slightest angle. The drawings in HB-2 are the same; squares, circles and lines.
 

 
The MRL No. 2 Long Distance Crystal Set.
 
The drawing suddenly seems to come to life once you know what you are looking at!
 
 
The front panel is 5 1/2" by 7". The radio was not sold with a base.
 

 
This No. 2 was built into a plywood box.
 
This radio was built by a Bob Dildine of Santa Rosa, California in the early 1970s. He did a nice job on the radio and on the box. The bottom and sides of the box are kerfed so everything slides together without fasteners or glue. You just slide the bottom off and the radio and back panel slide out.

Because it was housed in the box it is pretty much pristine inside.

Coil connections to the switch taps.

 
Another MRL No. 2. These are getting rare. Only three have appeared on ebay in the last few years.

Want to see something REALLY rare?

 

An unbuilt MRL No. 2 Long Distance Crystal Set from 1980.
 
The switch points, front and rear. The panel is actually jet black but doesn't come out well in photographs due to the finish.
 
The variable capacitors came wrapped in this paper.
 
The back and front of the panel where you attach the variable capacitors. Everything is countersunk. Elmer called the panel material "compo." There are many references to compo panels in his handbooks. It's probably short for "composition board." I've often wondered if the compo panels are Masonite.
 
The screws are inserted into the capacitor, the shaft has been cut, a wire joins both sections. There is a big honking solder lug on the capacitor body. This is how Elmer sent both capacitors.
 
The coil, hand made by Elmer. If he had hundreds of testimonials about this set in 1945, how many of these coils did he make?
 
Many MRL sets use those brightly colored pin jacks on the left. They came in white, yellow, orange, red, and blue. Despite these parts being 40 years old, they still look new. The brass on the MRL switches is still shiny.
 

Now let's think about this set for a minute. Elmer made the coil form, then wound the coil on the form. He cut out the "compo" panel, then countersunk it and painted it. He riveted the switch points onto the panel.

He made the two MRL switches. He printed the dial scales. He prepped the variable capacitors, then he added two knobs, a knocked down crystal detector, two pin jacks, two Fahnestock clips, a mounted crystal, hookup wire, and solder. He put the crystal, cat whisker, and dial scales in envelopes, which were printed with what was inside the envelopes.

He had to purchase the material to make the coil form. He bought the variable capacitors, crystal stand, knobs, headphone jacks, parts to make the switches, rivets, solder lugs, screws, wire, solder, paint, envelopes, etc. Then he hand printed a copy of Detail Print #22, which he authored himself.

And he sold this kit for $7.50.

 
Handbook Number 2. It is 24 pages printed in a tiny font in a pamphlet about 9.5 x 6.5 inches. This HB is different from all the others. All of Elmer's handbooks were lithographed by Elmer. This one is printed. The print is pressed into the paper. It even says "Printed in U. S. A." on the first page.

The copyright for HB-2 is 1945. This is odd, as the copyright for HB-1 is 1948. Did he name it HB-2 to match the number of the radio? HB-1 is titled "Headphones: Operation
AND Repair."
 

 
Here is a very nice MRL No.2 built by Joe Jackson of the Heart of England Crystal Radio Club

 
In 1938 and 1939 the address for Modern Radio Labs was 7700 East 14th Street in Oakland, CA. From 1940 to 1943 the address was 1406 77th Avenue, both of which are in this building at the corner of 14th and 77th. The entrance to 1406 77th Avenue is behind the pickup truck and utility pole. The storefront faces 14th Street.

The address on the left storefront is 7704 14th Street. On the right side, the address is 7710. These are in reality the address of the adjoining lots, which are part of the property. The actual address of the building (in the year 2018) is 7700 International Blvd.
 
Why did the MRL address change? Perhaps the Osterhoudts no longer needed the storefront for MRL, so they rented it out.

It is a "2-Story Mixed Use Commercial/Residential situated on a 3556 SF Lot". The street level section is zoned "Commercial - Retail/Office". Upstairs is zoned "Urban Residential" and is a "4bd/2ba Residential..."
 
1406 77th Avenue entrance. The graffiti has been painted over in this picture. Above the mailbox next to the door can be seen the address (right-hand photo.)
 
According to the 1940 census, Elmer and Mabel Osterhoudt owned this property, lived here and operated a radio store. The building was built in 1923.
 

 
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