I discovered electronics in 1963, when I was eleven, by digging around in the stuff people put out on the curb on garbage day, and dragging home dead radios and TVs for avid dissection in the garage. And for years I pieced together radios out of chassis pickins' and Fahenstock clips, guided by books like Harry Zarchy's Using Electronics and Alfred Morgan's The Boy's Second Book of Radio and Electronics. My best friend Art, who lived across the alley, got into electronics a year or so later, but he had something even better: Stacks and stacks of old Popular Electronics magazines, given to him by his Uncle George, who was an electrical engineer for the phone company. We both prowled through them incessantly, looking for cool projects to build.

We saw lots of cool projects. And before too long, we saw ourselves there as well.

Every issue in the pile had a short fiction story in it about two boys named Carl and Jerry, who were as obsessed with electronics as we were, and used it to help other people, foil criminals, impress girls, and get out of jams. The boys were a little older than Art and I, but beyond that, the resemblances were striking: One was thin, one chunky. One had glasses, one did not. One was good with theory (as Art was) the other was better with tools (me.) Every story described a concept in electronics, and most of the time put it to work.

To Explain and Inspire

I didn't know it at the time, but Carl and Jerry had been in Popular Electronics since the magazine's debut issue in October, 1954. John T. Frye wrote an episode almost every month for ten years—119 stories!—until November 1964. The stories, while often fiendishly clever, were sometimes a shade breathless but also a little wry in a way that appealed to slightly precocious twelve-year-old boys. They reminded me of the Tom Swift, Jr. books that I was also reading at about that time, only with real, basement-friendly technology instead of Swiftian half-magic super-science. (See my essay on Tom Swift for more about this.) As I discovered much later, there was actually greater resemblance to the older and more down-to-Earth Tom Swift Sr. books, like Tom Swift and His House on Wheels. (Egad! Tom Swift invented the RV!) As John Frye was most likely twelve years old toward the end of the Tom Swift, Sr. era, this isn't surprising. The language was amazingly similar, right down to the ubiquitous said-book-isms:

"Ok, let's get on with it," Carl prodded.

"Holy cow!" Jerry breathed. "That was a tornado!"

The characters in the stories murmured, demanded, howled, insisted, commanded, drawled, scoffed, and did almost everything but "said." But talking about flaws in the fictional techniques misses the whole point: The stories were there to explain things, and to inspire us to emulate Carl and Jerry's curiosity and ingenuity by working with electronics ourselves.

As with the Tom Swift books, each story revolved around a science or technology concept. Occasionally the entire story was a dialog between the boys, one asking questions and the other lecturing. ("TV Antennas" from August 1955, and "The Bell Bull Session" in December 1961 are good examples.) But more often than not, the boys build an interesting gadget, explaining along the way how it worked, and then put it to use in a clever fashion. Perhaps the crispest example is "Lie Detector Tells All" in November 1955. The boys build a lie detector (explaining the principles behind it) and test it on Jerry's parents. Mr. and Mrs. Bishop are both caught up in "little white lies" in front of one another, and then each quietly approaches the boys later on and offers them ten dollars to dismantle the machine!

The stories span the whole universe of what hobby electronics was about at the time: Ham radio, sonar, metal detectors, Hi-fi audio, tape recorders, remote sensors, radio controlled models, and so on. Nor did Frye cling to the past: When the world's first transistor radio appeared in 1955, Carl and Jerry had one almost immediately, and used it to track a tornado. ("Tornado Hunting by Radio", May 1955.)

Frye cited experts in the real world, occasionally with references to science and technology journals. He made semiregular mention of projects and articles that had recently appeared in Popular Electronics, often as the major basis for the story at hand. In the February 1961 issue, for example, he made good use of the cover-story gizmo: the Infraphone, a sort of walkie-talkie that encoded voice on a beam of infrared light. Working with police, they used a pair of Infraphones to foil a gang of thieves who were monitoring police radio frequencies and thus eluding capture.

The Carl and Jerry stories have been criticized for being a little too glib, and making electronics sound easy. One thing that not everyone remembers is that the boys occasionally taught us that not all projects work out. In "The Meller Smeller," (January 1957) the boys attempt to use an electrostatic filter to remove odors from the air. They basically attempt an electronic gas mask, and then have the bad karma to test it for the first time on a skunk. It didn't work. They buried their clothes in the backyard.

Not all of the stories are "adventures" in any sense of word. As I mentioned above, many are simple dialogs between the boys, as they build or troubleshoot some sort of device. This may have been necessary at times. 2,500 words is not a lot of room to move! In "Tussle with a Tachometer" (July, 1960) they build a tach for their car, from scratch, and explain how it works and how to calibrate it. There's no adventure, but once you read it you'll have a very clear sense for how automotive tachometers of that era functioned. The adventure came in a couple of issues later, in "Tick-Tach-Dough" (September 1960). The boys attach a tape recorder to their homebrew tach to test its calibration. Their car is stolen by bank robbers, who stash what they took from a bank somewhere and won't say where. Carl and Jerry play detective, and use stereo headphones to play the tach recording into one ear while listening to the real tach in the other, to retrace the vehicle's speed and acceleration in order to find the stolen cash. Brilliant—but incomprehensible if you don't know how tachometers work. Clearly, Frye had to tell the first story (how tachs work) to be able to use a hacked tachometer to solve a crime in a later story.

Could They Really Do That?

Something that Art and I often wondered is whether the technology tricks Frye built his stories around were feasible. We often asked one another: Would that really work? Many of them were no great challenge, especially in the first few years of the series. Using a solenoid-triggered camera to catch a henhouse thief (as the boys did in June, 1956) almost seemed too easy to us. Later on, as Frye hit his stride, the stories became cleverer, and the technology a lot subtler. Strapping a theremin to your back to provide a kind of audio biofeedback as you practice basketball free-throws ("Therry and the Pirates," April, 1961) would be breathtakingly brilliant—if it worked. Alas, we had no way to know short of building a theremin ourselves and trying it.

Another brilliant invention was Jerry's "infrasonic" microphone in "A Low Blow," March, 1961. The device resembled an aneroid barometer, consisting of a thin sheet of spring brass glued over the open end of a mayonnaise jar. The capacitance between the brass sheet and a steel plate inside the jar changed as variations in air pressure (as by extremely low frequency sound waves) flexed the brass sheet, and the changing capacitance pulled the frequency of an audio oscillator. Placed at the end of a long run of about-to-be-buried natural gas pipes out in the street (for noise reduction) the device reported the subsonic emanations of a small tornado in the moments before the tornado scattered the pipe sections and destroyed the infrasonic mic. That story made me absolutely crazy to build one, but I wasn't quite sure where to begin. I was only 12, just beginning to understand electronics, and too poor to afford the sort of test gear that Carl and Jerry took for granted. But I never doubted for a millisecond that the device would work, and I ached to be good enough at the craft to build things like that.

Even at its wildest, Carl and Jerry's technology remained just this side of outrageous, and while a degreed electrical engineer might quibble with the gadgetry, Art and I were still 12-year-old newbies who had no clue. What did occasionally make us roll our eyes were the preposterous situations that Carl and Jerry found themselves in, and the remarkable coincidences that allowed them to prevail, especially when they got into trouble. Once, when they were trapped by a load of coal dumped into the high school coal bin, ("A Nickel's Worth," March 1958) they signaled for help by tapping into the school PA system through a cable running through the rafters in the little room they were stuck in—using a transistor audio oscillator that Carl just happened to have in his pocket, powered by a cell made of coins and paper moistened with spit.

This Oh Come On factor was a little strong at times, as was the Haven't We Heard This One Before? factor. Getting stuck somewhere and signaling for help in peculiar ways (always using Morse Code) became a Carl and Jerry standard. Making a spark transmitter from a broken model airplane—kewl! Doing the same thing with an outboard motor, well, sure. Escaping from underneath an overturned car by making a spark transmitter out of the ignition coil, OK. Using Morse Code smoke signals to escape from murderous bootleggers...c'mon awready. Been there! Done that!

Sure, we rolled our eyes—but we kept watching the mailbox for the next issue, just the same. And with the perspective of forty years of hindsight (and having read about 100 of the stories within the past two weeks) I have to admire the way that John Frye covered virtually the entire universe of hobby electronics of his day, which was much narrower than ours is now. Small wonder he repeated himself a little—and I grin a little to wonder what he would be able to do if he were alive and writing today!

Evolving Characters

Like any good fictional series, especially one targeted at young people, the Carl and Jerry canon contains a cast of accessible characters and uses them quite consistently over the years. In addition to Carl and Jerry themselves, we meet:

  • Bosco, Carl's dog (said to be an airdale but mostly looking and acting like a mutt);
  • Eight-To-Go, a black cat that the boys barely rescue from an oil drum sunk to the bottom of a flooded quarry, hence his name—one of nine lives down, eight to go...
  • Police Chief Morton, who is both exasperated with the boys' exploits and dependent on them to solve crimes;
  • Mr. Gruber, an elderly man down the street who rode with Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders but is obsessed with flying saucers and science fiction;
  • Norma, a girl living next door who (at 22 or 23) is a little too old to be a romantic interest to the boys but who looks to them to help her with her love life;
  • Mr. Stagg, the clueless high-school principal;
  • Jodi Preston, a coed and ham radio op studying EE with the boys at Parvoo University; and
  • Thelma, a friend of Jodi's at Parvoo, about whom we don't in truth learn much, but who may exist to keep the boys from fighting over Jodi!

Most of the stories take place in and around Carl and Jerry's small-town home in northern Indiana, though with geological features like caves and hills that one just doesn't associate with Midwestern corn country.

Unlike Tom Swift and most of the characters in the Sunday comics, Carl and Jerry grew up over the years. The very first stories make them sound quite young, perhaps thirteen or at most fourteen. By May 1959, the story states that the boys are 16. They got around entirely on their bikes until their respective fathers agreed to allow them to share a car in the June 1960 story, "Two Tough Customers," which may have less electronics in it than any other story in the series. (It does explain how to buy a used car sensibly.) They finally graduate from high school in June, 1961.

In "Off to a Bad Start" (September 1961) the boys arrive at Parvoo University (a thinly veiled reference to Purdue) and bemoan the fact that they don't have their electronics lab with them. They try to decide whether they can improvise an intercom for a prank (which almost gets them in serious trouble) and while they can round up parts by dumpster diving, doing the assembly is a problem. But no: Carl remains very true to himself, and pulls a tiny pencil solding iron and some solder from his travel case, saying:

"You may get old Carl away from home without his wallet, his toothbrush, or even his pants, but you're not going to get him away without some kind of soldering iron," he boasted.

It's intersting to watch Carl and Jerry's attitude toward girls evolve over the years. In early stories, they sound more like fifth graders who consider girls to have cooties, and squirm when Norma kisses each on the cheek to thank them for saving her from an eccentric suitor. Their relationship with Norma is intriguing all by itself. It begins with helpful politeness (see "Ultrasonic Romance", July 1955) but by the late 50s there is an undercurrent of sexual tension among the three that made me grin. This scene (from "Parfum Electronique", July 1958) is funny enough to reproduce whole:

"I think the girl needs a little gentle persuasion," Jerry said quietly to Carl as they both rose to their feet.

"Right!" Carl exclaimed as he grabbed both sides of the hammock and brought them together over the top of Norma. He held them in place in spite of Norma's shrieks, struggles, and threats, until Jerry fastened them together with two huge horse-blanket pins that had been clipped around the hammock ropes. Then the boys stood at each end of the hammock and tugged alternately at the ropes to bounce and toss the pinned-in girl wildly about.

"Stop! Stop!" she finally gasped. I'll do it! And if you've messed up my permanent, I'm going to kill you both."

"Ah, Norma," Carl said, unfastening the pins and grinning down at the tousled but very pretty girl; "from now on you will always be our favorite pin-up!"

Genuine stirrings of affection for the other sex begin to show up in late 1958, even if the boys sometimes strive mightily to deny them. In "Vox Elektronik" (September 1958) Carl takes up ventriloquism because a girl named Linda seems to appreciate it when performed by a local boy named George. When it becomes clear that he has no talent for it, Carl gets the idea that they could put a little radio receiver into his dummy Splinter, and even rig solenoids to work the dummy's jaw in response to the received sound. Jerry sees through Carl's motives, however, and is dubious:

“Frankly, Carl, I take a dim view of the whole business. I thought we both felt the same way about girls: There will be plenty of time for them later, but right now you and I can have lots more fun with electronics.”

“I know,” Carl said miserably; “but I still can’t stand being made to look like a dope in front of Linda—at least not by a porch-swing poodle like George."

The real lesson comes later: After Splinter cons Linda and George completely, Linda responds a little too enthusiastically, and Carl, now tormented by conscience as well as concern that a girl was becoming stuck on him, explains to them what he's done and slinks home again.

Frye has some further fun with Carl and girls in the December 1958 story "Under the Misteltoe." The boys are invited to a teen Christmas party, but they know that a local hussy plans to steer Carl under the misteltoe and demand a kiss. The boys concoct a plan to deliver a slight shock to Cindy from a 130V battery and a current-limiting resistor at kiss-time, and thus dampen her ardor. Unfortunately, Jerry's geek-girl cousin Pat overhears the plot and hatches a counterplot: Rigging Cindy with an identical 130V battery with the polarity turned the other way! (The two batteries buck and thus no current flows.) Expecting to shock Cindy with a quick kiss, Carl finds that nothing happens. Assuming a loose wire, he prolongs the kiss while trying to reconnect the wire, and ends up the red-faced victim of catcalls and wolf-whistles from the other partygoers, basically getting the opposite effect from what he intended.

Electronics-savvy Cousin Pat prefigures a new character who appears soon after the boys go off to Parvoo: Jodi Preston, a southern belle in Parvoo's EE program with a drawl and a ham license. The boys use their wizardry to help Jodi much as they helped Norma, but this time Carl and Jerry have no excuses; they're college boys and old enough to go out on dates. Frye introduces a second girl, Jodi's friend Thelma, but says little about her, and one gets the sense that she's there to balance the slate. By November 1963 Carl, Jerry, Jodi, and Thelma were a foursome, but there just isn't the goofy warmth among them that John Frye created between the boys and Norma.

As little as we actually know about John T. Frye himself, it's possible to find little glimpses of the man here and there in how his characters act and what they say. Frye certainly made his feelings known about liberal arts types at the end of "Wrecked By a Wagon Train" (February, 1962) when the boys help nab a student from "a liberal arts university" in the southern part of Indiana who was robbing fraternities at Parvoo. Jerry says:

"You know, electronics was a nemesis for that poor guy. Electronics put the finger on him in the first place, and then a TV wagon train wrecked his alibi. His second mistake was transferring his operations from a liberal arts university to one with a strong accent on electronics."

"Well, you wouldn't expect a guy dumb enough to make the first mistake of starting to steal to be very bright," Carl muttered sleepily.

Maybe it was just the university. (Indiana State?) In "Substitute Sandman" (November, 1961) Carl tells us:

"Our English teacher says that education is the process by which a person moves from cocksure ignorance to thoughtful uncertainty. Some folks are hard to move."


Evolving Art

As effective as John Frye's stories were, they might not have grabbed their intended audience quite so viscerally if the magazine's artists had not gotten the boys' physical appearance down almost exactly right. There were illustrations associated with every single story, and over the years, the picture of tall, lean Carl beside shorter, stockier Jerry was burned into the mythic memory of their loyal fans.

It didn't happen immediately...but close, close. When PE's staff artists first drew the boys in the magazine's debut issue, Jerry came off as a lazy-looking, unlikeable little brat, with a face that did not suggest the high intelligence that Frye had given him.

Carl, on the other hand, became more realistic over time but did not change substantially until the very last year of the series. The "Far Side" glasses (which were mainstream back then—my wife wore them in the early Sixties and thought they were cool!) and blonde pompadour remained with Carl until late 1963. It didn't help that the early issue illos were drawn mostly as cartoon archetypes. It was too easy to present Jerry as the iconic "little fat boy."

PE quickly realized its mistake, and gave Jerry a radical makeover with the April 1955 issue. (Perhaps PE got a few too many letters of complaint from "little fat boys.") Jerry remained shorter and fatter than Carl, but he was at least a little more buff and now had an intelligent and likeable face, looking much more like a teenage slide rule jockey and less like a juvenile delinquent with an IQ of 77. The boys were now drawn older as well, moving from early teens to senior high.

I find it interesting that the redesigned Jerry looks a great deal like a teen-aged version of the adult John T. Frye, as shown in a 1951 photo published in the Logansport newspaper in 1951 and later in 1962.

The quality of the art for the series was always a little uneven. As a former magazine editor, I can guess why: The staff artists may not have been given their assignments until the issue had been laid out, and the editors knew how much space remained for art after the articles and ads were "in flats." (They may also have been technical artists with more experience in schematics than cartooning.) There was almost always at least one drawing, but there were sometimes as many as four, and the drawings varied widely in size and (sometimes) shape. Knowing the tight schedule of a monthly magazine, it's not impossible that the artists had as little as an hour or two to knock out a story's illos. It may be that the clumsiest drawings were last-minute demands: "McGuffin Radio just canceled their ad, so we have another three column-inches to fill in Carl and Jerry. You've got half an hour. Get cracking!"

This July, 1955 depiction of Bosco and girl-next-door Norma may count as the worst illo of the series. I wonder if it was one of those quarter-to-midnight emergency jobs, dashed off in ten minutes by an exhausted art staffer who just wanted to go home.

In May of 1959, the boys got a design tweak, which coincided with the magazine itself moving from a rougher newsprint to a smoother, coated paper. The smoother paper allowed the use of finer halftone screens and a much more nuanced art style. Carl and Jerry went into slightly softer focus but became a lot more realistic, and the story-header image below (which was used for almost three years) is how most people remember them today. The new Jerry, while still slightly rounder than Carl, could no longer even remotely be considered "fat." (Every so often an artist drew Jerry with an anomalous tummy—except for the boys' faces, art design consistency among the stories was spotty.)

The boys got one last art makeover in the November, 1963 issue, by an artist who had clearly cut his teeth on fashion catalogs, or maybe cigarette ads:

The magazine dropped the standard story header entirely, and the art treatment changed with almost every issue. Toward the end of 1964, the single opening illustration was generally the only illustration there was, when in earlier years there were as many as five. The boys were now a pair of fully adult Sunday sales insert mannikins, with neither charm nor any suggestion of the teenage geekiness that elevated them to hero status among boys who had looked "just like them."

(Does anybody else find the depictions of Jodi and Thelma in the foreground here just a little bit creepy?)

This final artwork faux pas didn't matter much; by then those of us who loved the boys knew precisely what they looked like. It was the artist who had it wrong. They looked like us, and had for nine years. Nothing ever would (nor ever could) change that!

Did It Work?

In creating Carl and Jerry, John T. Frye drew on an ancient and now mostly lost literary form: didactic (tutorial) fiction. How well he drew characters and situations is less important than whether we remember the lessons, forty-odd years later. I know that I do. Having read "The Lightning Bug" (November, 1963) I pulled the March 1962 issue from Art's stacks and built "Emily, the Robot with the One-Track Mind" and won First Prize at our eighth grade science fair. The Emily article explained how it worked, but I already knew the general principles, courtesy Carl and Jerry.

A fair number of people my age and older have written to me over the years, generally in response to my own tutorial books like Complete Turbo Pascal and The Delphi Programming Explorer, and when we spoke of Carl and Jerry, many indicated that it was the boys who had pushed them "over the edge" into careers in science and technology. One gentleman, a now-retired EE, said this: "They made it sound maybe a little too easy, but that just made me work harder so I could succeed like they did. It worked."

Boy, did it ever.


(John Frye's QSL card, courtesy Bob Ballantine W8SU.)

A New Company Is Launched
Carl meets Jerry, who solves a ham radio antenna problem for him.
October 1954: V1 #1
A Light Subject
The boys discuss photoelectricity and Jerry demonstrates a photocell.
November 1954: V1 #2
The Hot Dog Case
Carl's dog comes home with radioactive paws, and the boys track him by radio.
December 1954: V1 #3
Operation Startled Starling
The boys tape record a bird's distress cry to scare away some starlings.
January 1955: V2 #1
Two Detectors
The boys use 2M HTs to eavesdrop on what they think is a murder.
February 1955: V2 #2
Going Up, Up, Up
Will TV signals bounce off a silver-painted balloon? Maybe...
March 1955: V2 #3
The Attraction of Ham Radio*
Carl talks about ham radio to Jerry, in preparation for a school speech.
April 1955: V2 #4
Tornado Hunting by Radio*
The boys use a directional TV antenna to track a storm, and spot a tornado.
May 1955: V2 #5
How TV Works*
Using a garden hose and the garage wall, Jerry explains how TV works.
June 1955: V2 #6
Ultrasonic Romance*
Jerry devises an ultrasonic mosquito killer to help the girl next door.
July 1955: V3 #1
TV Antennas*
On a hike, Jerry explains how different kinds of TV antennas work.
August 1955: V3 #2
Electric Shock*
Jerry gets a bad shock from a faulty radio, and explains the dangers of 117V.
September 1955: V3 #3
The Great Bank Robbery
Clever use of a 2M transceiver foils a bank robbery.
October 1955: V3 #4
Lie Detector Tells All
Jerry subjects his parents to his home-made lie detector.
November 1955: V3 #5
Santa's Little Helpers
The boys build a talking Santa figure for the front lawn to amuse local kids.
December 1955: V3 #6
Trapped in a Chimney
The boys create a spark transmitter to escape from an old smokestack.
January 1956: V4 #1
How to Haunt a House
A man hires Carl & Jerry to "haunt" a house he owns with gadgetry.
February 1956: V4 #2
Electronic Trap
Jerry's proximity relay alerts him to a burglar in the basement.
March 1956: V4 #3
Gold Is Where You Find It
The boys find an old farmer's gold watch with a metal detector.
April 1956: V4 #4
Jerry teaches Carl about negative feedback while listening to birds.
May 1956: V4 #5
Geniuses at Work
The boys rig a camera in a henhouse to catch an intruder on film.
June 1956: V4 #6
Anchors Aweigh
Jerry's radio-controlled tugboat rescues a man from a boating accident.
July 1956: V5 #1
Bosco Has His Day
Carl's dog Bosco learns to retrieve with some help from a tiny radio receiver.
August 1956: V5 #2
Electronic Beach Buggy
An RC wagon carrying Jerry's metal detector foils a counterfeiting ring.
September 1956: V5 #3
Abetting or Not?
The boys' 2.4 GHz radio interferes with the local police radar speed trap.
October 1956 V5 #4
Jerry explains to Carl how electric eels generate electricity.
November 1956: V5 #5
Extra-Sensory Perception
The boys build a covert radio transceiver and fake psychic powers.
December 1956: V5 #6
The "Meller Smeller"
An attempt to remove odors with high voltage fails spectacularly.
January 1957: V6 #1
Electronic Cops and Robbers
The boys bust a car-theft ring with radio direction-finding gear.
February 1957: V6 #2
The Secret of Round Island
A radio-triggered camera on a kite reveals a bootlegging operation.
March 1957: V6 #3
Strange Voices
A neighbor's wireless headphones bleed into the boys' VLF loop antenna.
April 1957: V6 #4
"Holes" to the Rescue
A transistorized SW converter allows the boys to call for help on 10M.
May 1957: V6 #5
Out of the Depths
While recording fish sounds in an old quarry, the boys rescue a cat.
June 1957: V6 #6
Brain Waves
Jerry tries to read Carl's brain waves, and reads the wall clock instead.
July 1957: V7 #1
A Crusoe Caper
Lost in a storm, the boys call SOS using the magneto of an outboard motor.
August 1957: V7 #2
Electronic Shadow
C&J's homebrew radio-equipped gyrocompass foils a bank robber.
September 1957: V7 #3
The Cat Gets a Treatment
The boys use a CB transmitter as a diathermy machine to help their cat.
October 1957: V7 #4
The Demonstration
The boys "enhance" a Wimhurst machine with a hidden Tesla coil.
November 1957: V7 #5
Santa Knows All
Carl and Jerry rig a hidden transmitter for a department-store Santa.
December 1957: V7 #6
Cupid and the Ions
A mood-boosting ion generator makes Norma's boyfriend's hair stand on end.
January 1958: V8 #1
Electronic Detective
The boys plant a miniature transmitter in a cap gun to nab a young shoplifter.
February 1958: V8 #2
A Nickel's Worth
A coin cell allows the boys to signal for help when they're trapped in a coal bin.
March 1958: V8 #3
Little Drops of Water
A moisture sensor, a window closer, and a water pistol nab a second-story man.
April 1958: V8 #4
A fish with an ultrasonic tag helps the boys find a school of bluegills.
May 1958: V8 #5
The Tele-Tattletail
Jerry's lashup telemetry system keeps two small boys from learning to smoke.
June 1958: V8 #6
Parfum Electronique
An electronic odor generator drives off yet another of Norma's boyfriends.
July 1958: V9 #1
Cow-Cow Boogie
A radio-equipped, booze-loving cow helps nab a gang of bootleggers.
August 1958: V9 #2
Vox Elektronique
Carl overly impresses a girl with a radio-assisted ventriloquist's dummy.
September 1958: V9 #3
Too Close for Comfort
Jerry's RC plane carries a rescue line to swimmers trapped in a flooded river.
October 1958: V9 #4
Command Performance
A neon sign transformer adds some sparks to a sword fight in the Latin Club play.
November 1958: V9 #5
Under the Misteltoe
Carl's shocking 130V anti-misteltoe scheme backfires—and he gets kissed!
December 1958: V9 #6
Little "Bug" with Big Ears
The boys create a sensitive phone bug to help police nab a kidnaper.
January 1959: V10 #1
Dog Teaches Boy
Jerry demos 117V safety with a line-voltage hot dog cooker.
February 1959: V10 #2
He Went That-A-Way
A 1-way gate keeps a skunk from living under Carl's house—and starts a fight.
March 1959: V10 #3
How I Wonder What You Are
The boys rig a fake satellite to show Mr. Gruber that his eyes are still OK.
April 1959: V10 #4
The boys turn a cheating baseball team's technology against them.
May 1959: V10 #5
Dog Psychologists
The boys use Bosco's radio training cap to teach him to hunt mushrooms.
June 1959: V10 #6
The Blubber Banisher
Norma uses the boys' shock-mode exercise timer to repel a masher.
July 1959: V11 #1
Away From It All
The boys fix a game warden's radio and help nab a pair of illegal spear-fishers.
August 1959: V11 #2
The Surrogate Mother
The boys build an automated nursing box to save a pair of orphaned puppies.
September 1959: V11 #3
Out of the Shadow
The boys' cloud-speed sensor detects a forest fire before it can spread.
October 1959: V11 #4
The Ghost Talks
Selsyn motors and a glowing skull haunt a house for Norma's sorority.
November 1959: V11 #5
Tipsy, Jr.
A modded police speed radar detects a thief's iceboat on a frozen lake.
December 1959: V11 #6
Whirling Wheel Magic
A small gyroscope on a timer catches an unwary assembly plant thief.
January 1960: V12 #1
Jerry hacks a car radio into a crude AM transmitter to call for help in a storm.
February 1960: V12 #2
A Hot Idea
Jerry's thermistor wind speed meter inadvertently becomes a fire alarm.
March 1960: V12 #3
El Torero Electronico
Carl's RC plane distracts an angry bull so that the boys can get away.
April 1960: V12 #4
The Black Beast
A remote capacitance-operated relay reveals a cave photographer.
May 1960: V12 #5
Two Tough Customers
The boys buy their first car after checking it with a contact mike.
June 1960: V12 #6
Tussle with a Tachometer
Carl explains how car tachometers work, then the boys build and calibrate one.
July 1960: V13 #1
Electronic Lifeline
The boys' homebrew 10M HTs help rescue a pair of greenhorn boaters.
August 1960: V13 #2
A tape recording of a stolen car's tach leads the boys to a stash of cash.
September 1960: V13 #3
The Crazy Clock Caper
The boys track down a problem in their school's synchronized wall clocks.
October 1960: V13 #4
The Hand of Selene
A mannequin hand with a radio-controlled electromagnet is a hit at Norma's seance.
November 1960: V13 #5
The Snow Machine
Mr. Gruber uses a superpower ultrasonic audio oscillator to make it snow...maybe!
December 1960: V13 #6
A Rough Night
The boys' mobile rig solves a crisis during an ice storm.
January 1961: V14 #1
Below the Red
An infrared communicator helps Chief Morton catch some dope pushers.
February 1961: V14 #2
A Low Blow
Jerry builds an "infrasonic" mic and uses it to listen for tornadoes.
March 1961: V14 #3
Therry and the Pirates
Carl straps a theremin to his back to improve his basketball free throw.
April 1961: V14 #4
Operation Worm Warming
The boys attempt underground radio transmission and get stuck in a cave.
May 1961: V14 #5
First Case
The boys find that a neighbor girl's crystal set is producing TVI.
June 1961: V14 #6
Treachery of Judas
The boys use a hidden microphone to help a G-Man foil a communist plot.
July 1961: V15 #1
Too Lucky
A boater's malfunctioning SCR lamp dimmer is found to be shocking fish.
August 1961: V15 #2
Off to a Bad Start
The boys arrive at Parvoo and rig an intercom in a mailbox for a prank.
September 1961: V15 #3
Blackmailing a Blonde
The boys blackmail a trophy-stealing coed with a highly directional mic.
October 1961: V15 #4
Substitute Sandman
Jerry's sleep-learning experiment is hijacked by a campus hypnosis expert.
November 1961: V15 #5
The Bell Bull Session
December 1961: V15 #6
Wired Wireless
The boys trace a mysterious jammer of Parvoo's carrier-current AM station.
January 1962: V16 #1
Wrecked By a Wagon Train
A fleeing thief is caught by timing a TV episode of Wagon Train.
February 1962: V16 #2
Tunnel Stomping
The boys meet a female ham at Parvoo while exploring the steam tunnels.
March 1962: V16 #3
Front-end overload of a tape recorder humbles an obnoxious ROTC officer.
April 1962: V16 #4
The Sparking Light
The boys hack the campus wolf's headlights to help their lady friend.
May 1962: V16 #5
Pure Research Rewarded
The boys make a telephone out of a TV set to foil a murder plot on a judge.
June 1962: V16 #6
River Sniffer
A simple pH bridge locates a source of fish-killing acid pollution in a river.
July 1962: V17 #1
Electronic Eraser
A homebrew bulk tape eraser kills a spy's tape without him knowing it.
August 1962: V17 #2
Clinging Vine
Jerry tests an underwater speaker and gets tangled in wire on a lake bottom.
September 1962: V17 #3
Difference Detector
Carl boosts a shy girl's status with a fake "sex appeal" detector.
October 1962: V17 #4
Hello-o-o-o There!
The boys use a mechanical-readout sonar unit to find a lost plaque in the river.
November 1962: V17 #5
Aiding an Instinct
Carl fakes "homing pigeon" sense with a gadget that detects buried conduit.
December 1962: V17 #6
Stereotaped New Year
A stereo tape recording brings Mr. Gruber out of his depression.
January 1963: V18 #1
John Frye is ill and there is no story this issue, per a note on P. 93.
February 1963: V18 #2
Succoring a Soroban
Both sides cheat in a duel between an abacus and paper & pencil arithmetic.
March 1963: V18 #3
Slow Motion for Quick Action
A phono cartridge transducer records the settling of an old wooden bridge.
April 1963: V18 #4
The Sucker
The boys foil a thief using suction to open remote-operated car trunks.
May 1963: V18 #5
Elementary Induction
C&J's 6-meter mobile rig detonates a bomb intended to kill a visiting official.
June 1963: V18 #6
Extracurricular Education
Trapped under a car, the boys rig a spark transmitter from the ignition coil.
July 1963: V19 #1
Sonar Sleuthing
C&J's paint-can sonar unit finds a hoard of stolen cash in a flooded quarry.
August 1963: V19 #2
"All's Fair-"
A hacked garage-door opener receiver helps catch a gang of car thieves.
September 1963: V19 #3
High-Toned Hawkshaw
C&J spot a student using ultrasonic sound to rattle campus coeds.
October 1963: V19 #4
The Lightning Bug
The boys build a bug-shaped beambot to scare Jodi's sorority pledges.
November 1963: V19 #5
Joking and Jeopardy
The boys' audio-controlled submarine rescues a man who falls through thin ice.
December 1963: V19 #6
The Girl Detector
A hidden thermistor at calf-level tells girls from boys at a fraternity dance.
January 1964: V20 #1
Pi in the Sky and Big Twist
The boys alert a school to a tornado by way of a flying educational TV station.
February 1964: V20 #2
The Hot, Hot Meter
Radioactive paint helps nab a thief stealing meters from a defense plant.
March 1964: V20 #3
The Educated Nursing Bottle
The boys build a Proton Precession Magnetometer to hunt for treasure.
April 1964: V20 #4
For the Birds
Recorded crow distress calls prompt an attack by a flock of angry crows.
May 1964: V20 #5
A bad flood in C&J's home town forces hams and CBers to work together.
June 1964: V20 #6
Bee's Knees
An attempt to quiet a hive of bees with a loud audio tone fails spectacularly.
July 1964: V21 #1
(No story)
August 1964: V21 #2
A Jarring Incident
The boys covertly attach a crash beacon to a car to thwart an insurance fraud plot.
September 1964: V21 #3

(No story)
October 1964: V21 #4
The Electronic Bloodhound
A gas detector foils a robber by detecting dry cleaning fluid on some currency.
November 1964: V21 #5

(No story)
December 1964: V21 #6

* Six of the stories in 1955 were not given titles by the author or the magazine, so the titles shown here are my fabrications, based on what the stories were about.

Above is something I've wanted to post for a long time: A complete index of all known Carl & Jerry adventures by John T. Frye. There are 119 in all. In the left half of the index are the title, issue date, and volume number. In the right half are two-line capsule summaries of each episode, so that you can more easily spot your favorite episodes, which most people recall by "what happened" rather than by title or issue.

The color coding is significant. As I explain below, I'm in the process of republishing the full run of Carl and Jerry as five anthologies, and each anthology in the series is color-coded to the index. The cover of the first book is blue. The cover of the second book is mauve. The cover of the third book is yellow, and so on. The color of any given story's title in the index tells you which volume the story is in.

I will be releasing a number of the stories as standalone PDF documents, which may be downloaded without charge and freely distributed. The title to these stories will be in bold, and the link to those stories will be the issue date. If the issue date is underlined, that means there's a downloadable PDF behind it. Keep in mind that these PDF files are typically 2 MB in size, so plan your download time accordingly. A new one will be posted every few weeks, as time allows, so do check back regularly!

As well-known as he was among those who grew up reading his articles, little has ever been written about John T. Frye himself. Setting this right has taken more time and more work than I had expected, and I want to thank several people for digging around and locating what data there is, especially Michael Holley and Bob Ballantine W8SU.

US Census records tell us that John Frye was born in Poinsett County, Arkansas on March 14, 1910. He was the second son of Orton P. and Essie Frye. His older brother Parker was born in 1905. Orton Frye was listed as owner of a sawmill in 1910, and in 1920 owned a machine shop in West Prairie, Arkansas, with his son Parker working there with him. The 1930 census shows the Frye family as moved to Logansport, Indiana, and living at 1810 Spear St., the house where John lived, as best we know, for the rest of his life. (The 1940 census records are still sealed, and will not be released until 2012.) Orton P. Frye is not shown in the Social Security Death Index, and it may be that he died before the Social Security system was put in place in the late 1930s. Essie lived to be 91, and died in 1974. Parker A. Frye died in 1971 in Park Ridge, Illinois, where he had lived for some time. No evidence has ever come to light indicating that Frye married or had children.

Quite a few Fryes lived in west-central Indiana, and some even in Logansport. This has caused some confusion: There was another John T. Frye living in Camden, Indiana, from 1932-1976, and Camden is only fifteen miles from Logansport. This other John T. Frye married in 1955 and had two sons. Several people wrote to tell me that John Frye had a brother, Samuel Bailey Frye, in Logansport, as well as a sister Eunice. Bailey was a ham (WA9OWH) and died only recently (2008) at age 90. However, Bailey's obituary does not mention John T. Frye, nor do the census records include Bailey in John Frye's family, so we can only assume he was unrelated, or perhaps a cousin. (Ditto Eunice.)

Amazingly, he spent virtually all of his life in a wheelchair due to a battle with polio when he was eighteen months old, and was never able to walk. The disease also affected his left hand, which he could use only imprecisely, and with difficulty. His father (who was a machinist) built a very maneauverable three-wheeled scooter out of a girl's tricycle, and John used that to get around his small and presumably crowded house for many years—the photo below shows John in the scooter when he was 66. He had several cars fitted out with hand controls and did a great deal of traveling around the United States. We know that he had a 1963 Olds Dynamic 88; legend holds that he favored Buicks, but we do not have confirming data at this time.

(The photo is a screen capture of a microfiche scan of a 1976 newspaper halftone, so alas, only so much can be done with it!)

Frye was licensed as W9EGV in the 1920s, and graduated from Logansport High School in 1930. Most people have assumed that he attended Purdue University because of Carl & Jerry's college career at fictional Parvoo, which shares details with Purdue in only the thinnest disguises (like the Moss-Ade Stadium instead of Purdue's Ross-Ade Stadium) and sometimes, as with the Purdue/Parvoo radio station WCCR, no disguise at all. But as best we know, he never attended Purdue, and in fact did not study engineering at all. He did attend Indiana University, Columbia, and the University of Chicago at one point or another, studying psychology, journalism, history, and English. We do not know whether or where he obtained a degree.

Studying journalism and English clearly paid off. Frye was a very prolific contributor to the electronics and amateur radio magazines, with supposedly 600 short pieces to his credit. The earliest published works I've seen in the literature are a series of short humorous items (titled "Phone Band Funnies") in QST beginning August, 1947. However, he supposedly first appeared in Gernsback's seminal Short Wave Craft (ancestor of Radio-Electronics) in the early 1930s. (The magazine's covers are classics.) He began writing a column called “Mac’s Service Shop” in Radio & Television News in April 1948, and it ran in one magazine or another (including Electronics World, another Ziff-Davis publication) for 28 years, until June, 1977. There are superficial resemblances between "Mac's Service Shop" and Carl and Jerry: The column is nominally fiction, in which "Mac," the owner of a radio and TV service shop, talks about both the technical and business aspects of the radio/TV service business to other people, often his sole and slightly clueless employee, Barney. However, there is no "adventure" and the action doesn't typically move beyond the shop. For a sample of "Mac's Service Shop" in its later years, you can see scans of the August 1975 column hosted here.

In addition to his short articles, John Frye wrote a couple of very popular books on radio and servicing:

  • Basic Radio Course (Gernsback Library #44) first published in 1951, revised in 1955 and 1962, and reprinted by Tab at least as late as 1977.
  • Radio Receiver Servicing, 1960.

Copies of these come up on Amazon and ABEBooks regularly, and if you collect or restore old radios they are well worth having. They are not especially rare, and I paid about $10 each for nice clean hardcovers. Basic Radio Course is a excellent overview of AM radio tech circa 1950, well-written, and printed on a coated paper that has survived well without yellowing or getting crumbly. The 1962 edition adds some limited coverage of solid state theory. Interestingly, my research has not shown a copyright renewal for either Basic Radio Course or Radio Receiver Servicing, and so their copyrights have probably expired and both have now passed into the public domain.

From his writing it's clear that Frye knew the radios and TVs of his era inside and out, but I've been unable to determine where he learned the service trade, nor whether he worked in the service field. We have no evidence that he owned his own service shop, but from his nearly thirty years of Mac's columns it sure sounds like he did!

A good many of the details we know about Frye's life are summarized in a short 1962 article in the Logansport newspaper announcing the release of an updated edition of Basic Radio Course. (The photo was actually taken in 1951, and appears in another short article announcing the release of the book's first edition in that year.) Many thanks to Lisa Enfinger for passing a scan of this along to me. Doesn't Frye look a lot like a grown-up Jerry in the photo?

Lisa also provided a clue as to why Frye patterned Parvoo University on Purdue: Her parents were very close friends of Frye's, and both studied chemistry at Purdue in Frye's era. Frye maintained a lively correspondence with both William and Margie McCaughey for many years, and probably visited them while they earned their degrees at Purdue in the late 1940s. Even after her parents moved to Tucson to teach at the University of Arizona, her mother (and Lisa too) would return to Logansport in the summers to visit, and then spent a fair amount of time with John, who would take young Lisa to the park on the Eel River in Logansport and buy her rides on their merry-go-round. Lisa's great-grandparents lived right across the street from Frye, on Spear Street in Logansport. Her father, Dr. William. F. "Mac" McCaughey, K7CET, may have been the namesake of the narrator of Mac's Service Shop. Lisa's mother's uncle, Eugene Buntain, was a classmate of Frye's at Logansport High School. The two discovered electronics and ham radio at the school and were close friends; Lisa wonders if Uncle Gene were the inspiration for Carl.

Why did Frye stop writing "Carl & Jerry"? A couple of old-timers have hinted that he had had a falling-out with the editors at Popular Electronics toward the end of 1964. This is suggested by the fact that he began publishing a lot of articles in PE's main competitor, Electronics Illustrated, early in 1965. I do not have all issues of EI from that era, but Frye appeared in the July 1964 issue with "A Basic Course in Vacuum Tubes." From 1965 into late 1967 he was in most issues of EI with a couple of multipart tutorials: "The ABCs of Radio" beginning in September 1965, and "The ABCs of Color TV" beginning in January 1967. The last issue I have in which Frye appears is September, 1967—which is also when my subscription to EI expired. I have a handful of issues from 1968, and Frye does not appear in any of them, nor does he appear in any issues of Popular Electronics after that. "Mac's Service Shop" ran until 1977, but Frye's other writing seems to have ceased ten years earlier.

John T. Frye died in January, 1985, at his home in Logansport.

As always, I'd love to hear from you if you have additional details about John T. Frye's life and work beyond what I've posted here.

Back in 2006, I tried to locate a few of my favorite Carl and Jerry adventures, and discovered that old back issues of Popular Electronics are not easy to come by, and not always cheap. Being a technical book publisher in my day job, I had the notion that an anthology of Carl and Jerry stories would be a good thing to put together, before the old magazines either crumbled to dust or ended up in landfills as their owners passed on. After all, the first Carl and Jerry story—in the very first issue of Popular Electronics—is now over half a century old. Time flies when you're down in the basement building things, sheesh.

So I located the owner of the Carl and Jerry copyrights, and obtained permission to republish them in anthology form. As I cornered an ever-larger pile of the magazines on eBay, I realized that a single book would not do it. There are 119 stories in all, representing close to 250,000 words and 300 illustrations. The five anthologies together will include every Carl and Jerry story by John T. Frye, including all the original illustrations. The stories will be published in chronological order, by issue date. In general, there are two years' worth of stories in each volume. The final volume contains a "topic index" to all 119 stories, plus two brand new stories by long-time Carl and Jerry fans.

All five books are now available, and may be ordered from Lulu.com. Click on the book volume links below to order.

Available now:
Volume 1: 1954-1956







Available now:
Volume 2: 1957-1958







Available now:
Volume 3: 1959-1960







Available now:
Volume 4: 1961-1962







Available now:
Volume 5: 1963-1964







Note: The anthologies are printed and sold one at a time by print-on-demand technology, and thus will not be available from bookstores. Alas, this means that you can't order them "overnight" as the Lulu system takes between 3 and 5 days to manufacture each book before the book is shipped.