By Jon Mitchell, KD3FG.
I stopped by Camp Shohola while on a trip to the Delaware Water Gap and the Pocono Mountains and visited with Tom Gibson, WA3HWY a fifty year veteran of camp. I wanted to see what was new (and old) at the Camp Shohola Communications and Technology Center where I worked more than twenty years ago.
I was pleased to see that after more than 35 years of continuous summer operation, good old Wild Camp Shohola Radio was still running! Tom has put together an incredible program of communications and technology related activities. Since 1972, more than 4000 boys have learned how to operate a broadcast console and be a DJ at Camp Shohola. Although they now use modern computers for production and audio editing, they still teach tape splicing, dubbing and multi-tracking techniques. Camp Shohola was the first summer camp to teach radio broadcasting and continues with the finest and most up to date instruction including: play by play sports broadcasting and news gathering using remote broadcasting equipment, weather forecasting, announcing, console operation and modern digital production techniques.
However, they have not forgotten the roots of radio broadcasting and maintain a fully operational AM broadcast facility as it would appear more than fifty years ago. The Collins model 12H broadcast console was manufactured in 1936 and is a certified operating antique. It is the oldest operating broadcast console in the world and had been modified very little from its construction. Some of the tubes and capacitors have never been replaced, and all audio transformers, potentiometers, and switches are original. The total weight of the console exceeds 150 pounds including the external power supply.
There is also a fully operational 1938 Model 15 Teletype news printer. The wire service is set up to demonstrate how news would be prepared in a typical radio station news room fifty years ago. The copy is actually sent from a computer using a program that emulates the obsolete, five level, 67 WPM baudot code. And yes, we have four cases of canary yellow paper, two boxes of cotton ribbons and plenty of replacement springs, cams and levers for the inevitable repair. The station also has five broadcast cart machines, four open reel recorders, six turntables, and 17 microphones, some more than 50 years old. Please notice the 1930's RCA boom microphone stand and audio monitor enclosure in the picture on the left.
The Strowger "Step By Step" Telephone Switching System.
Tom started the camp wide manually operated phone system in 1974, added the first Strowger Switching System in 1979, the electronic key system in 1983 and the computer interface in 1992. He is demonstrating how to use the first console where phone connections were made by switching lines together manually by an operator, (usually the boys operating the radio station). All of the cabin phones are still routed through the old manual switching system, which remains fully operational for use during radio station call in contests. The system has been struck many times by Pocono Mountain electrical storms. During one storm, "Ball Lightning", a rare natural phenomenon, formed over the manual switching system. The blueish hissing ball was about eight inches in diameter and remained in the room for more than 15 seconds. It extinguished with a slight "POP" and left a carbon residue on the ceiling which remains today. In most cases the only repair need is to replace a fuse or two. The system is well grounded and protected by gas discharge and wire fuses. It is rare when it is necessary to change out a relay or other electronic component.
Thanks to the Lackawaxen Telephone Company (685 prefix with less than 2000 subscribers), their friendly and superb local communications service provider and one of the few remaining 'independent telcos' in the U.S., the telephone system is the only Strowger system in the country connected to the international telephone network and still operating in commercial service. When family and friends telephone anyone at camp, they are talking through the antique switch. All switching contacts are routinely cleaned and maintained for top operating efficiency.
The camp system is connected to the outside world through an old PC which records the dialed number, duration and actual time of all outgoing calls. The computer also routes calls to one of three different carriers for the lowest rates and even provides call accounting with account codes for LD access. All six Camp Shohola external phone lines enter through the CommTech building where they are processed and connected to our switching system. Incoming and outgoing calls can be accessed from any camp phone. Some of the features offered include, call forwarding, conference calls and full operator services such as 911 emergency, 611 repair and 411 directory assistance.
Each summer Tom prints a 10 page directory for the 280+ users of the system. The directory even includes a Yellow Page and a map of the camp. For more information about Tom, his family and his many interests, please visit Tom's Web site.
The picture above is one of the camper cabins at Camp Shohola and is the last one in which I was a counselor in 1985. The cabin also housed the radio station before 1973.