Kenmare ND - Upside Down Under

Real People. Real Jobs. Real Adventures.

Upside Down Under

By Marvin Baker, a new weekly column in The Kenmare News


The ATR-75, a special gadget...

Posted 10/17/17 (Tue)

It was 1980 and I was at a Kulm-Edgeley Dam party when one of my friends, Kent Meidinger, asked me to analyze his car radio.

He had the standard car stereo that most of the rest of us had, however, there was one piece of interesting equipment that revolutionized FM radio, at least on the northern Great Plains.

Kent had a little gadget called an ATR-75. It was an attenuator made by Pioneer that for all intents and purposes, provided a stunning example of beyond-line-of-sight FM radio reception.

At that time and among my friends, we all carefully read the specifications on car stereo equipment before we made purchases.

Some of us had Pioneer, some of us had Alpine and some of us had Kenwood. It was a personal preference, but all three had, at the time, superior specs for FM radio.

Unfortunately, the wow and flutter and signal-to-noise ratio could only do so much, until Kent discovered this ATR-75 device.

For those of us who were living in Edgeley in those days, we needed the best we could get as well as powerful boosters to enhance any signal beyond Jamestown.

Aberdeen had one FM station, Bismarck had two FM stations, but the good radio stations were in Fargo, 98 miles northeast as the crow flies and out of reach until Kent demonstrated his ATR-75.

In those days, KQWB, or Q-98 was the holy grail of Fargo radio and Kent was getting it on 98.7 FM. He also received several  other Fargo stations.

The best way I can describe this widget is that it didn’t use electricity, instead, it was hooked up to the antenna wire between the radio and the antenna.

All it had was a toggle switch, one side for local and one side for distance or DX.

It was designed in Japan to jam weak nearby radio stations that were on the same frequency as local stations.

But out here on the prairie, it had exactly the opposite effect. Because there were too few radio stations between Winnipeg and Rapid City, when the toggle was switched to DX, that scratching noise you hear on empty FM frequencies disappeared, but the signals of distant radio stations were left intact.

I was broke at the time, but I ordered two ATR-75’s at $25 because that thing was remarkable.

It meant we could listen to Fargo, Bismarck, Grand Forks and even Winnipeg at times.

Then, in September 1982, I was in Hazelton tuning through the dial using the ATR-75 and picked up KSQY, 95.1 FM in Rapid City.

The station had just gone on the air that weekend and had a contest. The person listening from the farthest distance would win a trip to the Black Hills.

I was listening from 310 miles away, with a Kenwood car radio using the ATR-75 and a copper antenna.

I sent in my entry, but wasn’t the winner of the free trip. Somebody from Guadalajara must have been listening!

Instead “K-SKY” recognized me as one of the first 100 listeners of the radio station and sent me a certificate that I still possess.

I often listened to KSQY until I moved to northwest North Dakota in 2000, putting it out of reach.

At some point, I stored the ATR-75 away with the rest of my antenna wires, boosters and antennas.

About two years ago I decided I wanted to enhance an already remarkable FM radio in my Ford F-150 and began digging through the garage to find the ATR-75.

I found it, tore the dash apart, removed the radio, only to find Ford decided to use a special connector instead of the standard antenna connectors.

I ordered one, it came and once again, tore the dash apart, removed the radio, hooked the ATR-75 up to the antenna wire and the result was no different than the reception on the factory radio.

You can imagine how disappointed I was because for 15 years, that ATR-75 brought beyond line-of-sight FM to my radio dial.

But in northwestern North Dakota, the sensitivity of the Ford factory radio delivers FM radio stations from as far away as Devils Lake and Weyburn.

My wife told me that I had to remember that there had been 35 years of technology that was built into the factory radio that essentially made the ATR-75 obsolete.

But it was a dandy while it lasted and I thank Kent Meidinger for finding it in a catalog and showing it to another radio enthusiast.

Regardless, Kent Meidinger and I had a lot of fun proving FM signals travel beyond line of sight and can be received on a mobile antenna and heard on car radio.