The definition of astatic that best suits the D-104 line of microphones is the one immediately above: having no particular directional characteristics. For years this mic dubbed the “lollypop” has been the most sensitive microphone known in the communications field. They have the capability of picking up everything in a room and more.
I remember years ago operators testing their D-104 mics on their Browning and Tram radios, by leaving them keyed while they walked out of the room and kept talking. Some could go to the other end of the house and still have decent modulation. Moreover, I’m referring to the days before these mics were amplified.
Of course, these mics would also pick up the TV, Stereo, people talking in the other room and even activities going on outside the house. Even back then most everyone had his or her radios turned up including the modulation. In addition, many of the high-end tube radios had capabilities of extremely high audio gain and no front panel control.
This meant once the radio was back from the shop; you had no control over the modulation with these non-amplified D-104s. This gave the microphone a bad name in some circles. However, the fault wasn’t in the mic, it was in the radio set-up. Some operators actually put a heavy sock over the mike to cut the sensitivity down and still had 100% modulation 3 feet away.
Before long, the transistorized CB made the scene. These radios, for the most part, required low impedance microphones. The non-amplified D-104 with either the crystal or ceramic cartridge are high impedance mics and won’t work with a low impedance radio.
To accommodate the newer radios Astatic came out with the preamplifier kit that could be retrofitted to any existing D-104. Later they manufactured two types of D-104s, one amplified and one not. The amplified version was designed primarily with impedance matching in mind, although it had substantial output gain over the non-amplified unit. This kept them in the CB market as the tube radios were quickly disappearing while keeping the Astatic signature sound in the CB market for more generations.
As well as being popular with the CB community, the D-104 was the favorite of amateur radio operators. After all, it was designed for this market and brought to it by Ham radio operators. As you will see in the Astatic Story provided from their web site, this microphone replaced the old carbon mic elements.
If you ever heard one of these in use, you would understand how remarkable the new crystal elements were in their time. The carbon element was low gain, and flat sounding to be generous. No longer did these amateur radio operators have to hold the microphone up to their mouth to be heard. The D104 was the perfect addition to the old tube type amateur radios. Their clear clean reproductive quality was a perfect complement to these AM transceivers.
As sideband became popular, these mics were still widely used, but some operators didn’t appreciate the higher frequency response or the high sensitivity on these narrowband audio sensitive transmitters. Many preferred a lower tone, which gave the transmission a smoother sound. This along with newer transistorized transceivers brought about the development of new dynamic microphones. Astatic was no exception; they developed the 10-DA dynamic head for the D-104 stand. This dynamic head worked on either the amplified or the non-amplified stand.
The 10-DA head was less popular with the CB crowd. Most CBers with sideband radios either didn’t use sideband or used both modes and preferred the crystal or ceramic element sound on both.
Many CB base stations came with D-104 mics as stock mics. Although many Browning base radios had D-104 used on them, this wasn’t the stock mic. The stock mic that came with the Browning base was the banana mic manufactured by Electro-Voice. Browning, however, did offer the Astatic D-104 with the Browning logo on the back of the head as an option.
Tram supplied the D-104 base mike with their Titan III, Titan IV, D201, and their D210A base stations. The ARF 2001 radio CB base station came with a custom D-104. This mic was amplified and was a power from the radio through one of the pins of the microphone jack. Don Stoner provided a non-amplified version of the D-104 with his sideband only Pro-40 CB transceiver. This radio had a solid-state mic preamp that worked with the high impedance D-104 mic.
The audio tailoring proved this mic could have an excellent smooth tone, which was perfect for sideband. Don was one to prove so-called conventional wisdom false. There may be many other radios that supplied or offered the D-104 base mic with their equipment that I’m unaware of, but these examples indicate the popularity and impact the Astatic company made in communications over the years.
Astatic built on their flagship hammer-tone gray and chrome microphone continuing to add models to the line. They added the Silver Eagle all chrome version with the eagle logo on the back. They also added the Special, a black and chrome version. Then came the gold plated serialized Golden Eagle.
To compete with the Turner base mics they added the push-bar making the mic more versatile. Now the mic could be keyed from the sidebar (chicken-choker) or the push-bar on the base of the mic. Then came the Silver Eagle Plus. This was a Silver Eagle with a new PC board.
This mic had an ETS (end of the transmission or roger) beep and a -20dB pad as well as the mic gains control on the bottom. This mic wasn’t very popular as it had some design problems. It incorporated a latching relay and triggering circuit for low battery drain. Once the battery started to lose its power, the mic would sometimes fail to the key or remain keyed after the bar was released.
Otherwise, it sounded like the standard Silver Eagle. To follow were the Night Eagle and K Eagle models with their roger-k and multi-tone ETS. Another serialized version that came out amidst these latter versions was the Diamond Eagle. This completely brass plated mic incorporated a small diamond embedded in the eagle logo backplate of the mic.
All these models were produced to increase their market share and toward the end to aid sagging sales. The radios manufacturers that supplied the D-104 microphones produced high-end high-quality communications gear. By the way, all manufactured in the United States of America. Once CB and Amateur equipment were produced of the shore, quality microphones were not supplied with these low-cost alternatives.
The way they shifted the market to imports was through price. The amateur radio manufacturers such as Icom, Kenwood, and Yaesu developed their own microphones with Up/Down buttons to control frequency selection from the mic and amplified versions powered from the radio. Amateur radio has become a hobby of convenience rather than experimental hobby radio. In some aspects, CB is more of an experimental hobby radio than ham radio. Over the years, CB and 10 Meter base stations sales have also diminished.
When Astatic attempted a price increase years ago, everyone in the business protested. This forced Astatic to look elsewhere for the manufacturing of many mechanical parts. Over the years radio, many dealers have faced the situation and kept the D-104 under that magic $100.00 threshold, making less on every sale. But knowing that very few failures occur in this product, returns were almost unheard of, so lost profits were better than getting a high volume of returns that occur with many of the imported mics.
Well, it’s the diminishing sales of the D-104 line of base microphones responsible for this new product and a sad chapter in the Astatic history. I have contacted the people of Astatic for further information, but I haven’t received a call from the contact person that was supposed to call with additional information.
I can tell you that a decision was made quite a while ago to discontinue the base microphones. I’m not sure if the EchoMax 2000 is included, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it were. Base mic sales are down across the board. Additionally, CTI Audio, the parent company of Astatic was purchased by Omnitronics, LLC. According to the sales representative I spoke to, there will be no change in the day-to-day operations or in the current staff.
They will continue to produce the consumer handheld microphones as well as their commercial products. This is the usual blanket statement that is made in these situations. In most cases, major changes occur once the new organization gets a feel for what’s needed to make the company perform to their expectations. We will just have to wait and hope for the best. I’m sorry to say, I believe I was right when I predicted that the CTIs purchase of Valor was a mistake and could drag them down.
Valor was a failing company well in debt, producing and importing generic CB accessories that anyone including distributors could do on their own, eliminating the middle man. There were no unique products in their line, so why would someone pay more for the Valor name?
Well finally to the heart of the story. The new Astatic Final Edition Silver Eagle is a working microphone, that you may never want to use because it comes in an impressive display case. The case is constructed of light-gauge aluminum, aluminum extrusion, and glass. The front door is hinged and has a unique chrome latch. A little pricey at $199.95, but it is a nice collector piece. The mic itself does look as if extra care was taken in the chrome plating process and is highly polished.
One distributor is advertising the case as a glass enclosure; undoubtedly this will filter down through some dealers and to the public. Please correct anyone that is under this impression. This will save them from a disappointment if they make the purchase under the wrong impression. The enclosure has heavy-duty foam in the bottom with additional pieces fitted to hold it centered in the enclosure.
The mic cord is concealed under the foam base. There is a split foam top to keep the mic in place during shipping. They can be left in place or removed for an unobstructed view of the microphone head. Placed in the rear of the display case is the signed Certificate of Authenticity. The signatures of the President, Chief Operating Officer, and the Production Supervisor are on the certificate.
The Astatic Story
The following was excerpted from the 1946 Astatic Catalogue.
Away back in 1930, two radio amateurs, C. M. Chorpening, W8WR (now W8MJM), and F. H. Woodworth, W8AHW, both of Youngstown Ohio, began searching for a better microphone for their phone transmitters. Up until this time they had been using various carbon type microphones. The condenser type appealed to them as an answer to their problem. Several units were designed and given trials on the air. Before long, other amateurs among their acquaintance began visiting their shacks, interested in either building or buying this new type of “mike.” Chorpening and Woodworth, encouraged by this interest, decided to form a partnership and build these units for their friends. While the condenser unit proved reasonably satisfactory, it had certain limitations which it was hoped could eventually be overcome.
NEW ELEMENT SUGGESTED
It was about this time that an old acquaintance, Mr. Charles E. Semple of Cleveland, who had been visiting his “ham” friends frequently, invited them to pay him a visit. With a background of phonograph and loudspeaker experience, Mr. Semple was then occupying bench space in the Brush Laboratories, experimenting with elements made from Rochelle Salts, (Sodium Potassium Tartrate). Through Mr. Semple, the two visitors met A. L. Williams, electrical and mechanical engineer, and Dr. C. B Sawyer, scientists, who demonstrated the action of these new elements in relation to microphones, phonograph pickups, speakers, recording heads, earphones and other devices where it was desired to transform mechanical energy into electrical energy or the reverse. Here, it seemed, they had found the answer to a simple, low-cost, dependable “mike” for the “ham rig.”
A group of Astatic officials and employees, in those early days.
INCORPORATED IN 1933
By 1933, Chorpening and Woodworth found it advisable to incorporate a manufacturing and sales company and to branch out with a line of Crystal Microphones, Crystal Phonograph Pickups and Recording heads for manufacturers and Radio Jobbers. Mr. Semple was brought into the new organization as a designer and later served as general manager until his death in 1939.
Main Plant and Offices of The Astatic Corporation at Conneaut, Ohio (1946)
Thanks go to Keith P. Graham for putting together this history page.