Antenna for Borsch


At the end of June, my parents were honored to buy a radio. The device was one of the cheapest, and therefore was one of the simplest. Our “Chaika-M” radio had long-wave, medium-wave, short-wave, ultra-short-wave ranges, as well as a turntable for records with rotation speeds of 33, 45 and 78 revolutions per minute. Many of my classmates had similar models. But I knew the attitude of my parents to such things: my father considered it philistinism, and my mother considered an excess, but I was incredibly glad even to get such a receiver. It still amazes me how my parents decided to buy a radio, but there it stood; brand new, smelling of paint, varnish, and plastic, like an alien from another world. We turned it on, and the apartment was filled with music. However, very soon, with the beginning of autumn, the radio also began to be used as a means of punishment; my mother turned it off so that it would not interfere with me doing my homework and so she could check the schoolchildrens’ notebooks and my father could rest.

But in the summer, when my father and mother were at work, I turned it on as much as I wanted, and even tried to brag to my friends. Alik Sirotenko said nothing, and Sashka Zastava looked at our radio from all sides and said: “And we have better. More ranges. The sound is adjustable; there is a timbre of high and low frequencies. There are more speakers; they stand both in front and on the sides.” We rushed to him, and for sure, his unit—with the proud label “Rigonda”—was much larger. In addition to the long-wave, medium-wave and ultra-short-wave ranges, it had two short-wave ranges as well as two obscure buttons with icons boasting the inscriptions “MP” and “STRIP.” Like at our radiola, a list of our and foreign cities was printed on the front panel of Sashka’s radio receiver, but there were many more. What we didn’t have: on the front panel there were several knobs for adjustment, and all this magnificence was crowned with a setting indicator shining with a soft green light.

I was finally finished off by the fact that Sashka’s radiola was not standing on the bedside table, but on its own legs, and it had a niche for the record disks. My friend turned on his radio, and I immediately felt the difference in sound; powerful and deep, with high ringing and low bass, the sound of the “Rigonda” was much more pleasant than the sound of our radio. Sashka turned the tuning knob, and I was amazed at the number of radio stations he found; ours caught only a few, and Sashka’s radio receiver found them on multiple bands. Of course, my friend’s radio was much more expensive than ours. His father, the head of one mine site, had a salary two or three times higher than that of my father, and he was also cheerful in nature, so I was not surprised at the presence of modern household appliances in their family.

I was put to shame. I felt sorry for our radio, as one might feel for a mental invalid or a disabled person. I began to turn it on less often and did not make the sound loud.

But once, while visiting my grandmother, I met with my old friends and told them about the radio. Vitka, by then graduating from school, scornfully scoffed and said: “The antenna needs to be made higher and more longer, and you will catch the whole world!” The next day, burning with impatience, I rushed to the library.

The librarian, Aunt Zhanna, a cousin of my mother, was there. She looked at me in surprise when she recognized the purpose of my arrival: “You need this in the city library. After all, we have a mine, we don’t prescribe this. However, look here.”

She put me at a table in the reading room and put in front of me the binder of the magazines Radio and Modelist-Designer. I began to leaf through them, and I was struck by the abundance of formulas, diagrams, and drawings. All of them were incomprehensible to me. Even if the word “antenna” was found, then, as a rule, it was combined with “-feeder,” accompanied by an incredible length of formulas that consisted of Latin letters. I was overcome by despair. In order to reduce the search time, I began to look only at the table of contents and was about to give the magazines back, but in one of the issues of Modelist-Designer, I came across the article “Antenna for a Household Radio.”

I was shocked; the note seemed simple and clear to me. I read it several times, redrew the circuits, and tried to copy the drawings, but there was still a lot of uncertainty: what is the “carrier frequency,” “inductance,” “variable capacitor,” and much more. They sounded like music to me and seemed like a pass to another world, fascinating and mysterious. But at the same time, they again plunged me into sadness; how, in fact, to do all this. I sat in longing and sorrow when Aunt Jeanne again approached me. Finding out the reason for my sadness, she offered to call the mine radio node, since it was in the next building, and I could even go there on foot. The radio center staff consisted of one person: Uncle Mitya. He was a war invalid; one leg to the knee was replaced by a wooden prosthesis made by himself. There were rumors among the people that at the front that Uncle Mitya had been a platoon commander, came under shelling, was shell-shocked, and lost his leg and hearing. His hearing recovered over time, but the leg did not grow back.

Upon learning what was needed, Uncle Mitya agreed to provide advice without any problems. Aunt Zhanna took the magazine out of the binder and handed it to me, strictly warning me to return it immediately, and I, winged, rushed off to the radio center.

Uncle Mitya stared in surprise at me: “How old are you, boy?” Upon learning that I was only ten, he patted my head and ran his eyes through the article. Everything turned out to be amazingly simple. I did not need to bother with calculations; for coils, I could take a thin tube or pencil and wrap the wire around them. To prevent the antenna from sagging, inside the turns you need to skip the rope, then tie it as high as possible to the tops of the nearest trees. Leave one end of the antenna dangling, and connect the other to the antenna terminal; with these words, he unfolded the radio receiver that was on his desk and poked his finger in the hole, next to which was an icon that looked like a fork.

“This is grounding.” He poked a finger into a neighboring hole. “Is there an old shovel, hoe, or rake? Unnecessary? Break off the iron from them, clean the piece of iron with a file, and fasten the wire with pliers. Bury it for half a meter; you can go deeper, stomp the fields with salt water.”

I remembered a fairy tale about Pinocchio and thought that Uncle Mitya was joking, but he looked at me seriously and added:

“For better conductivity. The current in the antenna will be stronger; the receiver will be better to receive.” I realized that he was not joking.

“Is there a wire?” He went to the rack and took out a coil of igniter wire. Such wire used for explosives was used in the mine during tunneling operations. Without waiting for an answer, he handed it to me and, rummaging around in the drawer of the table, pulled out two pins from there. “This is for the terminals. You fasten the wire, clamp it with pliers, and insert it into the nests. If they hang out, you spread the slot with a screwdriver or a knife; the pin should sit tight.”

There were many rusty shovels in the barn. I chose the largest, a “grabber.” Connecting the plugs was a matter of minutes. I stuck the power wire in the socket and turned on the receiver.

The result exceeded all expectations. The air was jam-packed with various radio stations. The slightest turn of the tuning knob was accompanied by a change of melodies, voices, crackling, and hissing.

My parents were no less amazed. But if my father tried to keep his composure and pretended that he didn’t care, then my mother first expressed a wish that I would get rid of comments on behavior with the same zeal, and having learned from my sister that I consulted with Uncle Mitya, she made a thoughtful conclusion: “It was Mitka who taught him!” Nevertheless, when the sound came from the radio—“Says‘ Voice of Jerusalem’”—and some religious broadcast in Russian began, they left their affairs, sat down on chairs, and listened to it to the end.

Sashka Zastava reacted indifferently to the antenna: “I’ll ask my father; he will tell his electricians and they will do the same for us,” he said casually, but the antenna above my friend’s house did not appear.

After many years, as an adult, I came to visit my parents. They were looking for some kind of document. I decided to help them, and among a pile of old letters and certificates, I found a pamphlet for our old radio, “Chaika-M.” The radio itself no longer worked, but the yellowed pamphlet recalled a distant childhood and evoked nostalgic memories. To my surprise, in the pamphlet, in addition to the usual data, there was a detailed description of both the antenna and the ground. I asked my father why he did not make these devices himself and did not show me; he waved me away and did not answer.

Joke with a Microphone

The development of the radio continued. On the back panel, next to the antenna and ground jacks, I found two terminals labeled “Sound.” I called Uncle Mitya, and he said that they are used to connect a microphone, to output sound from the microphone to the speaker, and on the front panel you need to press the “Pr” or “Mc” key. I found the Pr button, but there was no MK. I also did not have a microphone, and it was not possible to conduct an experiment, but Uncle Mitya said that if I visited him, he would give me his microphone for a while.

I flew into a radio-node and the next day, in the absence of my parents, tested the microphone with terminals “Sound”. Everything worked out with a bang. I told this to my father’s brothers: Uncle Vova and Uncle Zhenya. They were very interested, and they decided to joke.

The plan was simple. The brothers were supposed to come to visit us and, while Uncle Vova would distract the attention of his parents, Uncle Zhenya had to take a microphone, go into another room, and close the door. After his departure, I would turn on the radio, find some news, and a couple of minutes after the appearance of my parents, in between messages, switch to the microphone. Uncle Zhenya, hearing that the announcer was silent, would make an announcement. After his announcement, I would turn on the radio again.

The joke was a success. Mother, after a short silence, listened with an open mouth to the announcement that the head teacher of the eight-year school No. 110 Zinaida Nikolaevna Clause had been awarded the title “Honored Teacher of Ukraine.”

But then the unexpected began. As soon as I turned off the microphone and tried to return to the news, I realized that the transfer was over and the music resumed. My mother jumped up with demands to return to the radio station with announcements and began to shower me with slaps.

My father’s dearest brothers, in order to avoid a quarrel with my furious mother, took advantage of the clutter and slipped away. My mother showered me with spanks all evening; my attempts to explain to her that it was a joke did not help. The next day, the torture continued.

Arriving at work, my mother asked the principal. He, naturally, could not say anything intelligible and called the district department of public education. The astonished district, in turn, rang the regional department. I don’t know whether they phoned to the Ministry of Education or not, but they called the school and advised the principal not to drink alcohol with the teachers. Mother was put to shame; she returned home in an extremely angry state and rushed to flog me, without even changing into her home clothes.

Radio Sesha is on the Air

Searching out what was on the air turned out to be an exciting pastime. I found Voice of America, BBC, Radio FREEDOM, and many others. But the greatest effect was produced on me by the Voice of Petrovka radio station. The fact is that I lived in the Petrovsky district, which was called “Petrovka” in the common people, and when I first came across this radio station, it puzzled me.

The poor sound, coupled with the nasal voice of the announcer, making many mistakes, meant it could not be a state radio station. There were no private studios then. And when the announcer said hello to Myna and Pashik, and said that in the evening he would be waiting for them at the dances near the Petrovsky Palace of Culture, I realized that this was a radio bully. Myna and Pashik I knew. One of them studied with Vitka in parallel classes. The guys were not hooligans; they studied well and were going to go to college. I could hardly wait for the day off when we went to visit my grandmother and I could see my older friend.

Vitka was at home and answered my request to introduce me to Myna or Pashik. It was agreed, but when he found out the reason for the meeting, he shrugged in surprise and said: “So we went straight to ‘Petrovka.’ This is Vovka Hegelsky. He was called ‘Goga,’ and now his name is ‘Petrovka.’” Goga; I also knew Goga. Goga was known to all the boys and teachers of the villages of the first and tenth mines. Initially, Vovka was the right hand of Uncle Mitya and helped him in the radio center of the Chelyuskintsev mine. A smart boy could easily put a bell on a pole, throw wires, run to a store for a bottle; all that the one-legged uncle Mitya found difficult or was completely unable to do. In turn, the signalman generously shared his knowledge with the boy, and by the end of the eighth grade, Goga became an almost-ready radio amateur to the extent that he was able to organize the work of the radio node of the neighboring mine, for which its director unsuccessfully searched for several years.

“Aunt Zina!” Vitka went to my mother. “Serge and I will go to the tenth mine.”

“What for?” Mother respected Victor, although he was not an excellent schoolboy. Aunt Shura, Vitka’s mother, raised her son alone; the boy studied well and showed promise in football, which he later justified.

“To Hegelsky. He promised me a record.”

“And what do you need, Serge?”

“The bike will guard me.”

Theft of bicycles in the village flourished, and the older boys always took with them one of the younger ones to protect the two-wheeled machine, while their owners solved their problems or made the necessary purchases.

“Well, go ahead, just come back fast.”

Vitka took the bike out of the yard, helped me pile up on the frame, and we went with him to the tenth mine.

Goga was in the radio center. He greeted us and called us into the room. Victor brought the bicycle into the corridor, Vovka locked the door, and we went into the radio room. It looked like Uncle Mitya’s radio station, but smaller; on shelves there were fewer receivers, blocks, and devices.

Upon learning of the purpose of our arrival, Hegelsky whistled and said:

“What is it, I should tell you now the device of the set-top box for conducting radio broadcasts using a household receiver?”

He rummaged through the table, took out some photographs, and laid them in front of me. In the photographs there were some diagrams and text in English. I looked through them and put them back.

“I do not understand…”

“What do you think the prefix to collect?”

“He’s ten years old,” Victor intervened in our conversation.

“But you are so tall.” Goga stared in surprise at me.

“This is the son of Zinaida Nikolaevna,” Victor explained.

“Ah, I know…” Vovka put a hand on my shoulder. “She taught me from fifth to seventh grade. Your mother is strict.”

Hegelsky was illiterate—my mother spoke about this several times—but in English, mathematics and physics, he had solid fives, and the school principal demanded that my mother should be more loyal to Vovka’s assessment of knowledge. Mother, proceeding at home with anger, gave Goga a three, and anger was cascading off me. There were few such experts in mathematics, and especially physics, like Hegelsky. There were many such literate men as Goga, so I got it not only for Vovka, but also in totality, for all the others combined. I had already prepared for him to blur it out, but Goga was not vindictive, acquired me, and kind of asked, like said:

“What are we going to do?”

He turned on the receiver, setting the tuning, but his further dialogue surprised and pleased me:

“Okay. I am collecting a new ‘bandura,’ and you will help me check it. I will bring you my old one, plug it in, and show you how it works. Then I’ll tell you what you need to do. Help me set up a new one and then you will pick up the old one. What is your device?”

“Chaika-M!” I almost howled with joy. Still, it’s so easy to get a radio transmitter.


Goga arrived when, apart from me, there was nobody at home. He had a shopping bag with him. He walked with her into the room, saw the radio, and, pointing at her, asked:

“This one?”

I nodded in the affirmative. Hegelsky turned the radio around, pulled a screwdriver out of his bag, and began to remove the back cover.

Then he pulled out a diagram from his bag, unfolded it, and began to drive on it with a screwdriver. I saw that some points on the diagram were marked with colored pencils. Having dealt with the device, Vovka pulled out a small panel from the bag with the radio tubes mounted on it and wrapped it in wires. He untangled the wires and connected them to the inside of the radio. Then, a toggle switch was removed from the bag, which was connected there. Goga took my microphone and connected it to the sound sockets already known to me.

“Watch and remember!” Vovka’s voice had commanding notes.

“You are looking for me in this range,” he pointed at the end of the CB scale.

“I will give you the setting. Countdown: ‘one, two, three…’ You look at the indicator.” Goga showed me one of the prefix lamps, which shone with an emerald light. I recognized in it the same indicator that I had in the Rigonda.

“Mentally divide it into ten parts. If it fills everything, it means ten; if half, then five; if half of that, it means two or three; if 3/4ths, then seven or eight. Clear?” I nodded my head.

“After I say ‘reception,’ wait a couple of seconds, turn on this toggle switch, and say the number that can be determined by the indicator. You need to come up with a call sign. Come on; you will be Sesha. So, you say, ‘Radio Sesha.’ I hear ‘Petrovka’ at five, or seven, or nine, as it will be on the indicator. After this, you say reception and switch the toggle switch. If you don’t switch, you won’t hear me. If, besides you, someone else says something, take your time, otherwise it will be incomprehensible. And also—most importantly—sit down so that you can see the gate and the path to the house. The police are listening in. They will come and search, find, take away your equipment, a fine of 100 rubles the first time, 250 for the second.”

A chill ran through my chest. 100 rubles was almost my mother’s monthly salary, and 250 was more than my father’s pay. But to retreat means to drop your authority in the eyes of Goga. And I continued to listen carefully to him.

“Prepare a place where you will hide the transmitter. It’s easy to disconnect the wires; you just pull harder and they will bounce. Where to connect, I drew it on the diagram—the letter “B”—a blue wire here. The letter “G” is green, here. The letter “R” is red, here. The letter “W” is white, here, and the letter “L” is black, here.” Vovka poked a screwdriver into the diagram where I saw the drawn arrows and the letters next to them.

“Well, tomorrow at ten?” Vovka nodded at the alarm clock standing on the table and threw a screwdriver with pliers into the bag. I escorted him to the gate; he mounted a bicycle and drove away.

After he left, the first thing I did was move the nightstand with the radio closer to the window. The view from the window to the gate was good. Nobody could pass unnoticed. The difficulty caused a search for a secret place. It was necessary to hide the transmitter not only from the police, but also from my mother and father. I nailed a nail on the side and at the top of the back of the nightstand, hung a string bag on it, and put the transmitter in it. Here, mother was unlikely to notice it. I decided to equip the cache from the police later.

The first communication session went flawlessly. Goga conjured over his transmitter, and in the fifth or sixth session, brought his figure to 8-9. My indicator did not want to exceed 5, and I could not do anything about it. The second drawback of my Radio Sesha radio station was the lack of a tape recorder. I could not broadcast popular songs and melodies, but was content with our collection of phonograph records, which was formed mainly with the tastes of my mother. But this didn’t especially depress me, and I selflessly went on the air right after my mother left for work and stopped broadcasting shortly before her return.


Grief came suddenly. The main highway, from which cars turned onto our street, went uphill, and cars following it were visible from afar. The fact that the police van with the antenna on the roof was coming to us, I realized right away; the antenna was aimed at our house.

I swept around the room, turned off the radio, and looked out the window. Our house was the first on the street; the van drove up to the gate and stopped. With a feeling of wild regret, I pulled out the wires. The cops opened the gate and were already walking along the path to the house. I completely forgot to hide the cache from the police. Everything inside me went cold, broke, and I knew for myself what it meant to say, “the soul has gone to heels.” I rushed into the hallway to lock the door. My path lay through the kitchen, and my eyes fell on the saucepan, standing on the stove. I opened it; it was half-full of borscht. With a stopped heart, not breathing, I lowered the transmitter into the soup, and the liquid swallowed it, leaving no traces on the surface. There was a knock on the front door.

The search went on for more than an hour. The cops brought witnesses; Alka’s grandmother and a neighbor from the house opposite. Women, terrified, stared at me and at the police officers who rummaged around the apartment and in the yard. I was scared even more by the old women.

The cops hoped for easy prey. One of them began to persuade me to confess, while the rest began searching for a transmitter. They did not manage to find it with a half-kick; this made them angry, and they set about searching more carefully, turning over mattresses, blankets, pillows, throwing things and books out of the cupboards.

When Mother returned from work, everything was turned upside down in the apartment. Mother, accustomed to having tantrums in front of her husband and sons, appraised the situation and pretended to faint. But the cops, skilled in such matters and indifferent to the tricks of the wards, reacted to her passage in cold blood. One of them said in a metallic voice: “Citizen, stop the circus! If you don’t want to become an accomplice to your husband or offspring—whichever one of them is a radio hooligan, we’ll figure it out—it’s better to give us the transmitter! ”

Mother immediately came to her senses. My parents were completely unaware of the transmitter and my broadcasts; their knowledge of my hobby was limited to an antenna and grounding. Mentally, I thanked God for the fact that my father did not hear this tirade. His naval belt could cover about ten percent of my ass with one blow.

Mother rushed to the radio and tried to pull out the pins, but a sharp cry came from the same cop: “Citizen, stop destroying material evidence!” They made her stand still near the nightstand. From these words, she actually almost flopped into a swoon, but those around her again did not appreciate her zeal. Then, she went to the last resort; she began to threaten me with violence and tried to please the police.

Father came. In our small village, everyone knew each other, and, of course, the cops knew my father, and he knew them. The law enforcement officers knew that my father was not interested in amateur radio, although he was an electrician by profession. They did not realize that these were my tricks, but hoped to frighten my father. But the cops didn’t succeed in this, and it bothered them.

What happened led my father into prostration. He listened with open mouth to the police’s accusations of radio hooliganism and cried out, “Played out, long quitter!”

Mother continued her lamentations, but when she said that I had become a felon, the cop corrected her, explaining that the offense was administrative, and only entailed a fine of 100 rubles. It would be better if he had not said that. Myarents literally jumped from the announced amount and began to belch curses on me, not embarrassed by those present. The police found nothing and cursing, let the witnesses go, got into the van, and drove away.

The Search Has Stopped, the Flogging Has Begun

If the cops hadn’t found the receiver, why should I confess to my parents? Mother chased me around the apartment, howling curses, abuse, and threats. I evaded my beating as best I could. Father, fortunately for me, reacted to this running around with indifference. It seems that he was tired at work, and the cops finished off the remaining fortitude in him. My father indifferently watched our party, then he got up, put the mattress, pillows, and blankets thrown off by the cops on the bed and briefly said to Mother:

“Come on, let’s eat!”

“Take it yourself!” Mother never climbed into a pocket for a word when talking to my father. “The borsch is on the stove, warm it up.”

The father took an iron bowl and a ladle and went to the stove. My heart was cold again. Father removed the lid, put the soup ladle in the saucepan, but could not scoop up anything. With surprise, he poked a fork into the borsch; there was a soft rattle, and my dad realized that there was something else in the borsch instead of meat. He hooked a ladle on the inside of the brew, and after a moment, the apartment screamed his loud cry:

“So, you bastard, you hid it in the borscht! What am I going to eat now?”

The second series of floggings began, only now Mother acted as a spectator and my father chased after me.

He had fried eggs for dinner. They didn’t give me dinner at all.


For all installments from In the Shadow of the Belt, click here.

Previous installments:

  1. Introduction
  2. Chapter 1: Early Childhood
  3. Chapter 2: School? This is Just the Beginning, Baby…
  4. Chapter 3: Cognizing Life
  5. Chapter 4: Football as it Is
  6. Chapter 5: My Friend Sasha Bichukov
  7. Chapter 6: Score
  8. Chapter 7: Again, the Transience of Being, Part 1
  9. Chapter 7: Again, the Transience of Being, Part 2
  10. Chapter 8: Old Colony, Part 1
  11. Chapter 8: Old Colony, Part 2