Jim’s Mom, Marie Radcliffe was an amazing person. She encouraged Jim in his learning and in his pursuits in any area of science or scientific exploration as long as it was mostly safe.
Jim and his older brother Bob would pour over things like the Allied Catalog that Jean Shepherd used to talk about on his show. Jim used to listen to Jean Shepherd on his crystal radio that he built and we will talk about that later too. In fact, on this one occasion, Jim and Bob found a kit for a pair of radios in a catalog. They talked to Mom about it, earned and saved their money till they had enough to cover the radio kit and the shipping and sent off for it.
After the radio kit came in, Jim’s Mom found that this kit was not a snap together kit, it was a real science project, a kit where you put an electronics device together by soldering. Well, this was not gonna happen. The boys were just too young to be soldering. She wanted to make sure they would have the set of radios to play with after they were put together after saving and scrimping to get them.
So, she actually took the time to learn how to solder, and to do it properly while they watched. All this just to put together these little radios so Jim and Bob could talk to each other on them.
To me, it seemed that Mom was the best kind of mom for two brilliant young boys. She taught in many ways, but this was one way she taught by example to take the time to learn how to do something right before using that skill to do something. That way, you are learning a new skill that you can take with you your whole life, and you don’t damage something by practicing live on it before you know what you are doing. Mom also taught by example in other ways as well. She was an artist. She would use charcoals and exactingly sketch pictures of life; landscapes and more. Then bring that sketch home and beautifully paint the picture as it was in her mind. The one thing Jim regretted was that he didn’t get to keep any of Mom’s paintings. But I digress…
I think that deep and intricate mindset stayed with Jim his whole life. I remember times where Jim would look at the problem before him, and I mean an unusual problem, a problem where there was no schematic available. If this device was going to be fixed, he would have to figure it out on his own.
He would take readings with his meters and other equipment, he would study, he would brainstorm, he would go through his mind and the resources at hand, and go through his experience that he had accrued over the years, as well as his vast reservoir of knowledge from all the reading and learning through the years, and come up with at least one viable plan; often before he took anything apart on this interesting device.
This was his way, his diagnostics and troubleshooting were unparalleled, as well as his knowledge and understanding of electronics. When many electronics technicians were swapping out boards because it was easier but cost the customer more in the long run, Jim was still doing things the old painstaking way of doing component level diagnostics and fixing the boards themselves.
He was a learning sponge even at 30 when I met him. It was a wonder to behold. In many ways like my own Dad.
I was just talking with Randy Davis, a local musician who had a recording studio in Williamsburg, VA for many years. There were times over the years when Randy needed Jim’s expertise in electronics. Anyway, Randy called when he got the message that Jim had passed away. As we were talking, Randy talked about a time when he was working on an important recording session in his studio years ago and something went wrong with his recording equipment. The interesting thing was that this particular equipment had no schematic available so technicians were telling Randy that without that it would be basically impossible to fix especially since he needed it now to finish the recording session. Randy called Jim and Jim said although he couldn’t make any promises, he would be willing to look at it. Randy tore apart his recording studio wall and handed Jim the device. Jim took it back to the shop and in an hour had figured out the problem and fixed it. Just like that, Randy was back in business so he could continue his recording session.
Randy said that Jim was so laid back that he didn’t think folks realized just how brilliant he was and what an amazing mind he had. Randy was a very dear friend and they did things for each other over the years, and had great respect for each other’s talents.
There have been many stories over the years where musicians would bring their sound equipment to Jim to fix and if it was possible to fix, Jim would do the impossible over and over, and they would be back on their way making wonderful music for their fans.