Monday, March 25, 2013

Old Iron

AM Forever!

Lately I am convinced I am trying to re-live my yoot! This immersion in vacuum tube "boatanchor" gear speaks to a deep seated desire to step back in time and recapture some of the "glory days" of amateur radio. 

I entered the hobby at the end of the AM era when single sideband (SSB) was replacing AM as the mode on the HF bands. AM was still alive on V/UHF but, much like CW overtaking spark in the the 1920s, SSB was fast approaching as the mode for long-haul HF comms. As I remember there were some viscous on-air verbal exchanges regarding this change over.

SSB gear was expensive. Well beyond the funds available to a struggling high school student who mowed yards to fund his radio hobby. Therefore, it was used CW and AM gear for me until well into my USAF career. Never, in all that time, did I ever have a really nice AM station. As an Air Force member, my family and I traveled the world, moving every 3-4 years, so owning a lot of ham gear was never an option. 

Now that I am retired, I am planning (in great detail) my "new" AM station. Thankfully, I have a couple of really good friends to lend me a helping hand and provide in depth assistance in putting this AM dream station together.

Andrew Howard, WA4KCY ( is a "Ham's Ham". I first met Andy at the Atlanta Hilton near Hartsfield Airport, in the mid-1990s. I was a guest speaker at a radio convention and Andy looked me up to talk radios and guns! He produced a folder of pictures of his restored radio gear and I was totally amazed at the variety and the unbelievable workmanship Andy puts into his restorations. About 3/4 of the way through the stack of photos was a picture of Andy sitting behind the spade grips of a Maxim 08 German 8mm watercooled machine gun! Yes, folks, Andrew has a really cool WWI machine gun. You gotta love a guy like that.

Andy and I hit it off immediately and over the intervening years I visited his QTH on several occasions, always leaving with a feeling of total inadequacy when it came to ham radio gear! Seriously, if anything Andy's radio shack always filled me with wonder and awe and the feeling that IF I applied myself, I could approach Andy's level of workmanship. In other words each visit to Andy's place recharged my ham radio batteries and gave me ideas on how to best approach the hobby

Andy even sat me down at his Hallicrafters operating position and took a picture of me at the controls! This picture made the rear cover of the 2nd and 3rd editions of my QRP book for the ARRL. (Thankfully I've lost 130 pounds since that picture was taken!!!) "Yes" that is a Hallicrafters SX-88 to the left of my right hand. There are only about 80+ of these receivers known to exist. To say that the SX-88 is a "rare bird" is an understatement!


 Recently I e-mailed Andy explaining my desire to have an AM ham station based around a set of Heathkit Twins (MT-1 transmitter & MR-1 receiver) and possibly adding an additional boatanchor receiver like a National NC-300 or 303, or a Hammarlund HQ-series. While I Iike (and have restored) a number of Hallicrafters receivers, I wanted something a bit different. The NC-3XX series looked promising (I've never owned one) except for the huge amount of bench space needed to house one of these classic boatanchors. 

Andy also indicated that he was on board with my quest to assemble a quality AM phone station and was standing by with information, parts, and one-on-one help for this project. It's nice to have friends like Andrew!

A quick e-mail exchange to Jay Greenberg, N3WWL, in Pennsylvania, a long time friend and avid AMer, and I was on the look out for a Hammarlund HQ-110 receiver for my new AM shack. While Jay had used a NC-300 for quite a while, he told me that, in his opinion, the HQ-110 (like he was currently using for his main AM receiver) would fulfill my requirements quite well AND, being a smaller physical footprint, take up much less room on the ops bench. 

The hunt was on!

 While I like to utilize e-bay to sell radio gear, I don't really like using e-bay to buy radio gear. Don't ask, its a long story. However, after several days prowling the site I had found a couple of Hammarlunds on the block. One stood out among the rest of the pack....a really nice 110 that was worth the time (and money) to go after. I placed my bid, was promptly out bid, so I waited until the last 20 seconds of the auction, dropped in a ridiculously high bid, and waited! I won! Not only that, I won by only a couple of dollars over the current bid, so I didn't have to shell out extra money for nothing. That is a tactic I have used repeatedly on e-bay and it works great. I have had folks tell me about using sniper programs, but my system seems to work quite well so why change horses in the middle of a stream?

The HQ-110 arrived the following Monday, well packed and looking great! I immediately unpacked it, looked it over physically (it was near-mint), and promptly fired it up in the shack (I know, I know....I'm supposed to use a Variac on the 120V AC input and bring the receiver up slowly, but I was in a HURRY!!!)

Initially I was rewarded with NOTHING: NADA, ZIP, ZERO, ZILCH!!! I accidentally bumped the clock set button and the receiver came to life! I had forgotten that one unique feature of the Hammarlund receivers and that was the ability to pre-set the clock to turn the receiver on (and off) at predetermined times. OBTW: The clock works! Miracle of miracles.....a working clock on a 50  year old boatanchor receiver! Life is good!

The overall cosmetics of this receiver are outstanding for it's age. This receiver is well over 50 years old and is in pristine condition. Case paint is very nice with no chips or cracks. The front panel is really nice, needing only a cleaning and some wax. Ditto with the knobs...all original, nice white lines, just needing some wax to make them shine! I haven't pulled the case yet, but aside from removing some dust from the chassis top, I don't forsee any problems with this radio.

Initial tests on 40 and 80 meters have reveiled a need for an alignment. Audio is a bit gravelly, but with some DeOxit and patience, it will be as good as new shortly. All the controls will get the DeOxit treatment, in addition the bandswitch will also get some DeOxit; not a lot, just a bit to clean up the crud that has accumulated on the bandswitch contacts. One thing for sure, that bandswitch controls high voltage to various stages of the receiver, so getting through the years worth of accumulated muck will restore the proper voltages to these sages and cause the receiver to work a whole lot better!

I'm not sure of the number of "black-beauty" and paper capacitors that need to be replaced under the chassis. Also under scrutiny will be all of the carbon composition (carbon-comp) resistors that can change up to 300% in value over time. Believe me when I say, that I have seen these carbon-comp resistors with some huge ohmic variations from their initial values. Since these control voltages to the various stages of the receiver, having some of them out of tolerance is not conducive to outstanding receiver performance.

As for the overall cosmetic condition and possible improvement/restoration, I don't feel, at this time, it will be warranted. The receiver is in that good of shape. This was one of the major factors in my bidding and winning this particular receiver. Since I am virtually no good a repainting or touching up radio cabinets/front panels, any time I can get a piece of gear in cherry cosmetic shape, I am well ahead of the game. 

We will revisit the K7SZ AM station project in the future. For now I am going to bed with the prospect of getting some more sleep! 

Vy 73 es hope to work you on the bands.

Rich Arland, K7SZ    

Monday, March 11, 2013


Yesterday's blog centered on a pair of Heathkit Twins; HR-20/HX-20 SSB/CW receiver-transmitter pair from the early 1960s. Today I journeyed over to the owner of the rigs and picked them up. I was not paying close attention to what I was carrying off to the car and once I got home I noticed what I had was not what I initially thought I was getting. Instead of the SSB twins I ended up with  athe MR-1/MT-1 AM/CW set that looks almost identical to the other set. Initially I was a little more than upset but then it dawned on me that I did not have an AM transmitter and this was a perfect opportunity to get onto AM again.

These two rigs are almost pristine in cosmetic condition. They are all original and came with the manuals, which is a big plus. I also got the HP-20 AC PSU and the necessary power cords along with a mobile speaker. In short, I had acquired a complete AM/CW station for only $200.

The MT-1 transmitter has a 90 watt RF input (on AM this equates to about 25 or so watts of AM power output) and close to 65-70 watts RF output on CW. Not a bad little radio station. I want to get this rig on the air soon, so I am trying to get the various projects wrapped up here at K7SZ.

There is a lot of AM activity here in the deep south and I am looking forward to particpating although with only 24-25 watts output I won't be making any dents on anyone's S-meter!

More later. My thanks to Tom, W4UOC, for hosting me this afternoon, and providing me with a method to get back on AM.

vy 73

Rich K7SZ

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Drake Collective QSOs the Heathkit Void

Within the deepest part of the Nethersphere exists the Heathkit Void. That place where all unused, unwanted, old Heathkit gear goes to moulder and die.  It is a place of desolation, utterly devoid of hope. For those Heathkits that find there way there the future is uncertain for sure. To say it's bleak is an understatement.

FLASHBACK to the early 1970s. I had a really sweet pair of Heath Twins: HX-20 & HR-20 transmitter/receiver pair that was originally envisioned as a mobile SSB/CW station just prior to the switch to transceivers. In the Azores (Lajes Field) in 1970, it was a major undertaking to obtain a reciprocal Ham Radio license from the Portuguese government in Lisbon (at that time the Azores was a Portuguese colony which finally obtained it's  independence form Portugal in 1976). After one filed the necessary paperwork with the GPO, the "wait was on". It took about 6 months for the paperwork to wander its way through the Portuguese bureaucracy in Lisbon and find its way back to Terceira Island in the Azores.

Once the paperwork was in hand at the local GPO (Angra City) they would send out a staffer with a VOM to check out your station installation and put the official stamp on the license paperwork. One fine day an old dude...I mean a REALLY OLD dude arrived at my place on 98 Cruz, Praia de Vitoria, Terceira Island, the Azores. The meter he was clutching was even older than he was!!!

In order to get through this inspection your rig had to be modified to read both final amplifier plate and grid current, plate and grid voltage, in addition to RF output and a few other parameters. I had borrowed (and later purchased) an old Collins KWM-1 transceiver (BOY, do I wish I still had that radio!) which was modified by one of the other local hams to meet these requirements. This was done solely to get me through the inspection.

OLD DUDE did his "thing" and signed off my paperwork. In about 3 weeks I had the Azorian call: CT2BH! On the air, everywhere at last!!

I needed a good SSB rig. A buddy at the Andrews AFB Tech Control had a spare set of radios: enter the HX-20/HR-20 Heath Twins. They were boxed and put aboard a C-130 headed east toward Lajes and arrived in about 4 days. I got a call from Base Ops to come down and retrieve a Twins!

I put them on the air almost immediately and found that they worked very well for what I wanted to do. I never used them on CW (that I remember) but in about 8-9 months I had DXCC worked. Due to a breakdown in communications with my QSL manager, I never received the requisite 100 QSLs to submit for the award. In reality, at the end of my tour (August 73) I had almost 200 countries worked, which I feel spoke quite well for the Heath Twins.

Unfortunately, I was unable to send the Twins to my duty station in the 3rd Mobile Comm Gp, Tinker AFB, Oklahoma. I did not qualify for "professional books and equipment" under USAF regulations, so the rigs got sold to another CT2 that had just received his license.

FLASHFORWARD to March 10th 2013. A posting by Tom Koch, W4UOC, who was handling an estate liquidation for a local SK, got my immediate attention. Listed was a set of Heath Twins: HX-20/HR-20 plus the HP-20 PSU. One phone call later and the deal was sealed. Good friend Dale Parfitt, W4OP, did a stupendous restoration on a pair of these and you can see them at: Dale does phenomenal work! His solid state version of the Drake classic 2B receiver is pictured on the cover of my latest QRP book for the ARRL (4th edition).

So what does all this have to do with the Heathkit Void and the Nethersphere ? The Drakes in my shack, that's what. The 2B and the TWO's their fault! Seriously, they have tentacles everywhere, even deep within the Nethersphere! There is no doubt....they "reached out" to the Void and I got hooked, again. Not that I'm complaining. 

Tomorrow I take posession of the Twins. I can hardly wait. 

Vy 73

Rich K7SZ

Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Drake Collective Strikes Again!!!!!

Remember back a couple of posting ago when I was talking about the Drake Collective ("Resistance is Futile"....where the heck do you think the Borg got the idea!???) Well, it has long tentacles! Presently I am attending the Birmingham (AL) hamfest at the Zamora Shrine Temple just outside B'ham. I was a guest speaker (on QRP, of course) so Peppermint Patti (KB3MCT) decided this would be a good venue to off-load some of the junk....(she actually meant priceless radio artifacts!!!) and clear off some shelves (to make room for more priceless radio artifacts!)

We loaded up the Jeep, stopped by Ken Evans', W4DU, place, picked him and the QRP ARCI gear up (he was a vendor at the fest) and headed west on I-20. Great trip....that little old Jeep Hemi got us there in great time!!!

We were invited to attend the DX Dinner Friday evening at a local restaurant...the food was excellent and the company outstanding. Walking into the bar I met Charles Barclay, formerly of the Philadelphia 76s basket ball team! He's a really nice guy!

In addition to Charles, I FINALLY got to meet (in person), Don Keith, N4KC, with whom I had been corresponding for about 2 years via e-mail. Don, in addition to being a world famous award winning author, is also an expert on WWII "fleet boats"....that's diesel-electric submarines, for all you land-lubbers out there!) His recent book "Undersea Warrior" about Dudley "Mush" Morton, famous WWII sub driver (USS Wahoo...Google it for a great story) I found absolutely fascinating. In addition, I had recently met Mush Morton's grandson, Chris Balch, KS2MM, in Atlanta! Life is good!

Don, myself, and Dave Kuechenmister, N4KD, are driving to Dayton in May so I am looking forward to an outstanding weekend on the road with two of my favorite people! Dave, by the way, is a retired Marine aviator: Bomb/Nav on A-6 Intruders (check out the movie "Flight of the Intruder" for some background on the aircraft and what Dave's job entailed). So here we have a "bubble-head", a Gyrine Airedale, me (the USAF Comm-Weinee), and at Dayton, we'll be meeting Dino Papas, KL0S, a retired Army Infantry Colonel.....what could POSSIBLY go wrong? Dino says he'll keep us out of jail....yeah, right!

Back to the Drake Collective: My 2B receiver and my recently acquired TR-4 transceiver had been hard at work contacting the Collective. During the DX Dinner, I was approached by John Outland, K3FP, a member of the local antique radio collector's group in B'ham. He told me that they had recently acquired a complete Drake TR-4 station: TR-4 transceiver, RV-4 remote VFO w/speaker, and AC-4 power supply from an estate sale and would I be interested in purchasing it from their club? I told him "NO", I already had a TR-4, but was looking for an AC-4 PSU. To this he replied "The entire station is being sold for $250.00, still not interested?"

What could I say? Peppermint Patti gave the "nod" and we had a deal. I took possession of a very nice TR-4 and associated accessories at the hamfest on Saturday. In addition, Jeff Drew, N4JDU, had a Rohn 25G house bracket for sale which would secure the bottom 25 feet of my 70 ft tower to the side of our house for $50. Talk about a win-win day! Now the tower project was back on track (at a cost savings of about $125 over the cost of a new house bracket from Rohn Tower company). This was a great weekend for Ham Radio.

The B'ham fest is a great venue. The Shrine Temple is very nice and clean, Loads of space for vendors inside plus a huge parking lot for outside "flea market vendors". What's not to like??

My presentation on Saturday "Doing More With Less" was taped for replay on Sunday and possible sale to interested club members in the B'ham area. This was a warm up for my gig at Dayton. I picked up some great feedback from my audience and plan on tweaking the PowerPoint presentation prior to giving it at the HARA in Dayton. This will be my 4th year presenting a QRP program at the Dayton HamVention.

So that is about all from Birmingham for now. We will be leaving to return to the Bent Dipole Ranch in Dacula (GA) later today. The 2.5-3 hr drive is a relatively short one. By tonight I should have one of my TWO Drake TR-4s up on the air! I an anxious, as these old tube-type radios were "Everyman's" answer to Collins Radio Company and their KWM-2 transceiver, at about $1500 in 1970 money!!

Vy 73

Rich K7SZ