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    

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