Saturday, April 27, 2013

Have you ever actually heard this son-of-a-bitch?

My love affair with shortwave listening goes back to the tender age of about 10. Not coincidentally this was the same age I received a really nasty shock from my Dad's Arvin console AM/SW radio receiver. I guess you could connect the dots and say that my involvement with shortwave and radios was "shocking"!

I started listening to SW with my Mom and Dad. Several nights each week we would spin the dial on that old Arvin (which I still have, by the way, although the cabinet is no longer functional) and explore the world via the various SW broadcasters. This was in the mid to late 1950s when television broadcasting was just starting to catch on in the Inland Empire. We had spotty TV coverage from Spokane, and no one liked staring at a snowy  TV screen. These evenings in front of the old Arvin with my parents provided me with a great learning experience via the SW bands. 

That old Arvin got a real workout. Not only did I DX (look for distant stations) on the SW bands, I also prowled the AM broadcast band (commercial FM stations just didn't exist at that time), especially after local sunset, DXing the various AM stations I could hear on a simple antenna. The really neat thing about DXing AM broadcast outlets after local sunset was the Midwest AM stations and, at times, stations east of the Mississippi River that would come booming in. I never tired of listening to the variety of programming available at a twist of the radio dial.

In 1962 I was in high school, John F. Kennedy was in the White House, and Hallicrafters radio company fielded their new S-120 AM/SW receiver. Mom and Dad were sympathetic to my "need" for a smaller SW receiver I could use in my bedroom (freeing up the TV set for their use), so a deal was struck. Dad picked up the tab for the new S-120 (about $70 at the time) and I signed my life into servitude in the form of doing non-stop lawn care work for my family as well as several other families in the immediate neighborhood.

The S-120 was my dream machine, offering a compact world-band  receiver in a handsome metal enclosure. To my "experienced" eye, it was magnificent! Now the world was truly at my fingertips. Over the next several years I spent a lot of time in front of that radio set DXing the shortwaves as well as the AM broadcast band. I collected numerous confirmation cards (quaintly called QSL cards) from some of the SW outlets that I wrote to listing the dates and times and detailing  what I had heard during their broadcasts. It was the experience of a lifetime!

It wasn't until 1965, while in college, that I was exposed to the Hallicrafters SX-117 and SX-122  receivers, Then I realized exactly how limited that old S-120 really was. Somewhere along the line the S-120 was traded off in favor of a better receiver, and, of course, there was this side hobby of Ham Radio that seemingly ate into my SW DXing time. 

Over the years I procured several S-120s which I restored (mainly replacing the aging electrolytic  caps in the power supply section and aligning the receiver) only to give them to friends who had become interested in listening to the shortwave bands. 

Finally, I found a working S-120 on e-bay and won that particular auction. Cost of the receiver: $30 plus shipping. It arrived and as I unpacked it I felt the rush of my teenage years and how much I loved to scan the airwaves looking for SW DX.  The receiver was dingy and needed a cabinet repainting, along with the obligatory replacement of the PSU filter caps and the selenium rectifier. I vowed to keep this old SW warrior and lovingly set about restoring the set to its original glory days. 

The cosmetic cleanup was pretty straight forward. The case required repainting so that was accomplished with a can of Krylon spray paint after a light sanding of the cabinet with 220 and 400 grit sand paper. The color was close but not a perfect match, which was OK since Hallicrafters had many shades of gray that they used over the years. 

The old four-section paper electrolytic cap that was mounted above the chassis was replaced with individual new modern electrolytics. The selenium rectifier was also replaced with a 1N4007 silicon diode. This resulted in a slight increase in B+ voltage but nothing really critical. 
Interestingly enough, my first DX with the "new" receiver was Radio Havana Cuba somewhere on 6 MHz (the dial is not terribly accurate and I haven't gotten around to aligning the receiver yet)! That took me back to the early 1960s and the on-air rants of Uncle Fidel Castro! Ahhhh, the Good "Ole Days"! (The Cuban missile crisis comes immediately to mind!!)

While the S-120 is a horrible receiver by today's standards it is still my link to my early days of radio. What's yours?

Vy 73

Rich K7SZ


  1. Hi, Rich.

    Boy, does this take me back. I too had an S-120, but I started out with an S-38B and loved to SWL with it. I'd listen to Radio Havana Cuba in the evenings when signals would start pouring in from the Caribbean. I always remember hearing the Cuban national anthem and a program called The Life Of Our Workers. The S-120 showed up shortly after I took a jolt from the S-38 and Dad decided to junk it before any more damage was done. Thanks for the memories!

    73, Jim KA9VHG

  2. Still trying to get my SR-150 restored. When I heard my first QSO on it back in December, it really got my blood flowing. The old gal still needs a lot of work, but I have been too busy with the local radio club to jump into the project with both feet. God willing, I'll get her back into better-than-new condition. Thanks for the great post, Rich.
    73, Kyle W4KDA

  3. Glad you liked this posting. You gotta love this radio hobby!!

    Thanks, Guys

    Vy 73

    Rich K7SZ