Category Archives: Boat Anchors

Guest Post: The Story And Restoration Of My Hallicrafters SX-42

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Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Arthur Smith, who shares the following guest post:


The Story And Restoration Of My Hallicrafters SX-42

by Arthur Smith

As a junior high student way back in 1978, I had a natural interest in radios. My dad was a ham radio operator, electronics engineer, and designer. We always had cool, exotic radios and electronic gadgetry around the house. He was also in the Korean War, in the US Army Corps of Engineers, with access to a wide variety of equipment. He often told me the story of how he became interested in radio at an early age, and how he saved up for expensive radio gear, with a little help from my grandparents. Back in 1946, Hallicrafters was THE brand to own, and their postwar designs from Raymond Loewy, were catching the eye of many enthusiasts. The SX-42 was being hyped up in Hallicrafters ads as the ultimate radio to own, one that could tune the shortwave and ham bands, and beyond. I don’t know the complete story, but prior to acquiring his SX-42, my dad also purchased an S-38 and S-40. Never satisfied with “good and better”, my father wanted “the best”. All 15 tubes and 50-plus pounds of boatanchor.

Always ambitious and industrious, he mowed lawns, repaired motorcycles, and did odd jobs for neighbors in his suburban Boston neighborhood. He worked smart, and worked hard. And that fall, bought his SX-42.

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The radio, we think, was about $279, which would make it the equivalent of almost $3500 in today’s dollars. He heard the start of the Cold War, and the Soviet Union’s Sputnik. And the birth of Rock and Roll on FM! He graduated high school, went away to the Korean War, serving two Tours of Duty. He came back home, and became an electronics engineer. And a licensed ham radio operator.

Moving ahead to 1978, and yours truly had the radio bug, in the worst way. Not as ambitious or as savvy as my father, a classmate, who was also a ham radio operator, told me about a National HRO he had, with some coils, and maybe needing some work. My Dad came home from work, and I just had to tell him about this great opportunity, which of course, would require his financial backing. At this point, the SX-42 and his other two Hallicrafters were seeing “backup” duty, having long since gone solid state in his post. “Hey, I’ve got an idea!” When a Dad says that, a son usually wants to run. Not in this case. “How about we give you my SX-42?!” Gee, twist my arm. I had loved watching those mesmerizing green back lit dials, S meter, and geared tuning knobs. Unfortunately for my classmate, he had to keep his National. Fortunate for me, I had my father’s SX-42!

That radio logged my first 100 countries, including QSL cards from countries and stations no longer in existence. It heard the fall of the Berlin Wall. And, it was at the heart of my school Science Project, which made Science Fair, featuring an experiment on longwire shortwave radio reception.

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halllicrafters-sx-42-tubes Years later, the focus became family, a child, and a house. The SX-42 and siblings came with me, but this time, in boxes. After having seen a WW2 vintage Hallicrafters S-20R at a consignment shop a couple of summers ago, I thought how cool it might be to have Dad’s radios electronically and cosmetically restored.

The S-38 and S40 were in a box in my damp basement. While intact, they had a considerable amount of rust. Luckily, I was able to find a gentleman with great electronic and mechanical skills. He brought the S38 back to life, working and looking beautiful. And is working still on the S-40. As for the SX-42, that was upstairs in a box in my son’s closet. Dry and somewhat preserved, but with some corrosion on the control panel. And sadly, that iconic lock knob that switches between main tuning and brandspread tuning, had been lost in the move. I had to find someone who could take this project on.

After an extensive search, I found my man. An engineer with his own business, who was moving into retirement, and shutting his business down. He had restored an SX-42 a few years back, with amazing results. I had to lure him out of retirement! Which I did after a few emails back and forth. And, he was within driving distance! First warning was “do not power the radio back up under any circumstance- you’ll fry the wafers on the bandswitch!” I resisted temptation, as I had read online that these were notorious for failure, usually to some original capacitors that leak over the decades.

After 13 months replacing every capacitor, virtually every resistor, and vacuum tube, the iconic radio was coming back to life, in a great way. The transmission and gears in the tuning was re-lubricated. During the restoration process, a date was found stamped on the chassis of October 25th, 1946. Could it be?

img_7367-02-12-16-06-57-1Hallicrafters had advertised in the Oct, 1946 issue of Radio News that “The first hundred are always the hardest to build.” This, coupled with the fact that none of the chassis circuit had been modified, lead my restorer to believe that my radio was one of the first 100 SX-42’s that Hallicrafters had built!

The front panel was stripped and treated, professionally painted and silkscreened. The cabinet and apron bead blasted, repainted, and clear coated. It came back home with me last month. A month after it turned 70.

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As you can see here, the radio looks stunning. And, with all the Hallicrafters Service Bulletin mods implemented, sounds and performs better than I remember. Maybe more importantly, we were able to locate a replacement brake lock knob for the tuning shaft, even with the “Lock” decal and arrow showing to rotate it counterclockwise. It just would not have felt complete without that little knob- and, it works!

halllicrafters-sx-42-frontEngaging a set of what essentially are brake pads, you rotate it once to disengage the main tuning and engage the bandspread tuning. Again, and you’re back to main tuning.

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This radio will always remain a truly cherished family heirloom, and will be my son’s someday. Complete with the original owner’s manual, and Darth Vader-like R42 Reproducer (speaker).

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Hopefully to live on for another 70-plus years, and hear more history along the way.

-Arthur Smith Worcester, MA


Wow–!  Thank you so much for sharing your story with us, Arthur. No doubt, your SX-42 will certainly outlive all of us and will hopefully continue to be passed down through your family. What a wonderful story.

Mr. Carlson restores and repairs a Hammarlund HQ-140-X

hammarlund-hq-140xMany thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Moshe, who writes:

Hi Thomas!
You must see this restoration job from Mr. Carlson’s lab:

Click here to view on YouTube.

Thank you for sharing this video, Moshe!  I truly enjoy watching Paul’s videos–no doubt, any radio turned over to him is in expert hands. I love how he explains, in such detail, each action he takes to restore and repair these vintage radios.

Click here to view Mr. Carlson’s YouTube channel.

What made the Squires Sanders SS-1R receiver legendary?

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Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Michael Black, who reminds us why the Squires Sanders SS-1R receiver (Dan recently spotted on eBay) was so innovative at the time:

It’s legendary because it leaped forward in receiver design, at least at the amateur level,  and there was the article in QST  in 1963 by Squires about the design.  So lots of people knew about the design, even if they weren’t owners.

There’s no RF  amplifier, the antenna feeds the mixer trough a tuned circuit.  There’s a q-multiplier on that tuned circuit, to improve selectivity (q-multipliers were mostly seen in 455KHz IFs).  The mixer was a 7360 beam deflection tube, hard to overload, and a balanced mixer, which was likely a first in ham receivers.  After, everyone was using 7360s for receiver mixers, at least until good solid state balanced mixers came along.

I keep forgetting that it is still a dual conversion receiver (except for one band), though presumably to avoid other issues while allowing for a fixed 500KHz tuning range.

But the second IF  is at 1 or 2 MHz, higher than the usual 455KHz, a sign of the future, though there were already some SSB transceivers with IFs in the HF range.

It does seem a relatively simple design now, but wasn’t fifty years ago.

The ham band version was the “big seller”, the shortwave version maybe offered because they could.  It’s not clear if the front end needed changes to cover the SW broadcast bands.  But it would have been an expensive SW receiver, and needing another crystal for each 500KHz tuning segment, a new concept at the time (though a few years later Drake had their SW receivers like that).  But that was the trade-off, most receivers did have a 2:1 tuning range, while some were like the R390 , very complicated mechanically and crystals for every band.  A subset of 3 to 30MHz meant fewer crystals and a simpler bandswitch but you spent a lot of money for a receiver that wasn’t “general coverage”.

Michael

Thank you, Michael, for the insight! At last glance, the bidding was only at $227.50. I suspect it will go much higher, but perhaps this will end up being a deal for someone.

Click here to view on eBay.

What radio would you grab in a fire?

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Lately, fires have been on my mind. No doubt, this is because there are so many wildfires in the greater southern Appalachian region right now, which is in the midst of a record drought. Brush fires start up almost daily, and no rain is in sight.  In the mountains, the air is hazy with smoke, and it’s become a struggle for fire departments to contain these blazes, even with help from outside the region.

Living, as we do, in a forest, we’ve always had to think through contingency plans if a forest fire should threaten our home:  with only a two hour (or so) warning, what items would we grab and load into our truck?

Of course, we’d likely focus on those things that are irreplaceable and thus essentially invaluable: our few family heirlooms, boxes of photos, documents––you know, stuff you can’t buy.

But what about radios?  I hope I’ll never be forced to choose the one thing I should save from my shack, because there are several to which I’m rather sentimentally attached…There’s my Zenith Transoceanic, for example–the first proper shortwave radio I ever owned. There are also a number of vintage radios as well as some SDRs which have become my staple receivers.

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In the end, though, there’s no question which radio I’d grab. It would have to be my Scott Marine Radio Model SLR-M, affectionately nicknamed “Scottie.”. True, she’s not even close to portable at a solid 90 pounds, but I’d strap her to the roof of my vehicle, if I had to.

Why?  Well, it’s the most pristine vintage radio I own, and I use it daily. If it’s not tuned to Radio Australia in the morning, it’s tuned to my AMT3000 AM transmitter on 1570 kHz drawing in any of a number of stations I relay from my WiFi radio.

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Scottie simply isn’t replaceable. Even though my Elecraft KX3 probably costs more in terms of monetary value, I could eventually scrape together the money to buy another KX3. But I couldn’t buy Scottie again. Not this one.

So, there you go: after we’ve saved those things important to our family, I’d grab a 1945 receiver and haul it to safety.

Post readers: Now I’m curious–if your home was threatened by fire or other disaster, what radio would you save? Please comment!

A Good Friend Who’s Always There

cas-pro-relaxThis summer has been a tough one for me in many ways, not the least of which is the minimal amount of time I have been able to spend playing radio. I have several commitments involving radio each week/month, but I do not consider that “playing” radio. To me, playing radio is where we get to sit down in front of a radio of any kind and do something with it just for the pure joy of it. The good thing about this hobby is it is always there whenever you are ready. It is like a good friend who is always there. Radio is, in fact, a bit like my dog.

For those who enjoy dogs like I do, one of the most rewarding things is to come home and find your dog waiting for you, tail wagging, and excited to see you. It does not matter how long you have been gone — a short trip elicits the same excitement upon your return as you would get being gone all day. Good dogs require very little maintenance to be happy, and they are ready for love and attention whenever you are available to give these to them.

My radios do not wag their antennas when I walk into the room, but they are there ready to go when I am, and they provide a world of enjoyment when called upon. As I sit here looking at the radios in front of me (only a small portion of the radios I have around the house overall), each one means something special and calls to mind enjoyable times. My 220 rig gets very little use overall, but it always reminds me of an amateur radio friend who was an Elmer to me in the hobby.

As I am typing this my 2-meter APRS channel has come alive with signals from the digipeater in the International Space Station (ARISS) and I am hoping for a contact or two. This past week I made a contact with AF4B in Texas, which was his first ISS contact! What an honor that is for me — whenever I have the privilege of being someone’s first contact in any manner of radio I am thrilled!! It always brings to mind my “firsts” and how exciting were those moments!

As I look at my Uniden Bearcat BC898T I remember going to my first Dayton Hamvention and buying this beautiful analog scanner. One of the fellows there tried to talk me out of it because it was only analog, and some of the local departments had moved to digital. Fortunately there are still many analog signals to catch in my area, and I am interested in more than just Public Service transmissions. I like Marine, Aviation, Railroads, Coast Guard, and a dozen other things which can be picked up by analog scanners. The 898T was my entrance back into the scanning hobby after many, many years away from it. There was a great deal to learn, but this was my re-introduction to scanning.

I have previously talked about my Yaesu-Musen FRG-7, in some ways the ultimate in shortwave radios for nostalgia, quality workmanship, and manual control of a radio. 40+ years old and still a gem!! Oh yes, and then there is my Swan 350, another marvel of a radio from the past. Never known as a top-of-the-line rig by any means, I treasure its heft, its vacuum tube warmth, and its mechanical tuning which turns like tire compared to the optical tuning wheels on modern rigs. In fact, its a lot like me — slow to get going and needs some time to warm up, but gets the job done eventually. (Why does it seem getting up out of bed and getting started each day gets harder and harder . . . I can’t be that old, can I??)

Fall and winter are coming, definitely great times of the year to play radio, and I hope to do just that. A little work on my antennas should get me back up to  speed in terms of capabilities, and my hope is life will slow down enough to let me have some fun. I know whenever I have the time my old friends will be there ready and waiting! I hope the coming months are filled with radio fun for each of you! 73, Robert

Robert Gulley, AK3Q, is the author of this post and a regular contributor to the SWLing Post. Robert also blogs at All Things Radio.