Category Archives: Nostalgia

A birthday message from Ian McFarland

Many thanks to Colin Newell who forwards the following birthday message from Ian McFarland:

Ian McFarland receiving his birthday card filled with your messages. (Photo: Colin Newell at DXer.ca)

To all my SWL friends & colleagues,

I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed reading all your birthday wishes & comments that Colin so kindly collected & transcribed from all your e-mails. For this old man it was a most enjoyable exercise in pure nostalgia. Thank you all so very much! There were lots of familiar names on those messages, and of course, to be truthful, lots of names that weren’t familiar after so many years. Memory loss is, after all, one of the unfortunate drawbacks of getting to the age that people refer to as “elderly”!

I find it hard to believe that I retired from RCI over a quarter century ago now, mercifully, some years before its impending virtual destruction over the next few years. I’m just grateful that I was at RCI during almost 25 years of RCI’s heyday. I’m also grateful for all the opportunities I had to travel to Europe, the U.S. and other parts of Canada to attend a variety of SWL gatherings and have the opportunity to talk with so many of my listeners. I’m sure that over my years at RCI I met many times more listeners than the rest of RCI staff and management combined.

Attending all those events, including the three ANARC conventions that were hosted by RCI, gave me many useful insights into what our listeners liked to hear about, and the determined efforts they made, especially in the noisy interference ridden listening environment in Europe, to tune in to my SWL Digest program. I can’t tell you how much that meant to me. Many thanks again for all your wonderful birthday wishes & comments.

Cheers for now & Good Listening everyone.

Kind regards.

Ian.

Mike spots the RCA AR-88 in series “Prime Suspect: Tennison”

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Mike Hansgen (K8RAT), who adds the following to our growing archive of radios in film. Mike writes:

Near the end of the current episode of “Prime Suspect: Tennison” [the radio operator mentions] he was listening on “the RCA 88”.

“Tennison” is set around the early ’70’s.

Great catch, Mike (and thanks to Eric WD8RIF for the screen cap).

According to the Crypto Museum:

The AR-88 was a valve-based shortwave general coverage communications receiver, developed and built by the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) in the early 1940s. Although the receiver was initially intended as the successor to the AR-77 amateur receiver, the outbreak of WWII made it evolve into a professional high-end military-grade receiver for which cost was no object.

The AR-88 is a 14-valve (tube) receiver, which covers a frequency range of 535 kHz to 32 MHz. Unlike the National HRO receiver, which had pluggable coil packs for each frequency band, the AR-88 uses a six-position band selector. A special version of the receiver, the AR-88LF, was suitable for LF and MF, covering 70 to 550 kHz (continuously) and 1.5 to 30 MHz (continuously).

Continue reading at the Crypto Museum online… 

The Crypto Museum photo of the AR-88 jogged my memory…

Last year, I visited the Musée de la Défense Aérienne at the Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Bagotville (a museum I wholeheartedly recommend, by the way).

I snapped this shot of this display:

I’m sure I actually have a close up of this receiver somewhere. It also appears to be an RCA AR-88 based on dial and control configuration, though I certainly could be wrong.

Do any SWLing Post readers have an AR-88? Please comment!

Court of Dreams: How shortwave radio lead to a lifelong obsession with tennis

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Dan Robinson, who shares the following video from CBS Sunday Morning and notes:

For those who may have missed this recent CBS Sunday Morning piece, which tells the story of a guy who, inspired by BBC broadcasts of Wimbledon, built his own top-level court in Iowa. It’s not often that shortwave gets such national exposure:

(Via CBS Sunday Morning on YouTube)

“If you build it, they will come.” In the case of one tennis-obsessed fan who built a replica of Wimbledon’s center court on his Iowa farm, people have come from around the world to his All-Iowa Lawn Tennis Club, to play on his court of dreams. Steve Hartman reports.

Click here to view on YouTube.

This absolutely made my day, Dan!  Thank you for sharing.

Photo tour of Dan Robinson’s receiver collection

Earlier this year–the day before the 2017 Winter SWL Fest, in fact–Dan Robinson and I joined forces at the National Cryptologic Museum in Fort Meade, Maryland, and following a brilliant Thai lunch, visited Dan’s place, where I surveyed his stunning receiver collection, several of which represent the Holy Grail of the receiver world.

I thought you’d like a sneak peek at Dan’s stunning receiver line up, too––and just to sweeten the viewing, Dan has kindly written an introduction for each.

This is a real treat for us at the SWLing Post. Thank you so much, Dan, for sharing!

And now, here’s Dan:


A tour of my radio collection

by Dan Robinson

As most readers of SWLing Post probably know by now, I have had a lifelong love affair with radios (as many of us have had). My collection of receivers has changed through the years, with some exceptions being radios that have stayed with me for decades and which Tom was able to photograph during his visit to my home in Potomac, MD.

Since I began my DXing/SWL career in the late 1960’s I ramped up my collection from the simplest of radios to what I have now, a combination of remaining boat anchors together with some of the rarest and most sophisticated receivers on the planet. Some years ago, I made a brief foray into SDRs, but for me the thrill has always been in tuning actual radios and not spending additional hours sitting at a computer.

Pilot T-133

Though I actually do remember my very first shortwave receiver — a very basic Toshiba portable — a Pilot T-133, from the year 1942 served as my main receiver for quite a few years from the late 1960’s to early 1970. I remember the day my father found this beauty in the basement of my grandmother’s house in the Bronx. He brought it home, strung up one of those Radio Shack copper SWL antennas in the attic and I was off to the races, and addicted. Often pulling 24 hour listening sessions on weekends, I would sit with my ear to the speaker of the T-133, and had a Wollensak reel-to-reel to record my earliest DX catches. My favorite, as it was for so many of us, was Radio Tahiti and Radio New Zealand which boomed out of the large speaker on the Pilot T-133. As you can see, i made a point of keeping the Pilot, with its tuning eye and slide rule dial, with me all these years and it now occupies a place of honor on a shelf in my den.

SONY ICF-PRO80

As Tom found out, my house has a number of radios scattered around, and one of them is the ICF-PRO80 by SONY. I took an interest in these wonders of technology late in my DX career. The PRO-80, like so many other SONY portables, is a technology showpiece, with its HF, AM, FM and VHF coverage. It has narrow and wide AM modes, SSB with a tine tuning control, and is quite complex to operate. Beware that PRO-80’s, like the AIR-7 and AIR-8 which have limited shortwave spectrum coverage, suffer from small component failure after so many years and though there are a couple of individuals who fix these radios, you’re taking a chance and you need to ask thorough questions of any seller.

Watkins Johnson 8718A/MFP

In the late 1990’s into 2000, I acquired a receiver I had always wanted, the Watkins Johnson 8718A. Actually, my first two of these radios I obtained while working overseas as a news correspondent for VOA in Thailand. They were being cleared out in a government auction, and I drove a few hours outside of Bangkok to get them at the VOA relay station. These are beautiful receivers, but they were surpassed by the 8718A/MFP which I obtained in an auction when back in the U.S. At one point, I had two of these babies, but now have kept one, which has the preselector option installed, and the rare 1hz readout with ISB capability. I rank these receivers in the top 10 of all I have ever used. They are super quiet, and you can really tell the difference between one of these pre-DSP radios and the later WJ HF-1000 and 8711/A.

Kenwood R-1000

Two radios I have always ignored were the Kenwood R-2000 and R-1000. I have both of them now and enjoy their superb audio and straightforward operation. The R-1000 especially is a joy to use — and truth be told, I don’t hear a lot on my multi-kilobuck receivers that can’t also be heard on one of these Kenwoods. For those of you interested, the two solid state recorders in the photo (above) are the Zoom H4n and the SONY PCM-D50.

JRC NRD-630

Those who attended the last SWL Fest in Pennsylvania had the rare opportunity to use one of the rarest receivers on the planet. We’re talking about the JRC NRD-630. This was the last marine/commercial HF receiver manufactured by Japan Radio Company. No one knows how many were actually made, but one thing is certain — they are almost never seen on the used market. This one has a bit of history — it was manufactured in 2012 and re-certified by JRC in 2017. Again, a long story, but when I got it it still had the thin plastic protective strip across the large beautiful LED readout window. It was basically new. I still intend to do a comparison of the NRD-630 with the NRD-301A, one of which I also have. The difference between the 301A/302 series and the 630 is that the previous series were pre-DSP, while the 630 was DSP, though with regular filtering. The 630 adds a keypad, and ISB and some other features.

McKay Dymek DR-33C6

McKay Dymek DR-33C6 (Top) above JRC NRD-630

Much has been written about the series of radios manufactured by McKay Dymek, so go to eHamnet and other online sources for the background of the company. I had always been curious about these receivers, and had my first opportunity to use one about 15 years ago. Unfortunately, that receiver had a tough life and my antenna situation was not great. A few years ago, a seller in Texas put a DR33C6 on Ebay — it was clear that it had been basically used once and stored in a closet. When it arrived here, I was floored — it was in perfect cosmetic and operating condition, with its beautiful wood panels and shiny front metal panel.

Dan’s McKay Dymek DR-33C6 at the 2016 Winter SWL Fest Hospitality/Listening Room

McKay Dymeks are for those who already know what frequencies they’re tuning. It’s quite a bit of fun, but more importantly, these receivers are under-appreciated: they are among the most sensitive radios ever made. And they look marvelous as part of a home audio system.

JRC NRD-515

What can one say about the 515 that hasn’t been said? Built like a battleship, this was the top of the line JRC consumer receiver (they also made a transmitter) separate from their pro marine/commercial radios. Like most of my receivers, this 515 is in near 10.0 cosmetic condition, along with the matching speaker. At the time the 515 came out it was among the only receivers that offered boatanchor-level flexibilities in a solid state rig (my favorite comparison was to the Hammarlund HQ-180/A). Though prices for 515s have experienced a sharp drop, they still bring fairly high prices on the used market and are cherished by those who know how good they are.

Drake R7A

One of the highest-rated receivers of all time, the same kind of superlatives apply for the R7A as to the NRD-515. The R7/A was a technological masterpiece by R.L. Drake. With its multiple filter selectivity, notch filter, and superb Drake passband tuning, the R7/A is able to pull anything out of the mud. I recently sold one of my remaining R7As, leaving this one, with a high serial number in the 3700 range. I use it with a RV-75 external VFO which helps with tuning and stability. The R7/A is on my list of the top five best receivers ever made.

Hammarlund HQ-180A/X

It was about 1980 or so when looking through the for sale section of the Washington Post I noticed a small ad. It said “Hammarlund Receiver with box”. When I arrived at the seller’s house in Virginia, I could hardly believe what I saw — it was this HQ-180AX, with its original box. The radio was basically new, and even today looks that way. This was the X version of the famed HQ-180/A, a fixed crystal unit in place of the clock that is usually seen on 180s. HQ-180s became my receiver of choice when I graduated from that old Pilot T-133 from the very early years of my DXing career. HQ-180s took me from the 100 country level through the 200 country heard level. There are many out there who swear by R-390s and Hallicrafters, but for me the favorite boatanchor of all time will forever be the HQ-180. Just to the right of this 180AX (but not pictured) is my other 180A, which is modified with LED readout through the front panel.

Eddystone 830/7

One of the books I used to read in the earliest days of my DX career was one produced by a well-known Scandinavian DX’er and in it, was a photo of an Eddystone 830/7. Decades later, I had an opportunity to purchase this museum-quality 830/7 from a seller in the UK. What a beauty, with an amazing front slide rule dial and silky smooth tuning and bandspread. The radio is deceptive — it looks smaller than a Hammarlund, but actually weighs more than a HQ-180.

SONY ICF-6800W

Another radio that I ignored for much of my listening career was the famous 6800W by SONY. When I finally got my hands on one of these, I understood why it has such a good reputation. Simply, this is one of the most sensitive receivers ever made. It has its quirks, and if it needs repair, you had better be able to do it yourself, because there is perhaps ONE place in this country that will even touch them. But the rewards of using the 6800W are many.

JRC NRD-93

Though I have two of JRC’s top marine receivers, the 301A and 630, a few years ago I feel in love with the looks and performance of the previous series JRC marine receiver, the NRD-93. What can you say about this baby . . . with its PBS and BFO fine tuning controls, beautiful large front LED panel, multiple onboard memories supplemented by the separate NDH-93 memory unit. Operating these JRC marine receivers is an experience everyone should have at least once. NRD-93s, along with NRD-92s, have become fairly plentiful on the used market. If you are looking for one, ask a lot of questions about condition and prior service. Those that saw heavy use on marine vessels often suffer from salt air corrosion and other issues. The beautiful original JRC toggles often need to replaced as they lose contact over the years.

UHER 4400 Report Monitor

When I was a correspondent in Africa in the 1980’s, there were — believe it or not — still BBC correspondents and other radio journalists who still used the Uher portable reel-to-reel recorders as their main portable production tool. I got this particular 4400 in new condition, and later added a new from old stock leather case, made for it.

Allied 2682

The Allied Model 2682 was the second or third radio I ever used. I didn’t realize at the time how simple and under-equipped it was. It had only a basic slide rule tuning system and a fine tuning control. The radio was recognizable for its twin rabbit ear antennas. This 2682 I found on Ebay, new in box, and I recently sold it. These receivers, like other Allied and Radio Shack models we all remember from the 70’s, are beautiful examples of some of the Made in Japan designs from that period.

JRC NRD-545

This receiver was purchased new and owned by the late great DX’er Don Jensen, so it has that bit of history attached to it. I began my love affair with JRC receivers when I used a NRD-525 in the 1980’s. As everyone knows, the “545” was the last prosumer set made by JRC. It’s one hell of a performer, with DSP filtering, that big beautiful display, and superb sensitivity. The radio still sparks debate, with some faulting it for high DSP noise. This 545 is loaded, with the CHE-199 module and high stability crystal. I also have a brand new top cabinet for the radio, obtained from JRC some years ago, and replacement key caps for the keypad digits. I recently remarked that a 545 held up quite well, in a comparison that is viewable on You Tube, with the brand new ICOM IC-R8600.


Thanks again, Dan, for taking the time to share a little about each of these amazing receivers and how many came to be in your collection.

In truth, readers, I’m sure there were many more radios I overlooked and (I’m certain!) Dan has acquired others since my visit.

The one thing I learned about my buddy Dan is that when he takes a radio into his collection, he’s a proper custodian of these beauties. He keeps each radio in excellent working order, proper cosmetic shape and, most importantly, puts them on the air!

Circa 1924 Parisian radio stockings

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Jarno de Haan (PA3DMI), who shares the following in reference to our recent post about radio hats of yore:

Radio hats are fun but I found radio stockings!

In 1924 French ladies in Paris used their stockings and umbrella to receive the radio transmissions from the Eiffel-tower.

The movie is part of a movietheatres newsreel in Holland so the text is in Dutch but the pictures says it all 🙂

A bit NSFW but hey 1924:

Click here to view on YouTube.

Thanks, Jarno!  I had never seen this video before!

I love the fact that her umbrella serves as an antenna. With this in mind, I hope our buddy, London Shortwave, can sort out a way to make a vertical HF loop for a little umbrella DXing in his local London parks!