Category Archives: Radio Modifications

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.

Guest Post: More Anti-Noise Ideas

In a previous guest post, SWLing Post contributor TomL, shared his “Evolving, Morphing, SW Listening Station” where he detailed the many ways he’s trying to fight heavy radio interference at his listening post. The following post is TomL’s update:


More Anti-Noise Ideas

(Continuing the hunt for better reception in a foul RFI environment)

by TomL

toml-radios

I have made the following changes:

  • Created a prototype mini-loop based on a crossed-parallel idea from VE1ZAC (Jeff).
  • Added a balun from LNR Precision (Parfitt’s EF-SWL) in an experimental configuration.
  • Added to the balun, an outdoor amplifier – Wellbrook ALA-100M.
  • Added a noise canceling unit (MFJ-1026).
  • Added 2 preselectors, an old Grove TUN-3 connected to the main loop feed and an MFJ-1046 connected to the ground connection of the balun. Both feeds go into the MFJ-1026.
  • Added BHI Compact In-Line DSP filter and two switch boxes to cut it in/out as needed.
  • Added a medium wave noise canceling unit that I have not figured out how to use yet. (Quantum Phaser). The MFJ unit does not work on medium wave without modification.
  • Purchased from eBay a used Grundig Satellit 800, a somewhat more robust fixed-station receiver to replace my aging Sony ICF-2010.
  • Other non-related (not shown): Whistler digital scanner + UHF over-the-air TV + FM broadcasts + an AM/FM HD digital radio + high pass filters from MiniCircuits.com – (audio from all these sources is passed to an existing high fidelity stereo power amp and NHT Super One speakers on the computer desk for near-field monitoring). Associated antennas are also hidden on the outside deck (shhhhh!).
  • Large charge card balance!!

So, here are some pics for the crossed-parallel loop. VE1ZAC web site has all the references if you want to explore further or google him. Mine is purely a prototype and not finished. And should eventually be placed on a rotor (but how to keep my Nazi-like condo association from finding out?!?!?!?).

loops

It is three 14 inch quilters hoops from Joann Stores plus some 1-inch copper strips cut from a small 2 meter roll of thin copper from eBay. Then, it is wired in parallel with silver-plated aviation wire on each side with a feed in the middle. Not an optimal placement of the feed, (should go straight down along the pipe). Will fix things up whenever I get some more time.

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Seems to be an efficient way to prototype small loops. It is now mounted on a short ¾” inside diameter PVC pipe into a cheap plastic sand-filled deck-umbrella stand. Loops are light and somewhat flimsy, so I mounted the three loops on a plastic triangle ruler and dowel sticks glued to the sides for some extra strength. Good enough for now.

The EF-SWL balun is also in an experimental configuration. Since I read somewhere that loop antennas have a very low impedance at the feed point (like, 10 ohms or lower), I thought I might try a balun that is meant to lower the impedance and mount it backwards. I don’t have a picture of it but the SO-239 output is facing the loop and the screw terminals are facing the direction of the radio. My feeble brain thinks since it is a passive device of coils on ferrite, it should work bidirectionally for receive only applications like this. It seems to work but I have the excuse that I really don’t know what I am doing! 🙂

bhi

BHI unit in action.

The BHI DSP filter is useful in some circumstances but I find it fatiguing to listen to. The audio from the Sattelit 800 is so nice, I mostly like it without the DSP. The DSP narrows the bandwidth significantly, somewhere around 4 kHz or less from my hearing. I like that the Grundig has two tone controls. And it also has a stable SSB and on very strong signals with clear audio, I like to listen with SSB lower or upper sideband. But the DSP is useful at times for hash-like noisy signals; it is not quite as good on buzzing noise and I wish the Satellit 800 had a noise blanker, but that would have been a more costly purchase, like a Drake R8A.

So, in a nutshell, I have a discovery about noise here: it is all around me and ubiquitous, like the air I breathe!

I find it hard to null and also worry about peaking a station signal at the same time. However, I do have a lower noise floor with the experimental loop sitting outdoors, especially on medium wave (the Wellbrook amp + loop works great on the lower frequencies – am able to get eight different medium wave stations carrying Major League Baseball games at night – it would be nine to get WFAN for the New York Mets but the local Chicago Cubs station covers the adjacent frequency with horrible digital hash! ***Bleeping*** digital junk!).

Also, the signal level is noticeably lower using the loop. Then, add in the effect of the MFJ Noise Canceling unit, the usable signal gets even weaker.

The bottom line is, I can now finally enjoy listening to many SW broadcasts, BUT only the strongest signals. Anything else is still hopelessly lost in the noise. So, gains are limited.

On the other hand, and something else I learned by doing is that, any 1 or 2 dB signal/noise ratio improvement will help with the final audio output in the end product. Using low-noise amps, loops, noise canceler, preselectors, grounded connections, ground isolators at the input of every receiver, high quality stereo amplifier and speakers, tone controls, SSB vs. AM Sync, weird antenna configurations, etc, etc. It all helps in the end to some degree.

Tinkering is an art that involves a lot of thinking/doing iterations! And high quality parts must be used all along the chain or it could degrade the signal.

Below are some audio samples, not very well recorded, but can give some idea of the incremental improvement with each enhancement (turn up the volume). NOTE: other people may get better or worse results depending upon individual situations, type of antennas used, etc, etc.

Recording 1: R. Marti. First 10 seconds an indoor antenna with no noise reduction, second 10 seconds the outdoor loop without the MFJ-1026, the third 10 seconds with the MFJ-1026, then switched off and on to hear the difference.

Recording 2: R. Marti. MFJ -1026 is ON. Last 15 seconds is SSB, very thin sounding. Really only good for strongest signals. I liked the AM Sync better (Satellit 800 is really a Drake SW8 in disguise with a quality AM Sync). But, SSB can sound excellent with very clear voices with a steady and strong signal (The Satellit 800 does NOT have IF-shift or a BFO to fine tune an SSB reception, so the station must be exactly transmitting on the kHz mark, which most are nowadays).

Recording 3: R. Marti. MFJ-1026 is ON. Last 20 seconds you hear me switch in the two audio switches and the BHI DSP is on its lowest setting. Narrower and clearer with some reduction of background noise. I find I only like going up to about 4 on the DSP dial, after that the audio fidelity starts getting more choppy with digital artifacts that sound like dripping water. I tend to like higher fidelity. One nice thing about the BHI DSP is a faux-stereo that helps a little with voice intelligibility by helping the brain naturally filter the noise. Faux-stereo is ON even when the noise reduction circuit is manually turned off (power must be on and bandwidth still sounds narrowed).

Recording 4: R. Nacional Brazilia. First without MFJ-1026, then ON, then OFF, then ON, then with the BHI kicked for the last 20 seconds.

Recording 5: Greece. Switching the MFJ-1026 on and off every 5 seconds. In this particular case, the signal was weak and fading a lot. The MFJ OFF was also weaker than with it turned ON. That is interesting behavior, usually it is opposite. It pays to play with the settings a little. At other times, and less frequently, the MFJ unit turned OFF sometimes sounds better than with it ON and tuned for less noise. Go figure!

After all the tweaking is done, and I cannot get any more performance out of this, I will probably have to move to a nice, quiet neighborhood and setup a nice antenna farm!!

In the meantime, I do enjoy listening to the stronger stations from North America, Cuba, Brazil, Europe, and Australia with less noise than before.

73’s

TomL from NOIZEY Illinoiz


Once again, Tom, thanks for sharing your RFI elimination journey!

I love how you take on this noisy problem by experimenting and seeing it more as a challenge than an obstacle to enjoying your hobby.  Great job! 

Edward restores a Star-Lite Town & Country FM-820 portable receiver

Star-Lite TownAndCountry_FM-820_2Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Edward Ganshirt, who writes:

This is a “mystery brand” radio that I picked up at a swapfest for a buck, I never heard of a Star-Lite Town & Country FM-820 by the HOKUYO MUSEN KOGYO CO in Japan. This portable behemoth is not “lite”, It is heavy (13 pounds).

The only thing I came up with is Sam’s photofact that refer to radio. (I am not about to buy a service manual for something that is not broken). There is a Chrysler Town & Country station wagon, which is also a behemoth that swamps out all Google searches. This set appears to be made in the mid sixties. I was told that is was on a fishing boat as evidenced by its condition it was very dirty with a lot of corrosion on the bezel and missing a tuning knob.

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I fabricated a tuning knob on a lathe, which was a 2-piece affair. The outer knob is tuning and the inner knob is the fine tune. It cleaned up well and I had to repaint the bezel. The auto parts store said that the Chrysler of that area did not use metal flake paints but they matched a touch-up spray can of a Toyota millennium silver.

Star-Lite TownAndCountry_FM-820_5Star-Lite TownAndCountry_FM-820_4
This radio has 8 push-button bands: long-wave, AM, short-wave 1.6 to 26 MHz, and FM along with tone controls. The sound is surprisingly good it is a 6-cell battery only (no AC). It has reasonably good short-wave drift-free performance. The paint job looks good, there is a rusty chrome bumper next to the push-buttons. I decided to to restore this part. It is ok for your 1960’s Town & Country to have rusty bumpers.

While you would not take your Panasonic RF9000 your Transoceanic or Grundig, This radio is my “beater” to take to the beach.

Star-Lite TownAndCountry_FM-820_1

Does anyone know about the Star-Lite brand?

Thank you, Ed, for sharing this.  I am not at all familiar with this make and model of radio. I must say…I’m most impressed that you were able to fabricate a tuning knob! It would have been a challenge to find a replacement knob otherwise.

I bet she plays well, too–looks like a decent ferrite bar inside and a substantial telescoping antenna.

And you’re right, Edward, it is ok for your 1960’s Town & Country to have rusty bumper! Now take that girl to the beach! 🙂

Post readers: please comment if you’re familiar with the Star-Lite brand!

Colin’s Hammarlund HQ-120X restoration

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Many thanks to Colin Snow for sharing the following photos and commenting on his Hammarlund HQ-120X restoration. I originally noticed his photos in the Extreme Shortwave Listening group on Facebook and he kindly wrote up descriptions for each image to be published here on the SWLing Post:


Hammarlund HQ-120X restoration

by Colin Snow

Hammarlund HQ-120X

Purchased on eBay March, 2016. Hammarlund HQ-120X (1939 restored) and PSC/10 speaker (1939 original). The radio was frist restored by KE7RD, the collector who owned this unit for years. This was a late production version. It has 6K7’s instead of 6S7’s (good). The O/P TRANS has been replaced and an SO-239 added. It was recapped and aligned both IF + RF and works well on all bands.”

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I had the cabinet repainted locally at NRI Sandblasting and Coating with a black semi-gloss crinkle powder coat paint. I cleaned the chrome part of the handles with Quick Glo and stripped and painted the two shoulders with black gloss enamel.

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I had the speaker enclosure stripped and painted at the same time as the cabinet with the same black semi-gloss crinkle powder coat.

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The original 1939 speaker was a 10″ Jensen. It worked, but I wanted the best possible sound. This current production model Jensen fit exactly.

HAmmarlund-HQ120X 6

White lines for the knobs were done using white out. The lines are grooved so I just gobbed it on and wiped off the excess.

Hammarlund-HQ120X-Faceplate

I had the faceplate rescreened by Adam’s Precision Screen Printing, Inc. San Leandro, CA. They created a film positive first, then a negative screen.

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It was a perfect job. The color and sheen matched original. This should last longer because it is an epoxy ink that has been baked to harden.

Hammarlund-HQ120X-knobs

The lettering came out clean. Even though they made a 1.5X negative they still had to create artwork for the fonts. The original letters were just etched into to aluminum. It looked like it was done by hand.

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Funny how words change. We now say “megahertz”, not “megacycles.”

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I refurbished the dial windows myself. They were easy to strip and I used a flat black enamel spray. The S-meter glass was dirty so I disassembled it and cleaned with Quick Glo.

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Still works after all that!

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Its final resting place is my office and looks pretty good next to an original Tiffany’s lamp. I have a second listening post.


Colin, I can see that you spared no expense to restore this Hammarlund HQ-120X and it has paid off–an absolutely gorgeous job! I love how its “final resting place” is in a part of your office that gives it an appropriate amount of space–a place to be admired and, more importantly, enjoyed.  I bet the 120 sounds simply amazing!

Thanks again for sharing these photos and your commentary, Colin!