A Photo Tour of the National Capital Radio and Television Museum

On Tuesday afternoon, I made a pilgrimage the to the National Capital Radio and Television Museum in Bowie, Maryland, USA.  The museum is located in a modest and beautiful historic house on the corner of Mt. Oak and Mitchellville Roads in Bowie.

RadioMeseumExterior

RadioMuseum-Exterior-FrontDoor

Museum Curator and volunteer, Brian Belanger, kindly gave me a private tour of the museum collections (the museum is closed on Tuesdays). Brian

Many thanks to Brian for taking time out of his day for the tour, and for allowing me to take some photos for the SWLing Post!

The museum has a number of display rooms with radios broadly grouped by style and decade. The first room offers examples of some of the earliest radios produced–including the venerable crystal radio (below).

[Click photos to enlarge.]

Miracle

Radio4

Like Brian, numerous volunteers work to keep the collections in working order. This isn’t a place where vintage radios come to die; they actually come to life here.

Volton-Battery

1920sRadioEven examples of some of their earliest radios are on the air and can be tuned to local and international stations.  Radio5

RCA-Radiola-60 RCA-Radiola-60Dial

This RCA “portable” (below), housed two batteries on either side of the center faceplate. Note the ad on the wall above–a couple enjoy the RCA as they recline on a beach.

RCA-Portable RCA-Portable-Dial Radiola-X-RCA Radio10 Atwater-Kent-Black Atwater-Kent-Black-Interior

Speakers of the day were pretty amazing, too–check out this hand-painted 1927 Air Chrome Double Cone Speaker, below.

Air-Chrome-Double-Cone-Speaker

The museum also has an extensive collection of studio and off-air recordings that can be played over an AM carrier throughout the building.

Atwater-Kent-Dial

By the late 1920s and early 1930s, radio manufactures built gorgeous console radios, features in the living rooms and parlors of many lucky homes.

Atwater-Kent

Crosley-Dial

Scott-ConsoleRadio

This E.H. Scott All-Wave 23 console (above and below) sported not only twenty-threee vacuum tubes, but a large, robust internal speaker. Radio collectors consider the All-Wave 23 to be one of the finest performing radios of the vacuum-tube era. Scott-Console-Radio-Dial

Zenith-Shuttle

The museum also features the Zenith 12-S-232 tabletop radio with working shuttle dial–a futuristic band-switching mechanical wonder with a stunning dial.

Zenith-Shuttle-Dial ClintonModel-445X

A number of tabletop and portable radios that span the decades have found their homes in this museum.  No doubt many SWLing Post readers cut their teeth on these classics!

Zenith-Trans-Oceanic-6500 Zenith-Portable American-Radio-AssociatesRealistic-Model-12-173 Garod-Model-582

I love the design of the Garod Model 5A2–wow! And I’m sure many kids of the fifties wished they had an official Hopalong Cassidy AM radio (below).HopAlongCassidy-Radio

The museum, of course, also houses a large number of classic televisions.

Pilot-Model-TVHallicrafters-TV Philco-TV Philco-TV-ControlsRadio stations and benefactors have also donated many items used in the industry, both in broadcast and retail.

NBC-Chimes PhilcoSign Midwest-Magazine SylvaniaSigns 980KC-MicBrian was also kind enough to take me to the building, next door, where they repair radios and store others for eventual rotation into the collection.

Workshop Repair4 Repair2

Museum volunteers also teach radio repair and restoration classes.Repair1 Repair3

GE-RadioThe number of classic ham radios, home brew receivers and transmitters was simply amazing. Indeed, I felt like a kid in a candy shop!

Radio1 National-NC-46 HalliDial Hallicrafters-SX100 Hallicrafters-SX62A Hallicrafters-SuperSkyrider Hallicrafters-Super-Skyrider CollinsTransmitterBy the end of the tour, I had decided to become a member of the National Capital Radio and Television Museum. Even though I live a few states away, I like knowing that my membership funds not only help preserve vintage radios and televisions, but also provide me members-only access to many of their scanned archives. Click to view a full list of benefits for a modest $25 membership.

Again, many thanks to Brian Belanger for the amazing tour of this wonderful museum!  Brian, I’ll be back next year…

The Hallicrafters SX-88: a rare find and a gem of engineering

Hallicrafters-SX-88

Yesterday while glancing through the QTH.com classifieds ads, I noticed a rare boat anchor for sale: the Hallicrafters SX-88.

The seller, Jeremy, describes this SX-88 as follows:

Hi [t]here, I have one SX88 in minty shape and is one of a handful that came in military green on [the] front panel for evaluation by the military. This is an exceptional radio in amazing condition. I can provide pics for someone who is seriously interested. I am open to a fair offer on radio. Please, no low-ballers. We all know what [it’s] worth…

Halli-SX-88-QTH-Ad“We all know what it’s worth–?

Well, it just so happened that my good friend (and Elmer, or ham radio guru) Mike Hansgen (K8RAT) had recently provided me with a little history lesson on the subject of the SX-88, so I did know what this rig is worth: a great deal of money.

But curiosity got the best of me, so I contacted Jeremy (a nice fellow, by the way) and asked what he was expecting to receive in exchange for his Hallicrafters SX-88? Jeremy’s reply:

“…$5,500 USD will take it. It is a very rare unit; it was… only one of about 6 [painted green]…for presentation to the military for evaluation.

That price is firm. [I] will not negotiate downward, and shipping [from Ontario, Canada] is extra.”

After receiving this response from Jeremy, I happened to think that I have the reference guide to rare/used shortwave receivers: Fred Osterman’s Shortwave Receivers Past and Present 4th edition. (Click here for more info.)

Osterman’s wonderfully comprehensive guide mentions that the SX-88 is a “highly regarded, rare and collectible model.” As for the rarity of the SX-88, he describes it thus: “Extremely Scarce.” The used price range he gives is from $3,500-7,000 US.

I also have Chuck Dachis’ book, Radios By Hallicraftersin it, he states that the SX-88 is, “the most sought-after Hallicrafters model.” Wow.

After thanking Jeremy for his response, he replied:

“It’s a lot of money for a receiver for certain, but it is a fantastic shortwave receiver as the audio that comes out of it is amazing.

It has 10 watts of audio and into a big speaker–it is second to none. The fidelity is amazing and it is the king of its kind. [For those who like] tube rigs, it is the best of its kind.

For ham purposes on AM it is amazing, and on CW I find it incredible to use.

[W]hen they built this thing they intended to pull all [the] stops out and build the best radio they could for the day with the military in mind. It was an engineering marvel for the day.

Anyway, I have played with it for years now and need to thin out the herd.”

Impressive. And while I just don’t have that kind of money to fork out for a receiver, I did ask myself the question: “If I had $5,500 to blow, would I get that Hallicrafters SX-88?”

And my answer? Yes.  In fact, I would personally drive to Jeremy’s home in Ontario and bring it back; no way I’d trust it to a parcel carrier or the post office…

Click to enlarge (Source: AntiqueRadio.org)

Click to enlarge (Source: AntiqueRadio.org)

Come on, you may say. For a guy who rarely pays over $50 for a vintage receiver, how could you possibly justify that kind of financial and time commitment–?

Well, let’s think of it this way.  I remember when when I paid well over two thousand for my first laptop in college. How much is it worth now? Maybe twenty dollars–?

Many people have retirement funds in investments, some of which are in a variety of innovative companies that they actually patronize–for example, Apple or Microsoft.  But how often can you find an investment that you can actually play with? One which you can turn on, tune in, work the controls, and enjoy?

Yes, I’m sure this is just the sort of justification voiced by many a vintage car collector…So, why not for a museum-worthy radio? After all, they’re not making these anymore.

I expect this Halli will not only hold its value, but will probably increase in value over time.

Ah, well; fun to ponder.  My question to you: Would you buy a $5,500 vintage receiver if you had it to spare?

If your answer is yes, and you do have the money, then you might want to contact Jeremy.

I’m very curious if there are any SX-88 owners among our readership? If so, please comment with your thoughts about the ’88!

And for the rest of us, just so we can revel in the vicarious pleasure of ownership, I’ve included some additional information about the Hallicrafters SX-88 below, including two videos.

Resources (courtesy of Jeremy):


Video: 1940s-era holiday treat from Tommy Dorsey (c/o a vintage rig)

Tommy_dorsey_playing_trombone

Below you’ll find a short video of my 1945 Scott Marine Radio Model SLR-M playing Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra’s  jazz-infused version of “March of the Toys” from Victor Herbert’s holiday classic “Babes in Toyland.”

It’s a little holiday time-travel I cooked up for you on this great vintage rig. I’m actually playing the song via an SStran Model AMT3000 AM transmitter I built from a kit (more on that in a future post). The transmitter has been set to 1410 kHz, to which the SLR-M is tuned.

Though the microphone on my Flip Video camera makes the sound in this little recording tinny (you’ll have to trust me that, live, it’s remarkably warm and rich), it does feel a bit like radio time-travel to hear a 1940s-era song played on a 1940s era-radio. This is just how WWII servicemen might have heard this music.

For your holiday enjoyment: “March of the Toys” by Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra:

Name that dial!

Mystery-Radio-DialYesterday, I acquired another antique radio (yes, a “boat anchor”) for my modest collection of vintage receivers. I took a quick close-up photo of its backlit dial (above).

For fun, I’m curious if any SWLing Post readers can name the radio sporting this dial? If you want to give it a go, please comment below.

Now shipping: Shortwave Receivers Past & Present

SW-Receivers-Past-And-Present

My buddy, Dave (N9EWO), writes:

Yes, it has finally hit the store shelves. Universal Radio received shipment of the (long awaited) updated publication this morning.

“Shortwave Receivers Past & Present, Communications Receivers , 1942-2013” 4th edition

It can be ordered today, see here for more information :

http://www.universal-radio.com/catalog/books/0004.html

Many thanks for sharing, Dave. Shortwave Receivers Past & Present is the reference guide to used shortwave receivers. To me, it’s like a dream book–a place to browse the many radios I wish I could call my own! I plan to order soon.

Dayton Hamvention flea market: a few photos

I had a little over one hour to check out the Dayton Hamvention flea market yesterday morning before manning our inside exhibitor’s table for Ears To Our World.

Here are a few radios that caught my attention:
CollinsRadios

Hallicrafters-SX-24I actually purchased the Hallicrafters SX-24 in this photo (above) for $60. I would have purchased the speaker as well but he wanted $200 (!!!) for it.

Hallicrafters-SX-42 Hallicrafters-SX28 Hammarlund-HQ145ABy the time I made it back to this Hammarlund HQ 145 A, someone else had already snagged it. It was a beauty!

Panasonic-RF-4800 Philips Racal-RA6790GMI probably saw eight of these RA6790/GM’s scattered throughout the flea market.

Signal-Corps-BC-1308 Zenith

SWLing with heavy metal: my Signal Corps BC-348-Q

SignalCorps-BC-348-Q

I write a great deal about DSP portables, SDRs, and modern ham radio transceivers, but truth be known, my passion is for older rigs–ahem, much older–the antique “boat anchors” of the radio world.

Tuesday afternoon, I had a rather involved soldering project to do on behalf of my organization, Ears To Our World.  While I worked, I decided to fire up my Signal Corps BC-348-Q to hear what was on the air. I promptly discovered Radio Exterior de España on 17,850 kHz–starting with their interval signal; REE, care of my BC-348-Q, kept me company while I soldered almost three hundred connections.

The BC-348-Q frequency dial

The BC-348-Q frequency dial (Click to enlarge)

I listen to my BC-348-Q nearly every week. Usually, she’s tuned to 9,580 kHz for my morning dose of Radio Australia.  In the winter, the ‘348’s tubes keep my little radio room a little warmer than the rest of my house. In the summer–well, I just sweat a little more.

I love this radio, and my other “boat anchors,” because when I listen to these rigs I can’t help but hear the past.  I wonder about the others who have listened to the same radio, and what was happening in their lives as they listened…

The BC-348 series, for example, is well-known for its use in WWII allied bombers–these rigs were mounted in the likes of the B-17, B-24, B25, and others of the era. Indeed, mine still has the original clips on the base that anchored it to the radio operator’s onboard work table. The ‘348 was used as a long-distance liaison receiver during WWII. 

The B-17 radio operator's position (Source: AZ Commemorative Air Force)

The B-17 radio operator’s position (Source: AZ Commemorative Air Force Base)

The BC-348 series was built with simplicity, functionality, and serviceability in mind. It was built to withstand life on a B-17 bomber–the extreme vibration on start up, the extremely low temps in the upper atmosphere; it could be serviced by the radio operator in flight, if necessary. Its controls are simple, bare-bones, even. The tuning knob and analog dial are beautifully engineered and precise.

The ‘348 has a power switch, volume control (switchable from auto to manual gain), crystal filter, CW switch, beat frequency control, tuning knob, and a band switch (located just below the dial). The antenna and ground terminals are mounted on the front of the radio for easy accessibility. All controls are spaced so that the radio operator could use the ‘348 even while wearing thick cold-weather gloves.

BC-348-Q-FrontControls

You can’t do any medium wave DXing on the ‘348, however: this receiver was intentionally designed with the medium wave band omitted. Evidently, Uncle Sam wanted radio ops to be focused on communications instead of entertainment (but that’s okay; the government also made morale radios for the latter).

When I go to the Dayton Hamvention–or any hamfest, for that matter–it’s radios like the BC-348-Q I seek. Tube/valve radios sometimes lack the sensitivity and (digital) accuracy of modern tabletop shortwave receivers, but they make up for this in audio fidelity. As long as you have a properly-matched speaker, the sound can be…nothing short of amazing. Even though the ‘348 was never designed for robust audio, it still sounds richer and fuller than most modern tabletop radios. The sound is so warm it literally glows. Moreover, I’d be willing to wager that there are few modern receivers that can stand the test of time like these rigs.

BC-348-Q-Label

If you buy one of these old beauties, you must be ready to service them; inevitably, a capacitor or tube will fail in time.  But they just…keep…going.

I’m very much in debt to my good friend and radio elmer, Charlie (W4MEC) who kindly teaches me everything I need to know about these great rigs. He’s exceedingly patient, and that counts for much, as I’m not by nature technically inclined. But I do enjoy learning about these radios and how to service them; the romance of their history draws me in, and I simply can’t get enough.

Note: It’s important to work with a knowledgeable elmer/mentor or a professional repair technician when servicing these boat anchors, because, unlike with our modern radios, their high voltages can severely injure (or even kill) you if you don’t know exactly what you’re doing inside the chassis.  This is repair work for the professional.

BC-348-Q-FrontView

My BC-348-Q turns 71 this year–and I’m sure it has at least that many more years to go. I know that I’ll give it as much TLC as it can take. We must keep these still functioning pieces of history on the air.

If you, too, have boat anchors or antique radios alongside your modern rigs, please comment! I’d love to learn about your favorites. In other words, what heavy metal is in your shack?

Resources: