Monthly Archives: October 2015

Guest Post: A Late Summer Visit to Howard Mills’ Radio Restoration

Many thanks to former VOA correspondent and noted DXer, Dan Robinson, for the following guest post:


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A Late Summer Visit to Howard Mills’ Radio Restoration

-Dan Robinson

The end of summer is a wistful time, as we begin to mourn the passage of warm days and anticipate the arrival of autumn.

For those of us in love with shortwave, even in these waning days of HF broadcasting, August brings changes in propagation that herald the approach of improved reception, thoughts of getting antennas in shape, and preparing receivers for the new DX season.

It’s also a time when Hamfests are winding down for the year — for me, it’s still great fun to attend these and see what equipment is available.

A few months ago, I and fellow Washington, DC area SWL Dave Malick took the opportunity to visit a couple of Hamfests. At one of these, in Berryville, VA, I ran across someone who over the years has become somewhat of a legend in the field of radio restoration — Howard Mills.

Howard lives in rural West Virginia, at a point about equidistant from Harper’s Ferry and Sheperdstown. That’s about an hour or so from DC and the immediate Maryland suburbs. From DC, you drive out Rt 270 to Frederick, Maryland and then up Route 15 and 340.

It’s beautiful country — on the way you pass through small towns, past farms, and in late summer, roadside stands selling huge ears of corn and about every type of vegetable, along with peaches and apples of every type and size.Rack mounted equipment

Back in the late 1990’s I first became aware of Howard Mills when I brought my Collins 51J4 to him for refurbishing.   Howard is one of the few persons remaining in this country capable of going through classic tube receivers from top to bottom.

A visit to Howard is an experience everyone should have at least once in a lifetime. Restoration activities take place in the lower/ground level of his home.

Outside there are some amazing antennas, long wires, and beams which support both his amateur radio and receiver activities.
DSCF7558Under a porch, covered in tarps, are some of his latest equipment and parts acquisitions, from thousands of tubes to some of the rarest radios and transmitter items one may ever see.

Howard at his home in WVA

Inside, you find a wonderland of receivers. You name it, Howard has it. In racks, there are specialized Beckman 51J4s, SP-600s, AR-88s and R-390/As, Eddystones, and others. In another room, you see some of the most beautiful, and collectible and valuable, American and foreign-made radios dating back to the earliest days.

Rare Eddystone

On tables in one portion of the basement of Howard’s place, you find several R-390s in various stages of refurbishment. One, he notes (probably among his “keepers” ) was found still new in its original crate (how I would love to have that one!).

On the day Dave and I visited, the purpose was to pick up one of the most beautiful R-390s I have ever seen — a Capehart that was refurbished by Howard in 2007 and placed in a custom cabinet, complete with an easy-left-off top, similar to the HQ-180 design. This black beauty is now sitting in my shack at home.

R-390A Capehart

Howard has been at it for many decades, as I said. A conversation with him is a voyage through radio history, punctuated by references to a range of major radio manufacturers. He clearly loves what he does, though one wonders how much longer he will be at it.

Howard emphasizes by the way that his work is in restoring TUBE radios — he doesn’t get into solid state. There are a few well-known receivers in his place — I noticed an ICOM IC-R72 and a JRC NRD-535– but most of what you see are the classics that we have all come to know and love.

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His primary specialty appears to be the 51J series. A link to him on the Collins site notes that his main focus is on A line equipment, J series, and 32V series, but he is certainly capable on a number of models, including as I saw, HQ-180s and AR-88s (http://www.collinsradio.org/howard-mills/)

I was able to take some photos of Howard’s operation and offer them to SWLing Post readers here. At this point, Howard remains in business. He has had customers from all over the U.S. and I assume around the globe.

For each refurbishing job, Howard provides an extensive print out of every single modification and component replacement he does, along with the results of sensitivity and calibration tests done for each set.

Please do note that Howard makes clear that basically as long as it takes him to refurbish a radio — is as long as it will take.   If you give him one of your radios, you basically agree to it being with him for several months if not longer. He does have a backlog.

R390A New

Things like sandblasting front panels for R390s (I am not certain to what extent he does this himself or out-sources this particular aspect) also takes time.   And the detail with which he approaches a breakdown of an R390/A, evidenced by the sets I saw in process, is quite extraordinary and time-consuming.

Howard gets mostly superb reviews from those who have used his services. If you look him up on the Internet, and he has time for you to visit, it’s an experience you will always remember, though it’s not that I would suggest a crowd descend on him.

Hope everyone enjoys the photos — I had intended to get this article to Tom much sooner than October. Keep in mind, of course, that though Howard is one of the last to do this kind of work, there are a few others, including Chuck Rippel in Virginia.

We are indeed lucky to have anyone still doing this work. We know they do it not just as a business, but out of a love for this wonderful old equipment.

Photo gallery

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Many thanks, Dan, for taking us on this virtual tour of Howard Mills’ collection and workshop!

Your Capehart R-390A is absolutely gorgeous; Howard, no doubt, brought it back to mint status through loving, considerate restoration. What a great addition to your collection, Dan.

Thank you, again,  for sharing your guest post.

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Incident highlights importance of marine radio communications

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Many thanks to SWLing Post reader, John Drake, who shares the following news via The National Post:

AHOUSAHT — Nobody saw the wave coming.

According to stories told by survivors on board the Leviathan II it broadsided the vessel, perhaps the biggest tourist boat in Tofino, as it was heading back from a day of visiting Hot Springs Cove.

The boat had turned its side to the waves rolling in across the open ocean to watch seals on Plover Reef.

The 27 people on board were not aware of the disaster about to unfold when a large roller wave rose up and knocked the boat over on its side, rolling it again and again.

As the ship tossed and began to sink, the passengers, dressed in street clothes, were cast about like rag dolls. Many were thrown into the water. Heads hit bulkheads and glass windows. Some were trapped inside, struggling to get free.

The ship sank at the stern, staying afloat only because air had caught in the bow.

[…]Some people were covered in diesel, making it harder to grab them and pull them onto a boat, said carver Joe Martin, whose relatives were out halibut fishing when they heard of the disaster over marine radio.

[…]Living in a remote community on the West Coast comes with its advantages, such as the beauty and wildness of the landscape. But it also has its privations.

Read the full story, along with video coverage, at The National Post website…

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Used Microtelecom Perseus $729.95 via Universal Radio

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I regularly check out the used equipment list at Universal Radio. While prices are not rock-bottom, the seller (Universal) is solid. Universal backs all of their used equipment with a 60 day limited warranty and their product descriptions are accurate. Fullscreen capture 10272015 65822 PM

This Microtelecom Perseus (see ad above) appeared in Universal’s used index a few weeks ago.  I assumed it would be snatched up pretty quickly at $729.99 US. I’ve been tempted to purchase it, but since I have no less than five SDRs in my shack at the moment, it would certainly be in excess to my needs.

Why buy a Perseus?  Even though it’s been on the market for many years, the Perseus has an excellent receiver that is comparable to or better than many of the latest SDR offerings. While I’ve never been a huge fan of the Perseus application/software, it is unique in that it allows you to both share your receiver and control other Perseus receivers online. The included server software is relatively easy to implement as well; no doubt, this is why there are so many Perseus receivers online.

I’ve even heard rumors that Microtelecom may be introducing a new Perseus application before long (I certainly hope this is true).

If you’ve been looking for a used Perseus in good condition, I feel like the $729 price is fair from Universal Radio (new units sell for $999.95).

Occasionally, you can find the Perseus used on eBay as well (click here to search).

At the prompting of Mark Fahey, I’m planning to borrow a friend’s Perseus soon and try some of the online functionality. If I make the receiver available through the Perseus online network, I’ll post an update here on the SWLing Post.

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Bill’s simple Sony SRF-59 passive loop antenna modification

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In reference to our previous posts about the Sony SRF-59 ultralight receiver, SWLing Post reader, Bill Mead, writes:

“As someone who doesn’t normally open the backs of radios, this is my mod on my ultralight. All it takes is a bit of electrical tape to hold the belt clip on the loop.”

That is, indeed, a brilliant and simple mod. The SRF-59 inductively couples to the loop antenna, so no soldering is needed; simply tape the belt clip to the loop, making sure the position is convenient for tuning the SRF-59 and the loop’s capacitor.

You can find passive loop antennas ranging from $19 to $50 US. The Grundig AN-200 and the Terk AM Advantage are two models currently on the market. Here are a few places you can check prices:

Grundig AN-200:

Terk AM Advantage:

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Peter recommends the Sony SRF-S84 and SRF-18 ultralights

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The Sony SRF-18

In reference to our post about the Sony SRF-39FP and SRF-59, SWLing Post reader, Peter, writes:

The Sony SRF-S84

The Sony SRF-S84

As usual a very interesting post.

I sold most of my collection of receivers some years ago but I’m still interested in AM DXing and especially ultralight DXing (thats why I have three SRF59).

May I draw your attention to other receivers as well?

The famous CXA1129N chip has been built into the SRF-S84 and into the SRF-18 as well. I use the SRF-S84 during sports. As the ferrite rod is even smaller than in the SRF-59 AM reception is a little bit less sensible but FM shines with mega sound.

The SRF-18 is my favorite travel radio!! It runs endlessly on two AA-cells, has built in stereo speakers, audio-in and audio-out, a rather large dial which is easy to use and due to a larger ferrite rod it is very very sensitive on medium wave.

SRF-S84 on Amazon

SRF-18 on Amazon

Best regards from Germany

Peter Oden

Thank you, Peter! Perhaps the SRF-18 can take the place of the SRF-59 as an affordable MW ultralight that is still in production. The Amazon price for the SRF-18 is $32 US–quite affordable. While I don’t need another ultralight, that price makes it very tempting.

The SRF-S84 reminds me of a super compact radio I used to sneak into my fifth grade class. I would listen to the radio during class by concealing the receiver in an interior jacket pocket and snaking the earphone cord through my sleeve. I would then rest my head on my left hand where the earphone was conveniently located.  Somehow I never managed to get caught.

While I’m sure my education suffered a little that year, it still makes for good memories!

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RTI test broadcasts to Central/South America

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Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, David Iurescia (LW4DAF), who notes that Radio Taiwan International will be testing a new broadcast schedule to Latin America October 27-29.

Frequencies and times are as follows:

  • To Central America: 03:00 – 04:00 UTC in 5985 Khz
  • To South America : 00:00 – 01:00 UTC in 11920 Khz

Send your reception reports to: esp@rti.org.tw.

Source: http://spanish.rti.org.tw/whatsNew/?recordId=13374

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Reminder: Share a photo of your shack or listening post for a chance to win a Grundig G2

Manisha's favorite listening post is her balcony in New Dehli where she listens with her Sony portable.

Manisha’s favorite listening post is her apartment balcony in New Delhi.

The November 1st deadline for our latest Reader Challenge is approaching!

In exchange for sharing a photo of your favorite listening post or your radio shack with the SWLing Post community, you’ll be entered for a chance to win a Grundig G2 portable radio/recorder and player! The choice will be made by random selection, so everyone has an equal chance of winning.

Click here to read a full description of the contest and how you can participate!

Many thanks to our friends at Universal Radio for sponsoring this contest!

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