Tag Archives: Ham Radio Repair

Caveat Emptor: A quick note about buying vintage solid state radios

Even rare NIB (New In Box) finds can have age issues internally

After posting links to a few used radios online yesterday, SWLing Post contributor, Jim Teddford, commented:

The thing to remember when buying solid state mulitiband radios online is that you’re buying “a pig in a poke.” Meaning you are buying a radio at your own risk. Radios from the 70s/80s/90s-(Panasonic Command Series and the Sony classics: ICF-6800, ICF-2021, etc.) are now to the point where components like capacitors, displays, knob/switches etc.are failing due to age. Unless you can repair or restore the radio, don’t buy it. Just admire the photo online.

Jim has a valid point here and it’s one I echo a lot when readers contact me asking if they should, for example, be looking for a used Sony ICF-2010 instead of a new radio like the Tecsun H-501x.

Although I bet 1970s-1990s era solid-state radios have much better longevity than our newer DSP receivers, at this point you must assume components will need to be replaced.

I’ve purchased two Panasonic RF-2200s in the past decade and both needed to have capacitors replaced, an internal cleaning, and DeOxit applied to the switches and pots. I assumed this much when I made the purchases. Mechanically, the radio worked well, but…what…four decades(!?!) of age will take a toll on the internals.

I’m not an expert on re-capping and restoring vintage radios, for that I rely on folks like Vlado and Chuck. Mentally, I set aside a budget to have work done on the radio and I add that to the purchase price.

Most of the time, components like capacitors, resistors, inductors, etc. can be replaced with no issues.

Keep in mind, though, that some items particular to any one model–like digital displays and integrated circuits–may already be obsolete. I’ll be the first to admit that if a digital display doesn’t work on a used solid state radio, I skip it for this very reason.

So when a newcomer to the radio world asks me they should purchase a used Sony ICF-2010 or a modern portable that’s still in production, my tendency is to dissuade them from the vintage set unless they have the skill or funds to give it a little TLC if needed.

With those disclaimers out of the way, I must say that I’ve yet to meet a modern DSP radio that has the audio fidelity of a 1970/80s era solid state radio like the GE Superadio or Panasonic RF-2200. And the Sony ICF-2010 or the Panasonic RF-B65? Both are still benchmark receivers and can wipe the floor with many of our late model radios.

In a nutshell: if you’re willing to put a little time and money into re-capping, repairing and restoring a reputable solid state radio, go for it! Otherwise, stick with a late model receiver that may even be backed by a manufacturer’s warranty.

Me? I’m willing to take the risk and invest to give these vintage portables a new lease on life!

SWLing Post readers: What do you think? Have you ever purchased a solid state radio that failed shortly after purchase? Have you ever restored a solid state radio? Did I miss any important points? Please comment!

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Vlado restores Mike’s vintage Sony CRF-160

Sony CRF-160 Dial

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Michael Schuster, who shares the following guest post:


Vlado works his magic on my Sony CRF-160

by Michael Schuster

Back in the 1970’s my grandfather gifted this solid-state portable to me as it was more than he needed. It was the first “real” radio I can remember owning, and it initiated my habit of scanning the dials into the wee hours of the morning. I began my serious SWLing using this set as it had excellent sensitivity, dual conversion design, big booming audio, and generous bandspread tuning for each major SW broadcast band.

One of the best-known SWL programs at the time was Happy Station on Radio Nederland, and I have distinct memories of listening in our back yard one summer afternoon when the show came up on the African Service over the Madagascar relay. My family was astonished at the program coming from so far away and even more so when Tom Meijer happened to read my letter over the air during the mailbag segment!

Fast forward many years (and two moves) later, it sat on a shelf until, trying it out again, I was dismayed to find both slide rule tuning dials, and the rotary drum band selector, to be frozen in place. And so there it sat until….

In a few online forums I kept hearing about a magician named Vlado at Ham Radio Repair. He specializes in restoring old sets, and has the courage and curiosity to tackle just about anything. Thinking this might be my last chance to bring this fossil back to life, and armed with a scanned copy of the service manual downloaded from the Radio Museum web site (the Internet is a marvelous thing) I began a several months’ long email exchange with Vlado entitled “Would you be willing to work on…”

He is chronically swamped with sets to work on, and has little room to store pending jobs, but was more than willing to have a look. Several months, and one pandemic later, we touched base again and I arranged to ship this monster off to him. Vlado is especially interested in the stories behind old hardware, so I shared its history with him as it adds that extra “human factor”.

The radio is in great shape as he noted, but needed a total rework of the tuning dials and drum selector. He also replaced all of the electrolytic capacitors (most were leaking as pictured), replaced some tiny light bulbs with LED’s, and realigned all of the circuits for maximum performance.

Unpacking and trying out the restored set was a true blast and somewhat miraculous. It performs just as I remember and now sits on the shelf, this time in use rather than in storage, booming its audio across my basement work room.

Now this set will probably outlive me as it did my grandfather; hopefully it will end up in the hands of an appreciative recipient for the next generation of radio enthusiasts.


Thank you for sharing this repair story, Mike. I visited Vlado’s home a few weeks ago and saw the box labeled “Sony CRF-160” in-line to be repaired. As Vlado worked on it, he sent me a couple of photos, too, because I believe it was the first time he had ever worked on this particular Sony model. It is certainly a gorgeous radio–wow! And I do love your philosophy as it’s the one I adopt too: keep vintage radios alive and working beyond our generation. 

Vlado is truly the most capable ham radio repair guy technician/engineer you’ll ever meet. He’s also as honest as the day is long. If you have a vintage or late-model solid-state radio that needs repair or restoration, contact him.

Click here to check out Vlado’s website HamRadio.repair.

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