Sunday, October 18, 2020

And Now For Something Completely Different.....

 USPS delivered these two guys yesterday:

These are Heathkit "SB Series" radios. The one on the left is an SB-301 receiver, and the one on the right is the matching SB-401 transmitter.

Inside the receiver:

Inside the transmitter:

These are dusty inside, but it's evident they've been stored in the proverbial "Cool, DRY Place", as they show ZERO signs of corrosion on any of the plated hardware, which is astounding for 55 year old Heathkit equipment. The plating they used on some of the hardware had a distinct tendency to get a funky, chalky whitish powder coating if they were stored in a damp environment, and some of the steel hardware was very prone to rust. There's also no signs of any overheating, burnt parts, smoke/pet residue, strange odors, or anything else funky about them.

The microphone looks like it just came out of the box!

The transmitter has the optional "Crystal Pack", which means it can operate independently of the receiver, or you can flip a switch and have the frequency controlled by the receiver, giving you full transceive operation.

The receiver has the optional 400Hz CW filter, and I have an AM filter down in the basement I've had for decades.

These were both built by the same gentleman, and the soldering looks beautiful. Wire and lead dress is also very good. And the manuals were included, along with the original owner's notes.

I wasn't looking for these, they just kind of found me. I check the eBay listings daily to try and keep abreast of what certain items, mostly radio equipment, are worth. While I was going through the Heathkit listings, I found the receiver. I checked the other items the seller had, and found the transmitter. It was obvious from the listing pictures these were in extremely nice cosmetic condition for their age, and they didn't look modified in any way, And I didn't notice any darkening of the circuit boards around certain parts on them in the transmitter, indicating it had never been rode hard and put up wet. In short, these appeared to be a matched pair from the same builder in remarkably good condition for their age. All the interconnecting cables and both of the funky "two pin" power cords were included, another bonus.

Here's the "hook" in the story.....When I passed my General Class Amateur Radio license in early 1965, still in grade school, my Dad was so proud I thought he was going to bust. We'd talked about upgrading my Novice Class station before IF I passed the General Class 13wpm Morse Code and theory exams. And when I did, he took me up to the Heathkit store, and gave me a budget of $800, a LOT of $$ in 1965, and we bought these two kits, a matching speaker, a Station Console with an SWR meter, Phone Patch, and 10 minute Station Identification timer, and an electronic keyer so my high-speed Morse Code would be easier to send.

The reason getting a General Class Amateur Radio was such a big deal "Back In The Day", is that you didn't have access to the questions and problems you were going to answer and solve, or Test Exams on the Internet, like you do these days. The Questions used by the FCC were Above Top Secret! You never knew exactly what the questions were going to be, other than cut-and-died stuff like frequency bands, power levels, and other regulatory stuff that you just had to memorize. This forced you to really study and know the basics about A.C. and D.C. circuits, radio theory, how circuits operated, what all the components were and how they worked, how transmitters and receivers worked,  propagation of radio signals, and many other things. In short, you really had to know electronics in general, and radio in specific. One problem on the exam I received was to analyze a section of a transmitter schematic, and report why it didn't work. I happened to get the "trick" problem to solve, and it drove me bonkers. I looked at the circuit every way I could think of, and couldn't find anything wrong with it. My answer was that it had no problems, and should work. The FCC examiner who graded my paper looked at me, and said "Good Job, young man".

So now I have these two radios, a direct connection to my youth, and the start of my serious pursuit of a career in electronics. I could most likely "Bring Them Up On A Variac" to reform the filter capacitors in the power supplies, but I'll probably just shot-gun them by replacing all the electrolytic capacitors in both units. I should have all the required parts except for the large "Twist Lock" capacitors in the power supplies. Fortunately these are being made new again, and by replacing them, the equipment should be good for another 50 years of service. I know I have at least two complete sets of tubes for the receiver, as it matches the Shortwave version of this receiver that I own, and at least four of the 6146 Final Amplifier tubes for the transmitter (it uses two of them), and should have the rest of the tubes in General Stock. There are three "Compactron" tubes in it I don't think I have, so I'll have to get some of them.

And we got some rain last night! The rain gauge indicated .01", which was enough to wet the streets here. We went to a birthday party today for one of TLG's cousins, and the In-Laws have had to evacuate again. The Cameron peak fire is now over 200,000 acres, but the unexpected cool, wet weather (snow at higher elevations) has slowed the fire some after a 24,000 acre expansion on Thursday and Friday. Lots of talk from people who know the area, the history, the USFS, and all the local agencies involved. Most of the talk concerns how this fire has been managed compared to the others over the years. Terms like "Charlie Foxtrot" were tossed around, mostly directed at the top levels of the state government. Consensus was that the forests out here have been mismanaged the last 25 years, and we're paying the price for it.

As a comment on the political climate "out here" (gotta stop saying that), TWO of the young (8~10 years) boys at the birthday party were dressing up as Navy Seals for Halloween.

And we finally watched John Wick last night. What a roller coaster of a movie! Even SLW enjoyed it.....


  1. Thanks for the wave of nostalgia. It was like looking into 1965 at the gear some of my friends had. I was just off of active duty from the Navy and still couldn't afford a nice ham station.

    Still praying for relief from the fires. We have one going in the Prescott National Forest - the "Horse Fire." Latest forecast for 100% control is out in November sometime. Still very dry and windy up there.

    1. I figured you'd be one of the people who stop by here that would get a kick out of it!

      I built them both, and the speaker, keyer, and station console, over Christmas break in 8th grade.

      My Novice station was a Halicrafters SX-146 receiver, with a homebrew transmitter. A 6C4 triode crystal oscillator driving a 6L6 Beam Power Tetrode. After I made a few contacts, I had saved up enough to buy a Heathkit DX-60. No desire to recreate my Novice station, but when I stumbled across these on eBay, I just couldn't pass them up.

      Besides, they're "EMP Proof"!

  2. My late uncle, Joe White, was a major ham back in the day in the Denver area. Not having a lot of money, he built all of his stuff. He was willing to teach me but my fine motor skills (and patience) have always been lacking. If memory serves, my highest achievement was a Third Class Radio Telephone License. It is probably in a box somewhere in storage.

    1. Ah, yes, the 3rd Class "Restricted Permit". Got one of those when I started to fly. I think some of my boating friends had them, too.

      I've built lots of stuff from scratch, including transmitters and amplifiers, but never built a receiver from scratch other than some crystal sets and a couple of old timey "Regenerative" sets.

      It's not a pursuit for everybody, but was one of the few technical hobbies available at the time to me. Photography had continuing costs with film and supplies, and astronomy was limited to maybe 9 months out of the year unless you got bundled up like Nanook! Model railroading didn't interest me much, but once I spun the dial around on an old shortwave somebody gave me, I was hooked!

  3. Ah, Heathkit... Radio Shack... Order parts from a catalog or the store, build at home.

    Man, the world has changed, hasn't it?

    1. Yes it has, Beans, and I'm not sure it's changed for the better.

      But then I guess every Old Man, everywhere, has felt the same.

      I have Allied Radio catalogs from 1964~1971, right about when Radio Shack got bigger than Allied Radio, and the whole Tandy Empire started to run them. I use the catalogs to find manufacturer's part numbers on obscure parts like connectors, switches, indicator lamps, and other bits I need to repair old stuff.

      Often times these parts are still available, and can be purchased for far less at Digi-Key, Mouser, or other places than eBay and Amazon sellers charge for them.

      One connector I need was $22 on eBay, and only $3 at Mouser! Same part, but no middleman mark-up.

  4. That's an amazing find! And good luck with the fire getting damped too!

    1. I probably spent more than I could have, but it's like wanting a certain gun because of a childhood connection. I miss my little Remington "Nylon 66", but wouldn't be willing to spend what they want these days for a nice one.

  5. When I was 13 or 14, I wanted to get my ham ticket, but couldn't convince the folks. I had built a Heathkit SW receiver and could hear just enough to want to hear more.

    When the Heathkit catalogs came the 301/401 twins were my dream radios. Yeah, I had seen the Collins KWM-2 in Popular Electronics (I guess) but those weren't even worth dreaming about. It's like dreaming about getting a Chevy because it just seems too impossible to even dream about getting a Cadillac!

    I didn't get my ham ticket until 1976, about 9 years later. Never did get the 301/401, but I have a KWM-2 in the station now. It does everything you must have an HF radio do, but my IC-7610 runs rings around it in receiver performance and operating convenience.

    1. I'm sure my 20 year old FT-1000D will run circles around them, too!

      And as much as I rave about the 1000D being an "analog" radio, these things don't even have a digital display in them.

      Still, there's times it's fun to fire up a tube rig, and enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells of it.

      Just ordered all the caps for both radios. Also snagged a matching speaker in prime shape for $60, shipped. I'll rearrange my desktop shack here in the sunroom so I can have another set of rigs to use.


Keep it civil, please....

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