Hamming On the Cheap -- K0JD's shack

by John Seboldt, K0JD, Milwaukee, WI

Last update: 7/13/2001 (R-392 addition)


Having moved to Milwaukee from Minneapolis in July 1999 (but I'll remain "forever a zero" ;-) ), I thought I'd miss the larger property with trees and room for a horizontal loop of about 400 feet around. That loop was the best general-purpose wire antenna I've used, with pretty darn good signal reports on QRP. 

But the current 60 x 120 foot rectangular lot's possibilities have unfolded over time. Putting up an old collapsible TV antenna mast for a TV antenna, the wheels started turning, and I could see the possibilities. 

The mast (about 40+ feet, originally 50 feet but with storm-damaged areas trimmed out) supports a "random droopy dipole" of about 150 feet (the ends looped back along a fence, and other odd routings at the ends). This also works as a quasi-top-loaded "vertical", though the open wire feed runs horizontally quite a ways before exiting the house and going up. In this mode, a water pipe ground at the shack works "OK" on 160 (the house, built in the early 60's, has mostly threaded iron pipe). 

Also, the mast is set up to be a top-loaded vertical - the base is insulated with a piece of thick plexiglass, and the top guy wires have insulators at 10 feet from the top, and a wire skirt to connect the bottom of those top loading wires. It seems to resonate about 3.2 MHz if I read my dipper right. Right now, just a single ground rod, and open-wire feed - radials to come. 


Yes, I have commercial gear, too, classic items usually obtained in "technicians' special" condition. That's what makes it so fun. As a ragchewer and occasional DX'er, this stuff suits me fine, though a nice new computer rig would be nice. (These days, I may end up with that in my homebrew rig, see other pages). 

Ten-Tec Argosy

 -- great 50 watt solid state analog rig, covering 80, 40, 30, 20, 15, and 10m, with CW audio and crystal filters. My first solid state rig when I got back actively into hamming in 1989 after ten years off the air. With CW crystal filter, CW audio filter, noise blanker, and calibrator, I got it for $200 (banged up, but all working). It got on 160 meters also with the aid of an outboard transverter (based on the one appearing in the 1988 ARRL HAndbook) that looped back into the Argosy's PA. It's my portable rig when I want to work all bands in a less-clumsy package than my big homebrew R2 setup.
R-392/URR R392 picJuly 2001 - a lingering virus finally grew into a full-grown disease - the desire for a receiver in the 51J or R-390 class. These go for hefty prices now, but my moment came... When confronted with two R-392's sitting on a hamfest table here  in Milwaukee, at the right price, I was bit with the boatanchor bug. Me and another guy split the $300 asking price for both of them, and I even got a power supply thrown in. I took the rougher-looking one, because the dial felt smoother. As it turned out, it needed all 5 12AU7's restored, since they'd been pilfered... but it worked well (after some tweaks and exercise for the switches). And obviously, improvising a connector is fun - suddenly I noticed this leftover acrylic disk on the desk, and a light went off - just put some push-on terminals on the appropriate pins, drill holes in the plastic, fit it over the terminals, some dabs of epoxy... and you've got it.

The R-392 is a superb piece of 1951 analog tube mobile precision (a quadruple oxymoron?) It's basically a ruggedized mobile R-390 - same idea, with the .5-32 MHz, err, Mc, coverage in 1 Mc bands, with those precision PTO's and a mechanical digital dial good to better than 1 kc. It's quite compact compared with an R-390, but still about 50 pounds, and runs directly form 28 volts, plates and all (yes, low plate voltage CAN work with careful design). You don't get real narrow filters - just LC filtering at 500 kc with rated bandwidths of 2, 4, and 8 kc. (I believe that the famous Collins mechanical filters were not considered appropriate for a vehicular rig - too easily damaged by vibration.) This is fine for general listening, and especially for classic AM listening, it's real hi-fi for a communications rig - that wide-open 8 kc sound is really fine on a strong signal... I use it now in peacetime (well, sort of), and wonder about the action the radio saw in the field...  in what battleground or boot camp did it get that fine brown dust in the crevices...

Signal/One CX7A

 -- yes indeed. A rig that aspired to be truly elite in the 1970's, it has many interesting cutting-edge features, but also lots of rough edges that don't seem very appropriate when you consider it cost $2000 plus in its heyday! Acquired in about 1993 at a cost of $150, this rig was a basket case -- power supply board removed for rebuilding, PA bandswitch wiring screwed around, lots of little problems. After getting it basically working, I got in touch with Mark Mandelkern, KN5S (one of the CX7 gurus), and applied a number of modifications that users had evolved over the years. So that's my hi-tech QRO rig, and for its day, it really sings. Some great info at http://www.zianet.com/k5am/MiscEq/CX7/  and  http://www.hamanuals.com/

Heathkit DX-60

 -- my original Novice rig from the late 60's, bought used as a birthday present from "Radio Shack - Walter Ashe division" in St. Louis, MO. I guess Walter Ashe had been the big radio store for years, but acquired by Radio Shack and permitted to operate somewhat independently for a while. Later, acquiring a new HG-10B VFO was another highlight. 

Drake 2B receiver

 -- acquired in the 70's from a friend, this compact classic still is lots of fun to use. When the power transformer blew in the early 90's, can you believe that Drake still had a replacement on hand? Hooray for support for older rigs. 

Drake SSR-1 receiver

 -- talk about contrasts from the same maker! Acquired in the 90's for $85, it is pretty problematic, but looks nice and sounds good when you're not on a birdie signal! This 70's rig has a poorly-implemented version of a synthesizer scheme for the front end that eliminates the need for tons of crystals, but leaves lots of birdies in there. I have wondered about rebuilding the basic circuit with better mixers and shielding, or maybe just using the shell and dial mechanism for a new rig. But by no means will it go in the trash. 

Radio Shack DX440 shortwave receiver

. For $85 again, this obviously was a much better buy than the Drake cheapie, although it sure has its limits when hooked to a big outdoor antenna. With one of my antenna tuners as a preselector, it is quite tolerable at night. This is the closest thing to a frequency counter I now have...
Panasonic RF-2900 portable receiver
My dad Roland, an avid lover of all things German, got this about 20 years ago to pick up Deutsche Welle. While visiting and tuning around with it, I was impressed by what it would haul in with its built-in whip - just stable enough for tolerable SSB/CW, wide range analog tuning but with 1 kHz digital readout. A year ago, I saw it gathering dust and resurrected it, and now it's my portable unit of choice till I replace the front end transistor in the DX440 above...

Cheapie test gear

Tektronix 547 oscilloscope. 

Acquired for $35 in 1994, this test equipment bargain sure works nicely for the money. It included the quad-trace plugin that "mostly" works (a "tri-trace" plugin?), so this ain't a bad setup for 50 MHz of bandwidth (OK, laugh you high tech guys, but hey....) Its predecessor in my shack was a 535A, which (with its whopping 15 MHz bandwidth) I acquired for about $70 in 1991 or so -- not a good buy considering what I got later :-) ... 
John Seboldt, K0JD, Milwaukee, WI

Email to: k0jd at seboldt dot net (note spamfoil format - type in regular e-mail format to reply :-) )

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