Band Conditions

02 December 2018

Is is good?

I spent this morning at an antique radio swap. It would have been a good opportunity for any locals to pick up a nice vacuum tube receiver for their commo preps. The museum will be holding more of them throughout the year, so Nutmeg State readers take note!

I'm always being asked by readers "Is such-and-such a good radio?"  While I have owned more than a few different makes and models of receivers and transceivers over the years, I can only personally vouch for about 1% of what's out there.

As far as SWLing goes, my usual go-to receiver is an Icom IC-R75. Those of you who have been to a class within the past few years have seen it, usually along with a Whistler WS1040 police scanner.

Both of these are good radios, but they are not the only good radios out there. Let's look at a reasonably-priced tube receiver that you might have found at the recent swap meet:

This is a Hallicrafters S-53. It is a low-tier general coverage HF receiver from the late 1940s-1950s. Many of them were used in Novice stations of that era. Is it any good? Google it, and you'll find Eham rates it 4.3/5. You'll also find a manual and schematics online to download. A search of sold/completed auctions on Ebay will tell you what they sell for, which will help you make an offer (or counter-offer) to a seller. Overall not a bad choice, especially for your first tube radio that you could actually fix.

While I was at the swap meet today, I gave a little help to one of the younger (probably around 14 or so) attendees who was trying to get a 1970s vintage RS-232 terminal up an running. No one else there seemed to be familiar with RS-232. After showing him how to do a hard loopback (short pins 2 & 3), what the dip-switch settings on the back of the terminal adjust, and the difference between DTE and DCE, I told him to do a search on the make/model, on the EIA RS-232 standard,  and to surf beyond the first few pages when doing so. Sure enough, he found documentation and learned that the code displayed on the screen was for a keyboard error. Turns out that DEC and Hazeltine keyboards are not compatible with each other. You all are likely packing phones with Internet access. Got a question and don't have a nearby expert to help you? Google it.  You'll get enough info to at least make an educated guess.  Here's another one:
 You find one of these on a table for $5 at a hamfest. You know the make and model, and its frequency coverage, but a web search doesn't turn up much. What do you do?  Look at the battery compartment. Any corrosion? Put in some batteries, turn it on, and tune around the bands. Hear anything? If the inside is clean, it turns on, and it receives signals, then give the seller $5 and add it to the collection. Is is good? Who cares? It only cost a few bucks and it works. Use it for your favorite SW broadcast, or leave it on the local 2 meter repeater or fire dispatch frequency.


  1. Does a receiver such as an R75 have a performance advantage over that of a ham HF transceiver (which also receives up to 30 MHz)?

    1. That's a complicated answer, and worthy of a post of its own.

      The quick short form is that a mid-tier amateur radio grade receiver, such as an Icom IC-R75, generally performs the same as its contemporary transceiver counterpart, which in this example would be an Icom IC-718.

      When you start getting into the high-tier mil-spec SIGINT receivers such as an R-390A, or CEI/Watkins Johnson, an experienced monitor will notice an order of magnitude difference in performance over commercial off the shelf amateur radio grade equipment. Such performance can also be had from homebrew gear that is designed to operate on a specific band or band-section, such as the CW portion of 40 meters.