I was maybe 14 years old when my dad took me along on a ride up to Newport. It was winter, and I had never been there before, so I was willing to give it a try. The reason for the trip was the passing of my dad’s old friend Noble Craft. Mr. Craft was a HAM radio operator, and his call signal was W1SAT, the Sour Apple Tree. My dad was part of the Vermont Highway Patrol (precursor to the Vermont State Police) team that tested radio communication, and it had sparked an interest in radio.
Noble Craft’s widow was selling off the HAM equipment, and my dad was in the market, under the ruse of using it for a "business radio" for his employer. After looking the equipment over, the old man made an offer and it was accepted. He had a truck sent up a couple of weeks later to collect the 60-foot tower, all disassembled, along with the transmitter, test equipment, receiver, and various parts and pieces.
When the tower and equipment were delivered, the tower went into the basement, and the radio equipment was stored in various places in the house. The 1KW Collins transmitter lived in a spare room off the kitchen, and I eventually commandeered the receiver, using it in a room that was under construction for a bathroom on the second floor. My dad had listened to the receiver a few times on the kitchen table, and lost interest. I, however, did not. I connected a wire antenna to it that ran from my bedroom window to a maple tree in the middle of the lawn. I would hole up in the potential bathroom, operating by the light of the lit dial on the Collins 75-A1 receiver. I enjoyed listening to HAM operators around the world for hours on end.
At some point I wanted to listen to more mainstream shortwave bands, and by hooking that same wire antenna in my bedroom to the internal antenna in my transistor radio, I was able to change the frequency reception and listened to the BBC, Radio Moscow, and more. So much for the superb Collins HAM receiver. Dad sold all of it off a few years later, and he gave his friend Dr. Ron Gadway the oscilloscope that came with the set. I think the tower went for scrap metal and never reached for the skies again.
Over the years I have remained interested in short wave radio. I’ve owned a couple of transistorized units, but none of them had the sound, feel, and precise tunability of that Collins HAM receiver, and I knew full well that shortwave sets were made that rivaled the Collins. I just couldn’t afford one, and still cannot justify that kind of money for some occasional hobby listening on cold winter nights. However, a good compromise would be a vintage Hallicrafters, Heathkit, or Knight set in working order.
I began the search on eBay, and found an interesting little set in Alabama, being sold by the son of it’s now deceased owner. It’s a Hallicrafters S-38B set, built in the early 1950s. Famed automotive designer Raymond Loewy did the design for this popular consumer set, and it is a very sharp looking piece of American communications history. As far as being up to the Collins quality, no, it is not, but it works and it is infinitely better than most of the truly abysmal transistorized shortwave sets that you can buy today.
While I haven’t yet received this radio, I am also looking at other vintage tube powered units. Radio building was a far more mainstream endeavor back in the 1930s and 40s than it is today. The metal or wood cabinetry had some thought and style put into it, whereas today radio receivers aren’t really built to be put on display in your living room like they were back in the day. However, the classics really interest me, and I’d like a couple of them to display and use.
While taking my two oldest grandsons out fishing this weekend, I got the message loud and clear that Sam, the oldest, is definitely into the kind of stuff I always liked. I had gotten him a lifevest with a built in two-way radio for when we take him tubing, which hasn’t happened yet. He was all about the radio, and was dying to find a companion set so we could communicate between the boat and the tube.
This, of course, got the wheels turning in my head. Interestingly enough, Sam is also growing up in an old farm house, with his bedroom on the second floor and a nice maple tree in the yard. Why not get him his own shortwave receiver and rig up an antenna to the tree? I know he’ll spend hours listening to the big wide world of shortwave radio. It will either make my grandson’s small world bigger, or the big world smaller, depending on the perspective you take.
Arlo Mudgett’s Morning Almanac has been heard over multiple radio stations in Vermont for nearly 30 years, and can be tuned in at 92.7 WKVT FM Monday through Saturday mornings at 8:35 a.m.