RAN Technology

Heathkit Singlebanders...cheapest SSB radio made? Or just one of the best?

Vintage Ham Radio 0 Comments 12/17/2018 

Slightly insane about singlebanders...

Posted By: Robert Nickels (ranickels)

Put yourself in 1963...

A stamp was a nickel, bread was 22 cents a loaf, and you could buy 3 gallons of gas for a buck.   The average wage in the US was $84 a week.  If you were a ham, you might have been able to build and trade your way up to a really nice AM/CW station - maybe a Valiant or DX-100 transmitter with an NC-300 or HQ-170 receiver - a huge improvement over the S-38 you started your Novice career with a few years ago.

But Single Sideband - SSB - was all the rage!  Every new issue of QST produced ads for yet another new sideband rig.  Of course you had to flip past the Collins and Hallicrafters pages, but that Swan 240 was interesting, and it covered the three bands you operated most anyhow.  National's NCX-3 was a beauty and even Leo was making a tribander - the big gold box Galaxy 300.   But those rigs all were in the $300 plus price range - more than three months pay and enough to buy a good used car.   You're chomping at the bit to get on sideband, but how?

And then the Heathkit catalog came - announcing not just one but three new SSB transceivers for each of the most popular bands.  At $119 this was a real possibility, especially since instead of racking up another $40 on the Heathkit easy-payment plan you could build your own power supply using the transformer you scrounged out of Aunt Millies old TV set.   SSB on a budget was clearly a big reason for the success of the Singlebanders, along with the fun of building your own radio from a kit, and having one that could go mobile as well.

But were they any good?    The specs said so - a 1uV receiver with 2.7 kHz crystal filter selectivity...not contest grade maybe but certainly easy on the ears (these rigs still sound GOOD!)   On the transmit side, a full 200 watt PEP input like the more expensive rigs, and no compromises with ALC and even VOX for those who wanted it.   All told, 14 tubes did the job including a pair of 6GE5 Compactron sweep tubes in the final.   Since most all parts mounted on a large PC board (probably the first one many kit builders had ever seen) there were fewer changes for wiring errors.  Heathkit used commonly availble tubes for the most part, like the 6AU6 which was produced in high volume for radio/tv use and having single-function tubes helped spread the circuitry out on the PC board.   Like all Heathkits, the detailed assembly manual made it virtually error-proof and no fancy test equipment was needed to get a Singlebander on the air.    It was as close to a plug-and-play rig as 1963 technology could provide.

Heath's engineers did make some goofy choices in the original "Hot Water" rigs though.   For example, the mic connector gain control was on the rear panel, not the most convenient for anyone, yet the VOX gain control was on the front panel.   These were among the changes made in the "A" series, which also added USB/LSB selection (for some reason?) and spiffier-looking styling that would become very well known in the enormously popular HW-100/101 transceiver that came out in 1968.    Like the Singlebanders, it was a very budget-friendly radio

Although Heathkit soon entered the five-band transceiver and "separates" market with the SB series, the original Singlebanders were built from 1963 to 1966, and the restyled and improved "A" models were offered until 1974.  That's quite a run for a low-end no-frills radio, but the Singlebanders filled a niche that went unchallenged by other manufacturers and also morphed into the VFO-less HW-18 series for fixed frequency and 160 meter work.    For many hams, the Singlebander was a perfect choice for fixed, mobile, or second station use at an affordable price.  

When going through my collection of assorted HW-series Singlebanders recently I found most of them came up working with only minor problems. Tubes age, resistors shift value, pots and switches get dirty - all simple fixes.  Singlebanders only have one electrolytic that might need replacment and not having a bandswitch really simplifies things as does PC board construction if a part needs to be replaced.   I found that the driver grid and plate coils which came "factor pre-tuned" weren't, after 50 years.   Carefully drilling a hole in the top of the can allows these coils to be tweaked, which produced a significant improvement in power output in a couple of radios.    As always, it's difficult to find fault with the comprehensive Heathkit documentation.    One of the attractions always was, "if you built a Heathkit you'll always be able to fix it".   

One problem I found to be very odd:  On one HW-12, nearly all of the 9-pin tube sockets had developed intermittent contacts - the socket tension was so low that tubes would literally fall out if you turned the radio upside-down!  All the 7-pin tube sockets were normal; fortunately I had a parts unit that I was able to use, but I've never run into bad sockets like this before and can't figure out what caused such a failure in a radio that otherwise looked almost like new.

While it may be said that the Heathkit Singlebanders did only one thing - they did it very well!


The Solvay Conference, 1927

The Smartest Photograph Ever Take
Category: Historic
The Solvay Conference, founded by the Belgian industrialist Ernest Solvay in 1912, was considered a turning point in the world of physics. Located in Brussels, the conferences were devoted to outstanding preeminent open problems in both physics and chemistry. The most famous conference was the October 1927 Fifth Solvay International Conference on Electrons and Photons, where the world’s most...  READ MORE
- Robert Nickels (ranickels),  12/27/2018 

Astro...Don Stoner's legacy

How many of these rare transceivers have you seen?
Category: Vintage Ham Radio
A recent post on the Cubic-Astro mail reflector noted the similarities between the rare CIR Astro 200 and the much more common Cubic Astro 150 transceivers.   And therein lies an  interesting story...I have done a little research on the CIR Astro 200, and the commenter was right - it is the progenitor of the Astro line we are much more familiar with as a result of Swan (already owne...  READ MORE
- Robert Nickels (ranickels),  12/09/2018 

The DX-60 Family

what hath Benton Harbor wrought?
Category: Vintage Ham Radio
When an engineer at Heathkit in 1962 turned his attention to designing a replacement for the somewhat flawed DX-40 novice transmitter, little would he have expected the DX-60 to remain in the Heathkit catalog for 14 years.    From the new solid-state power supply to the streamlined apeperance and dependable performace, the new transmitter was instantly popular with novices who had t...  READ MORE
- Robert Nickels (ranickels),  12/09/2018 
   Epson programmable oscillators are a good substitute for quartz crystals in many applications, but they're a bit different to use.   First, they are active devices that require DC power, typically 5 volts at 45mA.    Second, like all ICs they are easily damaged by static and voltages that exceed the design limits.   Finally they are in DIP packates that are i...  READ MORE
- Robert Nickels (ranickels),  12/08/2018 

Programmable Oscillators - the modern day "rock"

Cheaper and more accurate and stable than the old type
Category: Crystal Replacement
With the demise of  International Crystal in 2018, hams and experimenters lost the last US-based source of affordable one-off custom crystals.  (And the definition of "affordable" ended up over $30 each).     Sure there are some offshore sources but the reality is, manufacturing one crystal to a specific frequency is not simple or inexpensive, and all crysta...  READ MORE
- Robert Nickels (ranickels),  12/06/2018 

"A Pair of 6V6s"

What more does one need to hear good audio?
Category: Vintage Audio
The first audio amplififer I made (that worked) used a single 6V6 to amplify the output of a regenerative receiver.    Ever since they've been my idea of what a good audio tube should be and with a big speaker mounted on a piece of plywood, a 6V6 will produce "room filling volume" as the magazine articles fo the day said.   But as my music tastes grew acousti...  READ MORE
- Robert Nickels (ranickels),  12/03/2018 
   My primary aim when desiging the VERSA-TR was low power transmitters, and to protect the receiver from potentially damaging voltages when transmitting. 100 watts into 50 ohms is a +50dBm signal.  I'd measured the attenuation at the receiver connector in the labe at -60 to -70 dB (depending on frequency), which means that should result in -10 to -20dB at the receiver, which should be ...  READ MORE
- Robert Nickels (ranickels),  11/29/2018 

VERSA-TR Panadaptor Video

Use the VERSA-TR to improve your SDR panadaptor
Category: VERSA-TR Information
An inexpensive SDR like my RANVerter Pi Plus can add a panoramic spectrum and waterfall display to almost any vintage (or modern) radio.    The ability to use the SDR as a 2nd receiver that can be tuned to a different frequency or mode from the main transceiver is a real plus, but annoying feedback and delayed audio will be normally heard through the PC speakers in the transmit mode...  READ MORE
- Robert Nickels (ranickels),  11/27/2018 
   The muting relay on the VERSA-TR can be used to control other devices when RF is present.   An example would be an "On The Air" sign, or to key an amplifier.    One specially-wired cable is required - note that no connection is made to the sleeve, which is usually the ground connection on a TRS plug.  A normally-open set of relay contacts exists between the ...  READ MORE
- Robert Nickels (ranickels),  11/13/2018 

VIEW News Item

Take the Boatanchor Survey!

Let authors and organizers know what you're interested in
VIEW News Item

Announcing the VERSA-TR (as seen in Dec. 2018 QST)

A Versatile T/R solution for SDRs and vintage radios
VIEW News Item

Mike Beachy N8ECR - SK

"If there's a ham radio heaven, they've got a hell of a net control operator"
VIEW News Item

K9QET Update

AM stalwart net control op and all-round good guy needs your thoughts and prayers
VIEW News Item

DX-60 Website Announced

Celebrating the fun of low-power AM

(There are currently no Blogs.)