Welcome to Handiham World.
Vintage radio gear? What does vintage even mean?
CJ Robinson, K0CJ, is posing with a Collins station in this old photo of the W0ZSW station when it was still located at Courage Center. CJ was one of our long time volunteers at the Handiham repair shop. I said hi to him this morning via Echolink. It is an example of old tech vs. new tech. How times have changed!
Yesterday I talked with a fellow who is interested in getting old equipment on the air. I chalk this up to a complex mixture of nostalgia, the fun of doing restoration work on old radio equipment, the fellowship offered by participation in on-the-air groups of operators who share your passion for vintage radios, and the good feeling one gets from tackling a challenge and meeting it head on. These days, using old tube gear seldom is a choice made simply to save money. I guess we'll let the vintage radio enthusiasts define what is "vintage", since we are not experts!
Thinking it through:
I have to admit that I like the idea of vintage gear and vintage operating, but I know myself well enough to realize that I don't have enough time and space to put into that facet of Amateur Radio. To do it right, I would have to reconfigure my ham shack - as you might expect, since the vintage gear tends to be big and needs adequate ventilation and uses more power. My ham shack is sandwiched between the basement stairs and the utility room wall, so it can't be expanded. That would mean tearing everything out and building tiered shelves while still trying to keep everything in reach. Furthermore, I'm already pretty well maxed out on AC circuits. To do it right, I'd need to run another 15 amp circuit, and that would mean contacting an electrician. You don't plug this power-hungry vacuum tube stuff into some cheesy power strip! This is starting to look like a real project!
Hey, there's more!
But wait, folks - that's only part of what you have to do when you embrace vintage gear. The ham shack is the place where the old gear shines - it's on display and that's where you will put it on the air. But what about making it ready after you first bring it home from the hamfest? You will need a serious workbench to go through the old gear. It will need adequate power, good lighting, and several essential test instruments and tools. A good multimeter, an oscilloscope, a dummy antenna load, plenty of hand tools like screwdrivers, nut drivers, wrenches, pliers, a soldering station, and an isolation transformer are all going to come in handy. These radios are big, and they have vacuum tubes. They require high voltages from their power supplies, along with several other voltages. There will be lethal voltages present when the radio is powered up, and large capacitors in the power supply can store high voltages even when the radio and power supply are turned off and unplugged. You have to know what you are doing when you work on this old gear! There can be dangerous voltages where you don't expect them, including on the chassis and metal cabinet, due to faults in the circuit. An isolation transformer can help, but you have to learn a whole new set of safety procedures to avoid getting a shock. Even those of us who grew up with this old gear cannot afford to be complacent around it. After all, we are used to working with 12 VDC power these days, and remembering everything about vintage gear with its hundreds of volts on vacuum tube plates is not always easy! Things like discharging electrolytic capacitors in the power supply and assuming that you could get a shock by touching the radio's metal cabinet are not things that we think about quite so much with newer gear, but they are vital to keep in mind when working with vintage equipment. You also have to be careful when handling the old gear, just because of its bulk and mass. Heavy radios may even call for a two man lift. Seriously, you can injure your back while trying to heft some of the old stuff!
We now know that we need well-equipped shop space and a reconfigured ham shack. If you are still eager to "go vintage" at this point, I think you might be a true vintage radio enthusiast. The rewards are there for you: The fun of finding and restoring a vintage treasure, the excitement of giving it a place of honor in your ham shack, and the satisfaction of actually using it on the air.
Pictured: Avery, K0HLA, posed with the complete Collins station at the old Handiham office in Courage Center.
(For Handiham World, this is Pat Tice, WA0TDA.)