Insight: Appreciation of old rigs

I’m easily guilty of being an obsessive fan of classic radios and the more obscure stuff that maybe wasn’t great but quirky.

Sitting down tonight, after cleaning and regressing the shafts on the rotaries of the IC-251E I’ve rediscovered the pleasures of having around (I cut my ICOM HF teeth on a 211 counterpart and have a lot of appreciation for old ICOM VHF mobiles), I was idly listening around for telegraphy and SSB - noting I had about a quarter of S-Meter of QRM to offset, just how easily you could still discrimate and type identify sigs that barely climbed over the QRM, or generally (for most, indistinguishable, if it had been weak on FM).

OK, in fairness, it’s three owners (counting myself) old and it’s original owner maxed out the alignment and fitted his own ultra optimized nodded Mutek front end (the stock aftermarket Mutek mod was a common mod that I recall), so maybe my reflections of it’s performance don’t mirror out on the basic rig or basic modded set, but ■■■■ I still love using it and you’d be hard pushed to hate what was (about 40 years ago) a fairly high end radio.

Even the fact it has fixed steps tuning (each mode has a fixed proportional tuning step size) isn’t a pain. In fact, on FM where tuning should be a pain, you simply drop into CW (where you’ve the smallest steps), tune to carrier centre and max SIG, switch back to FM and end up bang on frequency. Bearing in mind it’s a multi mode which probably spent little time on FM by most users, means the things people expect it lacked (but it had a proper noise squelch often missing on variant multi modes with FM bolted on for some markets).

But you’ll do yourself and your perception of good qualities an injustice if you write of those good oldies as yesterday’s junk.

Like I mentioned, I cut my serious SWL teeth on a borrowed 211 until I got my Lafayette HA-600A, and the HA-600A was an not so great oldie in the era of the 211, but I rapidly learnt to love my £45 HA-600 and the 211 taught me what qualities to aim for when I bought a modern Rx set later (and inherited a fully maxed FT-747GX just afterwards… my timing was always questionable).

So between extremes of HF stuff 40-60 years old today, and relatively similar VHF and UHF oldies I remember as a kid and got hold of decades later), it reminds me of how important the journey was and how it changes your perception.

So if you’re luck enough to land an oldie as your first proper Rx or TxCr or TxRx, just endure the journey and you’ll appreciate what gear you aspire to that much more, I’d put money on you still being sentimental about those early days.

Aside from very discrimating hearing by nature, I can lay those old radios and having to brute force train myself to hear the virtually audible unresolvable as a precursor to how I got really good as audio restoration. There are always hidden benefits to such journeys.