Michael's Shortwave Holy Grail: Hallicrafters SX-100
By James Grahame
[Here's a guest post from Michael Nyberg - Ed.]
I have been listening to shortwave stations since I was probably 9, give or take a year. Spent many a night in front of my Dad's Realistic DX-150A shortwave receiver. Later on, I would come to find a Realistic DX-160 and brag to my Dad I got a newer model. All in fun of course. It was still about 25 years old when I bought it. However, I would "DX" (DX = listening to "distant" radio stations) all up and down the AM dial and log them as best I could. Of course, night hours are when you actively DX. I grew up at a time when "modern" electronics (like an LED wristwatch) was prohibitively expensive (in 1974) and yet things that ran with tubes were considered old fashioned ( I still remember when we bought our first color TV in 1975).
As time moved on, kids like me kept trying to reach to the latest electronic thing only to see it obsolete within a year or two. Much like how video games replaced pinball machines, digital watches replaced analog watches, etc. It seemed that those modern electronics always stayed out of reach.
So, fast forward to today and suddenly much of the baby boomer generation is selling off to the younger folks but most of Generation Y and the Millennials don't want anything to do with dated technology. Sure, a few hipsters may buy old bikes and convert them to fixies, but even that trend seems declining now that bike companies offer fixies as a brand new product for the masses. However, in the smaller Generation-X crowd, it seems there are some real gems that we still love and can be found with little or no competition from older, more deep-pocketed people. Either that or I am simply the last sucker born, one of the two.
Sure, some technologies are indeed so limited that paying for the media is prohibitive enough to discourage their use entirely (35mm photography and Super 8mm film-making are two examples that pretty much everyone bypasses for the essentially free digital version), but some things like radios, stereo systems, and turntables are remain useful and supported by major companies to this day. They still offer a difference that is discernible and, perhaps most importantly, are inexpensive enough to encourage the continued pursuit of the hobby.
In the case of vintage radios, replacement vacuum tubes are still available and foreign countries are still broadcasting. "Recap" kits are available to those who have the patience and skills to replace leaking and dried out paper capacitors with modern replacement versions. Not quite plug and play but very close.
As most people with collector-itus do, I searched Craigslist on a whim to see what was out there. The pickings were slim but up popped a Hallicrafters SX-100 radio. Now, since the last radio guide I had read was the 1972 White's Communication Log with the annual rundown of newest shortwave receivers, I knew the SX-100 was a quality unit and that it offered pretty much every feature I would want in a dream radio short of a digital readout. Remember, in 1972 a digital readout was a BIG deal. But these days, I no longer require that as everything is digital and very few things are analog. Call me crazy, but I still do not like the way my bathroom scale magically shows my weight on its digital readout with no run-up in the numbers. I would prefer an old-fashioned scale in that regard.
Some of the things that make the Hallicrafters SX-100 special to me:
- Made in the USA by Hallicrafters in Chicago;
- The SX-100 was a less expensive version of the earlier SX-88 the latter of which is recognized as Hallicrafters' best short wave receiver produced;
- Vacuum tubes (14 of them!);
- Warmth of sound;
- Symmetry in design - it's just pretty:
- Huge table top footprint;
- Weight - it weighs 42 pounds! Though other models like the SX-88 weigh about 75 pounds. No wonder people love the iPod!
- Built between 1955 and 1962 (before we went to the moon and just before the miniaturization of everything due to transistors and solid state chips - not a complaint mind you);
- Good modern electronic design (double conversion superheterodyne means stability and selectivity are excellent);
- LOTS of dials to turn (I like dials);
- "SX-100" - when things were named like this due to the engineering order of development and not by trying to sound futuristic. Yes, there was a SX-99 and a SX-101. Here's a list with pictures of many of the Hallicrafters models: http://www.radioing.com/museum/rx3.html;
- The lights of the radio dial light up the backside of the room with a mesh design as light shines out the back.
But mostly it's the joy in using something built before I was born and working the controls like others that have come before me. It makes the radio stations sound a little more organic and fun. Being an "active" radio listener, you just have to have a radio like this to fiddle with all the dials to get the stations just so.
It was a great Craigslist deal find for $100. That's less than $3 per pound! Sold!