The Appeal of Vintage Rigs              

What is it about collecting and operating vintage radios that is so attractive?   


I've been collecting and restoring vintage CB radios for the better part of 20 years now.  The thing is, I didn't start this activity one day by thinking to myself "Hey, I'd like to start collecting vintage CB radios".  No, in actuality, this activity came upon me slowly and quietly. It grew on me bit by bit until I became hopelessly addicted.  Factor in my age, and the retrospection which usually occurs in most people, when they cross the half-way point in their lives, and it makes sense on some level.  Most older people are known for waxing nostalgic for "the good ol' days".  In my case, the "good ol' days" was my heyday on CB radio. Hence, my desire to collect elements from that time. My vintage collection saw its humble beginning with two of my original radios which I had obtained and ran extensively in the 70's, but never ended up getting rid of. Namely, my Midland 13-885, and Lafayette Comstat 25, shown here in this yellowed picture taken back in 1976:


Some purist collectors might say that these rigs don't really doesn't count since these were my originals, obtained over 30 years ago.  But to me, that just makes it all the more appealing. In any case, restoring those radios to full working order set the stage for what would come later. The next rig to come into my possession was Blue Bandit's old Hy-Gain 623. Then it was a Cobra 135, followed by an SBE Trinidad, and then a Royce 1-640. As the years wore on, I would eventually end up with quite a few vintage base radios including premium tube rigs such as a Tram Titan, Titan IIa, D201, and a Browning Golden Eagle MK III. I also have a bunch of solid state rigs as well. So what is it about collecting old radios that is so appealing? Surely it's not for features and performance, as a lot of newer radios will deliver these and usually be far more reliable.  No, it's not that these older rigs are really "better" (although in many cases they are), it's much deeper than that........

I've often asked myself what is it about a 35 year old Tram that I'd rather sit in front of it instead of, say, my "new" Galaxy 2547. The answer to that is multi-faceted, but once you peel away the layers, it pretty much boils down to the basic idea of connecting with key elements of the past.  Call it hopeless nostalgia, call it escapism, call it selective memory, call it whatever you will, but the further along in years I go, the more I look back on my formative years in radio with increased longing.  I had a ton of fun back then, made a lot of friends, participated in a boatload of activities, and learned a great deal about the why's and how's of radio.  Of course, back then I was also a teenager, with few responsibilities, and a lot more time to play. The world was my petri dish. It was the ideal situation for me, and I can't help but miss it even as those 35 years have ticked off the clock at a seemingly accelerating rate.  But short of inventing a time machine however, there is no way to wind that clock back to the 1970's again, in order to relive and fully recapture that excitement.  So if I can't go back to the 70's, the next best thing is to bring the 70's back to me. Thus, by operating the same radios that I did back then, I can recapture much of the ambience and sensory experiences I once had, even if the voices I interact with today are not the same ones that I grew up with.  And for that matter, I'm not the same person I was back then either. But it does ignite some strong memories and feelings, and for that I'd say this activity has been a success.  Along with the obvious nostalgia aspect which collecting fulfills, there is also the issue of the limitations of having empty pockets back then, and finally now having a chance to own those radios which I couldn't afford the first time around.  As I said, in the 70's, I was a teenager, with sporadic income earning opportunities.  While I could usually make enough cash to upgrade antennas and other accessories, the cost of the fancy deluxe radios of the time were greatly out of reach of my meager earning potential.  Consequently, I had to make due with less-than-top-of-the-line 2nd hand radios, and radios I could wheel and deal for, most of those often in need of repair.  While this forced me to become creative in order to modify and build what I couldn't afford to buy, I was nonetheless always thumbing through the dog-earned catalogs, staring at pictures, and imagining what it would be like to own one of these larger-than-life radios, and wishing and hoping to someday be able to have a shiny new top-of-the-line radio gracing the top of my operating table.  But with price tags of $350, $400, $600, and even $800 for many of these "dream rigs", I didn't have much chance of making that dream come true (heck even people with full-time jobs had a hard time parting with that much cash and when you consider inflation, it was a LOT of money back then) ...... Until now!  With a few notable exceptions, most of those old rigs can be had for pennies on the dollar today.  So not only am I recapturing those feelings I had running my old equipment, I am also getting a taste of what it would have been like to own those top-of-the-line radios from days gone past, which I previously could only see in pictures.  I also have a decent collection of the popular microphones from the day, so I can compare the tonal quality of each radio's transmit audio by utilizing different combinations of mics, which allows me to explore yet another dimension of radio fun.  And you just can't beat the sound of a tube-type radio. They have a rich, full sound quality that just can't be duplicated by a modern radio.  Of course, the task of bringing an old rig back from near death is also greatly rewarding. Most radios living on the plus side of 30 years now, will need some level of restoration to bring them back to 100% functionality.

Most collectors have a method to their madness.  No two are ever exactly the same. This is not much different than what drives classic car collectors. They all have a favorite specimen, either the first car they ever owned, learned to drive on, or their nicest car, brand loyalty, or whatever. And just like my radio experiences, they also had that "dream car" or two, which they would liked to have owned, but was way out of range for them financially at the time.  And like the car collectors, those who collect radios have a definite theme in mind. There are those who desire to collect every piece from a certain manufacturer. Be it Tram, Browning, or even a less premium company like Utica, SBE or Lafayette, they all have their favorites.  Fortunately for me, there aren't THAT many radios that I long to own (a good thing too or my wife would probably disown me). For me, in order for it to be desirable, it has to have some direct connection to my past. Mostly my collection is an eclectic combination of radios that I either owned personally, borrowed, operated at friends' locations,  worked on for people, or were simply owned by the local people I knew.  And, of course, there were those catalog "dream radios" which were usually out of most people's means, and I usually never saw outside of a catalog, except for maybe briefly at a CB jamboree, or at a CB dealer.   That's why I really have no interest in owning radios like the Stoner Pro-40 which, while it is a premium radio in its own right and highly collectable, I knew of no one in my area who ever owned one, so it has no attraction for me (although if I fall into a chance to obtain one cheap, I'd probably jump on it).

Our local group runs Classic Radio Roundup every Wednesday night, so I get a chance to rotate through the collection and enjoy the unique appeal of each one. And since most of the other guys are also running classics, I get to remember just how nice those old dogs sounded on the receive side as well. I'm sure the logical next question will be "which one is your favorite?" While the question is a simple one, the answer is not. There are things that I like about each of my radios, and there are things that I don't like as well. Believe it or not, one of my favorite radios to operate is the SBE Console II. There's just something about that radio that I like. Maybe because the radio is in like-new condition, so it doesn't look like a well-worn 35 year old radio. I also like running the Browning Golden Eagle MK III. It's a Browning, nothing else needs to be said. I also like running the Tram D201, and I'd probably like it a little more, except that there are a few intermittent "quirks" that show up, which takes away from the total experience. Some day I'll hunt them down and hopefully fix them for good. I'm also a big fan of the Hy-Gain 623, but it's also starting to show its age, which also detracts a bit from my overall enjoyment of it. I guess, the bottom line is that I like them all for different reasons. And I truly feel blessed to have the opportunity to have such examples of the great radios of the 1960's and 70's.

Right now, my collection is pretty much complete. But there are a few models out there that I'd like to obtain, if I ever get the opportunity. I'm still looking for:

Lafayette Telsat SSB 25 (or 25A). Was my first "dream rig" which I discovered in the 1973 Lafayette catalog. It's getting tough to find, and the nuts on E-Bay have pushed the price well beyond what I feel it's worth.

Realistic TRC-40 (Navaho Pro). The first 23 channel base radio I ever operated. This was in 1973, and it belonged to Jimmy, a local neighborhood radio pal. This radio is even more rare.

Heathkit CB-1 (Lunchbox). The first radio I ever had in my possession that put out over 100 mW. I had a ton of fun while briefly borrowing this radio from a friend, and had a blast getting "DX" radio checks from as far as 5 miles away on a homemade 9' whip antenna.

Pace 223. My very first 4 watt 23 channel radio that I paid $100 new for in 1974. Not a very good, or feature-rich radio, but since it was my first, there's that sentimental appeal.

So what are your favorite classics and why? Drop me a note and let me know. It's always good to hear from a fellow vintage radio enthusiast.