Ham Radio Circa 1975

My dad earned his amateur radio license in 1950 when he was 10 years old. His first station consisted of a Collins transmitter and receiver into a long wire antenna. From the QSL cards that survived, he worked the world with those radios. The hobby led him to being a radioman in the US Navy after high school.

During a recent trip home, I took possession of what is left of dad’s radio station, the one I remember as a small boy.


Now I am stepping back in time to see if I can get the station back on the air. There has been no power applied to anything since the late 1980s. The electrolytic capacitors probably are dry as bone. The tubes probably are tender too and will require a lot of TLC and a variac to get them going again.

Yaesu FT-101B HF Transceiver


This is one rugged radio. Without an amplifier, it will drive 260 watts sideband voice, 180 watts Morse code, and 80 watts AM voice. I’ll have to re-learn how to tune this radio because nothing on the market today works the way these radios did.

Yaesu FL-2100B Linear Amplifier


Probably an illegal power amplifier today only because it will operate on Citizens Band. For legal Amateur Radio use, it’s a 1,200 watt linear amplifier. It will generate 800 watts AM voice. Beast Mode.

Yaesu SP-101P “Landliner” Phone Patch and Speaker


Before satellite carried phone conversations across the oceans, there was the phone patch. My dad used this one to connect soldiers in Vietnam to their families back state-side. A friend wondered how many guys talked to their loved ones for the final time across this radio.

Astatic Model G “Grip-to-Talk” Desk Stand Microphone


I just love this microphone. It’s nickname is the Lollipop, for obvious reasons.

There are a few missing items, a MFJ CWF-2 CW Filter, MFJ CMOS-400 Electronic Key, and Dad’s Hy-Gain 5BDQ Multiband Trip Doublet.

If I can get all of it on the air, it will be a party like it’s 1975.

Manpack 1.0: A Complete HF Station Under $1,000

On the way home from work, I overheard a conversation on a local repeater bemoaning the cost of radio equipment today. “Shacks in a Box” can be quite expensive, to be sure, but nothing more than the Collins KW-1 or the Gold Dust Twins of the 1950s.

To prove the point that amateur radio isn’t a rich man’s game, I designed a complete HF radio station that would cost less than $1,000. I wanted it to operate on all modes on as many bands as possible and have it be easy to use. Here is what I put together.

Transmitter: Yaesu FT-817ND

The FT-817ND is the world’s first self-contained, battery-powered, multi-mode, portable transceiver that covers the HF, VHF, and UHF amateur bands.

This rig is very popular among backpack and low-power enthusiasts. I like the FT-817ND because it includes an antenna connector on the face of the radio as well as the back of the radio. This is lets you attach a whip antenna to the radio while mounted inside a backpack.

  • Transmit (MHz): 1.8, 3.5, 5, 7, 10, 14, 18, 21, 24, 28, 50, 144, 440
  • Receive (MHz): 0.1-30, 50-54, 76-154, 420-450
  • Modes: AM, CW, FM, LSB, USB, Digital
  • Power: 5 Watts

Retail Price: $660

Antenna: MFJ 1899T

The MFJ-1899T multi-band antenna is an inexpensive HF whip antenna specifically designed for the FT-817ND. It covers all amateur bands between 3.5 MHz and 50 MHz. To transmit on 144 MHz or 440 MHz, you would use the whip antenna supplied with the FT-817ND.

  • Transmit (MHz): 3.5, 7, 10, 14, 18, 21, 24, 28, 50
  • Power Rating: 25 Watts

Retail Price: $80

Additional Equipment

I’ve included three other items for the station, a extra battery pack, a digital interface to connect the radio to a laptop, and the PowerPort World Pack backpack.

Total Retail Price of the station (excluding tax and shipping): $980

What do you think?