My 2018 Novice Rig Roundup (NRR) Highlights


Well this year's NRR has come and gone, providing a full nine days of CW fun for those of us that love old radios.

Once again, the ether filled with signals spawned from the old classic Novice-class workhorses that many of today's 'seasoned' amateurs used in their first stations, way back in their teen years. In many respects, the NRR is as close to a real time machine that you'll find, allowing participants to experience the joys, and sometimes the frustrations, of operating CW with their favorite old rigs from the past.

For me, just like last year, the NRR once again provided many notable highlights over the nine day event.

Almost topping the list was just experiencing the variety of old classics and hearing how well almost all of them sounded. Numerous Knight T-60s, Drake 2NTs, Heath DX-40s, Johnson Adventurers and Eico 720s, along with a nice variety of homebrew MOPAs and one-tube power oscillators graced the nightly airwaves. These oft-forgotten shelf-queens always seem to develop super-powers, far beyond their expectations, when the NRR rolls around!

I was really surprised to work so many T-60s, a small and inexpensive 60 watt transmitter kit from 1962 using a popular 6DQ6 television  sweep tube ... one never expected to achieve such RF greatness! I was very impressed with every one that I heard.

What radio-struck pre-Novice teen, dreaming about getting on the air, could resist a clever ad like this.

Scott, KA9P's 80m T-60 signal sounded as sweet as it looks in his 2018 setup, paired with his Heathkit HR-10B inhaler.

KA9P 2018 NRR station with RAF Vulcan bomber Type 51 hand pump

Right up there with the plethora of T-60s was the Drake 2NT, another great sounding radio and also my choice for this year's event. My summer refurbishing project, described here, proved a worthy companion, although my much-treasured VF-1 VFO's short term drift probably had my 2NT getting red in the face whenever I took her off of crystal control to scurry around the band, seeking out the CQ'ers. I've had a love-hate relationship with the VF-1 ever since buying my first one back in '63!

VE7SL 2018 NRR with 2NT, VF-1 and my Original '63 Vibroplex

Yet another 2NT packed a powerful punch from West Virginia, keyed by Dave, W3NP, when we exchanged 579 reports on 40m, 45 minutes before sunset.

W3NP - 2018 NRR setup
This year's band conditions were excellent as both 40 and 80m sounded much as I remember them sounding back in the 60's ... loaded with strong North American CW signals almost every night. Unfortunately, Solar Cycle 24 has taken its toll on 15m and although the band appeared to often have daily though somewhat dicey propagation, there appeared to be few NRR stations using the band.

I made three contacts on 15m this year: W5IQS in Texas, K2YWE in Maryland and WN4NRR in Florida, whose S9 reply to my 'CQ NRR' just about took my head off ... what a nice surprise to hear the booming signal from Bry's 2NT powerhouse. Dan, K2YWE, was no slouch either, as his Globe Scout was music to my ears when his signal quickly rose out of the noise just long enough to make the coast-to-coast journey. If the predictions for future solar cycles become reality, there may be many more NRRs before we experience the magic of 15m once again.

K2YWE's Globe Scout and Adventurer were worked on all three bands!

My NRR exchanges with George, N3GJ (KA3JWJ) in Pennsylvania, truly demonstrated just how well the low bands were performing. More than an hour before my local sunset, I responded to his 569 40m 'CQ NRR' only to learn that his signal, now reaching a solid 579, was coming from an original Ameco AC-1! This one-tube crystal-controlled power oscillator has, over the years, reached Holy Grail status among many amateurs. Originals are guarded like precious jewels and handed down from father to son ... or in George's case, from uncle to nephew!

N3GJ and his all powerful original AC-1
I was astounded at the strength of his signal and before exchanging '73's added 'CUL on 80', not really thinking how low the chances of that might really be. Two hours later, his even stronger 'CQ NRR' was heard on 80m, as his 579 signal flirted with reaching S8 ... all emanating from just a low hanging inverted-V.  It's nights like this that remind me how I was bitten by the radio bug so many years ago and to have them coincide with the NRR was an added bonus. I've rated my contacts with George's AC-1 the highlight of this year's NRR for me!

Heathkits were plentiful too, with the DX-60 seeming to be the rig of choice, often paired with the matching HG-10 VFO. Both Mark, VA7MM and Gary, W8PU, packed a wallop with these fine examples.

VA7MM - 2018 NRR set-up

W8PU - 2018 NRR set-up

But it wasn't just DX-60s representing Benton Harbor engineering in the NRR. All of these neat old Heaths made it out to the west coast, sometimes on both 40 and 80. KN8RHM's (Rick) HW-16 made it here on 40m with a solid signal almost every night, while KE4OH (Steve) sported a modernized DX-20 in the form of Heath's HX-11. Steve even received the highly-treasured 'OO' report for his NRR chirp ... good job!

KN8RHM - HW-16 NRR set-up
KE4OH - HX-11 NRR station
Not to be forgotten was the ubiquitous DX-40, used by several, including this proud old warhorse, lovingly keyed by Doug, N3PDT.

N3PDT - DX-40 NRR transmitter

Rich, WN7NRR / AG5M operating in nearby Washington state put some of his 44 crystals to work with his HW-16 ... that's some collection!

WN7NRR - HW-16 NTT set-up
It seems that many NRRers are as adept with a soldering iron as they are with a hand key, as several homebrew transmitters were worked from here as well.

Howie, WB2AWQ in Reno, was using his homebrew pair of 807s, driven with a Millen 90700 swing-arm VFO from 1945. Most shacks worldwide, including the Novices, found plenty of use for the 807 as they were dirt-cheap in the post war surplus market. The filament has a beautiful illumination and if a bit gassy as most are by now, emit a wonderous blue glow with each press of the key.

WB2AWQ - 807s
Millen VFO from 1945 at WB2AWQ
KD7JG (Joe) in Oregon, sported a 12 volt version of the 807, a 1625, in his home brew rock-crusher. With 25 watts into his ladderline-fed 160m inverted-V, his 599 signal up here was hard to miss on both 40 and 80m.

KD7JG's 1625 NRR mainstay
K4IBZ down in Florida also utilized the magical 6DQ6 sweep tube in his homebrew rig for 80 and 40m. Bill was worked on both bands from here with his 10 watts receiving a 569 on both contacts.

K4IBZ's 10 watter
AA8V, Greg in Maryland, used an LM-13 war surplus frequency meter to drive a popular Novice pairing of the 6AG7 / 6146 at 90W input ... good enough for a 579 report on 40m, 30 minutes before my sunset.

AA8V's homebrew NRR stack
The runner-up highlight was my 80m QSO with Lou, VE3BDV / VE3AWA who flirted briefly with the Grim Reaper to work me on his Bare-Essentials 50C5 crystal controlled power oscillator at 7 watts. This thing is scary, being driven directly from the A.C. mains supply ... but he survived long enough to complete our QSO on 3568 kHz.

VE3BDV / VE3AWA - 50C5 Bare - Essentials power oscillator
There are many more stories to share and you can soon read them all on the NRR 2018 Soapbox page once it gets published. If you participated, be sure to post your station picture and tell us about your experience!

I finished up the NRR with 123 contacts, a lot better than last year's event when I was running the Longfeller at 5 watts.

If you think that you might enjoy participating in the next event then now is the time to start preparing ... just 353 more sleeps until the 2019 NRR begins!!
Steve McDonald, VE7SL, is a regular contributor to and writes from British Columbia, Canada. Contact him at [email protected].

11 Responses to “My 2018 Novice Rig Roundup (NRR) Highlights”

  • Bob Heil. K9EID:

    This is just so cool. To many of us, brings back lots of memories but for some of us, those memories have been a part of our day to day Amateur Radio life. We never forget and continue to use some of those great ole technologies. My 720 and Mosley CM-1 continues to enjoy a daily net on 75 meters. Now that the Pine Board Project has become so popular I am getting to work fellows and gals that have never owned a soldering iron and now REALLY enjoying real time radio. Let’s do more of these events, gang.

  • Jeff Greer, WD4ET:

    What a great article. It sure brings back memories.

    Thank you es 73!

  • Harry, N4HG:

    Ham radio was a lot more fun back then.

    Old codger reminiscing!

  • Dave, WD8CIV:

    I miss my Hot Water 16.

  • ve7sl Steve:

    Comments appreciated! …. and Harry, it can still be fun. Grab one of the old classics and spark up on 40m CW in the afternoon or evening. The magic is still there for me 😊

  • Zal----VU2DK:

    Jolly good—brings back pleasant memories of the 1950s & 1960s—Iam still playing around with the high quality junk from WW II days–BC610—HT-32B—HRO—Super Pro etc.
    Nothing today can match the workmanship of ham radios made in America in those golden years !

  • Steve KE4OH:

    Nice blog Steve! Thanks for including my station!

    I think for some, NRR is a yearly chance to dust off the old gear and get it on the air for a while. But for me, using old gear is an everyday event. While I usually run crystals only for special events like NRR, my station is strictly boatanchors. I have a couple of very nice rigs, most of my gear is far from being museum quality. I have a lot of mismatched knobs, rust spots, dents, scratches, and more. But all my rigs work and they all get used in rotation.

  • Bill Pardue K4IBZ:

    Hi fellow NRR folks. I really enjoyed the 2018 NRR. I heard about 4 Drake 2-NT transmitters all were crystal controlled and sounded very good.

    I had a blast with my homemade 6DQ6 MPO crystal control transmitter which took me back in time 55 years.

    That is the wonderful thrill we all get each year we participate in the NRR.

  • Evan W5IQS:

    A bit of history! I was never blessed with a Novice License. The US Marine Corps Commander that I worked for in Japan in 1954 demanded that I establish a MARS station on our base. Since MARS operators had to be Licensed, my first Amateur license was General Class by Class “C” examination. Since I was a professional Morse Code operator the code was no problem. When my FCC license arrived there was no call sign noted in that block on the license. There was no assigned call sign because I did not live in the USA. I went to the MARS headquarters in Tokyo and explained my problem and was given KA2EA for a Call Sign. This served just fine until I returned to the USA in 1955 and applied for an American call sign. W5IQS was assigned. I now have a US License, a Novice Rig and NRR #340.

    Evan, W5IQS

  • Chris, AB6QK:

    Lots of fun! My original Novice DX-40 performed as if it just switched on from the day before. My Dad’s HRO-60 performed fine after one tube was replaced (open filament). I thought about a long lost science fair project with a breadboard 6L6 power oscillator. It worked but I was afraid to put a real antenna on it after I saw what it did to the TV sets in the house!

    I only had one crystal in the current novice band, but I decided NOT to use my VF-1 for an authentic Novice experience. My old novice rocks happened to all be in the re-farmed part of the band, I suspected no one would be listening up there. Maybe I can find a couple more for next year!


  • Bill K4IBZ:

    I really enjoyed the 2018 NRR. I also worked VE3BDV/VE3AWA’s Bare Bones 50C5 Grim Reaper Rig. I built one of those rigs many years ago as a teenager not knowing how leathal it was.

    We were all very lucky during those times . Hi Hi

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