The Enigmatic Heathkit CR-1 Crystal Radio

For the past several months my interest in ‘DX-crystal radio’ construction has been percolating once again. It began when I ran across an interesting description of Heathkit’s legendary CR-1, a double-tuned good performer and very much sought-after by collectors as well as by users. The article described one homebrewer’s attempt to duplicate the receiver and to learn more about the detector and antenna tuning ferrite-loaded coil's secrets.


When it comes to crystal radios, there is nothing revolutionary regarding the CR-1’s basic circuitry but for some odd reason, it has achieved cult-like status as well as high dollar value.


courtesy: Scotts Crystal Radios
I've been eager to get my mitts on one to see how it performs after reading of one DXer's fifty-eighth catch with his own CR-1!

The article that piqued my interest appears on 'Scott's Crystal Radios' website and makes for an inspirational read, eventually revealing the inside core arrangement of the ferrite-loaded tuned circuits via an actual X-ray of the device! By the way, if you are looking for a nice set of older headphones, Scott's website is the place to visit!






courtesy: Scott's Crystal Radios






Scott was eventually able to achieve performance equal to that of his borrowed CR-1, with his own slightly modified versions, all in a similar-sized footprint. Perhaps this is one reason why the CR-1 is so much sought-after, as good performance in a very small package is not the norm when it comes to crystal radios. It's usually a case of ‘the bigger, the better’ when it comes to performance.


A recent search of my junque box revealed several NIB ferrite loopsticks that would allow a potntial reproduction of this interesting circuit.


Several years ago I spent an eye-opening winter learning about DX crystal radios as up to that time I had always believed it would be impossible to hear anything other than strong local signals on a crystal radio. I quickly discovered that there was a very large Crystal Radio Yahoo Group where menbers were working at the leading edge of crystal radio design. I also found that the group sponsored an annual Crystal Radio DX Contest which inspired me to dig deeper.

It wasn’t too long before I decided to join the fun and attempt to build a crystal radio DX-machine but I was in for a few surprises and a long learning curve ... it seemed that hearing broadcast band ‘DX’ on a crystal radio (anything other than loud locals) was not going to be an easy task!

Over the course of several months I tried many types of variable capacitors, tank coil configurations and antenna tuning circuits. I even erected a dedicated antenna system for the various experimental circuits I was putting together ... an 'Inverted-L', 50’ straight up and 70’ horizontal, along with a ground rod connected to several buried radials.

I quickly learned about something I normally didn’t have to worry about when working with ‘active’ devices and that was overcoming system and component losses. In critical crystal radio design, it’s all about minimizing the losses in every stage and every component in the system since there are no amplifiers to help overcome these losses. Your system is only as good as the weakest link. In true crystal radio DXing, no active devices are permitted ... it’s just your crystal radio and the energy generated at some, hopefully far away, transmitter site!

After several months, I eventually ended up with a well-performing triple-tuned set that used lots of 'trapping' because of all of the very strong nearby signals here ... eight 50kW locals!



A description of the learning curve, with several do's and dont's to help new builders, can be found on my website here.

Back then, 80 stations were logged (from my location on Mayne Island in SW British Columbia) over the one-week Crystal Radio DX Contest.


CRYSTAL RADIO LOGBOOK


FRQ 
STATION
 LOCATION
POWER
540
CBK
WATROUS, SK
50KW
550
KARI
BLAINE, WA
2.5KW
560
KPQ
WENATCHEE, WA
5KW
570
KVI
SEATTLE, WA
5KW
580
KFXD
NAMPA, ID
5KW
580
KTMT
ASHLAND, OR
1KW
600
CKBD
VANCOUVER, BC
10KW
650
CISL
VANCOUVER, BC
10KW
670
KBOI
BOISE, ID
50KW
690
CBU
VANCOUVER, BC
50KW
730
CJNW
VANCOUVER, BC
50KW
750
KXL
PORTLAND, OR
20KW
770
CHQR
CALGARY, AB
50KW
780
KKOH
RENO, NV
50KW
790
KGMI
BELLINGHAM, WA
1KW
800
CKOR
PENTICTON, BC
500W
800
CHAB
MOOSEJAW, SK
10KW
810
KGO
SAN FRANCISCO, CA
50KW
820
KGNW
SEATTLE, WA
5KW
830
CKKY
WAINRIGHT, AB
3.5KW
840
KSWB
SEASIDE, OR
500W
840
CKBX
100 MILE HOUSE, BC
500W
850
KOA
DENVER, CO
50KW
860
KPAM
TROUTDALE, OR
10KW
870
KFLD
PASCO, WA
250W
880
KIXI
MERCER ISLAND, WA
10KW
880
COOL
EDMONTON, AB
50KW
890
CJDC
DAWSON CREEK, BC
10KW
900
CKMO
VICTORIA, BC
10KW
910
CKDQ
DRUMHELLER, AB
50KW
920
KXLY
SPOKANE, WA
5KW
930
KBAI
BELLINGHAM, WA
500W
940
CJGX
YORKTON, SK
50KW
950
KJR
SEATTLE, WA
50KW
960
CFAC
CALGARY, AB
50KW
980
CKNW
NEW WESTMINSTER, BC
50KW
1010
CBR
CALGARY, AB
50KW
1040
CKST
VANCOUVER, BC
50KW
1060
CKMX
CALGARY, AB
50KW
1070
CFAX
VICTORIA, BC
10KW
1090
KYCW
SEATTLE, WA
50KW
1130
CKWX
VANCOUVER, BC
50KW
1160
KSL
SALT LAKE CITY, UT
50KW
1170
KPUG
BELLINGHAM, WA
5KW
1180
KOFI
KALISPELL, MT
10KW
1190
KEX
PORTLAND, OR
50KW
1200
WOAI
SAN ANTONIO, TX
50KW
1210
KBSG
AUBURN, WA,
10KW
1210
KZTS
SUNNYSIDE, WA
1KW
1240
KGY
OLYMPIA, WA
1KW
1240
KOFE
ST. MARIES, ID
500W
1250
KKDZ
SEATTLE, WA
5KW
1250
KWSU
PULLMAN, WA
5KW
1260
CFRN
EDMONTON, AB
50KW
1260
KLYC
McMINVILLE, OR
850W
1270
CHAT
MEDICINE HAT, AB
10KW
1270
KTFI
TWIN FALLS, ID
1KW
1280
KIT
YAKIMA, WA
1KW
1290
KGVO
MISSOULA, MT
5KW
1290
KUMA
PENDLETON, OR
5KW
1290
KKSL
LAKE OSWEGO, OR
5KW
1300
KOL
SEATTLE, WA
5KW
1300
CJME
REGINA, SK
10KW
1310
CHLW
ST. PAUL, AB
10KW
1320
CHMB
VANCOUVER, BC
50KW
1340
KLKI
ANACORTES, WA
1KW
1360
KKMO
TACOMA, WA
5KW
1370
KAST
ASTORIA, OR
1KW
1410
CFUN
VANCOUVER, BC
50KW
1470
CJVB
VANCOUVER, BC
50KW
1510
KGA
SPOKANE, WA
50KW
1520
KKSN
OREGON CITY, OR
15KW
1530
KFBK
SACRAMENTO, CA
50KW
1550
KCCF
FERNDALE, WA
10KW
1590
KLIV
SAN JOSE, CA
5KW
1600
KVRI
BLAINE, WA
10KW
1620
KYIZ
RENTON, WA
1KW
1640
KPBC
LAKE OSWEGO, OR
1KW
1660
KXOL
BRIGHAM CITY, UT
1KW

Old notes indicate that there were 14 stations at S9 or higher, requiring heavy trapping to hear anything close to their frequencies. 

My recent interest made me wonder what the situation is today when it comes to the number of strong local ‘blowtorch’ signals, surely the bane of all crystal radio DXers? Although there have been a few changes over the years, a quick scan of the band during the prime DX evening hours found that although one of the blowtorch signals (at 600kHz) was now gone, another had appeared at 1200kHz ... sadly no net difference.

The top end of the band, always a prime area for good skywave DX, is unfortunately still dominated by a huge signal from KVRI just across the water near the Canadian / U.S. border. If KVRI were silent, the top end would be a wonderfully quiet hunting-ground for new catches. The new local blowtorch (CJRJ) on 1200 kHz will now cause problems for the middle of the band, which was always a good region for DX.

So it seems overall, there hasn’t been a huge change here other than in the middle of the band. It looks as though there are still some good watering-holes to be had but several traps will still be needed in any new system.

Once my present radio-bench project is finished (a '36 RK-39 crystal power oscillator) I’m looking forward to more research and design of a couple of new systems, starting with something similar to the CR-1 as well as some experimentation with toroidal coils. I always find the research and planning phase of any new project more interesting and fulfilling than the actual construction and implementation! Hopefully I’ll have something ready for the fall DX season!

Thanks to VA7MM, I will also have the loan of an original CR-1 next winter to make comparisons to any clone that I might build!

If building a DX-crystal radio is something that might interest you, there are several great websites offering inspiration and helpful info. The links for these may be found at the bottom of my own crystal radio page. As well, there are two active crystal radio groups on Facebook, where daily two-way discussion can be had.

Perhaps, with enough new interest, we can even revive the annual Crystal Radio DX Contest!
Steve McDonald, VE7SL, is a regular contributor to AmateurRadio.com and writes from British Columbia, Canada. Contact him at [email protected].

6 Responses to “The Enigmatic Heathkit CR-1 Crystal Radio”

  • Goody K3NG:

    I’m reading your Crystal Set DXing page; this material is gold. You’re really inspiring me to build one 🙂

  • David, KJ4CMY:

    Wow. What a refreshing aspect of radio. Brings me back to some of the crystal and one-transistor hookups I did when I was young! Thanks.

  • Jim k3rtu:

    Built my CR-1 in 1958 while in 7th grade. It was my first of many Heathkits. Still have it and it still works perfectly.

  • Steve VE7SL:

    That’s great to hear Goody! Don’t hesitate to contact me if you need some help.
    David, I was surprised at the level of performance that one can get with a hi-Q system.
    Jim, I wish I had been smart like you and bought one back in the day. Have you heard any DX with yours I wonder?

  • ZAL----VU2DK:

    This is really bringing back nostalgic memories of my crystal set days of the 1950s !
    My 1st. set was on the lines of the WW 2 Fox Hole radio–it used a Gillete shaving blade after rusting half of it—the next one used a Galena rock which when powdered was used as eyelash makeup by the local YLs ! Both these sets were the true cats whisker kind, to locate stations. Later graduated to Mullard OA79 germanium diodes & also 1N34s–finally added the 1st Raytheon made PNP transistor CK722 as an headphone amplifier.
    For the earlier versions I had to use darn hard to find, very high impeadance headsets.
    Ofcourse these sets needed pretty, long wire antennas but all said & done I would love to try it again if its going to improve the sunspots any !!!

  • Steve VE7SL:

    Dr. Zal, I’m happy to hear that this has brought back good memories for you! For many radio fans, crystal radios were their first exposure to the magic. I would encourage you to try something, knowing what we now know about optimizing systems for better performance. I don’t think it will improve the sunspots any however! Actually, the next few winters should be very good for broadcast band DXing, including with your DX crystal radio!

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