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All sorts of interesting stuff about Ham Radio and old gear from Steve G3ZPS, near London in the UK

SWAN, Microphones, CODAR AT5, BITX 40 QRP, Eddystone, WWII Paraset and The 'Sphinx Transmitter'

SWAN 500 July 2018

This radio (1967 model without PSU)  was given to me by a local ham was an unexpected gift..and he must remain nameless.  To say the radio was poor is an understatement. Although it was complete, there were several undocumented mods (including IRT),  holes drilled in the front panel, holes in the case and a weird relay mod hanging out the bottom. It was very very scruffy and the mode switch had been rewired. The internal speaker was full of holes and the PA cover was missing. It was so bad I left it for several days before finally deciding to clean it up and remove the bodges..the soldering was the worst I have ever seen

After 2 days dismantling and cleaning it was time to test the RX. I removed the 6HF5 PA vales and just ran it up on heaters, HT and -bias. After more relay cleaning the receiver came up and appeared to be OK. I could not test the TX until the mode switch was rewired as the TUNE position moves one of the carrier crystals into the filter passband.  The tracing of undocumented wire colours and their correct position on the wafers took another day

The KW Atlanta (I own a superb example) is pretty much a component level copy of the SWAN 500C (although there are some minor differences).  KW also saw fit to swap 2 wires on the 12 pin Jones power plug compared to SWAN. This meant I had to make up an adaptor to fully test the SWAN without changing the KW PSU.

I moved carefully - testing the RX first, then the relays, finally checking I had good SSB up to the TX Driver stage. Next it was time to reinsert the PA tubes and bring the TX up slowly. I was amazed to see good power come up in tune mode..well over 100W on 80, 40 and 20m. Contacts quickly followed and after tweaking the carrier crystals the audio reports were super.

Cosmetically there is little I can for the front panel - I filled the bigger holes with plastic blanking plugs and painted out the worst gouges.  Next I made a plate to cover the big hole in the case above the PA. This meant cutting a square plate of perforated steal and placing it over the hole. The case repaint (black Hammerite) made the repair look acceptable. I found a new ellipitical speaker of the right size on eBay and added a small 12v fan on the back of the PA compartment.

Yet again I wondered what was in the mind of a bodger that made him think that cutting a huge hole in the case over the PA compartment with a big fan blowing was a good idea. The anodes inside the vaccum of a valve will not be cooled much by blowing on the glass. What is required is to keep the components around the valves cool...that means you just need to extract the hot air from the cabinet  and that doesn't need a big fan or a whopping great hole.

The 500 was produced in 1967 with a production run of just under 3000, the updated 500C came out in 1968 with different PA tubes (6LQ6) and some minor changes. There were 7 sub models of the 500C as Swan fiddled with the design well into the 70s. Around 1973 the even higher power Swan 700 came out - this used a pair of the now very rare (and expensive!!) 8950 valves - quite a few US Hams converted the rig back to cheaper TV 'sweep tubes'. The 700 was really just a high power update to the 500C.

Swan were an interesting company - for their tube Ham Radio transceivers of the 60s and 70s they stuck with the 'switched VFO' design that saved a bit of money but meant terrible readout accuracy on the higher bands (10m is every 10kHz). This makes tuning very touchy and drift is an ever present problem.  The poor dial resolution on all the bands was an issue where the competitors were ahead. Dial drive arrangementa that achieved 1kHz readout were easy when the VFO operates on just one frequency span and drift is far less of a problem. The Drake TR4C was such an example - but at a higher cost.

Performance on 20/40/80 is very good and unlike KW and Heathkit, Swan used good quality components that have not aged badly. Amazing to report that I have not changed a single resistor in this 51 year old radio. There were some threats of litigation from the Drake Company over the archictecture and look of the transceivers, but that came to nothing

They also stuck with tube transceivers into the late 70s although the SWAN / ASTRO brand name produced some innovative solid state gear from as early as 1973 under the CUBIC ownership of SWAN

Swan founder Herb Johnson left the Company in the early 70s and after a few poor job choices he started the ATLAS Ham radio Company. Atlas produced some great little HF transceivers, but like many US ham radio equipment manufacturers of the time they could not produce a technically reliable product at a price point to compete with Yaesu, Kenwood and Icom. The excellent SWAN RADIO COMPENDIUM is linked here


been buying up mics from radio rallies for  many years and never spent a lot of money. Shure 444 and Shure 201 mics works very well with all the tube / valves radios, but a recent addition (Dec 2017) amused me with its quality on my FT902DM. The Adonis AM802 'compressor microphone' is a strange one - it has 3 separate switched outputs..and a 3 position compression setting along with a 'tune tone' and a small electret capsule. I was given this before it was thown out and wired one of the outputs for 4 pin Yaesu - there is no schematic or useful information anywhere on the net . The results on my 902 are quite simply amazing, my 80m ragchew chums love it..and my off air SDR recordings in the UK sound great. The response is very flat and it appears to suit both my voice and the radio .  I cant imagine needing any improvement to the clear comms quality I get with this mic - I'll tell everyone its a Heil !









I am not a fan of extensive audio processing on SSB, A limited amount of EQ and and processing is of course necessary to get the best out of the mode...but taking it to extremes in terms of bandwidth with racks of outboard gear and even adding reverb are not my thing..  I leave that stuff in my music studio. 

Eddystone 870A

This cute little receiver came from the 'bring and buy' at a local radio rally in November 2017.  Eddystone made the 870(A)from the mid 50s for about 10 years mainly for use in cruise ship cabins. The design is loosely based on the classic 5 valve AC/DC layout  - but with that lovely slide rule dial covering LW to 24MHz AM. Its extremely well made and above the standard of many Broadcast sets of the 50s and 60s. The live chassis layout allowed the radio to operate from cruise ship power supplies as well as domestic mains..and the chassis is well isolated from the case - I was not worried about plugging it in!.  Some appear in maroon and green - and have become very sought after, the grey ones are less rare.

It had been electrically checked over by its previous owner and works fine - but he ran out of enthusiasm to replace the cracked dial glass. He cut some perspex to fit and then didn't know what to do about the he just scored 5 the lines with a knife....useless.

Once home I threw out his dial and cut out a new blamk perspex dial window. I then made up a replica frequency scale that precisely matches the original in MS Draw. Sadly printing in white is not an option so the frequencies are now printed in black on an acetate sheet behind the perspex.  Looks OK and works even better after alignment but boy does it get hot on 240v..that big dropper resistor must be dissipating over 20 watts !

Codar AT5

In the UK back in the 60's 160m mobile became quite was easier to operate on this band, rather than 2m and local ground wave contacts were quite adequate for staying in touch with you nearby radio chums. There were a few choices for getting on the 160 AM moible ;  homebrew, ex military kit or 'off the shelf 'commercial. One company developed a simple little valve 160 /80m AM TX that has since become quite a little icon - The Codar AT5.  Very little information now exists about Worthing based  Codar - they marketed a few TRF Receiver and ancilleries and all were relatively low cost. They struck lucky with the little AT5 and its very simple little T28 AM receiver - and came up with a set up which worked either mobile or at home.

There was nothing groundbreaking about the was just a cute little TX - Codar did away with the bulky internal PSU and simplified the modulation to use a technique called 'Hesing' modulation. This meant the very heavy modulation transformer was replaced by a tapped choke or 'auto transformer' and the TX could be shrunk to a small foorprint.  Loads of us 60s kids copied the design and made our own versions - although never quite as small as the reall thing !. I have had this one so long I cant remember where I got it from...its quite unusual in that Codar must have had several suppliers for knobs and this one is quite rare..still works as well!

In January 2018 I took delivery of a complete Codar AT5 station, TX, RX and PSU. I got the T28 RX going first and after a bit of tinkering it receives ok on AM. It really is a very basic receiver - the unstable BFO is useless on SSB and image problems from a local BC station dont help. However  80m AM is ok if the signals are strong !. The AC PSU is pretty works but I found several dry joints as I changed the capacitors.

This second AT5 had the PI TANK 80m mod with a slide switch on the back..but oddly it was disconnected. I tried the mod with a short jumper and it allows the TX to gernerate more power on 80m. For my trial on 80m AM I will put the TX into one of my linears to pump the power up to 50 - 60W...that should help a bit. Here is video of the T28 running on 80m AM...not bad. Had a contact on 3.615 using the complete Codar station and no other kit - I was amazed when GW8TBG (Mervyn) came back to my 7W CQ call.

QRP Project Jan 2017 – BITX40

The ready populated BITX40 became available at the end of 2016. Ashhar Farhan's design from 2003 has been copied and adapted many times over the last 13 years - starting out as a simple 20m transceiver to encourage hams around the world to build and experiment – especially those with limited funds.

In 2016 he started another enterprise to get 40m boards assembled by local Indian workers – thereby providing local employment. These complete QRP 5W radio PCBs using surface mount parts come in at a very low the UK it cost me £37.50 delivered to my front door. The first kits came with an onboard varicap VFO that was bit unstable and without a counter hard to tell which frequency you were on. The second batch come with a suitable (if basic) DDS synthesizer on a separate small PCB.

Mine was one of the first batch, so I either used the onboard varicap VFO or my own DDS...which is what I did.

First Test

My first test was just to check if the board was working – all the connectors are provided so only 12v and antenna are needed to check things out. My first impression was that the RX audio had rather too much hiss for my was not the band noise on 40m, and it was not all coming from the LM386 audio appeared to be present at the input of the 386. The LM386 was configured with quite a bit of gain so perhaps this was a feature of the simple design (no AGC on the RF / IF stages means you cant have too much gain in this part of the receiver)

The on board VFO was not really good enough for me. Although it stabilised after a while – it was hard to tell what frequency you where listening to – and a multi-turn pot would not allow quick frequency changes - a DDS would be required


I wanted a DDS that did not require too much programming – this would ensure I could get things working pretty quickly. I chose to go with a DDS control board from the UK Company '6V6'. This board is based around a PIC controller and interfaces directly with one of the popular AD9850 DDS units which are dirt cheap on eBay. The pre-programmed PIC board is easy to assemble with no SMD components and comes with a 16 x 2 LCD display and the rotary encoder.

Instructions are fairly minimal but the build is fairly painless. Once assembled the complete DDS and controller make an oscillator that can go from 0 – 40MHz in steps as small as 1Hz, it also allows storage of an IF 'offset' to allow the display to show the actual RX/TX frequency.

I tested the DDS on my scope and it worked a treat with about .5V out. The BITX needs 4.8 – 5.0 MHz to cover the 7.0 – 7.2MHz 40m band.

The Box

I had picked up a nice aluminium box with wood wraparound top and sides at a ham radio rally – and it looked just right, with a bit of extra room for either a 25W PA or a PSU. There followed the most time consuming part of the build which was designing the layout and cutting the metal. I had a nice meter from a KW204 transmitter which would look good - and that damn 16 x 2 display needs a perfect oblong cutout with accurate screw holes. I designed the front panel in MS 'Draw' so I could play with the layout and produce a drilling template. I tried to ensure almost every hole and cutout was completed before any other components were added.

Final build

The final build went fairly quickly, the supplied BITX connectors really speed things up – a bit like an old Heathkit...kit. To use the DDS it is necessary to remove the existing analogue VFO coil. There is a DDS connector on the board and the only extra component required is a DC blocking cap from the AD9850 output. The receiver came up straight away, and after a bit of programming through the 4 push buttons connected to the controller the display showed the correct 40m frequencies. Although the radio has a 12MHz IF, the actual offset must take account of the LSB carrier shift, this works out at around 11.998.5MHz

The damn hiss was still present, and my simple but very effective solution was to roll off the audio response a bit with 100n and 10k preset across the volume control – very mellow sound now.


AGC and Mic preamp

My next test was to try and transmit - I lashed up some wiring to use a condenser mic capsule..the board provides the bias. It sounded awful and with little drive either - even swapping capsules was no help. I put an isolation capacitor in place and plugged in a comms dynamic mic, much much better but still low drive – I had to shout to get peaks anywhere near 5W. My solution was an additional BC108 mic amp which allowed me to add a mic gain control – The pic below is of a generic single transistor pre amp - I used a smaller 10uF emitter bypass cap to keep the gain a bit lower, and added a 10K preset pot at the output. With this set up I was able to have contacts around the UK and EU.

Whilst listening on another receiver in the workshop I noticed residual carrier on the SSB signal..and try as I might I could not null it out with the preset resistor on the board. I note that there are no small balancing caps as you normally expect to find, so that's a little mod for later.

The lack of any AGC and an S meter was next on the list...searching the net on different QRP rigs indicated that audio derived AGC controlling the audio level to the LM386 was the most simple if not crude option. A simple 4 transistor design which allowed the connection of an S meter was build up on stripboard and to my amazement works a treat, just a little bit of popping on voice peaks, I substituted BC108 transistors in this design  The S meter is in PARALLEL with R12, and ideally should be less than 1mA, you must put a 20K trimmer in series with the meter and adjust so that a strong signal is around 75% of full scale- click the picture to go to the webpage or here to see another version of this circuit in English - but note that for the BITX40 you must have the input and output trimmers to set it up properly. I also changed the input preset to 20K to get the levels right - even then you will find the input level can be set quite low.

From the 3 way volume control connector on the board take the red wire to the AGC input trimpot, now take a wire from the AGC output trim pot and wire it to the top connector of the volume control (where the red wire was before the mod). Keep the wires short and use screened cables for the all the connections

The final little addition was relative power indication. A few turns on a small toroid slipped over the antenna connection with a diode and one cap was ample to move the 1mA meter upscale on voice peaks. Now it looks and works like a nice little radio

AGC and Mic Preamp












DDS and Controller










Relative power toroid and diode

October 2016 - A real oddity - The British 'Sphinx' HF Transmitter

Went back to one of its earlier owners in Feb 2019

This was a real odd one - the 'Sphinx' HF Transmitter made for a brief period in the 1960s by SSB Products of Derby England. This is another bit of kit that came to me through a friend and it sure is a strange piece of ham radio gear. SSB Products seemed to have an obsession with naming things after ancient Egyptian culture, they sold a 'Pyramid' HF linear as well

The Sphinx must have been an attempt to cash in on the UK market for ham radio kit in the mid 60's. KW were going strong and maybe the founder (G3EKX) thought there was room for a competitor...but this was made down to a price (but sold at a high price!) and even at the time it looked decidedly basic - in fact its almost homemade, I think it was available as either a kit or ready built. Corners were cut in both the design and construction of this transmitter.

It uses a very basic mixing technique with the SSB filter at 435kHz and only one carrier crystal (436.000 on mine) on 3 bands. 160 and 80 come out as LSB and 20m as USB..there is no 40m band as that would have come out as USB without either adding another SSB filter or a 2nd carrier oscillator...too complex so leave it out!. 15m and 10m would have needed more crystals and switching - so leave that out as well (or buy an extra HF adaptor!).

The SSB filter uses only 2 crystals - so not the best suppression

Contacts to either mute a receiver, switch the antenna or have PTT are all missing...that needed another box called the 'Delta control unit'

It has 2 separate band switches

Only one HV winding on the transformer, - so how to get from 500V for the PA to 230V DC for the rest of the TX.. Answer : use a very big dropper resistor.

No winding for a -100 V bias supply either so how to do that??..Answer : use another little transformer to step UP from 6.3V to 100V

How to bring all the PSU and control sections out to the back???..Answer : put highly dangerous voltages on ' chocolate block' connectors that you can easily put your finger on..and maybe die!

VFO calibration ??? forget it. Make your own chart (or use the one supplied) to match frequencies to the vernier drive

Having said all that - I ran it up from a bench PSU with low volts on the PA and got about 15W out on manually switching the antenna I was able to have a few contacts -and no one complained about poor audio, a bit of carrier, or drift...I should have told them it was a IC7300 !...nice

The Sphinx must have been an attempt to cash in on the UK market for ham radio kit in the mid 60's. KW were going strong and maybe the founder (G3EKX) thought there was room for a competitor...but this was made down to a price (but sold at a high price!) and even at the time it looked decidedly basic - in fact its almost homemade, I think it was available as either a kit or ready built. Corners were cut in both the design and construction of this transmitter.

October 2016 Paraset WWII Spy Radio Replica

This next project is all thanks to Colin G3VTT - on a visit to his home I was impressed by the lovely little QRP valve rigs he handbuilt - each one was a work of art. He persuaded me that I should build one and even gifted me the octal valves to get started. He reccommended I look at the 3 Tube 'Paraset' design which uses a 1 valve CW transmiiter and a 2 valve 'Regen' receiver...this design has copied by hams across the world - some have built amazing replicas and others have used some modern twists in the design - after all the world of electronics has moved on a bit since 75 years ago !.

The original MI6 (Secret Intelligence Service) wartime name for these units was the MK VII - designed in 1942 and initially made at Whaddon Hall. After the formation of the wartime SOE (Special Operations Executive), it was discovered that this simple little radio was ideal for parachuting into occupied countries for use by local resitance groups and spies - it operated between about 3 and 8MHz. The simple design was not without its drawbacks though - one of the worst was that the simple regen receiver radiated a little tiny bit of RF - this meant that if a DF unit got close to the location, the receiver alone could give its position away. More info here


I looked at the designs across the web and starting raiding my parts store for the my surprise I had most of the parts to get started...but first the metalwork!!. In most ham radio projects (especially tube ones) the metal work is the longest and hardest part of the build - it sets the course of the whole job. I wanted  a reasonably professional job..and found a large die cast box that was little bigger than most of the paraset replica's..this was a good thing because it gave me some extra room to play with, especially options for PA antenna matching

I spent quite a bit of time researching the schematic, layout, parts and typical builds by other hams....research always pays off.  I was not prepared to pay a fortune on ebay for rare parts - that would defeat the whole object. My biggest substitutions were on the PA Tank capacitors - the Jackson 100pf ones are not readily available or demand a very high price. I had 2 broadcast twin gang capacitors which fiited nicely - although as they are nearer 250pf, tuning will be more critical. The authentic copies use a slow motion 'friction' drive to turn the main RX tuning dial..I didnt have the parts for this so opted to use a very low value variable cap as a bandspread arrangement (control at bottom keft on front)..even then I found it hard to use both 40m and 80m on the one receive I may have to revert to a bandswitch for the receiver.

I also had to scour the internet to buy some older style TX crystals for 40 and 80m...and ended up with 3.530 MHz, 3.562 MHz, 7.010MHz

The original unit was built to load into a random wire so uses a link coupling on the simple PA - I decided to include an option to use a more standard 'Pi Tank' arrangement that would allow the radio to be connected to a matched 50 ohm antenna - pics below shows my completed unit.

Geoff G3YVF suggested some mods to get proper bandspread..I chose 80m and made up a calibration chart. The sensitivity of the receiver is just staggering, its just the skirt selectivity that means its hard to use on a crowded band...but hey there is just one tuned circuit !