November 08, 2018

The National NC-183D receiver - You can't log 'em if you can't hear 'em!

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On October 27th I set out on a long car trip to the southern part of the Netherlands, to Roermond, to pick up this old beauty that I had bought from an online marketplace site. It's a National NC-183D general coverage / amateur band receiver from the 1950s. It's in perfect condition, both cosmetically and technically. Listening to the NC-183D is such a treat; CW, SSB, but especially the full and warm sound of AM broadcast stations! The AM sound is exceptionally good, and I believe no modern amateur receiver will ever be able to match it. The whole experience of using this old radio, visually, auditory, olfactory, to me it brings back the magic I felt when I started out as a radio hobbyist as a young teenager in the early 1980s. Finding a NC-183D outside of the United States is not a very common occasion.

I'm a sucker for old amateur rigs and communication receivers, but mostly I can resist the urge to buy them (so far I had been able to keep the collection constrained to a Yaesu FTdx-100 transceiver and a Signal Corps BC-312-M receiver). But this one I really had to have. The predecessor of this particular model, the National NC-173, which in appearance is almost identical to the NC-183D, was used in 1947 by the two radiomen aboard the balsa raft of Thor Heyerdahl's legendary Kon-Tiki expedition across the Pacific. The photos and film footage I've seen of this radio in use aboard the raft had left an unerasable impression! See also my blog entry about amateur radio aboard the Kon-Tiki raft here.

With its 30 Kg the NC-183D definitely fits in the category "boat anchors" which vintage radio enthusiasts often affectionately like to call their old radios.The NC-183ND was manufactured by the National Company Inc. of Malden, Massachusetts, USA between 1952 and 1959. The radio's new price was about US$ 380, which at the time was about one fifth the price of a new car! 

I have some old QST magazines from the 1950s in my collection, and one of them (the October 1953 issue) contained this wonderful National advertisement for the NC-183D shown in the pictures below. Coincidentally this issue on page 31 also contains an article on "How To Tune S.S.B. on Any Receiver". SSB was a novelty in those days, and even though a receiver was equipped with a BFO for CW reception, getting a clear, intelligible SSB signal from the radios of this era wasn't as straightforward. As I found out with the NC-183D, turning down the RF Gain does the trick!

Imagine the signals this radio might have picked up during its lifespan! Did it pick up the signals of the Sputnik-1 in 1957*? Did its owner listen to broadcast stations playing the first Rock and Roll songs? Did it hear amateur signals from countries that no longer exist? From countries across the Iron Curtain? The NC-183D grew up during an exciting time in world history, just imagine the endless possibilities of exciting signals this radio might have picked up....

Below you'll find a list of selected links to webpages containing more information about the National NC-183D. More will be added over time.

"You can't log 'em if you can't hear 'em! No matter what else a receiver does, it must pull ém in! And that's just what the NC-183D does!" is how National in 1953 advertised the radio, and amazingly this one after more than 60 years still does!

*The Sputnik-1 was the world's first artificial satellite. It was put in space by the Soviet Union and signalled the start of the "space race" between the US and the USSR. The Sputnik-1 transmitted a 1 Watt signal on 20.005 and 40.002 MHz. It could be easily picked up by amateur radio operators around the world. Even the US time signal station WWV halted its 20 MHz nighttime broadcasts to avoid interference to the Sputnik signal! Some more interesting links can be found below.

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  1. Wow Michael, dat is echt een mooie ontvanger. Ziet er ook keurig uit. Wat een mazzel! Daar kan je avonden, dagen, jaren mee spelen. Inderdaad is alleen de geschiedenis van zo een apparaat al leuk om te lezen. Veel plezier ermee. 73, Bas

    1. Bedankt, Bas! Iedere zendamateur zou een vintage set moeten hebben, het brengt de magie in radio weer helemaal terug!