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Classic Ham Radio – What Does It Mean?

classic ham radio

Classic ham radio is really just about envy.

There is an article in October 2016 QST that explores the meaning of classic ham radio. When and how does an old radio become a “classic”? And, what is the difference between “classic” versus an antique, a boat anchor or a collectible radio? Generally, classic ham radio refers to equipment from 1950’s to 1980’s which was distinctive with a great design and performance – in short, the best of their kind.

My definition is slightly different. It’s about the impossible dream. To me, a classic ham radio is a great piece of gear that, at one point in our lives, we could only dream about owning. And frequently did.

Adjusting for inflation, classic equipment was really expensive. Well beyond the means of a young ham radio operator, or even just an average person.

The most expensive piece of new ham gear in 2016 is the ICOM IC-7851 transceiver. It costs around US $12,000. Not many of us would spend that much money on a radio. At the next tier, premium radios such as the Yaesu FTDX5000 or Kenwood TS-990S cost between US $5,000 to US $7,000. In thirty years, these rigs may be the new classics.

So, how expensive was classic ham radio equipment?

During the mid 1960’s, my first ham mentor was Bill Horner, VE4HW, who lived a few blocks away. I spent many hours playing with his radios, which are now classics. His receiver was the Collins 75A4, shown top right, and his transmitter was the Hallicrafters HT-37, shown top left. If you look up this gear at the W5AM Ham Radio Museum, you will find that the 75A4 sold for $695 and the HT-37 for $400 in 1959. Adjusted for inflation, Bill’s station was worth over $9,000 in today’s money. How a retired railway guy afforded such a premium outfit is beyond me. He must have really enjoyed the hobby.

Perhaps the most classic of the classic ham radio gear was the Collins S-Line, shown in the lower picture. The Collins 32S-3 transmitter and 75S-3 receiver together cost around $1,370 in 1963. That’s the equivalent of $11,000 in 2016 dollars.

So, the best of the classic gear in the 1950’s and 1960’s was about the same price as today’s top-of-the-line radios. Fortunately, a lot of the classic gear still works and can be purchased at a reasonable used price, so guys like me can live our dream if we really want to.

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