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Author Topic: Costing the ARRL "Low Cost Transmitter"  (Read 6480 times)
KB1WSY
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« on: July 21, 2012, 05:04:20 AM »

Some of you might be interested in the precise *costing* of my quest to build the "Low Cost Transmitter" from the 1963 ARRL book, "Understanding Amateur Radio." This design was cost effective in its day, partly because it could be built largely from components harvested from a discarded TV chassis. This was one of the projects I yearned to build 40 years ago but never got around to, partly because of lack of parts (I was in England and the parts list was very American) and partly because I eventually lost interest in the hobby.

I have tentatively decided to christen this project "LCT-65" (Low Cost Transmitter, 65 watts) but am open to suggestions!

Over the past week I finally completed acquisition of all the "rare" components. The remaining ones are easily available (and therefore easily costed) because they are still being manufactured (power transformers, fixed carbon composition resistors, fixed capacitors, the chassis, etc.).

I am giving the costs both in actual 2012 dollars, and in 1963 dollars (according to the Consumer Price Index, a basket of goods that cost $1.00 in 1963 would cost $7.50 to buy in 2012).

So here goes:

--LCT-65 transmitter, authentic version (identical to the 1963 design, with the same parts or re-manufactured parts that are identical to the originals), real cost in 2012 dollars: $464.94. In 1963 dollars, that comes out to $61.99.

--Power Supply for the transmitter, largely authentic version (the 1963 design with some improvements, see below): $235.50. In 1963 dollars, that comes to $31.40.

--Total cost of the TX/PSU package: $700.44 ... which is $93.92 in 1963 dollars.

Alternatives that I could have pursued:

--LTC-65 transmitter, non-authentic version. Instead of using the actual branded NOS or salvaged parts from 1963, substitute the cheapest viable modern equivalents (or just use cheaper NOS stuff). Instead of Miniductor/Air Dux coil stock and remanufactured Amphenol-type clear coil forms, use pill boxes and wind my own coils. Instead of National HRS knobs, use equivalent Radio Shack knobs. Use a cheap equivalent of the vintage Shurite panel meter. Instead of the relatively expensive "period" power supply connectors, use modern Molex stock. Etc., etc. Total: $274 ... which is $36.53 in 1963 dollars.

--Power Supply, non-authentic and more basic version. Use semiconductor diodes instead of a tube. Use a simpler power transformer (instead of the "Universal Primary" international model that I selected). Use Molex connectors. Total: $171.50 (most of which is for the transformer and the filter choke). This is $22.86 in 1963 dollars.

Of course, if I had access to the now-rare "discarded TV chassis" or had attended a bunch of hamfests, I would have been able to cut the cost very substantially. With a better stocked "junk box" it would have cost even less. By the way, the "authentic" components varied wildly in price. Some were picked up at very reasonable prices from online supply houses or sold/given to me by other hams (lower than the 1963 prices, if you adjust for inflation) but some of them were insanely expensive because I bought them on eBay, which is probably the only place where an "accurate" (and screwy!) modern market price can be established for this arcane vintage stuff.

Of course,  in 1963 I could have bought a Heathkit DX-60 kit for $79.95 -- getting about 50 percent more power than the LCT-65, AM modulation in addition to CW, and band switches instead of plug-in coils. In 1963 dollars, that would have been about $14 cheaper than what I ended up spending for my "authentic" reproduction of the LCT-65 with its power supply.

To those who think I am wasting money, I concede that the answer is "yes" (I am just trying to forestall the inevitable commenters who will state, not untruthfully, that "a fool is soon parted from his money"). I retort that "this is only a hobby" and that the quest to find these parts has taken six months and been a lot of fun. I suspect I am not the only ham who ends up spending rather more than s/he expected to spend, but still retrospectively feels it was worthwhile!

Another few weeks (to obtain the "easy" components) and I should actually be able to start building this thing! (So far, I've assembled only the plugin coils.)

73 de Martin, KB1WSY
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KB1WSY
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« Reply #1 on: July 21, 2012, 05:10:31 AM »

Quick correction: the total price of the LTC-65/PSU package in 1963 dollars is actually $93.39, not $93.92. I'm making this tiny correction only to forestall the inevitable nit-picking over the $0.53 error in the division calculation.

73 de Martin, KB1WSY
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AC5UP
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« Reply #2 on: July 21, 2012, 07:42:39 AM »

I still have a Heathshkit catalog from 1972 and was amazed to find their 25" Color TV kit priced in constant dollars comes up to a shade over $3,000 today..... The cabinet was sold separately as the James Bond Gentleman's Den Method involved building the TV into a wall or book case which made you a certified " custom-built handy guy " of the highest caliber. The $3,000 calculated price includes a stylish cabinet from the woodchucks in Benton Harbor.

For about the same money today you can score a mini JumboTron that responds to hand gestures. Custom wall mounting involves eight screws and 20 minutes, even if you're not all that handy, and James Bond is played in the movies by some guy I never heard of..................... 

Go Figure.    Grin
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K8AXW
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« Reply #3 on: July 21, 2012, 09:22:27 AM »

Martin:  Your post was an interesting read.  I'm having a difficult time mentally digesting some of it though.

You do understand that after spending all of this money on an old technology item you still don't have an item from those bygone years, don't you?

As an avid builder, I find that part of the fun is scrounging parts.... from buddies, from hamfests....defunct electronics ..... whereever.  The bottom line goal was to take my time and build it as cheap as possible.

I sorta look at your project as an exercise in how to spend money.  Sorry.  Guess it's back to what an old SK buddy of mine used to say, "Whatever floats your boat!"

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K0IZ
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« Reply #4 on: July 21, 2012, 09:36:33 AM »

Each to his own.   My sources for vintage parts, in probable order of availability and cost:

1.  Older hams in my radio club.  Most have lots and lots of misc parts and probably some old home brew equipment.  Most have wives that would love for an excuse to help empty a bit of the basement.  Our club holds an annual auction in Oct, much is cleanings from basement.

2.  Local hamfests.  Much is not worth listing on eBay or paying for shipping.  Most home brew looks dirty, totally inop, etc.  Most can be purchased for almost nothing.  Lots of vintage parts that cannot be easily individually purchased.

3.  Dayton Hamvention.  Late on Saturday, lots of marginal vintage home brew can be had for very little.  On Friday, look for stuff that has the specific part(s) needed (ie power transformers, plug in coils, etc), and pay a little more.

4.  eBay.  Inop, not tested, ugly home brew will go for not much more than the shipping.

To my view, if one attempts to replicate a vintage design, then vintage parts should be used.  ANd there's fun in the chase.
« Last Edit: July 21, 2012, 09:38:34 AM by K0IZ » Logged
KB1WSY
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« Reply #5 on: July 21, 2012, 09:58:59 AM »

You do understand that after spending all of this money on an old technology item you still don't have an item from those bygone years, don't you?

Of course I don't. Rather, I will have what I would have built back then, but built 40 years later.

I sorta look at your project as an exercise in how to spend money.

Your description is not inaccurate. I'm not saying it's rational, which explains why you are (understandably) having a difficult time mentally digesting it. You are the sane one here, not me!

As an avid builder, I find that part of the fun is scrounging parts.... from buddies, from hamfests....defunct electronics ..... wherever.

I tried several times to get to a variety of hamfests but various commitments (work and family) nixed all of them. I considered Dayton, but couldn't spare the time plus the travel costs would have run into the hundreds of dollars without guaranteeing that I would find all the parts I was looking for. But of course what you are saying makes sense.

I'm very much looking forward to getting involved with my local ham club(s) and spending more time pursuing opportunities for scrounging. K0IZ's list is good: radio club, hamfests, Dayton, eBay (in extremis). In an ideal world, my whole project would have been scrounged, begged or borrowed and no doubt I would have enjoyed it even more! Even without the scrounging, it's a blast! Plus, it would be nice to get on the air within a reasonable time -- I was licensed 6 months ago.

Also to put it in context: judging from the shack pictures on the home page of eham.com, it looks like some hams nowadays spend a lot more than the aforementioned sums of money ... on off-the-shelf, state-of-the-art equipment or on large collections of boat anchors. I have no great ambitions for my little shack, a simple homebrew TX and RX and a couple of dipoles should keep me busy for quite a while!

Also, I am fairly sure that my mania for "authenticity" is one-off and that I will "get over it" after completing the construction of the aforesaid Novice station, circa 1963.....

73 de Martin, KB1WSY
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KA5N
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« Reply #6 on: July 21, 2012, 02:23:43 PM »

This thread reminds me of the times that an unassembled HeathKiT comes up for sale on
eBay and goes for  hundreds or thousands of dollars and then the "high bidder"  goes and
assembles the kit and instantly reduces the value of the HeathKit to that of a used and abused forty year old rig.
If you really MUST build a transmitter from the pages of a long ago QST or whatever, then
shopping at swapfest and hitting estate sales of SK's would be a far cheaper and interesting
way to garner the parts.  mais, cha-cun a son gout !!   after all it is only money that is
losing its value every day.  Buying gold or unassembled Heathkits (and keeping them
unassembled) would be a better investment.
73  Allen KA5N
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KG4NEL
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« Reply #7 on: July 21, 2012, 03:29:28 PM »

As an avid builder, I find that part of the fun is scrounging parts.... from buddies, from hamfests....defunct electronics ..... whereever.  The bottom line goal was to take my time and build it as cheap as possible.

Personally, I hate that part. If I could get all of it delivered on a pallet and lay it out on my workbench, I'd have no issue with that  Grin I don't mind if it takes six months to finish a project, but taking six months just to find the stuff to begin is a drag.

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K5LXP
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« Reply #8 on: July 21, 2012, 04:53:48 PM »

I'd be wondering what latent issues there may be with this old project.  At least with Heapshkits you had the benefit of a deployed product and a network of feedback to resolve design and production issues.  It would really suck to get to the finish line with this project only to find a bunch of design issues you need to track down and resolve.  Maybe a fun part of the challenge, maybe not.

Mark K5LXP
Albuquerque, NM
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K8AXW
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« Reply #9 on: July 21, 2012, 09:09:38 PM »

NEL:  My homebrew linear required 5 YEARS of scrounging parts before assembly started!  I enjoyed every minute of it and during this time I did a LOT of planning with great anticipation.  It's all part of the game.... the finish is anticlimactic.
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KB1WSY
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« Reply #10 on: July 22, 2012, 07:36:56 AM »

If you feel so inclined, you can consider my part-finding odyssey to be a 21st century version of the "tried and tested" club/hamfest/estate sale/Dayton method. If you think I took the "easy way out" you might reconsider. There was in fact a lot of "human interaction" involved: dozens of emails to obscure suppliers, to fellow hams all over the world, and yes, to eBay sellers when all else failed. Many hours were spent on this, including numerous blind alleys but also the "eureka" moments when those rare components were finally tracked down.

This was a lot of fun, even if nearly all of the interaction happened virtually. The one exception was when I traipsed to the amazing Leeds Radio store in Brooklyn on a scorching Saturday morning and spent a couple of hours viewing their stock, buying a whole bunch of obscure components and getting advice from Richard Matthews, the owner. Leeds used to be on the famous Radio Row in downtown Manhattan, then moved to Brooklyn, and was purchased by Richard in the 1990s. You can read about his store here: http://tinyurl.com/7tmyoa3.

Another aspect of this is that by buying most of this stuff from actual stores (online operations ranging in size from large outfits to one-person stores) I helped support the entire ecosystem of suppliers of surplus and vintage goods that we all have to rely on at least from time to time. Some of these people are very knowledgeable and helpful. They deserve our support. Their prices are not necessarily the lowest (these people have to make a living!), especially if your frame of reference is "hamfests and fellow hams" but I still think we should be grateful that they still exist.

If you look at it from a cost point of view, yes, it seems like I spent a lot. OTOH traveling to hamfests, estate sales, Dayton, and so on might have cost as much money or more. Yes, I would have preferred to have some more "face to face" human interaction and that is something to look forward to in future.

73 de Martin, KB1WSY
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AA4PB
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« Reply #11 on: July 22, 2012, 12:07:54 PM »

"I will have what I would have built back then, but built 40 years later."

I kind of figured that you didn't build the project in order to have the most advanced, state-of-the-art transmitter that you could get your hands on  Grin  Sometimes its fun to build something just for the fun of it.

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K0IZ
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« Reply #12 on: July 22, 2012, 06:03:05 PM »

I suppose in all the responses (including mine), one thing was mostly forgotten:  Contrats on building something!  Many today would not attempt to build much of anything, much less something of your scope.  Hope you decide to continue on with your endeavors.   
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K8AXW
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« Reply #13 on: July 22, 2012, 08:13:11 PM »

IZ:  Well said!!!!
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KC9KEP
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« Reply #14 on: July 23, 2012, 12:58:01 PM »

SY,

I like the project .. I'd choose to build one :-)

Is this the same transmitter featured in March 1961 QST "65 Watts at low Cost"?

The only other question I have is, why did you mention pricing a  "Universal Primary" international model power transformer?
Why would you want that (unless you want to operate in multiple countries of course ..)

73

--KC9KEP
« Last Edit: July 23, 2012, 01:01:53 PM by KC9KEP » Logged
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