You might ask, why would a radio be elusive? I can still remember Christmas 1950, and the thrill I got when I opened a box and saw a radio. With the help of my father, I built the radio and was able to do all sorts of things with it.
One thing that stands out the most was when I put the radio in an old Army leather field telephone enclosure. I mounted this to my bicycle and using an old metal fly rod as an antenna, I'd ride my bicycle down the street listening to local radio stations.
One day, during summer vacation from school, I loaded up my radio on my bicycle and went to the playground to show it off. When I rode up with earphones on and a tall looking whip antenna mounted on my bike, I was an instant hit. Everyone wanted to know what it was and wanted to listen to the radio because they were amazed that you could listen to a radio on a bike. This was a great experience for me and one that has fond memories.
Up until a couple of months ago, I had no idea what the radio was and there was no one to ask because both of my parents are deceased. Then, after 63 years of wondering about it, just by chance, I found a link on an antique forum describing the exact radio that was given to me when I was 11 years old!
It turned out to be an Air Champ 200, and since then I have been scouring the Internet, trying to find out anything else about it. I eventually found enough information to build an authentic replica of the Air Champ 200, and that's what this article is about.
Radio, back in the 1950s, was still magic to most people. The simple crystal radio was the beginning of a radio experience for most hams. When asked what got them into amateur radio, the answer usually is " my first crystal set."
So why have I been trying so hard to find the Air Champ 200? I have read stories of people that experienced major events in their younger life that left an indelible mark in their memory, and when they get older and have the means and knowledge to recreate the original experience they go ahead and do it.
I have read countless stories where people have gone to the extreme and duplicated every part of an original station. One person, writing for a ham magazine, duplicated the tube transmitter, tube receiver, the hand key, and found the exact same table the original Novice station sat upon. The room and the exact same wall paper and QSL cards shown in his original picture.
All of this is why I have built an exact clone of the Air Champ 200. For a boy of 11-years-old, when the radio worked the first time, it was an unforgettable accomplishment.
The Air Champ Company
The company that created the Champ 200 was founded by Mr. Frank Cavolina. I had the pleasure of exchanging several emails from Mike Cavolina, the son of the founder of the Air Champ Company. The company started in business around 1949-1950. Mr. Cavolina saw a need to gather the parts for the kits and produce them, and his whole family helped.
Mike Cavolina, and his brother Larry, were featured in original magazine advertisements for many of the Air Champ products. Their factory was located at 577 East 156th Street, New York 55, New York. In 1961, Aurora Radio bought the Air Champ Company and Mr. Cavolina stayed on as VP of Manufacturing until 1971.
Mr. Cavolina is still alive and well under the care of his daughter Jane. Both companies did extremely well after becoming involved with the Boy Scouts of America.
They offered several kits so that a young Scout could earn the radio merit badge. The kits made it simple for young people to try building their first amazing, working radio. When I found out how this was a Boy Scout radio and that Air Champ had quite a few different kits offered as Scout radios, I was surprised. They were sold by most major stores, such as Sears and Montgomery Ward, in the Boy Scout department.
The kits made it easy to have all parts on hand, otherwise, a builder would need to find parts from different sources. Air Champ Made Several Kits In 1950, the crystal set sold for $2.95 . Included in the kit was the tuning coil, some earphone wire, and step-by-step instructions.
Their one-tube AM radio kit was called the "Air Champ 100" for the standard broadcast band sold for $7.95. It could receive local and distant stations and was powered by dry cell batteries.
The complete kit contained an earphone, one tube, and the outer cardboard carton was cut up to make an attractive, portable box cabinet.
The two tube Air Champ 200 AM radio kit sold for $11.95 and contained a 4-inch Alnico PM speaker, eliminating the earphones. The kit included wire, two tubes, and complete step-by-step instructions. The cardboard carton was also to be made into a cardboard cabinet. For both radios, there were accessory kits to add shortwave band coverage.
The Air Champ 200
The Air Champ 200 is a two tube radio, originally produced in kit form, and held together on a 1/4-inch plywood board, using Fahnestock clips placed over a pictorial diagram of the actual parts. In the fifties, radio magazines commonly used pictorial diagrams to help novice builders identify parts and put them in the proper position.
Building the Air Champ 200 Clone Building the Airchamp 200 radio was simple, but it did not work at first because of a mistake on the original schematic. All of the 3V4 pin-outs were wrong! One 3V4 tube is the detector and the other 3V4 is an audio amplifier that drives a small speaker.
The radio tunes the standard AM broadcast band using 3 volts on the tube filaments and 90 volts on the plates. It is a regenerative receiver design that was common back in the '50s.
Searching For The Parts
Finding the parts was hard. Some had to be made from scratch, like the broadcast band oscillator coil. The first thing I looked for was the Fahnestock clips. I finally found them at Modern Radio Laboratories at a great price and I needed 29 clips.
I had all of the resistors, capacitors, and tube sockets, but I needed to find the variable capacitor and two 3V 4 tubes. I was really afraid tubes were unavailable, but a search on the Internet lead me to Mike Wiley (KC9NJ), who came to my rescue with two tested NOS tubes at a great pnce.
The schematic pictorial was supplied by Bob Voss (N4CD) of Plano, TX. Without the pictorial I couldn't have built the set. The pictorial was glued to a plywood board and the parts were placed. As mentioned before, this was a common building practice in magazines of the '50s to make construction simple for novice builders.
The broadcast band coil was scratch built and wound by hand with the correct taps, as shown in the photo. The coil is 1-inch in diameter and 3-inches tall. The tickler is 1.05 inches. Number 30 wire is used for both coils and they are wound in the same direction.
The top of the coil is the ground end, then 29 turns to the antenna tap, and another 72 turns to the grid end (bottom of the main coil). The coil is upside down from the schematic drawing.
The tickler coil is 7 turns of number 30 wire wound, again, in the same direction as the main coil. The coil form was made using craft paper that was wound on a piece of 1-inch plastic water pipe. Then, the wound coil and paper were slid off of the pipe, dipped in polyurethane, and dried for a perfect coil form.
The cardboard box that the kit came in served as the radio's cabinet, with dial markings for the AM broadcast band, the on-and-off switch, and a top handle.
To recreate the look of the original cardboard cabinet, my daughter searched the Internet and found a wallpaper design that was a great match for the outside covering and looks just like the original.
She also recreated the handle, the dial, and the on-off battery switch.
Air Champ "B" Battery Kit
To power the radio, an Air Champ "B" battery eliminator was created to supply 90V. The B battery eliminator is a simple half-wave rectified supply that has an output of22-Y2 volts and 90 volts.
Without the unconditional help of several people this project would have never been possible. Bob Voss (N4CD) sent many emails showing every angle of his Air Champ 200, which enabled my daughter, Melanie Sanchez, a talented graphic designer, to piece together the pictorial with exact measurements so that she could recreate the cardboard box to exact size.
All of the printed labels were reproduced; this was no easy project. Three complete box cabinets had to be built until there was a satisfactory replica.
All of the color and font sizes are exactly as original. She did an outstanding job!
If you look up Kees Talen (K5BCQ) on his web page, http://www.qsl.net/k5bcq you will see a great example of the Air Champ 100, and be able to read his story about building a radio he had as an 11-year-old boy. He gave me the needed instructions to wind the BC coil from an original Air Champ radio.
Craig Baker (K3NQD), owner of radio stations WKVQ/WYTH in Georgia's Lake Country, sent several emails with original advertisements for Scout radios and two pictures of the Air Champ 100 and 200. He was very supportive. Give a listen to his stations on the Internet, Starstationradio.com.
The Air Champ Radio is finished and works great. At nighttime, the AM radio band comes alive with stations from all over the world.
So there you have it, a clone as close to the original as we could make it. It looks exactly like the original Air Champ 200, inside and out. It's close enough to fool anyone that had one when he was 10 or II-years old and he would not know the difference.
I hope in some small way that building this clone Air Champ 200 two tube radio from the 1950s will bring back great memories of a time when the world was moving at a slower pace. Radio was not that old then and television was in its in black and white infancy, and went off the air at 12 midnight. You can still remember listening to the radio and exclaim with excitement at receiving a radio station many miles from your house.
The crowning achievement was when my daughter Melanie, who worked the hardest to make this a reality, presented me with a Boy Scout radio badge, and an award certificate for building a Scout radio.
What a pleasant surprise!
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SAMUEL FINLEY BREESE MORSE 1791-1872
Samuel Morse was an American painter and inventor.
After having established his reputation as a portrait painter, in his middle age Morse contributed to the invention of a single-wire telegraph system based on European telegraphs.
He was a co-developer of the Morse code, and helped to develop the commercial use of telegraphy.
Each dot or dash is followed by a short silence, equal to the dot duration. The letters of a word are separated by a space equal to three dots (one dash), and the words are separated by a space equal to seven dots.
The dot duration is the basic unit of time measurement in code transmission.
In 1832 he began a 12 year period perfecting his version of an Electric Telegraph and receiving a patent for his device, Along with Alfred Vail 1807-1859 and Joseph Henry 1797-1879.
These three developed the Electromagnetic Telegraph, and a code that assigned a series of dots and dashes to each letter of the alphabet.
The first telegram in the United States was sent by Morse on 11 January 1838, across two miles (3 km) of wire at Speedwell Ironworks near Morristown, New Jersey, although it was only later, in 1844, that he sent the message "WHAT HATH GOD WROUGHT" from the Capitol in Washington to the old Mt. Clare Depot in Baltimore.