Saturday, May 15, 2010

Viva Flea Markets

That time of the year is upon us again here in the northeast. The weather is turning nicer, everything is in bloom or leafing out. And it is the season of outdoor flea markets.

I'm always on the lookout for radio gear at these events, particularly older pocket, portable, or table top transistors radios of yesteryear. Often they can be had for a song. Analog rules the day here. Dial strings and pulleys for table tops, direct drive to the main tuning capacitor for smaller transistor units. The shape they are in varies of course, though I find many are in acceptable or even fairly good shape. Volume controls are normally scratchy, but easily cleaned up with electronic cleaner. Reception on these units is marginal sometimes, as many of the older transistor units were not noted for extreme sensitivity. But do they work? I have been burned on more than one occasion by trusting a vendor's "Sure it works!" proclamation. Now, as a rule, I take along a set of AA batteries or a 9 volt unit so I can try out the DC-powered radios. The plug-in units you just have to trust.

Recently, I picked up a 25 year old Radio Shack MTA-16 transistorized table top radio. The price? An astoundingly low $2. It was in excellent shape, with the only blemish being three small white paint spots on the cabinet. I see several of these same units bidding right now in the $16-20 range on eBay.

I brought it home and plugged it in. Voila! It worked! The dial string was fairly tight, and band calibration was suitable. Tuning was a little bit touchy on weak stations, as there is just a tiny bit of slop in the dial. Not a problem. Sensitivity was about medium. WWKB-1520 in Buffalo, NY comes in wonderfully at 60 miles distant, with room-filling volume from the 4-inch speaker. The radio even has a tone control. And a bonus - it covers the full mediumwave band from 540 - 1700 KHz.

The MTA-16 uses a 3-inch loopstick for an antenna versus a wound-wire loop antenna on the backboard, a plus. This means it will be less effected by computer-generated RF noise in the receiving shack. Many of the older table tops, particularly the vacuum tube types, had that wire loop antenna, and it was very susceptible to RF and digital hash. Should I ever get into FM DXing, the MTA-16 even has a 300 ohm connection for an FM band antenna.

The MTA-16 now commands a prominent position on the shelf behind my computer. I listen to it while working on computer projects. Lately I've been thrashing through FCC mediumwave data, and the radio has provided a lot of enjoyment.

Check out some flea markets, or yard sales, or garage sales this spring and summer. You might be surprised what you find.


gkinsman said...

Hi Bill,

I found the MTA-16 in the 1996 Radio Shack catalog, on page 47.

This Radio Shack catalogs web site is pretty cool. I've found lots of older items that I was looking for in them, for example my Realistic TRF 12-675 appears on page 93 of the 1968 catalog.


Radio-Timetraveller said...

Hi Gary,

Thanks for the heads up. I totally forgot about those catalogs, and will have a look.


Suwannee Swifty said...

My neighbor just gave me her MTA 16 minutes ago.... can't wait to try it out!