The Echophone EC-1 Radio Project
The history of the famous World War Two GI's radio and how I picked up one cheap and restored it.
A comprehensive story containing historical, educational, technical and biographical elements & opinions
The following is the story of how I bought my EC-1 and how I restored this radio that was originally sold for scrap. It is a story told as a STORY and not just as a restoration article. You can skip around and concentrate on those things that interests you if you like. I wrote this story for my own amusement and in a style without regard to the rules of popular writing, but I sincerely hope that you will find it entertaining and perhaps you will find something in it that is useful.
The EC-1 in its Historical Context
The original EC-1 was the GI's radio of World War 2 and it was manufactured by the Hallicrafters company under the brand name "Echophone Commercial." It began production late in 1940 and continued in production all through the war. This model radio was about the only commercial, non military radio that the government allowed to be manufactured during WW 2 and they did it for morale purposes, that is, to provide lonely, homesick and bored servicemen with entertainment. These rugged little radios have good short wave circuits so the servicemen and women could listen to shows, music and war news no matter where they were in the world. The EC-1 sold at a "reasonable" price of about $20 (about a month's pay). Actually, for this quality of radio, $20 was a very low price and a lot of GIs got to own them either by buying them outright or receiving them as gifts.
The EC-1 radios were marketed to the GIs directly and through their families to be given as gifts. Ads for the radios appeared in magazines with a rather over the top campaign featuring a Private (later corporal) Hogarth. Hogarth was always shown as a real nerd with coke-bottle glasses, but made very popular with pretty girls who wanted to listen to his radio. Today we know better than to believe that a nerdey guy could attract girls with a short wave radio, but those were innocent times.
Some of the advertisements that appeared in magazines were pretty silly suggesting that the GI owning one of these radios would become really popular with pretty young women regardless of how big a nerd he is. My experience in life has taught me that women are anything BUT interested in a shortwave radio and that a nerd is a nerd is a nerd whether or not he has an EC-1. Still, parents wanted to give their serviceman something useful and entertaining and these radios were as nice a gift as it was possible to give.
Most of the ads for the EC-1 directed to the GIs had a rather in-your-face sexual theme as the following suggests:
This appeal to sex must have worked to sell these radios during that unsophisticated age, because these ads appeared all throughout the war.
Some of the ads were downright racist reflecting the stereotyping of the Japanese enemy so common in this country at the time.
Notice the big glasses, the slant eyes, the huge front teeth and holding the nose at the smell of "the stinking Jap."
What's ironic about this advertisement is that the EC-1 radios used early 1930's technology and the Japanese military radios were far superior to these little GI radios. No Japanese spy or soldier would give a hoot about its "secret plans." If anything, a Japanese soldier would have liked to capture one so that he too could listen to Tokyo Rose. From what I understand, Imperial Japanese soldiers were treated like dirt, absolute dirt by their officers and I'm sure they were forbidden to own radios. Any Japanese soldier caught with one of these radios would have his head cut off immediately by any number of officers who were only too willing to try out their Samurai Swords.
What's also interesting to think about is how, less than 25 years earlier, during World War One, this same radio, with its sensitive high vacuum tubes and superheterodyne design, would have seemed like it was from another universe come down on a space ship. These little EC-1s were that much more advanced than the crystal and Fleming Valve radios in use during The Great War. There were some experimental Armstrong regenerative radios during that time and this same Edwin Armstrong was developing his famous oscillator and heterodyne circuits that would later show up in this radio, but even the best military radios of 1914-1918 could not come anywhere near the performance of the little EC-1 radio - and that is the understatement of the century.
How I got a Second World War EC-1 Radio for MyselfI really didn't need this radio. I already had an EC-1b that was manufactured immediately after the war's end, but I wanted a genuine WW 2 model, so I when I saw this on eBay being sold for parts only, I put in a bid and won it for only $15. It was a wreck all right. The dial was badly peeling and unreadable, the paint on the inside and outside of the case was terrible and the back panel was missing. There were a lot of other internal problems with this radio too that made it a candidate for the junk pile, but I was pretty sure I could restore it and the price was certainly right.
When I opened up my radio and took a good look at the internals, it was obvious that two different people had tried to repair it and the last person had wired parts of it incorrectly with very inexpert soldering. All evidence, deduced from the style of the replacement parts, indicated that the radio had not worked since the mid 50s.
AN IMPORTANT SAFETY WARNING TO ALL EC-1 OWNERS!IF YOU OWN ONE OF THESE RADIOS OR ANY "ALL AMERICAN FIVE" RADIO WITH A "HOT" CHASSIS, PLEASE READ MY SAFETY WARNING. THESE RADIOS ARE VERY LIKELY TO PRESENT A DEADLY SHOCK HAZARD AND THEY SHOULD NOT EVEN BE PLUGGED IN, MUCH LESS WORKED ON UNTIL THEY ARE REWIRED FOR SAFETY. THE REWIRING IS VERY SIMPLE, VERY CHEAP AND VERY EFFECTIVE, SO PLEASE TAKE THE TIME TO MAKE THIS MODIFICATION.
How I Restored My EC-1With any project of this type, the first thing one needs is a good schematic. You need a good schematic to work to, to check any work done by others and to confirm that all replacement components and changes have been wired in correctly. Over the years, it is impossible to know who did what to your radio and therefore it is necessary to check every circuit against a good schematic. If something is still wrong and the radio won't work, a good schematic is invaluable for troubleshooting and discovering what the problem is.
I began the task of creating a good schematic by capturing fuzzy and hard to read schematics off of Internet sites. By the way, up until the fantastic development of this greatest factor in the spread of knowledge mankind has ever known (the Internet), schematics for these old radios were just about impossible to find. They certainly weren't available to just anybody back in the early 1960s when I first started working on these old radios.
After I had captured a schematic off of the Internet, I began to redraw it for clarity using the Paint program that came with my PC. I also went to the radio itself to double check any circuits I wasn't sure about. I then modified the drawing I had created to show certain changes I made to the radio and to show how the radio was really wired.
A Little Essay on What Schematic Diagrams Are and Are Not
For those who have not had experience reading schematic diagrams, please be aware that a schematic is only to tell the technician HOW THE RADIO WORKS and not meant to tell exactly how the radio is wired. The schematic is ELECTRICALLY correct, but how everything is actually hooked up is another matter. On the schematic it appears that a wire goes from component to component, but that is rarely the case in real life. As radios are actually wired, components are usually mounted on termination points that are jumpered to other points. These termination points may be terminal strips or they may be unused pins on tube sockets (that are almost never shown). For example, look at the AC rectifier tube in the in the lower right part of the diagram above. You will see that a 25 ohm resistor is connected to pin 8 with the other side of it going to the 47 MF capacitor. Actually, the other side of the 25 ohm resistor goes to unused pin 1 of the same socket, pin 1 is then jumpered over to pin 4 and from there the 47 MF capacitor is connected. It is up to the technician to know enough about how all this stuff works to figure out for himself and trace out for himself the actual wiring from the schematic. Where the schematic equivalent and the actual wiring don't match, you have a miswire and you must fix it. If you find these diagrams confusing, you must realize that reading and understanding what is going on as shown by the schematic diagram is a skill that took many of us years and years and many hours of learning to master and you won't learn it overnight. As with any journey worth taking, what you see and learn while getting there is the best part.
Completely Removing the Chassis From the CaseAfter I had a good schematic to work to, I began the manual task of restoring my radio. Because of my radio's poor physical condition (it had been sold for 'junk' only after all), I need to completely disassemble it down to the last screw and rivet so I could have access to everything.
As with my EC-1b, I had to grind out the rivets that prevented the chassis from being removed from the case. When I had the chassis separated from the case for the first time since my radio was built, I discovered a broken wire, well hidden in front of the band switch, that had never been repaired. This hidden defect would have prevented the AM broadcast band from working and therefore the radio must have been used exclusively for shortwave listening. Why it had never been repaired I can only guess. My guess is that the owner either didn't want to spend the money to have it fixed or none of the shops he took it to could find the problem -- maybe they didn't have a good schematic like mine to work to. It is altogether possible that the owner didn't care about the AM band and was interested in listening to shortwave only. If this radio had been part of an airfield or air search and rescue organization, the AM band would have been superfluous anyway.
The chassis removed from the case.
I have no idea how one could replace the string that operates the tuning capacitors with the chassis attached to the case.
Replacing the string that operates the main tuning is very simple, but the bandspread string takes a lot of thought and practice.
The tuning deck was remounted with rubber grommets cut to make them the right size.
Replacing ComponentsI fixed that broken wire on the band switch and I replaced all the old paper and electrolytic capacitors. All the resistors (except the 330 ohm) and the three silver mica capacitors were in good condition, so I left them alone. Unless a resistor shows signs of serious overheating, it is my opinion that it should be left alone as none of the resistors values are critical and they don't vary all that much over time. The 330 ohm resistor is only a 1/2 watt unit and it usually burns up when the lamp burns out. If you replace the 330 ohm resistor with a two or three watt unit, you will never have to worry about this resistor going out again.
By the way, this model of radio was designed to use low cost components and therefore there are only three silver mica capacitors in the whole radio. Even these silver mica capacitors are in circuits that are not in any way critical. One of the silver mica caps (the 50 PF) is used for coupling and the other two (100 PF) are used for bypassing. All capacitors may be replaced by ordinary disk ceramics -- yes, even the silver mica caps. Replacing silver mica with silver mica is better, but I doubt you would be able to notice any difference in performance or any frequency drifting if you used ceramics. By the way, the only reason silver mica capacitors were used in 1940 was because low value capacitors (50 to 100 PF) were only available in silver mica.
For safety sake, I put in a polarized plug and connected AC Neutral to the chassis as described in the safety page (which I urge you to read and follow). I relocated the power switch so that the AC Line voltage switches the filament string and rectifier circuits on/off all as described earlier in the safety section. All the insulating grommets were replaced so that there was no electrical connection between the chassis and the outside case besides a .02 MFD bypass capacitor shown in the schematic.
The rubber washers that were used to mount the tuning capacitor deck were in terrible condition and it is impossible to obtain exact replacements. For a while I thought remounting the tuning deck was going to be a "show stopper" but by cutting down ordinary rubber grommets to fit, I got the deck mounted perfectly.
Getting My EC-1 to Operate for the First Time in 50 YearsWhen I turned the radio on for the first time in probably 50 years, I was gratified, but not too surprised that it immediately came to life because I had done my homework and had checked and rechecked every circuit and wire against the schematic before plugging it in. As I tried to tune in stations on the AM band, I had a feeling of great disappointment because the radio performed very poorly and sounded very weak. I thought I was going to have to buy a new tube or two, track down some bad resistors and generally spend a lot of time troubleshooting the set, but a simple IF alignment really brought the little radio alive. All of a sudden, this old radio was "hot," bringing in stations loud and clear. Somebody, a long time ago, must have been messing with the IF transformers in an attempt to get the radio working and had them badly out of alignment. Once the IF was aligned and I was receiving AM signals strongly, I made a connection to an outside antenna and found that the radio was "hot" on both its short wave bands too.
A horrible crackling soundI was so pleased by how well my radio worked that it took me a day or two to notice that it made a horrible crackling sound as I tuned toward the bottom of the dial on the short wave bands. I hadn't noticed it earlier on the AM band because there are no local stations that low on the dial. Since the crackling only showed up at a certain place on the dial, that meant I must have a bad spot in my tuning capacitor. Bad spots are almost always caused by a bend in the thin metal fins of the tuning capacitor. Bent fins can happen when somebody sticks their hand deep in the radio to pull out a tube or replace the dial lamp and brushes up against the tuning capacitor. Because the tuning capacitor is so vulnerable to damage, I highly recommend turning the dial to the lowest setting so as to close the tuning capacitor whenever checking tubes or changing the dial lamp.
It turned out that my radio had been damaged even more severely than a simple bent fin. Somebody must have dropped something on my radio while the lid was off and had fractured the phenolic insulator that supports the stator plates of the capacitor (see the picture above). Oh my lord, this was serious and my first thought was that I'd have to somehow replace the tuning capacitor. It then occurred to me that a modern, very strong glue would work in this application, but I'd have to hold the parts of the insulator very carefully in alignment while the adhesive was setting up. I was able to do this, but it took an elaborate series of hemostats clamped on at various locations to keep everything lined up properly. Once the adhesive hardened, I was pleased with how solid and permanent the repair was, but the crackle was still there.
I got out a strong light and a magnifying glass and tried to find the problem, but I just couldn't see where the plates were touching no matter what I did. Finally I got desperate and decided to put a 12 volt, 3 amp power supply across the plates. I slowly closed the plates while looking for a big spark. Well, that worked great, I saw the spark and I was able to see just exactly where it was coming from. Knowing just where to look, I now saw the bent fin that caused the shorting and it only took a minute to carefully bend the fin out of the way. I've never had a problem with crackling since and I expect my repaired tuning capacitor to last at least another 60 years.
Getting the radio to work better than it did in the 1940sNow that I had the radio working well, I tackled the beat frequency oscillator (BFO) stage. Turning the BFO switch on or off made no difference and it appeared to be inoperative. A BFO that doesn't work could be due to a bad component or a bad tube or due to being badly out of tune. First thing I did was to see if the BFO circuit was oscillating and to test that I connected my HP frequency counter to the plate of the 12J5 tube (pin 3). The numbers on my counter indicated that the oscillator was working, but it was way off frequency. I adjusted the trimmer capacitor until the BFO was at 455 KHz -- which is what the IF transformers had been adjusted to.
The BFO was now operating and I could hear the "dots and dashes" of Morse Code as the BFO was designed for, but when I tuned in ham radio people talking on single side band (SSB), I discovered that my BFO's ability to demodulate those signals was so poor as to be useless. The truth is, the EC-1 radios were manufactured before there was such thing as SSB and so the original factory configuration of the BFO needs to be modified before they can demodulate SSB properly. Now, one of the really nice things about the EC-1 series of radios is that they have a "real" BFO operated by a triode tube and any redesign for SSB should be fairly easy and, you know, it was fairly easy.
To make the BFO operate satisfactorily, the first thing I did was to relocate the point where the signal is tapped off from the oscillator. Of all the dumb places to tap off a signal, the original design tapped it from the grid of the 12J5 oscillator tube thus modulating the tube with stray AC hum to produce AC hum on the BFO signal. I simply moved the tap point to the anode of the 12J5 tube (a low impedance point). That simple move cleared up the BFO's hum problem and that made listening to Morse Code (CW) and SSB much better, but it still demodulated SSB poorly and obviously the BFO needed further modification.
The original design calls for the BFO signal to be coupled to the anodes of the 12SQ7's diode section (pins 4&5) using a "gimmick" capacitor consisting of wires twisted together. I found that the BFO signal "injected" there caused the stronger SSB signals to be demodulated very poorly or not demodulated at all. These radios use a simple AM detector not originally designed to demodulate SSB. An AM detector (which is what the diode section is) must have a "carrier wave" for the sidebands to "beat" against to produce audio. Since there is no carrier transmitted with SSB (or CW) signals, the BFO supplies it, but injecting the BFO carrier at the diodes of the 12SQ7 is just not enough. I found that if you supply your artificial carrier at a low level before the IF amplifier input (the 12SK7, pin 4) then the diode detector works quite well at demodulating SSB. The only thing is, you have to be careful because there is a lot of amplification done by the IF tube and so you must very lightly couple the 455 kHz BFO signal to it or you will "swamp" the tube with too much signal. I had to locate the end of the wire coming from the BFO quite a ways from pin 4 (the grid) of the IF amplifier for it to work properly. Once the wire is in place though, the BFO's operation is very stable and it works great.
The reason the location of the wire with the BFO's signal on it is so critical is because whole idea is to inject as much signal as possible without "swamping" the IF tube. If you don't inject enough signal, the really strong SSB signals are not demodulated properly and they sound terrible. When the signal is too close to pin 2, you will notice that the radio goes "numb" when you turn the BFO on. If that happens, it is because the tube is being overloaded, so you must relocate the wire away from pin 2 until it works properly. If everything is adjusted properly, there should be a distinct increase of a "rushing" white noise sound when the BFO is turned on. You will have to experiment for yourself to find the optimum location.
By the way, a couple of weeks after bringing the old radio back to life, the original IF tube that came with the radio (probably the original tube) burned out, but again thanks to the Internet, I had a replacement tube in just three days and at a very reasonable price. The new tube is obviously "hotter" than the old tube because I had to move the BFO wire even further away from pin 4 to keep the IF from being swamped.
Restoring the Cabinet's Paint and Replacing a Badly Peeling Dial Face
I repainted the case using a "Antique Bronze" color that closely matches the original color and (if I say so myself) the case now looks just great. Finally, I made a new back out of thin Masonite and I restrung the tuning mechanisms (with heavy twine meant for stitching leather) before putting everything back in the case and screwing it all together. By the way, once you have rewired the on/off switch and have made the radio safe with the polarized plug, you really don't need to have a Masonite rear cover, but might just want to leave the back open. Of course, having a back makes the radio more original and "finished" looking, but the back was there originally only as a safety device and you really don't need it anymore. If you insist on being stubbornly foolish and acting dangerously by not rewiring your radio, you better have a a Masonite back.
As mentioned earlier, the original dial face was badly peeling and unreadable so I drew a new one using my PC and the Paint program. I simply printed it out on paper (trying to match the color of the original dial face) and pasted it on to the backside of the dial plate. I covered the original dial face with varnish to protect it from further deterioration and turned the plate around to show this face. If I say so myself, installed in the radio, my homemade dial face looks really great and very "factory."
A replacement dial face I drew myself. If you want a larger image, drop me a line.
By the way, I had to give the reproduced dial a slight yellow tint to match the old dial.
Some Antenna and Other TipsThese radios did not come with a built in loop antenna for the AM broadcast band as did almost every other AM radio of its era. They were designed as a long range, more technical general coverage radio and as such they need an outside wire antenna of some kind. The fact is, these radios are very "hot" if used with a wire antenna of as little as 20 feet, but for great performance (especially on the short wave bands), the best antennas are as long as you can make them. When putting up an antenna, try to go vertical as quickly and as high as you can before going horizontal to minimize noise pick up. When working at heights, please be careful. Try to keep the antenna away from noisy devices like motors and especially fluorescent lights. If you have pieces of metal that rub together in the wind, try to clamp them down otherwise they will generate noise.
You will notice on the back of your radio there are three screw lugs for the antenna system. When using an untuned long wire antenna, only the A1 lug should be used and that little jumper tab should connect A2 to the GND lug. The A2 lug should only be used with a tuned and balanced antenna system that is beyond the scope of most users. I would suggest that you not try to connect the GND or the A2 lugs to an actual ground as you may introduce some serious noise and hum that way. Anyway, the wonderful thing about these old radios is the opportunity to experiment around and find out what works best for you with what you have.
Here is a nice tip from my EC-1b page:
By the way, one really great way to find broadcast stations on the shortwave bands is to turn on the BFO and listen for loud "whistles" as you tune up and down the dial with the main tuning control. When you hear a whistle, tune as close to "zero beat" as possible and then turn off the BFO. Trim up the signal with the bandspread control and you have a nicely tuned in shortwave station to listen to. For me, this is probably the most useful thing a BFO does.
Some Final Words Regarding my EC-1 TodayThis radio uses variable capacitors for its bandspread and this alone makes it somewhat superior to my later EC-1b. This is my favorite radio for listening to shortwave broadcasts because it is so quick and easy to tune through the bands and see what band is active. I have the radio placed next to my Personal Computer for convenience so that when I get tired of playing on the Internet, I just snap on the EC-1 and see if anything is happening on KGO San Francisco on AM or anything on the short wave bands. With a "real" BFO connected the way I have it, I can listen to AM, Single Side Band and Morse Code and it sounds fine regardless of which kind of signal I'm listening to. By the way, these radios only draw 30 watts, so they don't get hot and they don't waste a lot of electricity.
Have fun, I know you will.
Just recently I was away from home for about a week on a remote ranch so I played Corporal Hogarth and brought my EC-1 with me. It was just the right size to toss in the back of my pickup truck along with my food and other gear. Once there, I strung a wire out to a tree and tuned in to the short wave bands at night. It really was fun having this old radio with me and I'm very glad I brought it along. I was all by my self out there and it was good company, but I am very sad to report that it failed to attract any pretty young women. I've been thinking of writing to Hallicrafters about that.
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If you enjoyed this article about my EC-1 and want to read more regarding this line of radios, perhaps you'd like to read about
Captain Allan Hancock's EC-1b Radio
or maybe you would like to read about the line of Hallicrafters radios that replaced the EC-1s
My S-38b radio
or maybe you'd like to read about the popular radio that heralded the end of the Hallicrafters general coverage receivers
My S-120 Radio
I have written a little essay you might like that explains some of the principles behind
How The Armstrong Superheterodyne Radio Works
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