21 December 2022

Swoon

I recently spied this beauty for sale on QRZ.com. Radios like this make my heart race and I get lightheaded.


One of the great tragedies of American ham radio was the demise of Ten-Tec. In their hayday they made truly great products, all in their Sevierville, Tennessee facility, and they bent over backwards to accommodate the ham radio community. Ten-Tec's public face was always as a rock-solid, well respected, US-based ham radio manufacturer, but I think their bread and butter - the thing that kept Ten-Tec profitable - were their government contracts for radios like the RX-340.

When I got my General ticket back around 2004 I bought a Ten-Tec Jupiter, and it became my gateway drug to HF operations and Ten-Tec products. It was a groundbreaking radio - a true SDR with a dedicated rig control interface. I think it became Ten-Tec's most popular HF radio. I ended up owning a series of Ten-Tec rigs - an Omni A (typically and correctly referred to as a 'solid-state boat anchor'), a Triton I, a Triton II, and one of their 2 meter mobile rigs. 

Ten-Tec's service was always first rate. You could ship them any Ten-Tec radio, in any shape, and they'd return it to operating condition for a relative pittance. I bought the Omni A off of a seller on eBay who advertised it as being in 'perfect working condition'. When I got it, it was a mess. Certainly not 'perfect'. Not even operational. I opened a complaint against the seller through eBay, and he eventually admitted he knew nothing about the radio and was selling it for the widow of a local SK. He refunded half the selling price and all the shipping costs. I sent the radio off to Ten-Tec, and for a whopping $114 they re-built and re-aligned it and got it back into perfect operating condition. The cost of the parts alone had to exceed the final bill, not counting the labor cost involved.  

Ten-Tec hosted an annual hamfest at their Tennessee factory, and I made the trip up one year. It was held on the factory grounds, and included a factory tour. The corporate staff bent over backwards to make everyone comfortable, and were very open about new developments that were in the pipeline. I was somewhat taken aback by the age of the facility; Ten-Tec had been making electronics products in that building since before WWII, and it showed. They did everything in the building - design advanced SDR radios, form sheet metal for radio cases, mold plastic and metal components, assemble and test new products, service used radios, and run retail sales. It was a well used and somewhat tired and inefficient building.

I took a four year hiatus from ham radio between 2015 and 2019, and during that time Ten-Tec was sold twice over and effectively left the ham radio market. I'm told the original Ten-Tec owner was facing mounting facility modernization costs and just wanted to retire, so he sold the company and facilities as-is to the highest bidder. The succession of new owners were after the government contract side of the business. Of course each owner promised to keep the ham radio side of things running, but never did beyond a token effort. The company eventually landed in the hands of Dishtronix, and Distronix has effectively ceased production in the face of COVID, worldwide chip shortages, and a factory move from Tennessee to Ohio. Will Ten-Tec ever be competitive again in the ham radio market? I doubt it.

In its prime Ten-Tec made some of the world's finest receivers, like the RX-340 above. These ended up in the hands of a lot of three-letter federal agencies, and it was said you could hear a flea fart in Havana using an RX-340 in Washington. Gives you an idea who was running them. Ten-Tec's high end receivers don't often come up for sale on the used market, and when they do they don't sit around long waiting for a buyer. I think this radio sold within a day of being posted, and the owner got full asking price.

But darn it, beyond the performance, the RX-340 just looks like a real radio; all the buttons and knobs and digital displays you need to run a radio without having to insert a computer into the mix. Radio the way Marconi, David Sarnoff, Edwin Armstrong, Arthur Collins, and Wayne Burdick and Eric Swartz (the founders of Elecraft) intended - radios with real knobs and readable displays that show you everything you need to know, and not a single digit more.

W8BYH out 

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