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Saturday, July 9, 2016

HRO (not HOR!) -- The King of Reduction Drives

At the recent Manassas Virginia hamfest Armand WA1UQO and I came across an old HRO receiver. Armand mentioned in passing that he had an HRO dial and drive for me if I wanted one.  When Pete heard this he said I definitely NEEDED one.  Armand heard Pete's comment and very kindly put an HRO dial and reduction drive in the mail for me.

Wow, it is a magnificent thing!  After years of struggling with small Jackson Brother reduction drives and with reduction drives brutally cannibalized out of innocent Heathkit Q multipliers, I now realize that I have been playing in the minor leagues.  This, my friends, is the reduction drive that helped win WWII!  I will have to build something worthy of its inclusion. 

The designation HRO has a wonderful story behind it: 

This is from: http://www.cryptomuseum.com/df/hro/

The new radio was also designed by James Millen at the National Radio Company, but this time with two RF amplifiers and two IF amplifiers at 455 kHz with a 20Hz crystal filter. He kept the pluggable coil packs as part of the design and added the now famous epicyclic dial, which allows the operator to tune the frequency scale in 1/500th units (with the aid of a calibration chart).

The design was finished in 1934 and National pushed hard to get the receiver out by the end of that year. When creating the tools for the first production run, the tool makers had to work overtime and used
HOR (Hell Of a Rush) as a job number on their overtime slips. As National's marketing department didn't want their radios to become known as HORs (whores), the name was changed to HRO (Hell of a Rush Order). Despite the best engneering efforts, technical problems delayed the release of the the radio until March 1935. The price at the introduction was US$ 233.

Another site provides tech details and history on the drive itself:

The HRO dial introduced by the National Radio Company in late 1934 was the hallmark of top-of-the-line National receivers from the mid 30s through the 60s. By late 1936 the "HRO dial" was appearing on the NC-100 series of receivers and even the 1-10, National's VHF receiver. Throughout WWII many of the NC-100 variants that National provided to the military used this same dial. By 1950 National had added built-in direct frequency readout to the HRO-50 but still kept the same 0-500 reading dial. Through the mid-50s and into the 60s National mimiced the HRO dial look on their mid-priced receivers such as the NC300, 303 and 270. Even the solid state HRO-500 introduced in the early 60s used a version of this dial. When combined with the required 20 to 1 venier gear drive, the HRO dial provided an effective scale length of 12 feet and was direct reading to 1 part in 500. Ten turns of the dial drives the tuning capacitor stop to stop. Published HRO calibration curves showed each ham band spread over eight turns (or 400 divisions). In addition, dial divisions were about 1/4 inch apart. On all bands below 10 meters the HRO dial is easily resettable to within a KC (or KHz).


  1. Hi Bill,

    With an HRO Dial you are now running with the "Big Dogs". Long ago on the front cover of the ARRL SSB Handbook was a project called an Engineers Ham Band Receiver form a ham in Germany. It used a phase lock loop technique and weighed about 50 pounds. On the front panel was the HRO dial!!! Now that radio had real soul!

    In podcast 188 I had mentioned about the James Millen and National Radio connection and your research has further amplified that info.

    Bottom line: There were some really brilliant US engineers who advanced the state of the radio art and the HRO dial certainly ranks high on that list.

    How about a "toob" transceiver using the HRO dial?

    Pete N6QW

  2. You've never had variable capacitor out of Command set transmitter? Those have great built in reduction gears.

    I actually have a capacitor out of a BC-221 frequency meter, which also has a great reduction gear. I think it was a replacement part, since there's no sign of soldering.

    I thought that German receiver used a home made version of the HRO dial, but I haven't looked recently. I think it did use a capacitor from a BC-221. That receiver was an early example of a PLL in a ham construction article.



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