President AR144 - a 'blast from the past'!

Back in the CB radio days (the early 80’s in my case) I started out on the newly legalised MPT1320 FM frequencies but soon got interested in what was causing certain interference with weird sounds breaking through and in some cases making certain channels all but unusable. The term ‘sidebander’ was mentioned, sometimes in slightly awed and hushed tones. I remember it being said "I can hear a sidebander winding up under your signal". In that instance an SSB and probably long distance signal causing interference to the carrier wave based transmission of the FM based contact taking place on, near enough, the same channel.

Well in late 1983/early 1984 (I can’t be totally sure now) I had already dabbled with AM using a cheaply acquired 80 channel AM/FM Commtron 8 radio (mid and high band) but really wanted a ‘sidebander’ or SSB capable radio. Well for me at that time the likes of Cobra’s/Superstars, Ham International and Hy Gain SSB radios were frankly out of reach price wise but I was able to scrape up the fifty quid needed to buy a secondhand President AR144 from a CB’er going by the slightly unlikely name (handle) of 'Crazy Horse'. Allegedly he had smuggled it in from New York through Heathrow airport, I've to this day no reason to doubt that, it was a different era after all!

As a relative newcomer what was immediately apparent was the quieter sound of AM, particularly when the NB/ANL button was pushed in to cut out much of the background noise and static making the squelch control pretty much surplus to requirements, also the relatively low static hiss of SSB after the noisy 'mush' of FM! Maybe it was just me but LSB (Lower Side Band) seemed to have a different 'sound' than USB (Upper Side Band), never really knew why, perhaps it was a bit out of tune! A few people sneered at the new radio of course (as people will!) saying ‘aww it’s only got 40 channels and 12 watts, but I loved it and it was mine! A quality radio as well, nicely put together with a good receiver and I particularly liked the AM/USB/LSB green/amber/red mode indicator diodes above the mode switch and the RX/TX colour changing (green/red) diode, all very funky and never seen it on any other radio!

The folks weren’t a big fan of my new ‘sidebander’ though it having a tendency at times to break through on Dad’s stereo or his Betamax video recorder (!) and Mum reckoned everyone sounded like Donald Duck, which in fairness they do until you’ve got them properly tuned in on SSB with the clarifier control.

Well I didn’t make huge numbers of contacts but those I did I was pleased with AND received the QSL cards to prove it from throughout Europe and even the USA! I swapped the microphone with that from my FM Uniden which actually enhanced the transmitted audio on both radios and also used it with the legendary Leson TW232 amplified/power desk microphone. Most of all though there was a nice local group chat most weekday afternoons on 37 USB, the same group of people always monitoring that channel and someone would always come back to you if you called.

I had that and my FM radio of the time on a metal slide mount in my bedroom on a bedside unit that Dad had built so it was easy to swap between the two and run the same antenna, external speaker and power supply, simple but effective. I longed to put the other fixed slider in Dad’s car but there was no way that was going to happen, drilling holes and mounting an aerial, even using a magmount so that would have to wait until I finally got myself licensed as a radio amateur about 20 years later!

I kept the AR144 for years after I stopped radio (in the mid 1980's), long after getting rid of the other radios and even got it out once or twice over the years for a quick listen. I recall hearing a lot of noise and skip from the USA in presumably a sunspot peak in the early 2000’s (2001?) using a magmount and a bit of aluminium tube on a biscuit tin. Not good enough to transmit though and so the AR144 was tucked away in its box, along with all the paperwork etc. (as above) once more, for the last time as it turned out!!

It eventually disappeared with a house move unfortunately along with a few other bits (when I moved to Jersey actually) which was a shame as it was in good nick, totally original (other than a replacement speaker and the microphone swap) and I reckon would have looked good in the current shack with the Leson microphone though it has been more than amply replaced (superseded actually) by the far more capable and fully refurbished President Jackson and the Turner JM+2/U microphone!

Sooo I’m not writing about a radio I still have or even recently owned but it more than played it’s part in my formative radio years. The reason for writing about it now is seeing one pop up on eBay boxed and in good condition (it could almost be my ‘lost radio’ and in fact is where I’ve ‘borrowed’ most of the photos here), and another on a dealers website for slightly scary money, such I suppose is rarity! Tempted? Of course! But with so many other and more capable radios available it’s really just a nostalgia thing isn’t it?! Nice to see something so familiar though and the memories that it brings back.