The History of Atlas Radio


Atlas Radio was the brain child of Herb Johnson W6QKI who had previously founded Swan Electronics. After the success of the 210/215 series in the 1970 & 80s, Atlas' reputation was damaged by the failure of the "comeback" models in the 1990s. Herb died in 2000.


Herb's obituary from the ARRL in 2000.



Herb Johnson, W6QKI--who founded Amateur Radio equipment manufacturer Swan Electronics in the 1960s--died February 1. Johnson, who lived in Cardiff, California, was 79 and had been in ill health for several years. According to Gary Smith, VE4YH, Swan Electronics, then Swan Engineering, began during the winter of 1960-1961 as a one-man operation with Johnson, then W7GRA, building the first 10 Swan SSB rigs in a garage in Benson, Arizona.

Swan moved to California in 1962 and became a subsidiary of Cubic Corporation in 1967. Amateur equipment production continued until around 1979. In its heyday, Swan cranked out some 400 transceivers a month from its Oceanside, California, plant. Swan also manufactured station accessories.

Johnson subsequently formed Atlas Radio, which produced solid-state transceivers, including the popular Atlas 210. In 1995, a revived Atlas Radio promised to produce a new-generation Atlas 400X and even collected deposits and full payments for radios it ultimately failed to deliver or which failed to meet expectations. Johnson conceded in 1996 that he had "wandered into a mire of technical problems" in trying to design a new Atlas HF rig. He said he personally lost thousands of dollars on the revived Atlas Radio venture and estimated that as many as 250 hams had made deposits, while only a few ever saw their money again. Many hams complained to the ARRL, and a few sought legal action against Atlas Radio.

Other hams who invested in Atlas Radio also were left in the cold. In 1995, a company called O.M. Radio struck a deal to take over Atlas Radio's assets and manage the company. O.M. Radio also operated an Atlas Radio repair service and even promised to make good on delivering the new transceiver, but nothing ever came of the effort.


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A short history by Herb on the relaunch of Atlas in 1993.


The History of Atlas Radio Company:

Since Atlas is again entering the HF Transceiver market, the following is a brief recap of the company's history.

Herb Johnson, W6QKI, was the founder of Swan Electronics in 1961, manufacturing the first generation of highly successful SSB/CW Transceivers for the amateur radio market. In 1967 he merged Swan with Cubic Corp. of San Diego, and continued managing the Swan subsidiary until 1973. The Swan line of equipment was mostly tube type design, and through the years more than 80,000 Swan Transceivers were sold. A high percentage of them are still on the air, putting out strong, good quality signals. (The name "Swan" was chosen in memory of Herb's dad, whose name in the old country, Sweden, was Sven, but was Americanized to Swan when he came to the U.S.A.)

In 1974, Herb started his second company and named it Atlas Radio (after the 1924 vintage diesel engine in the 1924 motor vessel, "Westward", owned and skippered by his friend, Don Gumpertz, K6OF). Atlas introduced the first really successfull all solid state transceiver.

In this design he had valuable assistance of les Earnshaw, founder of Southcom International. The original model 180 covered the 160, 80, 40, and 20 meters. In 1975, the 210 and 215 models evolved, followed by the 210X and 215X improvements in 1976. (The 210 series covered the bands from 80 through 10 meters, while the 215 covered 160 through 15.) There were over 19,000 of these models sold. They were developed under the "KISS" principle ("Keep-It-Simple-Stupid"), and the design set new standards for high performance and reliability, as well as being practically bullet proof. The big majority of these early Atlas radios are still in service, and are not easy to find on the used market.

"The Swan transceivers were what I like to think of as my first generation of SSB HF Transceivers," says Herb. "They were then followed by my second generation, the Atlas transceivers of the 70's."

"And, so here we are, back again, this time with the third generation, the brand new Atlas 310. I'm sure you'll find the 310 to be as innovative and exciting as the 210 was 18 years ago, with many additional features to make it the radio of the 90's. The general design philosophy is the same 'KISS' principle, but without compromise in any area. In state-of-the-art technology, performance, and reliability, the 310 takes a back seat to no one."

73 Herb Johnson W6QKI



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A rather over-blown account by Mike Casellini on the launch of the 400X.

page 1 Atlas history

 page 2 Atlas history


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There is a History of Herb's previous company, Swan Electronics, on Wikipedia.


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