Whilst Robert L Drake started the company that bears his name in the US in 1943, it wasn't until the innovative 1-A single sideband (SSB) receiver came out in 1958 that products targeted specifically at radio hams appeared. The receiver was long, thin, and tall like a US mailbox. It was very different to the large box like conventional receivers that were on the market. This receiver was destined to be the first designed solely for single sideband reception. All other receivers for amateur radio use were primarily designed for AM and CW, they could resolve SSB using the CW BFO - which works but not very well!. Single sideband was in its infancy and many amateur radio operators of the time thought it was only a fad and would never last - and certainly would never equal AM operation - oh dear !
The 1-A receiver was a success, and was well received by some amateur radio operators. However, amateurs wanted a receiver that had both AM reception and SSB reception with the performance of the 1-A. AM was still the most popular mode of communication between amateurs in the alter 50's, but SSB was slowly growing in popularity. The Drake 2-A was designed and produced to meet this requirement. It was soon followed by the 2-B receiver, which included several improvements. Drake offered the 2-B receiver design to radio receiver manufacturers such as Globe Radio and Hallicrafters. Unable to come to terms, it was decided in 1961, to proceed with production of the 2-B under the R. L. Drake Co. name.
In 1963, the company introduced its first SSB transceiver the TR-3. It used a 9.0 MHZ IF, tube VFO (Variable Frequency Oscillator), and three 12JB6 sweep tubes as the final output tubes. The sensitivity was excellent and with over 150W PEP output gave it the punch needed by the amateur radio operator. The demand for the TR-3 was very good in the US and its popularity grew as did the Drake name. The TR-3 went through a number of upgrades as the TR-4 and TR-4C which didn't really add much to the basic design (transistor PTO and 6JB6 instead of 12JB6 tubes), CW and RIT were not added until very late with a variant of the TR-4C - which finally ceased production in 1977. As with KW in the UK, Drake stuck with their basic design for years even in the face of growing competition. The pics above could be separated by 14 years..strangely similar to the 14 year run of the KW2000
The "Drake Twins." The R-4 and T4-X also went through similar iterations, The R4-B, T4-XB were improved versions and the popular C-line was introduced in 1973.
The C-line units made use of more solid state components, a dual dial VFO, a plug-in antenna change-over relay in the T4-XC, and crystal filters replaced the old reliable Pass Band Tuner in the R4-B. The R4-C receiver and the T4-XC transmitter are still sought after by many amateurs and held as prize possessions by others.
In mid 1978 Drake introduced the TR-7, a completely solid state transceiver and a companion receiver, the R-7. although it sold quite well and is still sought after..it was painfully clear that as with other US Ham Radio manufacturers the competition had grown to strong. I looked at early 1978 edition of the UK Short Wave Magazine - the adverts were very revealing, Drake were still pushing their very old tube design TR4CW (now with RIT!!!), Yaesu had just brought out the class leading FT901DM - Drake were not on the same planet - but a least 2 (maybe 3) generations of ham gear behind!!. Drake pulled out of the Ham radio market in 1984, although it released the R8 General Coverage receiver in 1991. The Company now specializes in digital TV products for industry.
Drake was a premium brand in the UK in the 60's and early 70's with a correspondingly high price...this was one of the reasons that KW was able to prosper. An R4B was around £240, whilst a complete KW2000 transceiver was around £230 at the same time. Effectively Drake gear was double the price..so owning it meant you had some money !
Look at this UK price list from 1969 - Drake Twins with PSU and Speaker over £550. KW Separates ready to go £246.
There is a huge collector community in the US with a great deal of information on every aspect of Drake equipment. The quality of components is pretty good and I have had far fewer resistor failures in Drake equipment compared to KW..and the permeability PTOs are stable within minutes of switch on with no mechanical backlash
G3ZPS Drake Collection
My first bit of Drake gear came along in 2002 when a friend was selling stuff on eBay. I bought his R4B for a bit of nostalgia and was hooked on the great audio, an immaculate T4XB came up soon after and suddenly I owned a Drake '4' line. I learnt how to respray the cabinets and get them looking like new. Paired with a Shure 444 they gave fantastic results on 40 and 80m and my friends admired them.
My TR4 and TR4CW transceivers came along in 2003. The earlier TR4 (dates to Spring 1968) was a basket case and sold as such...it looked like it had been water damaged with chassis corrosion, no PA tubes and a ruined front panel. Before spending money on it I had to see some signs of life, so to test the receiver I emulated the heaters of the 6JB6 PA valves with low value resistors, checked for any short circuits and with some trepidation plugged in my AC4 power supply.
To my great surprise the receiver came up and worked pretty well..in fact I couldn't find a great deal wrong with it apart from the corroded RX protection bulb which made it go deaf every so often (easy fix) . 3 new PA valves from eBay USA and the TX came to life as well..so now it was down to the cosmetics. The TR4 is cosmetically similar to the earlier TR3 - as a result the front panel is almost identical apart from the relative power button between plate and load. I found a pristine TR3 front panel and knobs on eBay in the USA, rubbed down and re-sprayed the case and low and behold I had a beautiful Drake TR4 with a TR3 front panel - 150w on 40 and 80 and 13 years later still gets fantastic reports. Other useful TR4 mods are linked here
I like my TR4 with the TR3 Front Panel..the front has some sort of embossed lettering which is far better than the later Drakes and its has the silver outline around the edge of the radio..just looks so much classier.
The Drake TR4CW (Below - dates to Jan 1977) came from a well known dealer - the case was badly scratched and it had a large fan glued on over the PA compartment. A complete case re-spray and the more normal addition of a fan on the rear of the radio (sucking air out of the PA) brought it to back to respectable condition. I have no idea why hams put large fans on this old equipment. The PA anodes inside the glass envelope will not be cooled by a huge blast of air!. Its really only necessary to remove the hot air from the PA compartment and keep the surrounding components a bit cooler, a small muffin fan is all it takes.
My RV4 came from the same dealer and is in super condition.
May 2016 - Drake R-4C
R-4C, by chance a good ham buddy we were visiting in the UK in May 2016 had an R-4C that he no longer used. It is a late model with a 24xxxx serial number (made in May 1976) and appears unmodified apart from a 50KHz IF out wired to a phono socket on the rear panel. No repaint necessary it looks great Many mods are documented to bring this receiver into the super league...but the extra filters alone can cost many $100s not to mention RF mixer and audio mods, however its pretty good for non contest use as it is..so I will leave it alone
On both my AC4 power supplies I have replaced the diodes and capacitors with parts bought in from the USA, this makes the engineer in me feel so much better. The PA cathode resistors drift off and I have replaced all of them. In both my TR4 units the open frame K2 relay that shifts the carrier for Tune, AM or CW have given me problems. The contacts have oxidised, been cleaned and then oxidised again..sometimes the relays stick with the carrier shifted and SSB sounds awful!. I decided the only course of action was replacement. They are 900 ohm 12v relays and just about any small DIP one will do the job, modern ones are so small that fitting was easy..and a 100% fix. All Drake tube Transmitters and Transceivers use 6JB6 TV 'sweep tubes' for the PA, there is no real option to change them (although some have tried), if used lightly and not abused I believe they will last. In the 60's they were so much cheaper than 6146 tubes, but now in the 21st century they are very expensive..treat carefully!
July 2016 - 'As new' Drake TR-4C
New Drake TR4C (below) from the USA purchased in June 2016 - this one appears to have been unused or only lightly used and in its packing from the San Diego dealer over 40 years ago. Unpacked and tested for a few weeks in San Rafeal (nr San Francisco) California and now in my shack. Is close to 10/10, no marks on any part of the radio at all. Very rare if not unknown to see one in the UK in concourse condition..astonishing. Needed a slight tweek on the alignment which is not surprisng. Its the best I have ever seen. Sadly the £ / $ exchange rate has plummeted since the UK voted to leave the EU, which means buying from the USA has become more expensive. US Ham buddies tell me 'Gary Radio Inc, San Diego' was a fantastic place but bought out by Ham Radio Outlet (HRO) over 35 years ago.
Vernon KT6L emailed me to say ' I remember Gary very well from his "early days" at Western Radio, downtown San Diego, on Kuttner Blvd (as I recall now, 55 + years later). He was swell guy and I always thought of him as the complete Ham. He later opened his own store (Gary Radio Inc) after Western Radio disappeared and had lots of guys coming and going and was always pleasant, giving the same attention to each customer'
AUGUST 2016 - Drake 4NB Noise Blanker
Drake noise blankers were very highly regarded for their ability to silence impulse noise, they have since become quite collectable additions to the TR4C and R4C units...although not interchangeable. My saga with the an R4C blanker (the Drake 4NB) started in July 2016 when my good friend Geoff G4AEI bought a 4NB from the US and quickly found it did not appear to work. He sent the R4C and blanker to another local ham who claimed to be able to fix Drake gear, but it was soon clear from phone calls that he may have trouble with the 4NB. Sure enough it came back non working..Geoff's electric fence interference was not silenced by the blanker. This started a few weeks of very very long telephone calls where we started to methodically work out the way the NB works from its schemtaic..there is next to no stuff on the web, little information from Drake on the way the thing works (actually some misinformation) and worse still the PCB is not marked up to show what the components are. It took us some time to fault find and along the way we pretty much worked it all out, Geoff even bought extra test equipment and was extremely methodical in his testing regime. I supplied him with extra transistors through the post and he found 2 failures, testing at each stage so he was sure he understood what what should happen. As far as we can tell no one has published any data on the component level repair of a 4NB or even exactly how it works. As a result of the ecstatic phone call when he fixed it and the demonstration over the phone..I went after one, after all if it was faulty we could fix it!. I was lucky and found one in Italy and it is in perfect working order in my R4C...pity really.. I like fixing things !!