Night Ranger's CB and Ham Radios

In December 1983 I returned to CB radio after a two year absence. I changed my handle to Night Ranger as my previous handle (The Carolina Pirate) no longer fit. The CB I was using at the time was a Royce 609 40 channel mobile on a Radio Shack 12 volt 2.5 amp regulated power supply. With a D-104 microphone the Royce 609 had a nice smooth sounding audio tone with lots of midrange and bass, but the receive audio was fairly noisy.

Royce 609

In May of 1984 I replaced the Royce 609 with a Realistic TRC-451 40 channel sideband mobile from Radio Shack. The Realistic TRC-451 had a far superior receive. The noise floor was much much quieter than my Royce 609. The receiver also boasted 70 db selectivity at 10 kHz which meant I received noticeably less co-channeling from strong signals on other channels. The transmit on this radio was exceptional. With a D-104 wired up the audio was smooth with lots of midrange and bass. The Realistic TRC-451 is still my favorite CB radio of all time. The only other CB radio I have heard with a receive that can equal the Realistic TRC-451 is the Cobra 2000.

Realistic TRC-451

After I peaked out the transmit I had to switch to an Astron RS-7A power supply, as the old Radio Shack 2.5 amp 12 volt power supply could no longer handle the TRC-451. The sideband output was around 20 watts, and I kept the AM dead key around 4 watts.

My old D&A Hornet put out about 45 watts on AM and about 80 watts on sideband with the TRC-451 driving it. I retired my D&A Hornet when I purchased a Palomar 300a amplifier in 1985. The Palomar 300a would put out about 275 watts on AM and about 400 watts on sideband.

Combined with a Radio Shack .64 wave aluminum ground plane starting at 85 feet in the air, the radio setup shown below was easily the best CB setup I ever had. This 1985 CB setup could talk local ground wave from Georgia to Tennessee, and the skip ability was awesome. I could talk skip for just about as long as I wanted, and it marked the first time I was able to regularly talk to the same people across the U.S. day after day. Some of the skip regulars included "Lisa" in Hollywood, Florida, "Doris" in Texas, and "Pop" in Venezuela.

My longest CB contact occurred on channel 24 L.S.B. when a faint signal broke me while I was talking to a mobile about 60 miles away. The faint signal had a very noticeable audio phasing that made it difficult to understand the person. The faint signal turned out to be a base radio in Sydney, Australia! My current amateur radio equipment can easily put out 1300 honest watts on the ham bands, but I'm not sure it talks skip any better than my 1985 CB radio setup.

My CB Radio Setup in 1985

By 1986 I was beginning to out grow the limitations of the CB band, so I took and passed my Novice Amateur Radio license. At the Charlotte Hamfest in March of 1986 I purchased a Drake TR-4C tube type ham radio. It was in excellent condition, and the radio would put out about 130 watts on sideband all by itself.

My first experiences listening on the ham bands were somewhat of a disappointment. The Drake TR-4C performed flawlessly, but what I was hoping to find was other 20 something year olds like me that had out grown the CB band. What I found was a bunch of old geezers talking about war stories and the aches and pains of old age. It seemed like every other conversation began with; "I remember back in WW I or WW II", and then the old guy would go on for 15 or 20 minutes without unkeying. It was boring as hell even if the average IQ was higher than what I had been hearing on the CB. Eventually some of my CB sideband buddies upgraded to ham as well, and carried their ability to hold an entertaining conversation on to the ham bands. I was young and smart in 1986, but mostly I was young. Where were the girls? Well they certainly were not on the ham bands, and people my age were a rare commodity on ham radio below 30 MHz.

Drake TR-4C

In August of 1986 I upgraded to a Drake TR-7 transceiver with the PS-7 power supply, the Drake MN-75 300 watt antenna tuner, the RV-75 remote VFO, and the WH-7 watt mater. I also purchased a Shure 444D microphone to use with the Drake TR-7. The older Drake TR-4C was a great radio, but I wanted the general coverage receive of the TR-7 to listen to all of the HF frequencies. The transmit audio on the TR-4C was reported to be slightly better than the transmit audio of the Drake TR-7, but both radios performed well. The receive on the Drake TR-7 was better than the Drake TR-4C especially on 10 meters.

Drake TR-7

In March of 1987 I upgraded to a Technician class license (later called Technician Plus), and I was able to use voice privileges on 10 meters. In 1996 I upgraded to Advanced Class. I used the Drake TR-7 radio as my main radio until August of 2004.  I eventually added a Drake L-4B amplifier to my ham radio setup. The Drake L-4B uses two Eimac 3-500z tubes with about 2500 plate volts. Maximum output is about 1250 watts.

Drake L-4B

I restored an old Realistic TRC-455 CB base I picked up on Ebay. I rebuilt the power supply to bring this old radio back to life. Now the radio works like new, and the case and face on the radio is in excellent condition.

Realistic TRC-455

I also restored a vintage Cobra CAM 88 23 channel tube type base. I purchased all new tubes for the Cobra CAM 88, re-aligned the entire radio according to the Sams Photofact instructions (Sams Photofact CB-9), and replaced one of the crystals that had drifted about 6 kHz off frequency. The radio came with a Turner +3 desk mic, but I decided to change the mic over to an un-amplified D-104. The radio receives and transmits like new now, and it is a pleasure to use.

I had the pleasure of restoring a Drake 4 B Line transmitter and receiver in September of 2004. The receiver required very little attention, but the transmitter needed a complete re-alignment and a new set of tubes. They both perform 100% now, and they sound great. The Drake T-4XB puts out about 150 watts on 80 meters and about 100 watts on 10 meters. I ordered additional crystals for 17 meters, 12 meters, and the lower half of 10 meters (28.000 - 28.500 MHz). The R-4B already had 160 meters and 11 meters installed.

The Drake R-4B Receiver

The Drake T-4XB Transmitter

The Complete Drake 4 B Line

In the Summer of 2004 I purchased a Kenwood TS-450 SAT. The Kenwood TS-450 SAT has the most sensitive sideband receiver I think I have ever owned, but the Drake TR-7 has it beat on selectivity.

Kenwood TS-450 SAT
Click the image below to see a high resolution picture.

A Deal Too Sweet To Pass Up

Back in 1985 Eric on 27.395 LSB use to make my CB radio strain to hear what his ham radio could hear. I was using a Realistic TRC-451 CB at the time, and Eric was using a Tempo 2020. I've been curious to try one ever since. I saw a Tempo 2020 on Ebay up for $155.00 with only 1 minute to go on the auction. It looked good and the seller had 100% positive feedback, so I pounced on it with a last second bid of $165.00 plus shipping. I did have to do some servicing after it arrived, but after a few days of staring at the schematic, scratching my head, and electronic repair the radio fired up as good as new.

I really like this radio. It has a no nonsense straight forward design, and the receive is very pleasant to listen to. About the only feature I miss is a notch filter for all those annoying broadcast carriers on 40 meters. I'm currently using a Shure 444d microphone on this radio.

Update: Now I know why Eric could hear signals I could not. On cold dry winter days the electrical noise from the nearby metal power line towers goes through the roof. The electrical static renders several of my radios useless on vertical. The Tempo however takes my S6+ static level with the noise blanker off and drops it to zero with the noise blanker on. The Tempo 2020 has the best noise blanker of any ham radio I own. I'm impressed.

My New Tempo 2020

It's Toy Time Again!
(I really need to stop this)

With my Tempo 2020 fixed I started looking for a new ham radio to stick my nose in to, so I picked up a used Yaesu FT-101ee. For all practical purposes it is a Yaesu FT-101e as the speech processor, the 6 KHz AM filter, and the DC something or another has been added. It has a problem with the CW transmit and the AM transmit, but I'm looking at the schematic to see what I can figure out. The sideband receive and transmit is nice. Notice the plastic coating is still on the face of the radio even though this is a 1977 radio. The original owner never peeled the plastic off!

Update: I fixed it! The previous owner made a wiring mistake when he installed the 6 KHz AM filter. Now it works 100%.

Update # 2: I sold the Yaesu FT-101ee to a local studying to get his ham license.

A Mint Realistic TRC-490

A friend (Butterfly) brought a non-working Realistic TRC-490 base over to be serviced. Bringing it back to life was an easy fix, and Trouble Shooter was kind enough to give me the alignment instructions since I did not have a schematic or a service manual. After playing with it for awhile I decided to hunt one down on Ebay. Luckily I found someone with a mint and stock Realistic TRC-490 base at a reasonable price, so I bought it. Very nice straight forward radio. Too bad I could not afford one of these back in the 1970s or early 1980s when Radio Shack was still selling them. I think I would have been proud to own one of these radios back then. Click the picture for the high resolution picture.

I decided to upgrade from a Kenwood TS-450sat to a Kenwood TS-850sat. Part of the reason for upgrading was anything but technical. The Kenwood TS-450sat is a great little radio, but compared to the Drake TR-7 that I used for 18 years the Kenwood TS-450sat is indeed little. I liked the big radio feel of the Drake TR-7. On 40 an 80 meters the Drake TR-7 is a fine radio, but on a 10 meter vertical antenna the short comings of the Drake TR-7 become apparent. The TR-7 lacks sensitivity and the noise blanker is not very good at eliminating vertically polarized electrical static.

After looking at all the reports for the various ham radios, I decided on the Kenwood TS-850sat. It just arrived yesterday, so I am still learning how to use it. I looked at the Yaesu Mark V (200 watt version) and the Mark V Field (100 watt version) , but there were just too many reported equipment failures along with multiple trips back to the Yaesu repair shop. The Kenwood TS-2000 is too ugly for my eyes, and some reports suggest it is deaf compared to other current ham radios. I don't like big LCD computer screens on ham radios, so the Icom radios were out. The Ten Tec Orion II is just too expensive at $4000.00, and that does not even include the automatic antenna tuner.

Finally it came down to deciding between a Kenwood TS-940sat with a 9 million plus serial number or a Kenwood TS-850sat. Early model TS-940s had problems, and all TS-940s had two FET transistors hooked up wrong due to a production error. I liked the looks of the Kenwood TS-940sat the best with it's big analog meter, but the sensitivity on AM for the Kenwood TS-940sat is a dismal 2 microvolts at 10 db S/N. Not .2 uv, but 2 uv! Even cheap CB radios are usually 0.5 uv at 10 db S/N. On sideband the TS-940sat is a very respectable 0.2 uv at 10 db S/N. The TS-850sat however has the TS-940sat beat on sensitivity for all modes and frequency ranges. The selectivity for both radios is quite good with a slight edge in favor of the TS-850sat.

The only negative I could find for the Kenwood TS-850sat is a set of DDS chips known as YM6331 found on the CAR board in early model TS-850s. Apparently these chips are prone to failure due to static discharge. Later TS-850s have a replacement chip called YM66312 which appears to be more reliable. I have yet to pop the cover on my TS-850sat and see which chip number I have. You can read more about the problem by clicking here.

Kenwood TS-850sat