Drake Home Page       Drake Technical Tips Menu

The History Behind The R.L. Drake Company

Written by Bill Frost (WD8DFP)

Service Department Manager, R. L. Drake Co.


The R. L. Drake Co. was founded by Robert Lloyd Drake Sr.. He was the eldest son of four children and also the father of four children. Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, he attended the University of Cincinnati after graduating from high school. At that time, the university was a city college and he lived at home while attending college.

Graduating in the early 1930's, Mr. Drake was first employed by Dayrad (Dayton Radio Co.) in the Engineering Department. He later went to work for the Bendix Corp. in their Aviation Department. Mr. Bill Lear, of Lear Jet fame, hired Mr. Drake to work for his company, which was Learavia, in the Engineering Department.

Mr. Drake's hobby was amateur radio. He enjoyed talking to other amateurs on the "wireless" and had tinkered with the design of different filters to help improve his reception, as well as his transmitted signal. The amateur radio operators at the other end of the wireless radio, were very interested in obtaining these filters for their own equipment.

In 1943, Mr. Drake decided to start his own company and leave his secure position at Learavia. He gathered three other people to help him design, and build his products. One of the individuals was Katherine "Katy" Quake, who worked for the company until 1988. Another was Milton "Milt" Sullivan, a fellow Engineer and amateur radio operator. The company began at 11 Longworth St. in Dayton, Ohio. The upper level of the building was rented to a manufacturer of coat hangers.

Products at the time were mainly low pass filters and high pass filters for the amateur radio operator and for military use. Filters for amateur radio use were a part of the company's product line for over forty years. A tank jamming device was also produced for the US military. The military also wanted a filter designed to eliminate the jamming, but this could not be done due to the method Mr. Drake had designed. He had a difficult time convincing the government officials that it could not be done. The tank jamming equipment was successfully used in major events of WWII such as Normandy Beach on June 6, 1944.

The recession that followed WWII meant difficult times for everyone, the R. L. Drake Co. included. The Company managed to survive the hard times by continuing the production of filters and by doing small jobs for larger companies. This included making table lamps for S. S. Kresge, spring contacts for General Electric, winding coils and chokes for Delco Electric, and assembling communication cables for an airplane manufacturer.

Ten years later, in 1953, the company moved its 10 to 12 employees to Miamisburg, Ohio. The new location was in the once famous Baum Opera House. This building later became the home of Star City Marine. They say, that if you stand in Market Square and catch the sun just right you can see the name, Baum Opera House showing through the faded paint on the building.

The product line now included more accessories for amateur radio operators, such as Q-multipliers for HRO and National receivers, product detectors for Collins Radio receivers, and the Drake High Patch phone patch. Being an amateur radio operator himself (W8CYE), Mr. Drake had modified his own Hammarlund receiver for single sideband reception. However he was not totally satisfied with the receiver's performance and knew that he could design a "better mouse trap."

While recovering at home, from a bad case of hives, partially due to worry about the survival of the company and its employees, he began the design of the 1-A single sideband receiver. The receiver was long, thin, and tall like a 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 receiver designed solely for single sideband reception. All other receivers for amateur radio use received only on AM (Amplitude Modulation) or were old military AM receivers, which were then modified by the amateur radio operator for SSB (single sideband) reception. Single sideband was in its infancy and many amateur radio operators said it was only a fad and would never last and certainly would never equal AM operation.

Once the 1-A was finished, he was unsure that he could mass produce such a product, let alone finance it. He decided to offer his design to well known receiver manufacturers such as National, Hammarlund, and Hallicrafters. After many letters were mailed back and forth neither party was able to reach any type of agreement. A turning point came when Francis R. Gibb or "Gibby" as he was known to his amateur friends said "You build'em and I'll take the first hundred." Gibby was a good friend of Mr. Drake and he was a well known supplier of amateur radio equipment, as he owned and operated Universal Service in Columbus, Ohio. Another amateur radio equipment supplier, Hyde "Rube" Rubel, of Srepco in Dayton, Ohio, also supported the 1-A receiver concept and urged production of the first single sideband receiver.

The first ten or so 1-A receivers were built at the old Baum Opera House location, then in 1958 the company moved to the present 540 Richard Street address, as more room was needed. The production of the 1-A was then put into full force. The 1-A design was based on a simple to operate concept, no bells, no whistles, easy to service, high quality, and high performance. Cosmetically, it was plain, the front panel was black, the cabinet was black, and it was soon dubbed "The Black Box" among amateurs. Receivers prior to the introduction of the 1-A were large, bulky, had large knobs, large meters, and were often called "Boat Anchors."

The 1-A receiver was a success, as it was well received by amateur radio operators. However, amateurs wanted a receiver that had both AM reception and SSB reception, built with the performance of the 1-A. AM was still the most popular mode of communication between amateurs, but SSB was slowly growing in popularity. The 2-A was designed and produced to meet this requirement. It was soon followed by the design of the 2-B receiver, which included several improvements. Mr. Drake offered the 2-B receiver design to radio receiver manufacturers such as Globe Radio and Hallicrafters, as he felt uneasy about increasing the size of the company. 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 transceiver and named it the TR-3. The TR-3 was a tube type unit, as were all Drake products at that time. It used a 9.0 MHZ IF, tube type VFO (Variable Frequency Oscillator), and three 12JB6 sweep tubes as the final output tubes. The sensitivity was excellent and the 300 watt PEP final output stage gave it the punch needed by the amateur radio operator. The demand for the TR-3 was tremendous and its popularity grew as did the name Drake.

In 1965, the Inland Testing Laboratory ( a division of Cook Electric, Chicago, Illinois) was purchased by Mr. Drake. The name was changed to Dayrad, a name familiar to Mr. Drake as helping him start his earlier years. Unfortunately, a few years later, the equipment was sold and the company was dissolved, as there was not enough work to keep the employees busy. Some employees were transferred to the Miamisburg plant.

Then in 1966 a completely new line was designed and introduced, which became known around the world as the "Drake Twins." The receiver was the R-4 and the mating transmitter was the T4-X. Also produced were accessories such as the W-4 wattmeter, the MN-4 matching network, the MS-4 matching speaker, and the AC-4 power supply. The R-4A soon replaced the R-4 and the L-4 linear amplifier was introduced along with the MN-2000 matching network. The L-4 and the MN-2000 proved to be two of the most desired products by amateurs around the world. These two products are still sought after by amateurs today.

Shortly after the R-4A had reached the market, the company was approached by Radio New York Worldwide to build a low cost International Shortwave receiver for their own use. The SW-4 was designed primarily from the R-4A concept and was to receive AM only. The front panel stated "Designed especially for Radio New York Worldwide." Again, not wanting to expand beyond the companies means, the receiver was offered to RCA. Who, at the time, was a leader in communications type receivers. RCA was at the time producing the CRM-R6A receiver for the world communications market and declined the offer. The SW-4A short wave receiver soon followed the SW-4 with several improvements and with more solid state devices being used instead of tubes.

The C-4 station console was introduced in 1966 and was another first in amateur radio equipment. The unit was engineered and designed by Ronald E. Wysong, who was later to succeed Peter W. Drake as president and CEO of the R. L. Drake Company. The unit housed a phone patch, rotor control, wattmeter, equipment control switch, ID timer, 24 hour clock, remote antenna selector, and it could also control the AC power to other units in the "Ham Shack." Thus turning off the C-4 could turn all of the amateurs' equipment off. It also grounded the amateurs antenna coax lines to help protect the equipment from the dangers of a lightning strike.

Also in the year 1966, Ron Wysong was interested in cameras and photography as a personal hobby. He learned that printed circuit boards involved photography and negatives. He persuaded the company to invest in the first steps toward a printed circuit board department. He made an etching table out of plywood and 2x4's, mounted a motor to vibrate the table top, and was soon making progress. The first printed circuit board to be used in a product was the audio board of the R4-B receiver. This was the start of the PC Fabrication Department.

In the year 1967, the 2-C receiver and the 2-NT CW transmitter were introduced which filled the need of a good low cost novice station for many beginning amateurs. The TR-4 transceiver replaced the TR-3 with several improvements, including a solid state VFO, and a BFO circuit.

The R4-B, T4-XB and the L4-B were improved versions of the earlier products and were introduced in late 1967. The production rate was averaging four to six units per day of most products. More room was needed and an addition was made to the building to provide office space, an Engineering Department and a lunch room area. The Engineering Department was sharing space with the Machine Shop in a small building across the railroad tracks from the main plant. The new addition would give the entire building to the Machine Shop.

The SPR-4 was introduced in 1970 as a replacement for the ever popular SW-4A. The receiver was all solid state, could receive both SSB, AM, CW, and RTTY. Crystals could be added to extend the listening range to meet the needs of the owner. The two meter FM (Frequency Modulation) band was gaining in popularity and the ML-2 two meter FM transceiver was introduced. This was the first unit to be imported and sold bearing the R. L. Drake Co. name. This lead to the import of the TR-22 portable 2 meter transceiver and the TR-22M portable transceiver. The TR-22M was a marine transceiver which allowed the company to enter into the marine communications market. The introduction of the TRM single sideband transceiver followed and its use ranged from small shrimp boats to the larger oil tankers. The TR-22C was imported to replace the TR-22, which was later replaced by the TR-33C. All three units required crystals for each channel, unlike the synthesized handheld units of today.

The DSR-1 receiver was introduced in late 1971. It covered the complete HF spectrum and used "nixie" tubes for the digital display. It also allowed reception of independent sideband as well as single sideband and AM. It was followed by the MSR-1, a 19 inch rack mount commercial type receiver. The MSR-1 was used aboard ocean going ships as the mains receiver or primary receiver. The DSR-2, MSR-2, and the MSR/FMP succeeded the DSR-1 and MSR-1. These units contained gold plated switch contacts to minimize contact failure in the salty air.

The ever popular C-line was introduced in 1973 to replace the B-line twins. 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-C. The R4-C receiver and the T4-XC transmitter are still sought after by many amateurs and held as prize possessions by others. Accessories included the TC-2 two meter transverter and the SC-2 receiving converter, the TC-6 six meter transverter and the SC-6 receiving converter. The TR-6 six meter transceiver was also introduced.

The SSR-1 receiver was imported and added to the shortwave receiver line as a low cost unit covering the complete spectrum from the broadcast band through 30 MHz. A whip antenna and a compartment for eight D-cell batteries made it portable.

In 1975 amateur radio operators across the world were in mourning as word spread that R. L. Drake Sr. had passed away. They had lost a very dear friend, a fellow amateur, and a pioneer of Amateur Radio. The operation and management of the company was turned over to Peter W. Drake, as Mr. Drake had been training his son to assume his position for some time.

Drake amateur radio equipment can be found on every part of the globe. If the equipment is not there, the name Drake is known and respected. Amateur Radio operators come in all walks of life and at one time or another have owned, wanted, or used a piece of radio gear manufactured in Miamisburg, Ohio. King Hussein of Jordan has used Drake gear, as well as Barry Goldwater, Roy Neal, and Ronnie Milsap.

The amateur radio station aboard the Queen Mary was once a complete line of Drake equipment. The R. L. Drake Co. amateur radio equipment has been use in hot air balloon flights trying to fly non-stop across the country or around the world. An around the world attempt on a sailing yacht used Drake gear, the details were outlined in an issue of the Smithsonian Magazine. The non-stop flight of the Voyager was aided with Drake gear. Many far away and remote islands have been temporary home of DX-peditions using Drake gear to contact their fellow amateurs. A complete 7-line was taken to China as international goodwill by a California University. Famous amateurs include James Stewart, Chet Atkins, Joe Walsh, and Astronauts such as Owen Garriot and Tony England. Marlon Brando, at one time, wanted to use Drake amateur radio equipment as a communications link on his island.

In the year 1977, land was purchased in Franklin, Ohio, just off Route 123, to build a new production facility. The production facility was to be completed in three phases. The first phase of the building provided 42,500 feet and was completed in 1978. The Machine shop, PC fabrication department, production lines, and component assembly lines were moved to this new facility. The office staff, Sales department, Engineering department, and the Service department remained at the Miamisburg plant.

Production now included the TR-7, a completely solid state transceiver and a companion receiver, the R-7. Complementary accessories included the L-7 linear amplifier, WH-7 wattmeter, and the MN-2700 matching network, to mention a few. The UV-3 was introduced in 1978, and was another first in amateur radio. It was a single unit housing a 146 MHz band transceiver, a 220 MHz band transceiver, and a 450 MHz band transceiver all in a compact, rugged package. It was designed for mobile operation or for base station use. The MRT-55, designed from the UV-3, proved to be a viable product in the marine radio market, and led to the production of the MRT-55C. The RR-3 was introduced in 1981 to replace the RR-2 which had replaced the RR-1 earlier. The RR-1 had gained popularity as being a very reliable, low cost secondary receiver aboard ocean going ships.

The TR-4310 transceiver and the R-4245 receiver were also introduced as primary units for ocean going ships. These were redesigned TR-7 and R-7 respectively with a VRTO (variable rate tuning oscillator), full transmit coverage, and with all crystal filters installed. They were also standard 19" rack mount units built for rugged duty. Radio Monaco at one time used four complete rack mounted stations, consisting of the TR-4310, R-4245, L-77, and the MN-4438. The L-77 and the MN-4438 were built on the lines of the L-7 and MN-2700 with a face lift to match the TR-4310 and R-4245.

In the year 1981, it was decided to enter the home satellite receiver market. This meant a completely new product, which means engineering time, drawings, board layouts, ordering parts, market analysis, marketing forecasts and advertising brochures, all of which take time. It is usually two years or more before all of the pieces fit together and a product is actually on the shipping dock. The ESR-24 design and production set new standards, as it was in the shipping department within eight months. Design of the ESR-24 (Earth Station Receiver - 24 channels) began in May, the first prototype unit was shown at the Omaha, Nebraska home satellite show in August, and the first units left the shipping dock in November of 1981. The ESR-24 was the first cosmetically appealing, professionally built consumer receiver for home satellite reception. The competition units were either built in a back room or in a garage. It was designed especially for the home dish owner. It soon became a leader in a very new and exciting market.

The ESR-24 brought new fame to the company, so instead of offering the design to other manufacturers, the company was approached by other manufacturers to produce receivers under their name. The OEM accounts included Channel Master, Winegard, Conifer, and National Microtech.

In July of 1983, the upper level of a building on Springboro Pike was leased to the company. The office staff, Sales staff, and the Engineering department were moved to this new address to become the Corporate Office. This provided the much needed room for all three departments, which were expanding rapidly.

The second phase of the Franklin plant became reality in 1984. An addition of 50,000 square feet was added, which gave an overall building size of 92,500 square feet. This addition provided the much needed room to move the Engineering department into the same building with the Production department as well as providing more area for production lines. The PC Fabrication department now consumed 11,000 square feet of the building. The equipment was of the latest technology. It's waste water treatment plant could treat 80 gallons a minute, removing all heavy metals, and automatically adjust the pH balance properly before being released.

The postponed, but eventual decision was made to cease production of amateur radio equipment. The market had all but disappeared, there was a lack of FCC deregulation, the foreign competition was increasing more and more, and the dollar was strong.

This article was taken from the 1988 edition of the Printed Circuit


Return To The Drake Equipment Page

Return to the WB4HFN Home Page