Backwoods RF Digital Frequency Display for the Drake 'Twins' R4 - T4X Series

Important:  Know that there are dangerous and potentially lethal voltages involved  within the transmitter - should you remove its bottom cover for calibration purposes.  Unless you are absolutely certain that you know what you are doing and have taken the proper  safety precautions, do not remove the bottom cover.   I cannot nor  will  be responsible for any injuries or damages incurred as a result of your reading this website. 

                                      Drake Twins Picture
1. Introduction

   RL Drake produced many great radios in their time.  In my opinion, their finest tube type rigs were the R4 and T4X series, perhaps second only to the Collins radios.  The Drake receivers are stable, sensitive and selective. The transmitters provide robust outupt and long life, providing that one pays attention when loading up.   The VFO tuning mechanisms in both devices are smooth and precise, an order of magnitide above the Heathkit SB series friction drives.

   While the Drake's provide an excellent analog readout, adding a more visible digital readout can easily be accomplished.  The purpose of this article is to describe one such conversion by using a complete 50 Mhz digital frequency counter kit offered on eBay by Ralph VanDyke from Backwoods RF.  

    As shown here, there are several other counter kits which would also work.

    The Backwoods RF kit includes everything (components, an RF preamplifier, three P/C boards, a nice plastic cabinet and even a nifty blue tinted transparent window that matches the Drake Twins perfectly).   In my opinion, the LED display is much easier on the eyes than the smaller 2 line LCD displays featured in other digital frequency counters.

   To complete this project, all you need is a couple of hours or very pleasant 'solder time', a small 12 volt, DC supply (a wallwart will work), some coaxial cable and phono connectors.  Once the counter has been aligned by tweaking the enclosed trimmer capacitor, it can be used either as a general purpose frequency counter or as a digital dial for the Drake twins and for other radios as well (see below).

Note: One of the benefits of using this digital frequency counter with the Drake twins is that no modifications to the radio itself are required.  The particular kit can be easily removed when and if the owner decides to restore it to its original condition.

2. Building the Frequency Counter Kit
- Heathkit Revisited!

   Ralph has left very little to chance.  The components associated with each of the 3 boards come in their own small plastic bags, and the instruction sheets (with both color pictures and sketches) are more that ample.  The complete kit can be assembled and tested in several hours, and without rushing.

    Once the kit has been assembled, apply DC power through the provided connector and the one of the digits and the decimal point should illuminate.  Then, using a reliable signal source (like a very accurate signal generator or - better yet - your station transceiver) adjust the counter's trimmer to the desired frequency.  Because this counter has an integral preamp, just a foot or so of wire from the counter's RCA connector will suffice.

Note:  Don't connect your transceiver's RF output directly to the counter or the preamplifier chip could burn out.

3. Connecting The Counter to the Drake Radios - Use the Shared Injection Line

    The counter is connected to the Injection cable linking the R4 (A/B/C) and TX4 units.  You can either use a 'Y' type phono connector (like Radio Shack's 274-303), build your own connector in a small box (which is what I did), or just splice and solder the wires together ('tacky', but it will work).  

    With the connection made, switch on the receiver, peak the preselector and note that the display changes when the VFO is tuned.   The displayed frequency (measuring the receiver's premix signal) will be very close to 5645 khz above the received frequency for all crystal equipped R4 bands.  
The frequency display shows nothing unless the preselector is properly peaked.

4. Aligning the Counter - First Ensure That the Receiver's Crystal Calibrator is Set to Precisely 100 Khz.

    This is required so that you can check the accuracy of the digital frequency counter in the receive mode as you are performing the alignment.  The trimmer for the 100 Khz calibration crystal is located on the bottom of the R4 chassis.  A suitable hole has been provided, so you needn't remove the bottom cover  If your R4 has a 10 Mhz crystal, you can zero beat WWV.

        i) Counter with a Stand-Alone Drake R4 Series Receiver - No Matching T4X Series Transmitter

    Using either an accurate frequency generator or a MARS capable transceiver (with a dummy load), set the frequency to exactly 5645 khz.  Connect a foot long piece of wire to the counter's input and generate the RF (no direct connection should be made between the counter and the transceiver) .  Verify that the digital frequency counter displays 5645 khz.  

    Next, while the counter is still 'reading' the 5645 Khz signal, operate the small, internal 'tactile' switch within the counter to program it to SUBtract the offset, as described in the instructions that accompanied the kit.  Several 'clicks' are required.

   Connect the digital frequency counter to the INJection phono jack on the rear of the R4 series receiver, peak the preselector for the band of interest and tune the receiver to the nearest 100 khz calibration point with the crystal calibrator activated.  Set the receiver for LSB operation and tune for an audible zero beat.  Then adjust C61 in the receiver so that the digital frequency counter matches the receiver's zero beat frequency, and you're done.

Counter with the Drake Twins

    First, ensure that the carrier oscillator is balanced, that the transmitter and receiver have been 'netted' properly, and that the carrier nulled, so:

    Finish the netting alignment by:
    You can program the digital counter as described in the stand alone case and then verify the accuracy of the counter by checking the 100 khz calibration points on your receiver.  You might find that your counter is 100 or 200 Hz off.

    To improve the counter's accuracy, you can readjust your signal generator / station transmitter by the amount that the display deviates from the desired point, reprogram the digital frequency counter and try again.  This iterative approach will eventually work.

          iii) No MARS Capable Transceiver or Accurate Frequency Generator Available
    If you don't have an accurate signal generator, a MARS capable transmitter or a stand alone frequency counter, you can use the signal from the T4X transmitter itself to calibrate your digital frequency counter.  In essence, you'll be using the signal from the T4X's crystal oscillator which has just been netted with the receiver.      To do this:
        iv) Accuracy with the Drake R4, R4A, R4B, R4C and the T4X Series Transmitters 

    After calibration, I found the digital frequency counter to be quite accurate, most times within 100 Hz on both USB and LSB signals, as compared with my IC-746's display.  I monitored eCars on 7272 Khz, and several 20 meter transmissions thereafter.  I have yet to check its accuracy in the CW mode, but I don't believe there will be any problems here either as the CW frequency conversion scheme is the same as that of LSB.
 I'll check the AM mode later.

Note: Since the Drake radios use variably selective passband tuning within the last IF stage (50 khz), this counter - or any counter for that matter - will not be able to track the frequency within the passsband.  

Said another way, the accuracy of this counter is similar to the hash marks on the tuning knobs, but with significantly improved linearity.

    Here are some other considerations:
    5. Other Candidate Radios - Check The Schematics

        i) Regenerative Receivers

      The high impedance of the counter's input should not cause any frequency 'pulling'.

        ii) Direct Conversion Receivers with No Heterodyne Oscillators

        iii) Direct Conversion Receivers with VFO / HFO Premixing - like the Heathkit HW-8

        iv) Superheterodyne Receivers with VFO / HFO Premixing - Like the Drake SPR-4

    This simple, one programmed offset frequency counter kit is ideally suited to receivers that use a 'pre-mix' circuit whereby the VFO signal is combined with that of the heterodyne crystal oscillator in the first mixer circuit and then routed to the high or low side (but not both) of the fixed frequency second mixer circuit.  This way, the exact fixed frequency of the second mixer offset can be added or subtracted, depending upon the radio's conversion scheme.

        v) Transceivers Using the Premixing Technique - Like the Drake TR3, TR4, etc

    Interfacing with these radios will involve adding a suitable phono jack to the rear of the radio and small gauge coax to the frequency pick off point.  Some slight tweaking of the radio might be required to compensate for the additional capacity presented by the new coax.  This has not been empirically verified.

        vi) Single Conversion Tube Type 'Boat Anchor' Receivers - With Consistent High or Low Side Oscillator Injection

        Examples include the:
       Many of the older single conversion 'shortwave type' radios are also likely conversion candidates.  The most important aspect of equipping any single conversion radio with this or any digital frequency counter is to ensure that the IF strip is properly aligned so that the counter offset - when applied - will cause the correct frequency to be displayed.

        vii) Conversion of the Ten-Tec Century 21 and Century 22 Radios

    Either the Ten-Tec century 21 or Century 22 cay be equipped with this digital frequency counter by using the interface described earlier.  Essentially, its a combination of a FET follower to selectively route either the VFO or the heterodyne oscillator signals to the digital frequency counter, a small relay that selects either signal and a push button (to replace the tactile switch), etc.

6. Using Other Digital Frequency Counters

    A search of the indicates that there are several other digital frequency counters (with offset capabilities suitable to the Drake Twins) that could also be interfaced with the Drake Twins. .

    7. Comments / Suggestions

        Please forward them to me so that I can post them on this site.  

        Thanks - in advance!

            73's - Joe - K3JLS