History on AR-3300 and AR-3500 plus 10 Meter Evolution
Sam Lewis of RF Limited/Clear Channel Corporation contributed some background info on the radio players in the 10 Meter radio market they associated or partnered with going back to 1969. The story is interesting and lends insight to how the 10 Meter radios evolved. Many AR 3300 and AR 3500 owners probably have no idea how deeply dedicated these people are to the radio business. They have strived to produce the best possible product while keeping it in reach of the average radio operator. Other companies broke the price barrier, but none ever matched the performance or operation simplicity of the Clear Channel Corp. Ranger transceiver.
Many people are still confused and think the AR 3300 and AR 3500 were made by RCI (Range Communications Incorporated). This is not true; Clear Channel Corporation developed the Ranger AR 3300 and Ranger AR 3500 and were produced for them by Nissei in Tokyo Japan. On the other hand Ranger Communications Corporation has there own factories in Malaysia and China, The RCI brand is brought in through their American subsidiary. RCI and CCC are two very different companies with different philosophies. RCI produces many other radios for other labels like Galaxy, Superstar, Connex, General, Virage, Mirage, and at one time even Cobra as well as others. Clear Channel on the other hand conceived, designed, and oversaw the production of the AR line of radios. These radios were developed to compete in performance with the big buck HF rigs. These radios were developed to meet the demands of the real amateur radio market as well as the 11 Meter market.
This is how the 10 Meter market evolved. In 1969, Herb Johnson of Swan Engineering produced the Cygnet 260, a 10-80m bare bones transceiver. It was basically a Swan 350-C with much of the circuitry eliminated to better compete with the new Japanese sideband rigs appearing on the market. At this time, CB radio was going great guns. Sam Lewis and his father, of Palomar Electronics, were producing the 546 sideband rig and eventually the Skipper 71, 73, 73B, and private labeled the 1046 for Swan. Herb removed all but 10 Meters from the Cygnet 260, added there most sophisticated VFO circuit, and replaced the final section with a single 6LF6 to increase the power output because the 260 only put out 60-Watts on 10m. He stared selling the radio as the Swan 1011. Sales of the 1011 went through the roof.
Someone else that went through the roof was Johnny Griggs of the west coast head of the ARRL (American Radio Relay League). Inside of six months, Griggs went down to see Herb several times threatening to have the amateur fraternity boycott Swan. Sam Lewis’s dad and Herb cooked up a deal, Swan would not market the radio, they would build the radio a under private label program under the Palomar Siltronix label. During this period, Palomar was also building VFOs for Baggys radio under his “Slider/Scanner” brand. Siltronix took over the marketing and expanded the distribution to their Palomar 2-step distributors. Up until then, the 1011 was only available through Swan amateur dealers.
Swan was bought out buy Cubic Corporation, a San Diego based conglomerate that mainly sold sophisticated communications equipment to the US government and military agencies around the globe. A couple of years after that, Cubic bought Siltronics from Palomar. At that time, Palomar hooked up with Les Ernshaw and started the Kachina project. At the same time, Palomar was in partnership with Communications Power Incorporated (CPI), developing the DigiCom, the first programmable CB radio, until the FCC, under pressure from Cobra and EF Johnson, told them they had to change the circuit, even though they (FCC) type accepted the radio. The partnership lead to the CPI radio and accessory lineup.
In 1980, Palomar died while the10 Meter market faded. However, the Palomar people continued in the amplifier business, making amplifiers for their friend Im, the owner of Sommerkamp. Sommerkamp had the European distribution sewn up. Im was also responsible for putting Yaesu Munsen (YM) on the map in the early 70’s. When he first visited Mr. Hasagowa in Japan, his main business mainly consisted of repairing color TVs in Tokyo. He had built a few sideband radios and was starting to build up sales outside Japan. Meanwhile, in the US a couple of guys started Spectronics East & West. They would drive around LA in a converted ambulance (circa Ghostbusters) delivering radios to anyone with the cash. Im made a deal with Mr. Hasagawa. Im put money into YM, in return, Im got total distribution rights for a specified period and all would bear the Sommerkamp brand. Im showed Mr. Hasagawa the one thing that put YM on the map, how to install the crystal for easy 11 Meter conversion.
Im had an engineer named Mr. Sakamoto in Japan. When the exclusive ran out in the late 70’s, Im had Mr. Sakamoto develop the TS788, Palomar/RF Limited supplied the MRF454 transistors and when the radio was available, RF Limited in exchange got the TS788 exclusive for the Americas. This was when I got involved with RF Limited, repairing Sommerkamp 788 radios.
The 788 was a compact 10/11 Meter transceiver with output power around 70 Watts PEP. The SSB transmission was not the cleanest on the market and there were many problems with the Circuit boards. It was a dual board radio with a wiring harness sandwiched between them. The boards were also phenolic double sided and the feed-thoughs were constantly breaking. Although this was a very innovative radio, it was a nightmare to work on. Im realized the magnitude of the problem and after a while abandoned the project
In 1982, RF Limited started developing the Ranger AR-3300. They wanted a fully computer controlled radio and at that time CMOS was the most readily available. NEC helped them along the way. The designer of the AR-3300 had also worked with Mr. Sakamoto on the TS788. The lead engineer designed the front end for most of the AOR scanners. That’s the main reason the 3300 and 3500 radios have such good front ends. These radios were built by a subcontractor to AOR, Nissei in Tokyo. The first production run was built in January 1984 and delivered in April 1984 and Clear Channel Corporation was born. The radios had warble problems and other issues. This is when they hired an engineer named Vic. Vic came aboard and solved the problems and continued to work for Clear Channel developing options for the AR-3300.
To overcome the low audio in FM, Vic developed the SP-1 speech processor, which works awesome in all modes. In addition, the SP-1a is now manufactured by Bob’s CB. Vic did some audio tailoring on the transmitter for all modes of operation. When you hear a 3300 or 3500, you can hear the results. On a properly tuned AR-3300 or AR-3500, the quality matches that of the most expensive HF rigs.
Then Vic developed the 100 Watt RF amplifier and made changes to the AR-3300 such as RF bypassing to insure clean operation. At that time, we were shuttling evaluation radios across the county from Clear Channel Corp to Bob’s CB and back. I was involved in testing Vic’s changes in different environments and played a small part in some of these ECOs. Then came the AR3500, which incorporated all the engineering changes that Clear Channel was adding in the US. The 100-Watt radios were converted 30-Watt radios, most were done at their facility in Washington State. Bob’s CB immediately became the East Coast Warranty center for Clear Channel certified to do all conversions including the 100-Watt upgrade. I, seeing one shortcoming of the radio, developed the memory NiCad battery backup BB-1.
Later Vic developed the CW-1 CW board with all mode adjustable power. Then he developed the SM-1 scanning mic board, which allowed frequency scanning from the microphone. This is why there are 4-pin and 8-pin wiring codes for the AR-3300 and AR-3500 radios. Any 3300 radios with the 8-pin connector have more than likely been changed during the installation of the SM-1 or SM-2 scanning mic board. During the middle of AR-3500 production, Clear Channel changed over to the 8-pin jack at production to eliminate that time consuming step during the installation of the scanning mic option. Both the CW-1 and SM-1 were improved and upgraded to the CW-2 and SM-2. Both had improved features and reliability.
The latest radios RF Limited brings to the Amateur platform are the Magnum radios, under the Magnum International label. All that needs to be said is the RF Limited folks continue to bring quality products to the communications market. Bob F
A special thanks to Sam Lewis of RF Limited/Magnum International for contributing so many details to make this article possible.