TRC-88 HF CW/SSB Transceiver

UPDATED 9/28/2022 A work in progress.

I am currently working on reviving an RT-665( )/TRC-88 transceiver. This will be a challenge since I cannot find any documentation on the set or even a simple schematic. These radios seem to be few in number. So far, there’s no evidence of a TM manual for it..

(Not to be confused with the Radio Shack TRC-88 CB set!)

Without any documentation and due to its very dense, well shielded packaging, reverse engineering this set will be very difficult.

The US Army Signal Corps went to considerable expense to develop the TRC-88 and its father, the TRC-77. This would be a very capable field radio. What happened?

RT-665( )/TRC-88 Radio

Some Basics: This TRC-88’s power output might have been about 10 watts CW, the same as the 2E24 PA tube produces in the TRC-77. Same 3-8 mc (probably) frequency coverage, six independently selectable crystal controlled TX/RX channels, 12 VDC power source and simple wire antennas – so consequentially not operable while being carried. Hence the TRC (Transportable Radio Communications) designation rather than PRC (Portable Radio Communications), radios that CAN be operated while being carried.

The TRC-88’s SSB (Upper Sideband) voice capability is its principal operational characteristic. SSB voice was likely requested by the Signal Corps but possibly as an experimental or speculative effort to increase its utility beyond its progenitor: the TRC-77 CW set. Both sets can also receive AM voice comms.

The TRC-88 is a clear derivative of the original TRC-77 “Non-A” model CW set, also built by EDL/Sylvania. It is also clear from the Order (Contract) dates that the TRC-88 surfaced shortly after the basic TRC-77 was produced but before the requirement for additional radios (TRC-77A) that came several years later. To meet that requirement the Army contracted Arvin Industries to produce the TRC-77A with minimal, technically risky or costly improvements like SSB voice.

As with the TRC-77, this set was likely designed to drive an electrically short, end-fed/slant wire antenna. The evidence is that it does produce a little more RF current into a low impedance, capacitive load than with a 50 ohm resistive load.

TRC-88 ID Tag

This radio, like the TRC-77, was built by the Army’s Electronic Defense Laboratory managed by Sylvania Corporation in Mountain View CA. The Order date is 1962. This one carries Serial # 2. I know of only one other set in captivity, that one is Serial # 9. They seem to be quite rare.  UPDATE: Serial #8 has just surfaced on EBay.

Operational use? The only reference I can find of any type regarding the TRC-88 is in References (65 and 67), the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) Project AGILE work. That study was performed by Stanford Research Institute (SRI Project 4240) as a contractor funded by ARPA.

That initial study (Ref. 67) was to evaluate and compare available tactical voice radios over distances of between 5 and 22 miles of jungle. Those reports indicate that a TRC-88 was evaluated alongside a TRC-77*, a Hughes HC-162, a Japanese OKI TRP-4 and GRC-9 voice sets in jungle propagation tests performed in Thailand in 1963.
(*Ten TRC-77 CW sets (“77-AM”) had been modified to include an AM voice capability. I have found no evidence on the status or current existence of the “77-AM” sets.)

The TRC-88 was judged the best of those sets over 5-22 mile “tactical” ranges; simplicity of setup and operation were strong points. However the complex HC-162 eventually carried the day due mostly to its frequency-synthesizer capability to avoid the considerable interference present in southeast Asia at the time. With significant modifications that set eventually morphed into the AN/PRC-74.

In the December 1963 ARPA semi annual (and possibly final) report on Project AGILE communications studies, the author stated that “none” of the HF radio sets evaluated in Thailand were “recommended for immediate procurement”. Absent later documentation surfacing, it appears that this field evaluation and resulting recommendation may have ended the development and procurement of the AM-modified TRC-77 as well as the TRC-88 sets. (Reference 66).

I can find no evidence that the TRC-88 was used operationally by the US in Vietnam or anywhere else. A TRC-77 had had been involved in a brief 3 month comparison test in 1963 by Army 5th Special Forces Group in Vietnam against the PRC-64. (The TRC-77 serving as the comparison “control” set that the PRC-64 was evaluated against.)

Another brief, and similar test using the TRC-77 was done later at the Ft. Clayton Jungle Warfare Training Center in Panama, again intended to evaluate the PRC-64. However after extensive research I’ve found no evidence that the TRC-77 was ever operationally deployed in Vietnam.

In both cases, the Vietnam era TRC-77 and 88 were either the right radio at the wrong time or the wrong radio at the right time. In any case, probably neither saw widespread use although the TRC-77 was briefly used by US Army Long Range Recon Patrols (LRRP) in Europe in the early 1960’s. (Reference 38.)

A Theory: In 1962 ARPA ordered ten TRC-77 sets modified for AM voice to be evaluated in the Thailand performance comparison tests. So it MAY be possible that ARPA also ordered only ten TRC-88 SSB sets to also be evaluated as part of the Project AGILE tests – for the same reasons they needed ten TRC-77 “AM” sets. We know of only three TRC-88 sets in existence, serial numbers 2, 8 and 9 (could easily be more – but so far, no evidence). That possible small order of ten sets could explain a lot.

Further, the Project AGILE comparison tests noted in Reference 67 were for voice communications, no data was recorded for any possible CW work. However Reference 65 does note the evaluation of CW in what appear to be the same evaluation tests conducted over longer paths.

The example I have, Serial # 2, shows CW as a selectable mode via the front panel Mode switch along with SSB, FSK and Tune functions. However the Mode switch itself is not built or wired to enable the transmitter to operate in the CW mode, despite the panel CW label and switch detent position. Odd. So Serial # 2 did not participate in the CW evaluation tests.

CW was not required for the first tests so it was not fully implemented, at least in this example. It’s beginning to look like there may have been only ten TRC-88’s produced and that they may have been built solely for evaluation in these ARPA voice tests. The report noted that 4 TRC-88 sets were present in Thailand for these tests.

Interestingly, this radio, Serial #2, also has a prominent #”2″ gummed label attached to the panel edge. Set 2 of 10? Maybe. Hmmm.

“CW is dead”: Below is the rear of the XMTR Mode wafer switch:

TRC-88 XMTR Mode Switch CW position

Above: The rear wafer of the XMTR Mode function switch. This switch, when rotated to the CW position, needs to ground the T/R relay return. This ground actuates the relay which applies operating voltage to the TX oscillator and CW tone generation circuits, turns on the high voltage power supply for the power amplifier tube, and also switches the antenna from receive to transmit when the T/R switch is then moved to the XMIT position. The pencil points to the hole in the wafer where that contact pole should have been riveted.

There’s nothing there, there never was, no CW was ever possible. Why did they do this? Here’s the fix:

TRC-88 XMIT Mode Switch

“Necessity is the mother of intervention”

I installed a new switch contact in the CW position where it was missing. I found a donor switch in the junk box, drilled out the wafer rivet and installed the contact finger in the TRC-88 with a tiny “eyeglass repair” screw. Added a jumper over to the PTT line, CW is now operational. Phew! Tiny parts in a hard to access location. Note the amateurish soldering on that 10 ohm RF lamp shunt resistor. Someone has been in here, probably trying to figure out why it didn’t work on CW..

Back to the radio: See the comparison with the TRC-77A (on top) below.

TRC-77A / TRC-88 Comparison

These two sets are very similar externally but with significant internal differences to accommodate the single sideband voice capability found in the TRC-88. Note that the TRC-88 also includes an FSK (typically thought of as associated with radioteletype) capability. Odd for a manpack set. That may have accommodated some kind of AFSK burst CW or digital messaging device as ARPA was evaluating those as well. (Part of Project SEACORE – South East Asia Communications Research and Development). The TRC-77 was compatible with the AN/GRA-71 CW burst keyer.

As these two sets are otherwise quite similar from an operators perspective, I won’t go into that aspect. My TRC-77 research and actual field experiences with one apply, take a look here: TRC-77 Radio Set

In the early 1960’s the Army continued moving towards easily operable, though short range FM voice sets which required little operator training. Airborne VHF FM voice relay was “The Heat”. High frequency CW and its inherent long range was still very useful, even required, for long range recon but its days on tactical circuits in the jungle were numbered. Hence the short lifetime of the TRC-77 and subsequently the TRC-88 despite its SSB capability.

Some TRC-88 specifics: Behind the front panel it is a significantly different radio than the TRC-77. Both sets use the 2E24 rapid-heating cathode power amplifier tube. However the TRC-88 uses a 2N1342 transistor PA driver stage instead of the 3B4 tube used in the TRC77 as its crystal oscillator / PA driver tube. Power and space efficient. Both sets use a high voltage power oscillator to generate the PA tube plate and screen voltages.

Both the ’77 (non-A model) and ’88 use a similar tuning “link” arrangement in the receiver RF amp antenna and mixer (RF amp collector) circuits. These enable the wider band tuning range by adding small, fixed capacitors into the tuned circuits. The TRC-88 transmitter also uses moveable links to add/subtract inductance in the PA tuning inductor as needed to enable the wide tuning range.

TRC-88 packaging details

Above: The TRC-88 receiver RF/Mixer PCB on the right illustrating the tuning links to insert additional fixed capacitance into the circuits for lower frequencies. (That receiver RF/Mixer PC board is the same as the one in the original, TRC-77 “non-A” sets.) The TRC-88 IF/AF PC board is marked RT-665 ( ) TRC-88 and is therefore different. The RF/Mixer PC circuit includes a cylindrical IF “ladder filter”, probably a mechanical type. It is in the receive path on both CW and SSB operation. The two sets diverge markedly from there.

Below: The transmitter oscillator, driver and power amplifier are on the left/bottom; additional PA tuning links are under the hinged HVPS cover.

TRC-88 tuning links

Above: The adjustments in the upper left corner are for the TX crystal oscillator and buffer/driver stage tuning. The PA driver transistor has the round heat sink on it, the 2E24 PA tube is shielded with a black IERC-type heat sink. That tap on the PA tank coil is somewhat mysterious.

The TRC-88 uses TX and RX crystals in HC-6/U packages and dedicated ceramic sockets versus the larger FT-243 holder sockets and adapters seen in the ’77. Conserves space. Like the TRC-77, the ’88 will operate with FT-243 crystals in the receiver (455 kc IF, Low side injection) but it also will not operate with them in the transmitter oscillator (and for other reasons).

Fortunately this example arrived here with 2 (non-ham band) crystals already installed so I could perform an initial R&T evaluation. The availability of new, custom made crystals needed to put this radio on my preferred channels is “problematic” these days of course. (I’ve heard that Bomar can provide custom made crystals for $60 each.)

The left hand CR-18A/U crystal is stamped 4602.5 kc (suppressed carrier frequency) for a mid-channel freq of 4604 kc USB which came with this radio. It works. Note that the TRC-88’s SSB frequency generation/mixing scheme requires a TX crystal that operates at 9000 kc higher than the channel operating frequency. So that crystal actually oscillates in the High Frequency Oscillator (HFO) circuit at 13,602.5 kc despite its markings.

That HFO signal is then mixed with the 9000 kc output of the crystal filter to produce the desired TX USB output channel frequency to the power amplifier and on to the antenna.
(The Balanced Modulator uses a 9000 kc crystal controlled carrier oscillator to initially generate the sideband signals.)

TRC-88 transmitter crystal deck

As noted above, this radio could never have operated in the CW mode although SSB and Tune modes work as expected. So NO crystal would have worked in CW, even during this early FT-243 trial. (At the time of this photo I hadn’t realized that the TX crystal needed to be 9000 kc higher than the operating frequency. This is an SSB radio, not a MOPA TRC-77 that I had recently been conditioned with!)

That 4604 USB frequency is assigned for USAF/Civil Air Patrol use in the US Midwest and Rocky Mountains region. I hear frequent ALE soundings on that frequency at night, but so far no comms. It is very likely that this particular example did see some service with the CAP in later years.

If I can find a schematic and if I can then gain access to the cramped circuitry, and if I can’t find a source of affordable custom-made CR-18A/U crystals, I would need a dual frequency synthesizer for the TX and RX. Note that the crystal compartment is significantly smaller than that in the TRC-77(*). Limits your options for a future frequency synthesizer. Many if’s… Or maybe try those little custom made programmable oscillator circuit modules.

So, what kind of drive level is necessary to operate the receiver crystal oscillator?

As an experiment, I tried injecting the output of my ancient Heathkit VFO and then an LM-14 Frequency Meter into the receiver crystal socket. Adjust it to 455 kc above or below the desired receive frequency, adjust the Mixer/RF amplifier circuits accordingly.
Boom! Tunable receiver.

TRC-88 Tunable Receiver Hack

Or, with the LM-14 Freq Meter with 600 mV p-p output at the crystal socket.

TRC-88 with LM-14 RX VFO

Above: The receiver works fine with about 6 V / 600 mV p-p into the crystal socket, I’m “tuning around”. I’m thinking some of those Epson programmable oscillators should work fine. At $4.10 each that might be a good solution. This should also work just fine in the TRC-77 as well, same receiver oscillator circuit anyway. Many thanks to Dave and Bob from ARMYRADIOS for the alert on these little devices.

The Epson devices are spec’d to a frequency tolerance of +/- 50 ppm over a -20 to +70 degree C range. Comparable to or better than a typical crystal. Good to go, especially at typical operating temperatures.

Epson Programmable Oscillator vs HC-6/U

I got a really neat evaluation board from W9RAN last year, so I ordered some oscillators and tried it out. (Stock item is Epson part number SGR-8002DC-PTB-ND. When ordering, specify the desired frequency in Mhz) Digikey Spec Sheet

Bob wrote a good article on these parts and ordering information in the January 2018 Electric Radio magazine. Thanks Bob!
Here is my initial “brassboard” system lashup using Bob’s board externally:

Epson programmable oscillator tests in TRC-88

I installed the 4 oscillator chips from Digikey and began evaluating them in the W9RAN prototyping board driving the TRC-88. The board includes a CMOS hex inverter to buffer the Enable inputs and RF outputs of the oscillator IC’s and it also includes a 5 volt regulator to power them from the 12 volt radio battery.

Above: Initial tests driving both the transmitter and receiver crystal sockets produce good results; no radio Ham-mering required or desired. The output at the receiver crystal sockets is basically a ringing square wave with my sloppy interconnect wiring in this proof of concept experiment. The tuned circuits in the radio clean them up.

UPDATE: The next step was to build 2 six channel circuit boards, one for the TX the other for the RX, fit them onto the crystal compartments and rewire the channel selector switches to operate the circuits. This is a “no new holes” or other irreversible modifications trial.

Wiring to channel crystal sockets

The RX channel selector switch wiper was rewired from the Local Oscillator input to instead ground the selected 74HC04 hex inverter input. This then drives the programmable oscillator enable pin. I used 0.05″ diameter brass brads for socket plugs; the channel number wires are color-coded. Improvise, adapt, overcome.

Programmable Oscillator PCB wiring

Above – Lots of point to point wiring on the prototype PCB’s. Lots of 30 gauge Kynar wire, bypass caps and tight quarters. The fabrication was nearing the limit of my eyesight and fat fingers…!

Receiver PCB wiring check

Checking the wiring. This Receiver board will contain 6 oscillators, the Hex inverter to drive their Enable lines, six 10K pull-up resistors and a connector header to also send channel-select signals over to the transmitter PCB. The TX board only contains the 6 oscillator sockets; its 78L05 regulator is nearby.

Programmable crystal oscillators in the TRC-88

Above: Prototypes finished and test-fit in the spaces previously occupied by 12 crystals. Testing is underway but they are working fine, Transmit and Receive. The oscillator outputs are a 5 volt square wave that is routed directly to the respective oscillator inputs, previously via the channel crystal selector switch wipers.

Programmable oscillator square wave outputs under load

Due to the very confined space available and non-accessible components in the transmitter channel switch section and elsewhere, the receive Channel select switch now selects both the R and T frequencies (no split-frequency operation anticipated or needed)*. There was also no room for 2 additional hex inverters to buffer the RX and TX oscillator outputs; that would have been good engineering practice otherwise.

Each set of 6 oscillator outputs (High Z when disabled) were wired in parallel, direct to the respective RX and TX oscillators and that works fine. The prototype circuit illustrating 1 of the 6 R/T oscillator circuits and the common support circuitry. All bypass and coupling capacitors are 0.1 uF / 50 volts, resistors are 10K 1/8W.

TRC-88 Epson Programmable Oscillator Circuit

Each PCB has its own 78L05 +5 volt, 100 ma regulator (TO-92 package) for the oscillator devices. To conserve the already low battery power during receive, the RX (and TX) oscillators are only powered during RX and TX respectively. The Hex inverter is continuously powered. K1 is the radio main T/R relay. Total receiver current draw is now 98 ma; the transmitter draws about 2.75 amps, key-down. Tests were made at 13.8 VDC primary power.

(* Note: With the receiver Channel select switch now providing both the RX and TX oscillator enable commands, both the R and T Channel select switches must be set to the same channel number. This is needed so that each of the individual 6 transmitter tuned circuit sets are also selected for the desired receiver operating frequency.)

The RF drive to the PA grid, via its buffer stage is 30 volts p-p, the same level that the original crystal circuit provided.

I’ve been working friends on the West Coast MRCG Agent Guard Channel (3550 kc, nights) and 5357 kc USB and getting good signal reports. All T9 CW, no drift or chirp during the testing. The receiver is working fine. The radio is currently running on the following freqs:


Some earlier performance tests: (stock, with crystals) Like the TRC-77 the TRC-88 receiver has exceptionally good sensitivity. This example produces a very usable CW SNR at below 0.1 microvolts. It can hear that 100 nanovolt leakage from my URM-25 with no cables connected. The stock receiver draws about 20 ma, slightly more than the TRC-77 so with the stock NiCad or my gel-cell pair, the receiver will operate for over a month, 24/7. Amazing.

This particular transmitter currently only puts out about 5 watts PEP into a 50 ohm resistive load on voice (why?) so I have some more investigative work to do. The 2E24 power amplifier tube with its 650 volt plate and 200 volt (zener-regulated) screen supply should be capable of about 15 watts output if operated Class C CW. The output (once I corrected the Mode switch to make it work) is only about 5 watts on CW, still seems to be too low as compared with the TRC-77.

I have found no evidence of a grid bias adjustment or screen voltage differences for the PA tube for CW. (There is a case-chassis interlock switch that reduces the screen voltage from +200 volts during alignment.) There is no indication that the PA is biased into Class C for more efficient CW when switching from SSB linear operation to CW. That’s not surprising since the radio was never wired to even operate on CW.

UPDATE: The 2E24 is biased as a Class AB1 linear amplifier as expected for SSB AND “audio-tone” CW. This likely explains the relatively low transmitter power output as compared to the much higher efficiency of the Class C TRC-77 PA stage. Operating the plate and screen at relatively high voltage, the grid at -25 volts with 15 volts peak RF drive keeps the 2E24 as linear as possible within its 13 watt plate dissipation spec. But that keeps the plate current and peak input power quite low. (I cannot find a set of expanded plate current curves for the 2E24 in low-bias linear service.) Hence the 3-5 db lower power output observed as compared to the TRC-77.

The transmitter uses an approximately 2 kc keyed audio tone injected into the SSB microphone circuits to generate the Tune and (now) CW signals. That 2 kc tone above the suppressed carrier “window frequency” is what many military and Collins FRC-93 USB SSB radios do for example. Too high for my liking, 800 cps or so is better and more conventional.

Many commercial and military SSB radios of that era generate CW by that method. The designers picked 1.5-2 kc tone generators versus 800 cps or so to keep the output cleaner. The tone generator creates unintentional harmonics and the use of the higher frequency audio tones insures that those undesired harmonics fall outside the filter passband and therefore not radiated.

Putting this transmitter CW carrier or SSB suppressed carrier “on channel” simply involves picking the appropriate HFO oscillator frequency offset to make this set compatible with conventional voice and CW radio nets.

Both the TX and RX sound quite good on a monitor or in either headphones or an LS-454 speaker which it drives well. This set fits the same DIY battery box that I built for my TRC-77, two 8 Amp-Hour SLA batteries in parallel for 12 volts. I like it!

This set came to a friend via an EBay sale, provenance unknown. It shows signs of probable service wear and there have been some circuit repairs done. These include a replaced power transformer apparently done by qualified personnel with access to unique parts like that. There are no obvious signs of “Ham-mering” by a Ham although the set was badly misaligned to the 4604 kc crystal frequency pair installed. There is also some questionable, non-factory solder connections here and there. Tuning links were incorrectly set, a broken piston cap etc. Otherwise in good condition for its age, everything is there.

I’m willing to bet this example spent some time in the jungles of Thailand.

The form, fit and finish of this radio is excellent, clearly not a prototype or pre-production sample (but maybe it became one). The designers did a good job fitting a lot of capability into this small package using the technology available in the early 1960’s. Fiberglass, silk-screened PCB’s, clear epoxy MFP (a real pain when soldering), chromate passivated aluminum parts, excellent environmental packaging. The module shield covers even include a nice silk screened photo of the PC boards with component symbols (but unfortunately no test point or function labels).

Getting this field set on the air was tougher after the demise of International Crystal Manufacturing as a source for custom made TX and RX crystals (which I would have preferred). However these Epson oscillators hold good promise for these and other radios. Maybe Bob can build a 6 or 12 channel PCB that will fit over the crystal sockets in this or other similar radios!

Does anyone out there have a schematic or other documentation for the TRC-88? Are there any former Sylvania EDL or Stanford Research Institute employees out there who can shed light on any of this? It would be much appreciated!

I have made a request into the US Army Signal Corps Museum at Ft. Gordon, no joy…

An inquiry made to the U.S. Army Communications Electronics Command (CECOM) indicates that they have no information in their historical files on the AN/TRC-88 save for one “portrait photo” of a TRC-88 set. Nothing on the AN/TRC-77 either. The mystery deepens. However, they did ask for my permission to copy this Post into their own historical files! (Sure!)

Perhaps someone associated with Project AGILE or ARPA in general has some information on this radio in their archives. That may be all that’s left.

FUN FACT: In January 2018 I was contacted by DARPA Public Affairs (DARPA=ARPA). They found this Web post which referenced Project AGILE so they asked for permission to use one my above photo’s (the first image) on their website. They were publishing an historical timeline of ARPA projects and included Project AGILE as a 1961 entry. They thought this radio was a good representative project. But they also had no information on the TRC-88 themselves! See the 1961 entry:

Note that the same DARPA timeline illustrating the TRC-88 also highlighted their early contribution to the F-117 stealth fighter, M-16 rifle, miniaturized GPS receivers and ARPANET (AKA the Internet). You may have heard of those.

What cool company for those to be associated with!

But it’s really looking like a dead end, TRC-88 documentation-wise..

So off for some field tests with what I have going now:

AN/TRC-88 Field Trials – Military Field Day

Above: The TRC-88 (left) alongside the TRC-77 for some field evaluations at a remote campsite. I was sharing an antenna between sets as a comparison.
The TRC-88 was operating CW on 3985 on the Saturday evening Military Radio Collectors Group AM net and good signal reports were obtained by its 3 watts into a low dipole.

AN/TRC-88 Field Evaluation Test

Powered by a 12 volt garden tractor battery, it ran for 4 days continuously. It passes the test.

All for now, stay tuned. More field Ops are in order.