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The Kenwood TS-60s
"Having fun on channel one"
The Magic Band
Six meter is generally classified as a VHF band; but has some characteristics of HF, particularly during certain times of the year, and certain parts of the sunspot cycle. Because of this dichotomy, and the superb long range performance of the band during openings, it has often been referred to as "the magic band". Part of the magic of 6 meter is the fact that as a VHF band, it is a radio frequency resource under local jurisdiction, and not generally subject to the types of international treaty which made code proficiency a requirement for an amateur radio license, for many years.
Many novices and early no code technician class hams made their first long range voice contacts on this band, since it was the only potentially long range band on which they had voice privileges (Well, OK, 10 meter has similar potential; but for some reason never had the magic of six). The down side of this, is that in many parts of the world, there is no provision for civilian users to get on the 6 meter band.
In some places the band is used for commercial television, or perhaps military use. In many of the places where 6 meter is allowed, as in much of the EU, it is truncated to only a 50 - 52 MHz segment of the full 50 - 54 MHz allocation to American operators. It has also not been around for very long - at one time being a part of the bandwidth for the now discontinued television channel 1. That's right, if you broadcast on 6 meter, you are transmitting on the missing original channel one television frequency - the one missing from the tuning dials of generations of analog television sets. It became a ham band in March of 1946. Television channel 2 starts at 54MHz, and extends to 60MHz. The total bandwidth of the entire six meter band is around 4MHz. The bandwidth of a single television station is 6MHz. So if you have ever wondered where that mysterious missing channel one on the old time televisions sets went - now you know.
Long range communications on six meters is highly dependant on the eleven year sun spot cycle. The band tends to "open up" during cycle peaks. The next peak is predicted to come in may of 2013, though it is predicted to be a less intense cycle. This is making the rigs somewhat sought after, at the moment. many hams want to be ready for the peak when it comes.
The other bad side of being the in between band, is that radio manufacturers, and customers, do not quite know how to classify six meter, or where to put it. Ten meter has a similar identity crises, though not nearly to the same extent. Ten is also being saved by the CB crowd. There are many ten meter radios being made right now, specifically to cater to the bootleg CB market. There is a whole cottage industry built around converting these radios to CB, and taking advantage of their higher power and wider bandwidth.
When I first developed an interest in amateur radio, back in the seventies, transceivers were divided up into HF, UHF, and VHF units. New technology has made this somewhat moot; but new technology was also what permitted many of the ham bands to be bundled into all in one HF transceivers. At that time, you could get a single transceiver that was able to work on most or all of the HF bands (commonly known as the short wave bands). All could cover the bands from 20 to 80 meters - some could also cover 10 meters, 160 meters or both. These became the de-facto standard, and dominated the market, because these were all of the long range bands bundled together.
On the VHF side were a number of 6 meter, 2 meter, and 70 cm single band radios (as well as the less popular 1.25 meter, and 33 CM units). Six meter lagged in popularity, in part due to the confusion over its propagation characteristics, and in part due to the comparatively small antennas required for the other UHF and VHF bands. It also did not have the huge glut of military surplus radio gear, which helped to spur the experimenter and the budget conscious to an interest in 2 meter or 70cm. Today, few operators wish to try and convert or modify military gear for use on ham bands (though there are still a few who do); but the pattern has been set, and the great popularity of the other UHF/VHF bands has spurred the introduction of many new radios operating on those bands.
The TS-60 was developed some years ago, when it appeared that the 6 meter band was really going to take off. The band had just opened up in Europe, where it had previously been for commercial television use or military use only. There was also anticipation of some really good propagation, due to the oncoming sun spot cycle peak. In anticipation of this, the TS-60 was a no compromise design, with all the stops out, and sold for more money than many multi band HF radios, a few of which also included the six meter band. Purchased new, back in 1994, this radio sold for $1200 - something like $1500 - $1800 in today's dollars. This gives it the highest new list price of any radio in my shack. This is essentially the same machine as the amazing TS-50, HF multiband transceiver. The difference is in the TS-60 being specialized and enhanced for the single 6 meter band.
Sadly, this great and specialized radio never really made a hit in the market, and after a few years was withdrawn. A similar fate befell the other 6 meter radios developed at the same time, which is why it is getting so difficult to find any on the market today. Once a manufacturer takes a loss on a certain type of product, It is very difficult to justify the risks of introducing a similar product. The huge European boom never really materialized, and the expected worldwide demand was satisfied largely by HF transceivers, many of which now had 6 meter bundled in. It is beginning to look like the dedicated 6 meter radio is going the way of the dedicated 10 meter radio - extinction. This is unfortunate, because the HF properties of 6 meter make it only a marginal fit with the HF bands. This is amply attested to by the fact that all of the HF radios so equipped have a separate antenna output for the 6 meter band, and generally operate at lower power on 6 meter than on the HF bands.
I paid $200 for mine, which turns out to be a huge bargain. Even in today’s somewhat depressed economy, these usually sell in the $400 range – which is itself a bargain. This unit was bought from a veteran radio operator who is considering getting out of the hobby, or at least greatly scaling back his involvement. Too bad, and a loss to the ham community. The low price was a result of trying to sell the radio for a considerable period and having a number of people show interest; but not without irritating attempts to low ball. Finally, the guy just figured “Screw it! The first $200 takes it.” He was also in the midst of selling his house and dealing with some other issues. So he just wanted the gear to find a good home, and to possibly put a little money back in his pocket. Even so, I felt like I was robbing the guy.
The radio itself is wonderful, and is a joy to operate, and the quality as well as the finish are just superb. The unit is small, about the size of an in dash car radio; but quite heavy for its size. Many other users have commented on the simplicity of the unit; but the simplicity is more apparent than real. It is possible to be completely satisfied, using this as an old style, simple VHF radio. There is a large tuning dial for setting frequency, as well as knobs for AF, squelch, RIT, and shift. There is a pair of buttons which shift between FM, AM, USB, and LSB modes, as well as buttons for noise blanker, attenuation, split operation, and switching between the unit's two VFOs. This sounds simple and basic enough; but there is another side to this radio.
There are 100 memories on this unit, which retain frequency, mode, and offset information. It also has the usual search, scan, and copy features that have become expected on all modern computer controlled radios. The down side to this is the use of the often criticized nested menu system. This does create a learning curve; but once made familiar through use, the system isn't so bad. For those who truly hate such things, the nested menus need never be used. Satisfactory, though less capable, operation can be had through use of the panel controls only.
One band, one antenna, no tuner. This may be the biggest secret of all. Trying to operate a multi band radio off of a single antenna and a single feed line is one of the biggest headaches in amateur radio (or it is one of the biggest challenges and all part of the fun - depending upon how you look at things). Old time ham operators had shacks full of radios, with antenna switches for their outdoor antenna farm. In some cases, each band had a radio of it's own, as well as a dedicated antenna.
Actually, there are two antennas used with this radio, due to the hybrid nature of the six meter band. A horizontal dipole is used for sky wave and sideband transmissions for DX, while a vertical antenna is used for local contact on FM. Construction of the dipole was easy take a pair of 4.5' wires, and connect them to the coax via a balun. Done! The vertical was a bit harder, mostly because of restrictions on outdoor antennas where I live. More on this latter.
This radio has adjustable output of up to 90 watts (23 on AM). Though not impressive, this is respectable, and should be sufficient for most users, particularly if a good antenna system is in place. Most FM is done through local repeaters, moderating the need for power. Most AM/SSB is done while vertically polarized, making a good antenna bit easier to have. For those
who need a bit more, the unit has back panel connections for a linear, including ALC and Relay jacks. Also on the back panel are the antenna connector, the power connector, an input for a key (3.5 mm jack), and output for an external speaker, and a covered ACC port that allows for connection to a computer. The back panel is also where the main heat vent is located, as well as the fan. The fan is thermally regulated, and switches on only when the temperature is in danger of becoming excessive. The ground connection is also located here.
The size and 13.8 power requirement nominally make this a mobile unit. The kit comes with a mobile mounting bracket to expedite such use. This is the easiest hook up, and is almost not worth going into detail about. I picked up a standard six meter magnet mount antenna, and have occasionally used this radio in my van. I generally do not go mobile on this radio. For six meter mobile, I use my Cherokee AH-50 and mobile com adapter, which is better suited, smaller, and less expensive.
My first ever antenna for this unit was a hybrid discone, of the type I am now using on my PCR-100 scanner. This was a Diamond discone, with a 32" cone, and a 26" disc. Those who know discones know that this is too small for use on 6 meter. The antenna had a small base loaded vertical radiator on top, making it a hybrid. The vertical radiator was resonant on 6 meter, or at any rate on a portion of the band. The antenna was good enough as an expedient; but does not make a suitable long term antenna. Its bandwidth is too narrow, due to the lack of a proper ground plane for this low a frequency. Good performance was only attained on the upper portion of the band. This antenna is now being used as pat of the antenna array for my scanner.
Presently, for this unit, I have two base antennas, which I swap depending upon intended use. The first, and easiest, is a classic six meter horizontal dipole. Such an antenna consists of nine feet of wire, and a balun, along with the coax needed to feed the transceiver. I go into this a bit more on my antenna page, but a horizontal dipole does have some disadvantages, particularly for local communication. The ends of a dipole are nulls, and since the antenna is horizontally polarized, those nulls are 180 degrees apart, and face out over part of the area to which I want to communicate. This antenna is mainly used for DX, generally employing SSB.
More recently, I have made a series of VHF/UHF bent dipoles, and nested them together, in a fashion similar to that of the highly regarded cobweb antenna. This makes for a square antenna, similar in appearance to the old Squalo style, which is only about two feet long on a side. it also has the advantage, when horizontally polarized, of having no nulls. This will eventually replace my horizontal dipole. The cobweb is also slightly directional, and is small enough to be rotated and adjusted.
My other antenna is a ground plane quarter wave, which is vertically polarized. It is a standard quarter wave of no great distinction or performance. It has the virtue of having been easy to make, and of being small enough to mount in my attic crawl space. It is a 4.5' vertical with four radials to make a ground plane. The antenna is entirely made from copper pipe. With a 90 watt ssb output, or 30 watts on AM/FM, the antenna need be nothing special, particularly for local and repeater use. At any rate, six meter repeaters are pretty scarce around here, and traffic on the band is even less common. More detail can be found on my antenna pages - if I ever finish them.
My preferred vertical antenna is a J-pole, or the related Slim Jim; but for six meter these would be far too large for my present location. For the time being, the simple dipole and equally simple ground plane antennas are more than good enough.
Kenwood transceivers have been lending themselves to computer control since the mid eighties. You’ll need to buy both the IF-10D and the IF-232 unit, neither of which is any longer available new. You can sometimes find them used on eBay or some such place. Even PIEXX, usually a dependable source for these kinds of things, does not make them. At present, I do not have direct experience computer controlling this rig.
This section is still a work in progress.
It will be complete after I have found an IF-10D
Technically, 6 meter (50MHz - 54MHz) is a VHF band. Even so, it has many characteristics of an HF band. In many ways, this puts it in the same transition category as 10 meter (28 MHz), which is technically an HF band, but has some characteristics of VHF. Repeaters are nonexistent on HF bands, but quite common on VHF and UHF. All repeaters are FM mode. I invite correction from radio operators out there; but I am unaware of any AM or SSB repeaters, or of any on HF. The reason for this runs at the heart of what a repeater is used for. Repeaters are for dependable local communication in FM mode. SSB and Am are generally used through horizontal antennas, depend upon skywave, and are used for intermittent long distance communications.
Repeaters are few and far between for six meter. In the Milwaukee area, I am only aware of one, with perhaps four or five in the SE Wisconsin/NE Illinois area. I can not hit any of them while mobile, and can only hit them during base operation, when I am lucky or when conditions are particularly good. Though I have made contacts on 6 meter DX, I have yet to come across any local activity on any of our repeaters. This may explain their scarcity. It is expensive to set up a repeater, and a lower frequency repeater would be ever more expensive due to the larger antennas.