Kenwood TH-F6A Handie-Talkie

This Kenwood TH-F6A HT came to live with me last week. I am learning how to use it and it is proving to be a great little radio.

My first radio was a BTECH UV-5×3, a slightly rebranded Baofeng radio. I bought it before my license was granted so I could learn how to program the memories and listen to traffic on the local repeaters.

The UV-5×3 is neither a bad radio nor a good radio. They got a bad rap because they are not expensive (less that $100, but not nearly as cheap as the UV-5R), so unlicensed individuals bought them and operated illegally. Furthermore, as they came from the factory they would transmit outside the amateur bands. And finally, they are not as pure spectrally as they should be to comply with FCC regulations. That is, the harmonics off the transmitting frequency are not suppressed sufficiently.

Although the last statement is true, things are not quite that simple. So, those disparaging those radios ignore the fact that those spurious emissions are not strong signals. The radio only makes about five watts. So those “spurs” are less than a milliwatt. It is unlikely that they will cause problems, even if outside of the regulations.

All that said, for a new ham or as a backup HT, these inexpensive (cheap) Chinese radios are not bad. Experience needs time and practice to develop. With experience, every operator learns more about the equipment and what they want to accomplish with that equipment.

A few months after receiving my grant (my license), I was at breakfast with a group of hams. One of them brought in a small plastic security box. In it was a Kenwood TH-D7A(G). This is an HT from more than 20 years ago. He had a number of accessories for it and the asking price was reasonable. The other hams all looked at the radio. When it came my turn, I had already looked it up on the Internet (using my iPhone) and knew it was a solid radio. I asked him “What do you want for it?”

He thought for a moment, then said “How about 350 bucks?”

“Make it $300 and I’ll take it.”

“Done.” So I bought my first brand-name HT. I knew I wanted a better radio than the BTECH. I also knew I did not want to buy a top-shelf radio with a lot of features (such as digital voice modes) without more experience. So the Kenwood was in that sweet spot as far as technology goes.

What I learned is that the audio output of the Kenwood is in best-of-class. The radio is relatively easy to program from the front panel. It has two receivers so two frequencies could be monitored. It has other features that I never used.

The principal drawbacks of the TH-D7A(G) are: 1) It is a large, heavy HT and 2) it requires 19VDC to operate the charger and 3) the battery cannot be charged through the radio. The former made it too heavy to carry in my pocket. A belt clip does not work for me because I often carry a pack in the field. Plus I find an antenna tapping me on the side or back annoying.

I also do a lot of portable operating. I dry camp out in the public lands for fun and for special radio events. I love it out in the desert, especially with friends sharing the campsite and the fellowship that comes with that. I could make 120VAC with an inverter (and keep one in the rig), but it is another piece of equipment to handle and another possible point of failure.

Eventually, I decided I wanted a newer radio. As I read about the Kenwood radios, I learned that Kenwood added a general coverage receiver to their HTs (although it requires an external antenna) that will receive the AM broadcast band and the HF amateur bands, plus the shortwave listening bands. Kenwood also added the 1.25m amateur band to their HT line and eventually added APRS and D-STAR modes.

I still have no use for those modes, but am interested in the 1.25m band (around 220MHz). I am also interested in a smaller radio that will charge from the station power supply. What I found is that the Kenwood TH-F6A is a smaller radio, has the three bands, has a general coverage receiver that will decode AM, SSB, and CW, and will charge from the station power supply (it uses a lithium-ion battery).

Later models introduced those features I still do not care about. Plus, they are more expensive. The current top-line radio is the TH-D74A. It is a lot of radio. Because of the semiconductor shortage and the high demand for radios, they are scarce as hen’s teeth.

I started watching for Kenwood radios on fleaBay. When available, asking price for the D74A radios was north of $750US. I saw them selling for upwards of $1,000US. For that price, a capable HF radio can be bought. I just thought it was ridiculous for me to think about one of these radios and the feature set given where I am and how I operate a HT.

I found the older TH-F6A radio has those features I want. It is a tri-band radio with a general coverage receiver. I also found it has the NOAA weather radio frequencies pre-programmed into it (just like my mobile radio, also a Kenwood). This is a great feature when out of cellular coverage. And it will charge the battery in the radio with a station power supply. That means I could charge it from my LFP batteries when operating portable or dry camping.

Finally, because it is an older radio, the selling prices are much lower than the current offerings. I watched fleaBay for awhile and saw a couple of nice outfits sell for $350–$500US. The latter had almost everything one might want and I regret (slightly) not buying it outright. I finally bought on for about $200US plus shipping.

It arrived last week. The programming cable for my BTECH will allow me to connect the radio to my computer. CHIRP (a freely available software for programming HTs) allows programming the memory of the radio. It charges the battery from main power with the battery attached to the radio (it has an internal battery charger). I have a spare battery (cheap Chinese) and charger. The latter will run of station power.

The TH-F6A is relatively easy to program from the front panel. Operation is similar to my experience with the TH-D7A(G) and the audio quality appears to be just as good. The little radio is a chunk, but can be carried in a cargo pocket. It fits into the top pocket of my Osprey pack with the antenna sticking out above my head. Carried this way, the antenna does not tap on the brim of my hat. (That is extremely annoying to me!)

With a week of experience with this radio, I am already pleased with my purchase. The Kenwood speaker/mike works perfectly with the radio. I clip the speaker/mike to the sternum strap of my pack. I have some things to learn about operating the radio (there are features I have not explored), but I can already tell this was a good upgrade for me. My couple of years of experience since my first Kenwood HT purchase gave me some insight into how I want to use a handheld (I use one quite a lot, really) and what features I require in a handheld.

I ordered a new cover for the right-side ports and a new glass for the LCD. The former was missing (very common) and the latter will replace the existing glass. It has a few scratches on it. I will replace them when the parts arrive.

I will enjoy learning to use this new-to-me radio. I think it is a good move for me. Soon I will offer the older TH-D7A(G) radios for sale. (I have two of them. One served as the mobile radio in my 4Runner for a year or more.) I will likely pick up a second TH-F6A as a backup radio, although I always have the BTECH UV-5×3 as a fallback.

Here is what I think:

  • It is a tri-band radio, 2m, 1.25m, and 70cm.
  • It has a general coverage receiver and will receive AM, SSB, and CW as well as FM.
  • It has the NOAA WX channels pre-programmed for those times when I am out of cell service.
  • It uses a lithium-ion battery, which makes the radio smaller without sacrificing operating time.
  • That lithium-ion battery can be charged from the station power supply (13.8VDC).
  • It is relatively easy to program from the front panel and CHIRP supports the radio.

In short, the features of this radio punches the items on my list that are important to me. These are things I learned over the last couple of years of operating. The 1.25m band is nice, but not a requirement. I am interested in learning more about that band. We (amateur radio operators) need to use the allocation or we will lose it.

Aside: I kept the UV-5×3 in part as a backup, but more to be used as a loaner for new hams who do not have a radio. It has gotten service in several new-ham workshops over the last couple of years.