August 16, 2015

Program that HT and get on the air!

An amateur radio HT or handy talkie isn't of much use if you don't use it.  Perhaps it could be an unusual paperweight or interesting desk ornament.  They do look nice sitting on the desk in the shack in a sad inert, powered off, dust-collecting way.  Our two Kenwood TH-F6A HTs were mostly idle due to having relocated across the country to California.

The radio memories had been programmed chock-full-o-stations located on the East Coast (New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, and the Eastern Seaboard).  None of the repeaters in the radio memory were accessible from California.  Lack of useful programming was main reason our HTs weren't getting used.  Turn on the radio and there was simply no way to contact anyone other than via simplex communication.

The Kenwood TH-F6A is a compact and very capable radio.  It transmits 5W on 144/220/440 MHz and includes a wide-band receiver.  You can really pack the radio's memory with stations given its 435 PC programmable memories.  The radio has all kinds of really great features, and it has been reliable since purchased back in 2007.
Kenwood TH-F6A HT (Handy-Talkie)

We decided it was time to get our Kenwood TH-F6A radios back on the air and that meant reprogramming them with California stations.  The first thing we needed to do was to locate the radio's programming cable.  If you have ever moved, then you know how much fun it can be to locate a particular item in the new home.  The memory of where it was located at the old residence is usually vivid and the location in the new home tends to be a mystery.  Is it still in a box or in some drawer or perhaps in the attic?  After much searching in all the wrong places we found the cable logically stored on a desk near the computer.

TH-F6A Programming Cable

Lesson learned: always start the search with the most logical place to store the item.

The next step was to load the latest version of the free Kenwood programming software (MCP-F6F7) onto the PC.  This was very easy since the software is available for download on the Kenwood website.

Whenever reprogramming a radio, we always make a backup of the radio's memory first.  You never know when you may need to reference or revert to an earlier memory configuration.  This is very easy with the Kenwood MCP-F6F7 software.  We simply connected the radio to the cable and the cable to the computer and then read the radio's memory (from the menu: Radio --> Read --> All).  Once you have read the memory contents save it as a file on the PC (from the menu: File --> Save-As).

Our next step was to delete all of the undesired East-Coast stations from the memory we just read into the Kenwood MCP-F6F7 software.  It is much easier to delete the stations using the PC software than directly on the radio.  Just click on the memory item then right click and select, "delete" from the from the pop-up menu.  Memory items can only be deleted one memory at a time which worked fine.  It would be nice if you could select and delete a range of memories.  C'est la vie.

Once we had cleaned up our memory, we then resorted the remaining memories by name to organize them and make them contiguous from memory 1 (menu option: Edit --> Memory channel Sort --> Memory Name).  This provides a nice clean set of memories to program in the software.

The next step was to locate California area repeaters on the three bands that the TH-F6A can operate on (144/220/440 MHz).  There are a variety of repeater reference guides available.  We use the website and iPhone app.  The iPhone app is quite handy since it works with or without an Internet connection.  RepeaterBook allows you to search on wide area coverage repeaters.  These are particular useful repeaters, so we targeted these specifically.

Using we searched for repeaters in various areas that we frequent or intend to visit and programmed them each into the Kenwood MCP-F6F7 PC software.  This is really easy to do by double clicking on an empty memory and then filling out a simple form.

MCP-F6F7 PC Software - adding a repeater to memory

The TH-F6A has an LCD screen and allows for station memories to be named.  This is helpful though the real estate for a memory name is limited to eight characters.  Making eight characters understandable requires creativity.  A number of years ago, we came up with a coding standard for our station memories that is surprisingly simple and effective.  After programming, we handed the HT over to another local ham who was able to scroll through the memories and translate (name and city) all but one.
  • 2-digit state code (e.g., CA - California)
  • Use a capital letter to indicate the start of a new word
  • Eliminate vowels since it is proven that people can read most words effectively without them
  • Numerous California cities begin with the word, "San" so abbreviate this to a single letter "S"
  • In this example, "CASFrncs" denotes California, San Francisco
We were rewarded for several hours of station searching and programming with a nice long list of California repeater programmed into the MCP-F6F7 Software.  After programming, we sorted the list again by name so that all memories would be organized logically (menu path: Edit --> Memory channel Sort --> Memory Name).  We then saved the programming on the local PC under a different file name than our backup.  We use a simple and effective file naming convention to organize our files.  Each file name includes:

  • Name of the radio
  • State or location
  • Version (we only use this if there are several versions on a given day)

Applying this naming convention we named our file, "20150815 TH-F6A CA".  A little forethought saves time down the road.

The next step was to load the programming from the Kenwood MCP-F6F7 PC software to the radio.  Turn off the radio before plugging in (or removing) the cable to avoid damaging the radio (power is present on some of the jack connections).  Once the cable is connected to both the radio and computer, turn on the radio.

On the radio, use the menu to find the parameter, "SP/MIC Jack9" and set it to, "PC".  Exit the menu on the radio.

Next, from the Kenwood MCP-F6F7 PC Software select the menu option, Radio --> Write --> Memory.  This will initiate uploading the memories to the radio.  If you get a "Communication Timeout Error" then check your COM port settings on your PC.  The following settings generally work:
  • 9600 Baud Rate
  • 8 Data bit Rate  
  • None Parity
  • 1 Stop Bits
  • Xon/Xoff Flow Control
If you receive an error message, "The radio is invalid please check and try again" then check your cable connection into the radio.  We found that our cheap cable was a little finicky on one of our TH-F6A radios but not the other.  If we angled the connector out at the top a tiny bit it would work better than when fully inserted.  Results may vary.  Remember to power down the radio before inserting or removing the connector.

We gave both newly programmed TH-F6A radios a good testing on our local repeater by cruising around the area on a motorcycle with our HT to see if we could maintain contact through the repeater at various locations.  For safety purposes, we would stop and park the motorcycle before attempting the contact.  Test results:
  • Home - full quieting
  • Local grocery store - full quieting
  • State Park Entrance nearby - full quieting
  • End of the road in the State Park - DEAD SPOT - no area repeaters could be reached and no mobile phone service
  • Fruit stand in neighboring village 17 miles away - full quieting - a happy surprise
2003 Suzuki VL800

We had a lot of fun with our motorcycling HT/repeater coverage test.  We were very pleased to find excellent local repeater coverage at each destination with only one dead spot on the trip.  Most of all, we were thrilled to have our two HT's returned to full operating status instead of sad (though cool looking) inert dust collectors.

Do you have an inert dust collector HT on your desk?  If yes, we hope we have inspired you to take action - charged it up, program it, and get back on the air.  We look forward to our next contact with you either on an HT (or the HF bands).

Good DX and 73, NJ2X


David Bruner said...

NJ2X, I'll bet you saved lots East coast channels. But do you still have any of them? I just got a used F6a, still learning the ropes. I live in upstate Kingston, NY, so maybe some or eventually many of them would be fun to check out.


David at KD2KMD

David Bruner said...

Hello NJ2X,
Did you keep any of the channel backups from from your days back East?

Just got me a used F6a, a transfer cable to hook it up to me laptop and the MCP-F6F7 installed and ready to go. I'd love to have my way with your channel data if you do!

If not that's OK, at our next club (Overlook Mountain A.R.C) meeting there will be an F6 there.

Anyways, thanks for your helpful website and your ideas!

Just in case you might have a saved file, My email address is:


P.S. Just got 28" of snow on Monday...

NJ2X said...

Hi David,

Thank you for asking. Yes, I do have my old TH-F6A memory bank files and I am happy to share them with you.