What’s the Frequency, Kenwood?

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Among the last changes I’m making to my Red Cross communications response guide for San Mateo County is the final touches on a recommended list of frequencies for programming into our team’s amateur radios.

Because we often need to work with government agencies (feeding operations on large fires, search and rescue operations,, and of course sheltering), we need to be able to monitor many of the public safety frequencies they operate on.

Having finalized the list, it should be a simple task to program them into my Kenwood TH-F6A transceiver, but I keep coming across frequencies that, while they are within the range the radio can receive, it simply can not be programmed for. This is a prime example of how closed-minded engineers make products hard (or impossible) to use, when they think their choices have made life easier on the poor non-engineer users. The key problem in this case is that the radio engineers decided that it should only be possible to tune in frequencies that align with the step size currently active (in VFO mode) or programmed for that memory location (in memory recall mode). When tuning freely, this is a good thing. But for it to override direct-frequency input as entered from the keypad is cruel, moronic, and should result in a lifetime ban of pizza, Twinkies, and Coke for the engineers and software programmers involved.

In a low-end single-band ham transceiver, I could find this excusable. But not in my $350, tri-band (2 m/1.25 m/70 cm) transceiver that is supposed to be able to receive just about anything from 100 kHz to 1.3 GHz (cell bands blocked, of course).

The design errors on the part of the Kenwood engineers are of not anticipating that future changes in frequency allocation may require the need to enter frequencies on non-standard steps into the radio, not comprehending that someone buying a transceiver with all-band, all-mode receive capability might naturally expect it to be able to tune in any odd frequency.

It boils down to arrogance; “I’m an engineer and I know better than some radio hobbyist what frequencies he’ll want to monitor”. This style of thinking should be excised from the product design process wherever possible.

In attempting to get these frequencies into my radio, I tried manually entering them on the radio, using Kenwood’s MCP software specific to the radio, and the aftermarket LINK700 software that supports the radio, but with a better UI than Kenwood’s.

I was unable to enter any of these frequencies:

155.7525 MHz
VCALL; the nationwide VHF public-safety interoperability calling frequency.
154.4525 MHz
VTAC-2; one of four VHF public-safety interoperability talk channels.
159.4725 MHz
VTAC-4; one of four VHF public-safety interoperability talk channels.
406.028 MHz
One of three EPIRB beach frequencies, essential for locating downed aircraft, lost hikers, and people adrift at sea.
One of three EPIRB beach frequencies, essential for locating downed aircraft, lost hikers, and people adrift at sea.

I expect to discover more frequencies in the future that this otherwise superb radio can’t monitor, but these are important enough to warrant a case of stale Twinkies being sent to Kenwood, COD.

The Kenwood software lets me enter any of these frequencies, but when saving the entry, warns me that it helpfully “rounded” it off. The LINK700 software gives me no such warning, and the result is the radio chooses its own frequency, often 10 or more MHz away, and not obviously related to the one entered. Or, sometimes, it would simply and silently leave that memory channel empty.

Author: Peter Sheerin

Peter Sheerin is best known for the decade he spent as the Technical Editor of CADENCE magazine, where he was the acknowledged expert in Computer-Aided Design hardware and software. He has a long-standing passion for improving usability of software, hardware, and everyday objects that is always interwoven in his articles. Peter is available for freelance technical writing and product reviews, and is exploring career opportunities in interaction design. His pet personal project is exploring the best ways to harmonize visual, tactile, and audible symbols for improving the effectiveness of alerting systems.

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