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The August 1994 issue of Six News
Thanks to all of our authors since 1982!


Six Metre Tranceivers - by Emil Pocock, W3EP


Many band watchers have attributed the recent explosion in world-wide six-metre activity in large part to the variety of high quality transceivers that have become available in recent years. HF rigs with six metre capabilities are especially attractive. They typically include the 160 to 10-metre bands, a selection of intermediate frequency (IF) filters, band-pass tuning, digital signal processing, dual VFOs, memories, band scanning, and many other features formerly found only in the best HF-only equipment. The newest transceiver sensations, led by the phenomenally successful IC-706 and its successor models, offer all these innovations, plus one or two additional VHF bands, in an attractive compact package. Getting on six metres has never been easier or more fun. See Table 2, at the end of this article, for a complete list of six metre SSB/CW transceivers.
The Gonset 6-Meter Communicator was one of the earliest and most successful portable transceivers for 50 MHz during the 1950s. Shown here is an original "Gooney Box," as they were nicknamed due to their ungainly appearance. It had a dual conversion superhet receiver and 2E26 valve that provided 10W output using crystal control. It cost $230 in 1955. The Communicators went through four models, culminating in the sleek profile Model IV in 1961, with improved receiver and higher power output. 
[QST October 1955]


Six metre AM/CW Rigs (1955-1966)

Six-metre transceivers are not new, of course. Prior to the late 1980s, the market for six metre equipment was largely limited to the countries of the Americas (especially the United States) and Japan, where the band had been available to radio amateurs since the late-1940s. Virtually all the mass-market transceivers prior to 1970 were US-made, beginning with the Gonset Communicator, introduced in 1955. This was a portable valve-type AM/CW rig with a five-watt crystal-controlled transmitter, packaged in an ungainly box with a handle on top. Nick-named the Gooney Box, the popular Communicators went through four model revisions through the 1960s. The model IV had significantly improved electronics and the case was slimmed down to give it a more modern appearance.

US manufacturers produced at least a dozen other six metre only AM/CW valve-type transceivers prior to 1969, many of which are listed overleaf in Table 1. They ranged from the inexpensive and immensely popular Heath Sixer in kit form, which used a simple regenerative receiver and five watt crystal controlled transmitter, to the Clegg Thor VI and Gonset G-50, which offered a VFO, superheterodyne receiver, and 50 watts of transmitting power.

One of the most popular six-metre rigs of the 1960s was the Heathkit Sixer. Its most attractive feature was the cost-just $45 in kit form. The Sixer featured a 5-Watt crystal controlled AM/CW transmitter and a regenerative receiver. The receiver was sensitive enough, but you could only hear one signal at a time! [QST May 1961]

These early transceivers provided an easy way to get on the band for every budget. They were generally smaller and more convenient than the separate receivers and transmitters that were the mainstay of the HF bands at the time. Much of the six-metre activity in the US during the late 1950s and 1960s was fuelled by these pioneer transceivers.

Although these rigs were a popular way to get on the band, they had a number of limitations, most notably poor receivers, crystal-controlled transmitters, and low power output. Many serious operators preferred to build state-of-the-art receive converters for their general coverage receivers and separate six metre transmitters. Nearly a dozen US manufacturers, including Collins, Johnson, Hallicrafter, Hammarlund, Parks, Tapetone, Clegg, RME, Ameco, Globe, and Lettine also offered ready-built converters and transverters for use with HF equipment.

The Clegg 99er boasted a dual conversion superhet receiver with noise blanker and an 8-Watt crystal controlled AM/CW transmitter, using 9 valves. It cost $140 in 1961. [QST November 1961]


Table 1: Some Early AM/CW six metre Transceivers.

This table includes most of the popular six metre AM/CW transceivers available on the US market during the 1950 to 1970 period, but there may have been several others.

Note: All valve-type, crystal controlled, unless VFO noted. 

Year Manufacturer Model Notes
1966 Clegg 66er 5W
1966 Knight Kit TR-106 5W
1965 Hallicrafter SR-46 10W
1963 Whippany Labs Li’l Lulu 8W, RX/TX pair, VFO
1962 Clegg Thor VI 50W, 50/144 MHz, VFO
1962 Gonset G76 50W, +HF
1961 Clegg 99er 8W,
1961 Poly-Comm 62B 10W, 50/144 MHz, VFO
1961 Lafayette HE45 5W
1960 Solar System VI 2W, VFO
1959 Heath HW-29 Sixer 5W , regenerative receiver
1958 Hallicrafter SR-34 50/144 MHz,
1958 Gonset G50 50W, VFO
1955 Gonset Communicator 10W, later II, III, and IV models

Valve-Type SSB/CW Rigs (1963-1970)

A great leap forward took place during the early 1960s, when several US companies introduced modern VFO-controlled single-sideband rigs with as much as 100 W output. The Heath SB-110 (1965) was the first to include these features in a kit form. Also popular was the Swan 250 (1967) and its variants. Savvy VHF operators considered the Drake TR-6 (1970), especially with its optional noise blanker, the best six metre transceiver then available.

The reign of the valve-type SSB rigs was short lived. By the mid-1970s, modern transistorised transceivers for six metres had made their appearance and quickly displaced the older rigs. Even so, many of these venerable valve-based transceivers are still on the air and can often be found for sale in American flea markets and rallies.

Many operators considered the Drake TR-6 the best 6-metre transceiver of its era. It included many of the latest features, including SSB/AM/CW capabilities, a stable VFO, effective optional noise blanker, and VOX, in a package that used 19 valves, 10 transistors, and 12 diodes. The transmitter put out 300 CW using three 6JB6 valves. The 1969 price was $600, relatively high for the time. [QST July 1969]

First Transistorised Rigs (1976-1980)

US radio manufacturers were slow to make the transition to solid-state equipment. As a consequence, they were eclipsed by the innovations of the Japanese big three: Yaesu, Kenwood, and ICOM. The breakthrough came in 1976, when Yaesu introduced the FT-620B, the first mass produced all-transistor six metre transceiver. The two other Japanese radio companies soon followed with their own 10-Watt, six metre, solid-state rigs, including the TS-600 (1977) and the IC-551 (1979), the latter with a digital frequency readout. These were smaller, lighter, and more convenient than their valve cousins and worked directly from 12-volt DC sources, making then ideal for mobile and portable operation.

The IC-502 (1977) was the first of a breed of completely self-contained, portable, SSB/CW rigs. With a strap to sling over one shoulder and the internal whip antenna extended, it was possible to make E-skip contacts 1000 miles away while strolling down the road. The IC-502 is still in big demand on the used market, perhaps because no other rig was so simple and lightweight. It was followed by more elaborate, higher power, and thus heavier portables, such as the FT-680R, FT-690R and IC-505.

The Swan 250C was a sophisticated valve-type SSB/CW transceiver. It boasted such modern features as a VFO, crystal filters, and 180W output, and cost $430 in 1972. Swan offered a companion KW linear amplifier, the Mark 6B, for $600. [QST June 1972]

Multi-band Transceivers (1981-1989)

The Japanese six metre transceivers of the 1980s offered a variety of new features, including selected HF and VHF bands, expanded receiver coverage, memories, and scanning features. The TS-660 (1981), for example, spanned the 15, 12, and 10 metre bands in addition to six metres. The TS-680S (1988) was probably the first to have full coverage of all the HF bands plus six metres. The FT-726R (1983) went in the other direction by offering a choice of several higher VHF band options via plug-in modules. The IC-575A (1987) received outside the ham bands in the 30 to 50 MHz range, a boon to those who followed the MUF upward in frequency or used television signals in the 48- and 49-MHz range as early warning beacons.

Modern Solid-State Rigs (1991-1999)

Six manufacturers introduced more than a dozen new transceivers with six-metre capabilities during the 1990s, more than any previous decade. This no doubt reflected several trends. There was a rapid expansion of activity in Europe, where the band was still a novelty and demand for rigs was high. Operators wanted better performance from their six metre equipment, akin to the best HF-only transceivers. Most often faulted was the receiver selectivity and dynamic range. Greater transmitter power was also desirable, especially as many European countries began raising earlier power restrictions.

The most recent rigs offer a dizzying array of features, which have become the expected standard in a modern transceiver. These include coverage of all the HF bands, six metres, plus two metres; 100 Watts of transmitter power; wide receiver range above and below the six metre band; a good selection of IF filters; adjustable pass-band filter; digital signal processing; and ample memories and flexible scanning facilities. Several of the newest rigs have all these conveniences and more, such as electronic keyers, antenna tuners, monitor scopes, and dual frequency monitoring.

The new compact rigs, which include many of these features in an incredibly small package, have made the biggest stir. Indeed, some observers have already termed the boom in six metre activity the ‘706 phenomenon’, in recognition of the incredible popularity of the ICOM IC-706 (1995) and its successors. Other manufactures quickly brought out with their own compact, HF plus six metre rigs. They are the Alinco DX-70T (1995), the first US-built six metre transceiver since the 1970s, and the Yaesu FT-100 (1999), which also included two metres and 70 cm. Kenwood had introduced the compact six metre only TS-60S in 1994, but has yet to contribute to the coterie of compact HF plus VHF rigs.

Table 2: Six-Metre SSB/CW Transceivers

Manufacturer  Model Year  Size  Other Receive 50MHz      QST       RadCom  SixNews 
Bands 30+ MHz TX Watts 
ICOM IC-756 PRO 2000 F HF 30-60 1000 00 Mar
Yaesu FT-100 1999 C HF, 2, .7 76-108 100 99 June 99 June
ICOM TS-706-IIG 1999 C HF, 2, .7 30-200 100 99 July 97 June
Yaesu FT-847 1998 F HF, 2, .7 36-76 100 98 Aug 98 Aug
ICOM IC-746 1998 F HF, 2 30-57 100 98 Sept 98 May
ICOM TS-706-II 1997 C HF, 2 30-200 100 98 Jan 97 June
Yaesu FT-920 1997 F HF 48-56 100 97 Oct 97 Aug 98 Feb #56
ICOM IC-756 1997 F HF 30-60 100 97 May 97 May 97 Aug #54
Kenwood TS-570S 1997 F HF 30-60 100 99 May
Alinco DX-70TH 1997 C HF 50-54 100 99 Aug
MFJ 9406 1995 P 50-50.3 10 96 Oct
ICOM TS-706 1995 C HF, 2 30-150+ 100 96 Mar 95 Nov 95 Aug #46
Alinco DX-70T 1995 C HF 50-54 10 95 Dec 95 Aug
Jap Radio JST-245 1994 F HF 30-54 150 95 Sept 97 Oct
ICOM IC-736 1994 F HF 46-61 100 95 May 95 May 96 Nov #51
Kenwood TS-60S 1994 C 40-60 90 94 Sep 94 Aug 94 July #42
ICOM IC-729 1992 F HF 46-61 10 93 Feb 93 Apr
Kenwood TS-690S 1991 F HF 45-60 50 92 April 92 Nov 93 Jan #36
Yaesu FT-650 1991 F 12, 10 30-56 80 91 Oct 91 Jul #30
ICOM IC-726 1989 F HF 46-61 10 90 Feb
ICOM IC-575H 1989 F 12, 10 30-56 100
Kenwood TS-680S 1988 F HF 50-54 10 88 Oct 89 Mar
ICOM IC-575A 1987 F 12, 10 30-56 25 88 Nov
Yaesu FT-736R 1987 F V/UHF* 50-54 10 90 May
Yaesu FT-690R II 1987 P 50-54 10 87 Oct
Kenwood TS-670 1985 F 40,15,10 50-54 10
Yaesu FT-726R 1983 F V/UHF* 50-54 10 84 May
ICOM IC-505 1982 P 50-54 10 87 Oct
Yaesu FT-690R 1981 P 50-54 3
ICOM IC-560 1981 C 50-54 10
Kenwood TS-660 1981 F 15,12,10 50-54 10
Yaesu FT-680R 1980 P 50-54 10 82 Aug
ICOM IC-551D 1980 F 50-54 80
Yaesu FT-625RD 1979 F 50-54 10
ICOM IC-551 1979 F 50-54 10 81 June
KLM 661 1977 F 50-54 10
Kenwood TS-600 1977 F 50-54 20
ICOM IC-502 1977 P 50-50.5 3
Yaesu FT-620B 1976 F 50-54 10
Drake TR-6 1970 FT 50-54 100 70 July
Swan 250/C 1967 FT 50-54 100
Heath SB-110 1965 FT 50-54 100 66 Feb
Gonset 910A 1964 FT 50-54 10 65 Aug
Clegg Venus 1963 FT 50-50.5 50 64 Sept

Reasonable efforts have been made to insure completeness and accuracy, but there may be some small errors. 

Year: refers to the approximate year the transceiver appeared on the market in the US or UK. 

Size: F (full sized for home use); C (compact for home or mobile); P (portable, with internal batteries); FT (full-size with vacuum tubes)

* FT-726 and FT-736 can be fitted with up to four VHF and UHF band modules for 50, 144, 222, 432, and 1296 MHz.

What Next?

The era of the single-band six metre transceiver has probably come to an end. Innovations in the next generation of six metre rigs will undoubtedly be subsumed by technological developments in communications equipment generally. Transceivers of the future will simply include six metres as part of a standard coverage that will extend from 1.8 MHz into the UHF range. They will no longer be stand-alone radios with dedicated electronics, but rather extensions of personal computers. A plug-in board will take care of the receive signal-to-digital conversions, but the computer will handle all of the low-level digital processing on both receive and transmit. Only the high-power transmit functions will be housed in a separate attached box. Upgrading may require nothing more than buying a new computer program. Automatic signal processing and filtering, visual tuning and band scanning, built-in digital modes, and other as yet unimagined features are likely to be fully integrated into the six metre rigs of the next century.

UKSMG Six News issue 65, May 2000


the early history of 6m
six in fifty-seven

down memory lane
6m history
6m history, G6DH
50yrs of 50megs pt1
50yrs of 50megs pt2
50yrs of 50megs pt3
50yrs of 50megs pt4