|Back to Ham||Back to Shack||Back to Home|
Cherokee had a brief but bright moment on the American ham radio and CB scenes, back in the nineties. They were mostly known for their excellent CB radio gear, including the AH-100, one of the only SSB capable CB walkie talkies ever made. Cherokee featured a line of full sized handheld radios which were marketed in the USA by Wireless Marketing Corp of Illinois. These radios were the AH-27 (CB), AH-27f (CB with frequency display), AH-100 (SSB CB), and the AH-50 (6 meter) which happens to be the model described here. There are also rumors of a ten meter version, and numerous mods on the web showing how to convert a CB model to 10 meter (including up to 400 channels of coverage). There were additionally some CB base stations and mobiles sold under the Cherokee name. All of these radios were produced in Korea, to be marketed in America.
These radios were marketed by Wireless Marketing Corp. of Illinois. This company was started by former Cobra Electronics marketing and sales vice president Doug Marrison. His connections with Cobra marketing allowed him access to the same suppliers and manufactures which made the Cobra radios, and supplied so many other American retailers.
Upon its introduction in 1995, the AH-50 was promoted as the smallest 6 meter radio made. This distinction, if true, did not last long, as a number of small light VHF radios were soon to be introduced by the major electronics companies. The radio itself, separated from its battery, is quite small, being similar in size to the tiny Radio Shack HTX-200, and HTX-400 units. Had the AH-50 been designed with a small battery compartment, as was possible, it could have been made quite small. The large battery pack is a consequence of the desire to have the radio put out a reasonable amount of power (5 watts, with a 1 watt low power setting), and have the flexibility of rechargeable packs, and long battery life. So the path was taken of producing a full sized full featured radio. Still, the AH-50 remains a unique radio.
The 6 meter AH-50 covers the 50 - 54 MHz band, in 5 or 10 KHz steps. This is an FM only radio, and is capable of duplex operation, and tone generation for repeater use. There are only five memories available; but sadly, this is more than enough in most areas. Six meter repeaters are not exactly common.
Repeater split settings are limited to plus or minus 1 MHz and 500 KHz. The newer SF model AH-50 can select splits in 100 KHz steps. A selection of sub-audible tones are available, for transmit or receive. There is no way I have discovered of manually setting the repeater split to any other settings, but the included settings are standard in most areas.
The front display is of the LCD type, typical of the era. It displays frequency, transmit or receive power levels (using a 15 segment S/RF display), transmit power setting, and current memory information. It also indicates tone, and offset, during repeater operation. The display can be lit by depressing the lamp button on the side of the unit. it will also warn of a low battery, and indicate if the presently tuned frequency is busy. A power saving mode is incorporated into the radio.
The radio has no keypad, and frequencies are selected by using up and down buttons located on the side, above the transmit switch. Located below this, is the release for the battery pack. Available in place of the battery pack is a battery eliminator, a charger adapter, or a car adapter. The car adapter not only adapts the radio to work off of a cigarette lighter, but also adapts the unit to work off of a standard PL-239 antenna connector.
The AH-50 can scan either the memory locations, or the band as a whole. There is no provision for partial band scanning, but the scan rate is quick enough that this may not be too much of a concern. An entire band scan takes about 45 seconds. Scanning is controlled by the front panel scan button.
The top panel contains the squelch, and volume controls. It also has the BNC connector, and a protected connector for an external speaker/microphone. The volume control also turns the unit on. The BNC connector is disabled when the car adapter is used.
New, these units listed for about $400, and generally sold for around half of that. I picked mine up on eBay for about $75. The unit I bought was essentially new. The ten year old plus battery pack held a nice charge, and gave me a couple of days of use, with occasional transmitting. The unit was still in the original box, and even had the protective film covering over the display. The manual appeared to be unread, and there was not a sign of scuff or scratch anywhere on the radio, as can be seen in the photos. Wonderful!
Six meter, along with ten meter, are sort of lost between the long range HF world, and the more local VHF world. Like the HF 10 meter band, 6 meter is an in between band. It is often classified as an HF band and is included on may HF radios these days, though it is technically above 30 MHz and thus in the VHF part of the radio spectrum. This gives it some interesting propagation qualities, and permits its use on FM, as well as the more common (on the HF bands) SSB and AM. use of FM emissions on the lower frequencies is impractical, sometimes impossible, and usually not permitted by law. Though FM has many advantages, its use of bandwidth restricts it to the higher frequencies.
Because six meter permits use of FM emission on what was in many ways an HF band, it has many unique qualities which caused it to be nicknamed The Magic Band. Imagine making contacts at hundreds or even thousands of miles, on clear FM voice, with no need to copy CW or adjust a BFO or clarifier on SSB. When the band is open, you can make some great contacts, even with a small handheld unit. Compared to the huge antennas required for HF transmissions, six meter has a quarter wave length of 4.5 feet, making the standard rubber antenna efficient enough even for long range use. An interesting bit of trivia is that the six meter band is the original television channel one, that was missing from several generations of analog television sets.
As this is an FM only transceiver, it will most often be used duplex with repeaters. Like most of the operation of the radio, setting the repeater configuration is pretty simple. Hitting the F button on the bulge to the side of the display, puts the unit in memory mode. Hitting the lamp button, or one of the black buttons below the display selects the memory. Setting the memories is done by holding the F button down while hitting one of the memory location buttons at the same time. Compared to configuring most of the current crop of computer controlled wonder radios, this is pretty easy.
The bottom of the radio contains the connector and rails for the battery pack or for a battery eliminator or a car adapter. The spring loaded power leads are easily recognizable, but are not the only connectors at this location. Also here is an antenna lead, which disables the top mounted BNC antenna and operates the radio through a standard PL-239 connector. though Cherokee is no longer selling radios, the car adapters and many different battery packs and accessories are still being made by the original manufacturer.
The radio included a rechargeable battery with a wall charger. It also included a 52 MHz flexible antenna, and a charger adapter. The charger adapter is kind of a neat accessory. It permits charging and using the radio while connected to the wall charger. Other accessories were available, including a car adapter, a drop in charger, a 28" antenna, and an external speaker/microphone. There were also additional battery pack options available, including a standard alkaline pack. Though it may seem that a radio that has been out of production for ten years would have few available accessories, this is not the case for the Cherokee.
All of the Cherokee hand held radios were built to a certain design, and shared accessories. Thus the battery packs and all accessories will interchange between models. By far the most popular of these were the AH-27 and AH-27f CB radios. Accessories for these are much easier to find, and will fit the AH-50 perfectly, though the battery packs will be marked AH-27, rather than AH-50. There are also some other options available.
The Midland 75-822 (and 75-820) is very similar to the AH-27 model, and is produced by the same factories that produced the Cherokee radios, and certain radios for Cobra, Standard, Maycom, and Radio Shack as well as some others. Because of this, a number of accessories, including the car adapter, and most of the battery packs will fit all of these models across models and brands.
The standard BNC connector means that pretty much any regular VHF antenna will fit. Though the display and other functions do not work, I was able to use the Yaesu external speaker/microphone from my FT-530 radio, on the Cherokee unit. The photo to the right shows the unit completely decked out, with the charging adapter, and external microphone.
In use, the radio is simple and quite a bit of fun. It is a bit like a CB walkie talkie. In truth, the power (5 watts) and frequency are not too far off from those on the typical CB unit. With the AC power adapter connected, and the scan feature enabled, it is easy enough to sit at my computer and wait for a contact on the little radio. I have another six meter radio, set up as a base, and may use the two in tandem.
Connected through the car adapter, and using a six meter antenna, this makes a great mobile unit. I also sometimes use it as a part of what I call my little shack, which is a collection of handheld radios that I sit next to my bed and run off of AC adapters.
Transmit, (max, high power), »900 mA.
Size (HWD); 5.1´2.1´1.3 in; weight 14 oz.
FM sensitivity, 12 dB SINAD: 0.3 mV. For 12 dB SINAD: 0.28 mV.
Two-tone, third-order dynamic range: 20 kHz offset, 55 dB; 10 MHz, offset, 91 dB
Adjacent channel rejection: 20 kHz offset, 61 dB.
IF rejection, 108 dB; image rejection, 83 dB.
Squelch sensitivity: At threshold, 0.15 mV.
S-meter sensitivity: S9=4.5 mV.
Audio output: 400 mW (distortion and load 661 mW at 10% THD into 8 W).
Power output (H/L): 5 W / 1.0 W with NP-126, 6.2 W / 1.2 W with NP-126 12.0-V battery pack;
12.0-V battery pack; with external supply, 6.2 W / 1.2 W at 12.0 V dc.
Spurious signal and harmonic suppression: 57 dB
Physically, the radio is sturdy, and solid. It is built and configured like a professional grade radio, and has a full range of options and accessories. I have gotten good reports off the air, from operators who were surprised to hear that I was running a handheld.
Audio is loud, and reception is clean. I rarely have trouble copying audio, even outside. I occasionally use an external speaker/microphone, which is a handy thing to have sometimes, when using a full sized radio.
I have not yet made any DX contacts with this unit, but six meter has not really hit its stride, and there are still a few years left until the peak of six meter propagation. I am also not certain how many FM DXer's there are out there, but I hope to find out within the next few years.
Six meter may be the magic band, but there was little magic in evidence when I tried to conjure up some local repeaters. Outside of the legendary DX on this band, which is cyclical, much of the activity is alleged to be on FM, and is local. You really have to know the frequencies, and know the area, which I didn't. In some areas, there is very little activity on this band, with much of the local traffic being hosted on the much more popular 2 meter or even ten meter repeaters. I had so much trouble finding a repeater that I wondered if there was something wrong with the radio.
This was the one really frustrating thing that I ran into with this radio. There are not too many six meter repeaters around. They seem to be even more scarce than 70 cm repeaters. There are only four repeaters of any note in my home area of Milwaukee, and of the four, I can only hit two with any regularity, and even here, I have yet to actually talk to someone off of a six meter repeater. Still, I have programmed the repeaters shown above into the radio, and I can often hit the Chicago repeater from Milwaukee. These radios have an honest 10 - 30 mile range using regular FM line of site.
As was mentioned above, the earlier models of this radio, which includes the unit I own, were only able to program repeater splits of plus or minus 1 MHz or 500 KHz. Though these are somewhat standard, as is the 600 KHz split on two meter, they are by no means universal. This limits me a bit, in my selection of repeaters.
There also seems to be a bit less convention to the tones and splits, than is the case with 2 meter and 70 cm. On 2 meter, and 440, 127.3 seems to be the universal tone in my area. On six meter, it could be just about anything. I finally had to bite the bullet, admit my ignorance, and ask around. It didn't help, that most of the repeater lists that I could find, indicated the frequencies and splits, but made no mention of the tones needed to hit the repeater. Many of the six meter repeaters seem to be completely undocumented. Very frustrating.
It may be that the propagation characteristics of 6 meter make a repeater a bit less of a necessity than is the case with the higher frequencies. When the band is open, it is really open, with nearly continent wide uninterrupted coverage. I have gotten some pretty good local range, between my AH-50s and my Kenwood TS-60. Whatever the reason, six meter activity here is hard to find. I have asked a number of fellow hams on repeaters and in groups, and most say the same thing. Apparently, six meters is used more as a VHF band than as a marginal HF band.
You also need a pretty good antenna to work six meter repeaters. On two meter, a full quarter wave antenna is only 19" long. On six meter it is about 56" long. Shortening of the antenna can be done, but this reduces efficiency, and introduces loss. I had quite a bit of trouble hitting the local repeaters before I got myself a decent antenna. There are extra long antennas available for handhelds. it is also possible, with certain accessories, or an adapter plug, to use base or mobile antennas with these radios, as I mention below.
Magic can be capricious, and some people don't believe in it at all. Still, it is not a bad thing to have an entire band essentially to yourself. I presently have a pair of these radios, as well as a Kenwood TS-60, six meter radio which I use as a base. Through clubs, and various other means, I have met a few users of this band. Mostly these are amateurs who have HF radios with six meter added on as a sort of an extra. In contrast to the many dedicated and habitual users of two meter and ten meter, the six meter users are casual, and are generally only active on those occasions when the band opens up. When this happens, the situation is turned around, and suddenly everyone is on six meter. Even here, though, most fo these users are not available to me, as much of the long range communications attempted when the band is open is done via CW or SSB.
Still, none of this is the fault of the radio. I consider it something of a matter of pride, that I have what has become such a specialized and limited piece of gear. Who knows? maybe when two meter and ten meter get crowded, people will start coming to local FM six meter as an alternative, and more repeaters will be erected. One can hope.
Six meter would seem to lend itself to mobile use, as it is essentially halfway between the 10 meter HF band, and the two meter VHF band. Still, there are not many six meter mobile radios out there, and the few that there are cost a fair amount of money. Most six meter operators use multiband HF or VHF/UHF radios, which are not cheap. So why doesn't anyone make a reasonably priced six meter mobile? Well, Cherokee did, when it offered the mobile com accessory for its line of handhelds.
The Mobile com adapter is more than just a power adapter to connect your radio to your car's electrical system. The unit slides onto the bottom of the radio, replacing the battery pack. Two cables extend from the adapter. The first is a power connector, that plugs into a cigarette lighter (in these politically correct days, such a receptacle is known as an accessory plug). The second cable ends in a standard PL-239 connector for attachment to an antenna coax cable.
There is a connector on the bottom of the radio, near the power connectors, that mates to the adapter and permits access to the radio's antenna connection. It is a handy system, and permits the radio to be used like one of those CB units with all of the controls on the mike. Most of the cord is coiled, making it simple enough to mount the unit somewhere and access it without a tangle of cords.
Because of the Mobile-com adapter, this unit was actually my first usable six meter radio, with which I made my first six meter contacts, and hit my first six meter repeaters. I hooked an MFJ-1728 antenna up to the roof of my car, and hooked up the adapter. The ground of the car body, along with the long antenna was a huge improvement over the little duck antenna mounted on the radio. Suddenly, all of those repeaters I could not hit or even find, became accessible. Antennas make a big difference.
I spent many happy nights sitting in my car, running the battery down, while parked on a hill top hitting repeaters and making a few contacts on what I had formerly thought to be a dead band. This connector also has the advantage of working with a number of other radios, such as my midland CB's, so that leaving it mounted in the car gives me a few options. Until that happy day when I can afford an 817ND for my car, this will be my mobile six meter radio.
Though the Cherokee line has long been discontinued, Mobile com adapters are still available as accessories to the Midland series of high end CB walkie talkies (the 75-820 and 75-822 models). They may also be available for certain other radios. I suppose it would be easy enough to build something like this from scratch, but it would probably be easier (and better) to simply mount an antenna or a coax on the BNC connector at the top of the radio. The little connector mating the coax to the radio does not look very substantial, and there is only a single connection. I suspect the ground probably connects through the power connections.
As there are very few six meter radios of any kind on the market right now, and only a select few handy talkies, these radios are generating some interest. Yes, you can find triple band hand helds with six meter - if you are willing to settle for huge compromises in antenna efficiency None of these radios work worth a darn on six meter, and are mostly 2 meter/70 cm with six added as a sort of after thought), and are also willing to pay the small fortune that these radios cost. In my own case, I would rather sit in my car with my Cherokee radio, or sit at home with my Kenwood TS-60.