Yaesu FRG-9600 VHF/UHF Receiver
Awesome frequency and memory coverage in a VHF/UHF scanner receiver.
Have you wondered what goes on in the VHF/UHF portion of the radio spectrum? You've probably worked some 2 meter FM and maybe some 440 MHz stuff—but there's a lot that goes on in the world between HF and microwaves. For instance, from my location, I can tune into a series of high-flying, radar-equipped balloons used to interdict low-flying drug trafficking aircraft, stretching from Texas to California. This activily is on frequencies assigned to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). Frequencies for various other gover-ment agencies, including the FBI and the CIA, also abound in this large piece of spectrum.
Search For The Scanner
As it turns out, there are a number of multi-mode scanning receivers that cover this wide range. I asked knowledgeable friends and fellow hams about these various receivers: "How is the audio quality? What coverage does it have? How many different modes will it handle? Is it mobile/portable? How are the selectivity and the sensitivity? What are the scanning capabilities?"
For those who can afford it, the ICOM R-7000 and the R-9000 rigs may well be the way to go. I wanted something under $750, however, and found that the Yaesu FRG-9600 answers most favorably to all my questions above.
The 9600, in brief, is a multi-mode scanner covering 60 MHz through 905 MHz continuously. One feature that quickly impressed me was its keypad with 100 programmable memory channels. It may well be overkill to have this many memory channels on an HF rig covering under 30 MHz, but not so for the 9600, which accesses a chunk of spectrum over 840 MHz wide!
The 9600 doesn't have all available signal modes, but its six mode selections—FM and AM, each both narrow and wide, and SSB, both LSB and USB—will do nicely for most of the signals you'll encounter there. You can find ham communications here in all of these modes, but NBFM ("FM-narrow") is the most popular.
"FM wide" is used mainly for FM broadcasts (88-108 MHz), TV broadcasts, (scattered throughout much of the spectrum covered by the 9600), and cellular telephone transmissions (between 800-900 MHz). Be warned, however, that it is illegal to monitor cellular telephone activity! The 9600, unlike some other scanners of this range, does not block all these frequencies.
"FM narrow" is the standard mode for two-way police, military, business, and amateur communications. The ham bands the 9600 covers are 2m, 1.25m, 70cm, and the bottom three MHz of 33cm (902-905 MHz).
AM wide and narrow are used mainly for aeronautical communications, and some amateur work. You can find some aeronautical communications from 118-136 MHz and 250300 MHz.
The FRG-9600 provides single sideband (SSB) reception up to 460 MHz. This covers amateur weak-signal work—typically voice SSB and CW—on all the above stated ham bands except 33cm. There's quite a bit of exciting weak-signal stuff to hear, including CW signals reflected off of ion trails left by meteors entering our atmosphere, and amateur satellite SSB and CW downlinked signals. The military also uses SSB in these regions.
The only drawback I spotted was that a desired mode—selected by a single control— can't be selected out of order. That is, in the mode-select order LSB, USB, AM-N, AM-W, FM-N, FM-W. If you are currently in USB and want to go to the other sideband, you have to step through the four AM and FM mode settings before getting to LSB. The upside, though, is that this system removes five extra controls from the front panel.
Quickly Accessing It All
The 9600 of course has a front-panel VFO control, but when dealing with such a vast piece of spectrum, it's MUCH easier to dial in a desired frequency from the keypad. Yaesu thankfully provided that here. They also didn't stint on the number of selectable tuning steps. FM-W allows 100 kHz tuning steps, while AM-W and FM-N allows for 5,10, 12.5, and 25 kHz steps. Both AM-N and SSB allow 100 Hz and 1 kHz steps.
The scanning system allows either full or limited (keypad programmed) band scanning, as well as memory channel scanning, with auto-resume. Besides carrier-sensing scan stop, you can also select audio scan stop sensing to avoid stopping on "carrier-only" channels. I found that this feature works very well, and is very useful. You will be amazed to find so many of these carrier-only broadcasts throughout the spectrum—yet never hear any audio transmissions on them. Possible sources for these "broadcasts" may simply be harmonics of a TV or other broadcast, or deliberate jamming of a channel by an assigned user to prevent the channel from being used by someone else, as on HF foreign broadcast bands.
Scanning steps are displayed on the front panel. A two-color graphic S-meter on the display indicates received signal strength. A 24-hour clock timer is also included, along with a output for automatic power "On/Off" switching for recording transmissions automatically. Additional jacks provide CPU band selection outputs for remote computer control of the receiver, as well as multiplexed (FM wide) AF and RF mute and other control signals. There's also a mobile mounting bracket.
Patch it to Your PC
Many newer transceivers have a data port thai allows you to interface a rig to a computer and control many of the functions from that computer. Yaesu calls their system the Computer Aided Tuning (CAT) System, and have included it on the FRG-9600 in addition to many of their base and mobile transceivers and HTs. This allows direct control of the rig's CPU, allowing you to add virtually unlimited customized control functions in software,
such as multiple organized memory banks, auto tuning, and customized scanning systems—using almost any personal computer and a Yaesu FIF CAT Interface Unit (available as an option). So far, I know of no prepared terminal software for this. Engineering Consulting in Brea CA (714-671-2009), and Data-Comm, Int. in Hollywood FL (305-967-9505), however, have long worked on software for the CAT system in other Yaesu rigs, and may have something developed for the 9600.
I haven't yet tried CPU control because I don't have the CPU control interface—but I'm considering one for my laptop computer for an extraordinarily versatile and compact system. Both operate from 12 VDC, making it a good combo for portable/mobile use.
Somewhat surprisingly, the AC adaptor (PA-4) is an option. The rig does come with a DC cable wilh a connector that plugs into the 9600's back panel. Be sure to read the manual so as to not confuse the positive and negative leads.
A TV video IF unit is also available as an option allowing reception of TV pictures (NTSC format) with a video monitor connected to the video jack on the rear panel.
The 40-page instruction manual that comes with the FRG-9600 receiver is complete and comprehensive. The text is easily understood; it was either written in English, or expertly translated from Japanese. Also, all photos, charts, and figures are easily readable.
I have enjoyed listening to communications which include police, fire, sheriff, military, forest service, airline, government—and, of course, lots of FM broadcasts. One useful application I never expected was a "clean and correct emission verifier" on the 72 MHz radio-control bands for a major model sailplane contest. In this event, last May in Washington State, the 9600 monitored the radio control frequencies for interference and checked each R/C transmitter for output on the proper channels for 125 model sailplanes. No planes were lost due to interference!
Bringing Back The Memories
The FRG-9600 memories are arranged in ten banks of ten memories each. You can program each decade with its own mode/ bandwidth combo, t find this very useful—one decade contains frequencies for FM broadcast stations around the state, another contains frequencies for the local police, fire, sheriff, forest service and EMT/med-Evac frequencies, and a third decade contains aircraft and air route traffic control frequencies. A fourth decade contains military aircraft air-to-air and air-to-ground frequencies. (In Arizona there is a lot of military aircraft communication on an almost round-the-clock basis.) If I wished, I could put in FBI, Treasury Department, CIA and other frequencies, in a new fifth decade. That still leaves another 50 memories.
The telescoping and swiveling whip antenna that comes with the receiver is 23" long fully extended, and attaches to the receiver via a PL-259/SO-238 connection. This antenna does quite well, considering its size. If you live in an RF-rich environment, such as an urban area, you may find this antenna not only adequate, but even preferable to one with more gain, so as to reduce front-end overload. When you start getting into UHF, however, I suggest you use a matched antenna located high and in the clear, connected with low-loss hardline coaxial cable—just as you would if you were using a transmitter. Of course, you can use the FRG-9600 as a separate receiver in connection with a transceiver covering roughly the same frequencies.
The only nit-pick here is the chassis connector used. For serious VHF and UHF work, an N-type connector is a better choice.
An "A" for Audio
In my opinion, this receiver provides audio quality as good as, or better than, many other receivers I've used. Although there is a built-in 2-1/2" speaker in the top of the cabinet, I prefer an external speaker of good quality for personal listening on FM broadcast. If you wish, you can also use the built-in jack for earphones in high ambient noise levels.
In sum, the FRG-9600 is a rugged, compact, high-quality communications receiver with versatile scanning capabilities. It represents very good value for the money, and I recommend it to interested VHF and above band scanners without hesitation.
The author wishes to thank Universal Shortwave Radio from whom the receiver was obtained for testing. I have just become another satisfied customer!
AUTOR: Jim Gray W1XU, Arizona 85541, has been 73's Propagation columnist since 1984. He's been a ham for 39 years, and likes to operate CW on WARC bands 12, 17, and 30. He's also interested in aviation and photography.