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#231507 - 09/06/11 02:27 PM Picking the right radio
chaosmagnet Offline
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 12/03/09
Posts: 3424
Loc: USA
Like several other ETS members, I'm a licensed amateur radio operator. I haven't been very active in recent years, but I'm getting back into the hobby and I spent some time thinking about what the right radio would be for my needs.

The first requirement is for an HT(*). My current HT is over 20 years old and while it still works well with good audio, only aftermarket batteries are available and I'm not getting great life with them. The size of an HT means I'm more likely to have it when I need it for emergencies. It's easy to have a better antenna and more power in a mobile rig, but I can't afford one right now.

HTs have limited range, due to frequency, antennas and power -- although with the right frequency and antenna you can reach a thousand miles or more with 5 watts of CW(**) or PSK31. If I were preparing for a month-long expedition in the middle of nowhere, I might be looking for a battery-powered portable HF rig capable of serious DX. That would be cool but my needs are for something more portable. I've rarely been camping anywhere that I couldn't raise a fellow ham with my HT, usually via a local repeater.

My next requirement was for 2M, which is the primary band I use. 70cm is a nice-to-have. 1.25M is another nice-to-have; I've never worked that band before but there are some repeaters in my area and it would be fun to try.

My next requirement was for wideband receive. One should not expect a ham HT to receive shortwave as well as a dedicated portable receiver, much less a full stationary HF rig, but that's not my purpose. With wideband receive, I can listen to weather radio, local emergency services, local and shortwave news broadcasts, CB radio and other services.

In other words, I wanted a radio that could do a lot of things reasonably well, rather than one that does one thing spectacularly.

The HTs out there with wideband receive are all tribanders, so it was easy to find one that transmits on 2M, 70cm and 1.25M. There's a few tribanders with 6M capabilities, but 6M doesn't make sense without a repeater or a different antenna setup than I'd like to have.

(* -- non-hams call this form factor "walky-talky", hams call it "handy-talky" or HT)

(** -- CW stands for continuous wave, the old-timey Morse code communication used by many hams for DX [long distance] communication today. PSK31 is a low-bandwidth text communications mode that's a lot more like radio-based instant messaging)

#231510 - 09/06/11 03:08 PM Re: Picking the right radio [Re: chaosmagnet]
unimogbert Offline
Old Hand

Registered: 08/10/06
Posts: 863
Loc: Colorado
You might want to check and see if your local emergency services has migrated to P25 digital. That would probably narrow your radio choices considerably.

radioreference.com is a great website with databases that will show you the needed info.

I listen to digital scanners daily. I haven't tranmitted on the ham bands in over a decade.

#231520 - 09/06/11 03:58 PM Re: Picking the right radio [Re: chaosmagnet]
chaosmagnet Offline
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 12/03/09
Posts: 3424
Loc: USA
I did check that. My town's police department does not use trunked or digital radio, nor does the fire department. All the interagency frequencies are either analog dedicated or in many cases provided by RACES or CERT by hams.

Without a doubt there's interesting radio traffic around here that goes over trunked systems, but I'll just have to live without that for now.

Thanks for the URL, that's very helpful.

#231558 - 09/07/11 12:32 AM Re: Picking the right radio [Re: chaosmagnet]
fooman Offline

Registered: 05/15/08
Posts: 80
I really like my Yaesu VX170 radio. Waterproof, tough, good battery life, plenty of accessories. Its single band though

#231578 - 09/07/11 10:36 AM Re: Picking the right radio [Re: chaosmagnet]
celler Offline

Registered: 12/25/03
Posts: 410
Loc: Jupiter, FL
Take a look at the Yaseu VX-7R. It does not meet all your requirements, but it will probably come the closest possible in one package.

#231600 - 09/07/11 04:20 PM Re: Picking the right radio [Re: chaosmagnet]
Nomad Offline

Registered: 05/04/02
Posts: 479
Loc: Just wandering around.
A lot depends on budget. FT-60r is a cheap dual band.
/*geekspeak on>
5 watts. wide band rx 118 (am aircraft) to 170 or so. Don't remember UHF rx range.

Very well built strong case. Good belt clip. Aux battery (AAx6)case for alkaline or NmHi rechargable. I keep lithiums in it. Runs full power with aux pack. Most radios drop power considerably with aux battery pack. Works well with 12vdc from vehicle or external battery.

Radio is a bit heavy because the supplied battery pack is NhMi not lithium. This is actually a good thing because it can be charged from any 12v source. Some radios with lithium rechargables need specific chargers. Long ooperating time. Mine runs for days on a charge. I carry the aux pack for back-up. Light weight.

Around $160 or less if you shop around.

Good beater radio. 1000 memories. Some learning curve but not bad. Simple once you learn how to operate it.

I have had one for several years now and it has seen very rough service. Still runs fine.

If you want everything but GPS/APRS look at kenwood TH-6. Have one of those too. However it died. Has a manufacturing fault that causes an internal fuse to blow if external DC connector is inserted incorrectly. Need to get it fixed one of these days. Does DC to Light Rx, SSB Rx that really works and much more. Steep learning curve.

Check out Yeasu HT's if you want APRS/GPS. Nice radios but pricy and batterys go fast. Won't last a whole day in normal service.
/*geekspeak off>

...........From Nomad.........Been "on the road" since '97

#231616 - 09/07/11 06:27 PM Re: Picking the right radio [Re: celler]
chaosmagnet Offline
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 12/03/09
Posts: 3424
Loc: USA
Originally Posted By: celler
Take a look at the Yaseu VX-7R. It does not meet all your requirements, but it will probably come the closest possible in one package.

The VX-7R was a close second. It is within my budget (just) and is more rugged and waterproof than the Kenwood TH-F6A I ended up selecting. The reasons I didn't buy it are:

1) 6M coverage isn't useful for me, and the Yaesu's 1.25M output is much lower.

2) Yaesu radios are harder for me to program than Kenwoods. This may be that I'm used to my Kenwood and it may be that Kenwood has a better interface. I suspect a combination of both.

3) I have a Kenwood speaker mic and a Kenwood 12V cable that will work with the TH-F6A.

4) The Kenwood has a wider receive capability. I don't know if this is going to end up being important to me.

#231617 - 09/07/11 06:28 PM Re: Picking the right radio [Re: chaosmagnet]
chaosmagnet Offline
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 12/03/09
Posts: 3424
Loc: USA
APRS/GPS looks interesting, but is outside of my price range.

#231657 - 09/08/11 01:44 AM Re: Picking the right radio [Re: chaosmagnet]
DennisTheMenace Offline

Registered: 05/29/04
Posts: 47
Loc: Omaha, Nebraska

I'll second Nomad's comments on the Yaesu FT-60R. It's a nice handheld radio. I've used two (mine and my wife's) for many events over the past several years. As I've watched the price come down recently I've been tempted to buy a "spare". That may be a sign it is about to be discontinued. If so it won't be because its a bad radio.

I do have one quibble with Nomad, I wouldn't call the FT-60 "cheap", it's inexpensive with good quality.

I read a lot of reviews before choosing the FT-60. One in particular pointed out that the radio could be operated without having to constantly refer to the owners manual. I've never regretted my purchase for that reason alone. Many times I've had to help other hams configure basic features on their radios that were not as simple to operate as the FT-60.

The flip side of that is that the FT-60 doesn't have many "bells & whistles". What it does have is reliable and easy to operate. I normally have one in my messenger bag... just in case.

As Nomad noted, the radio has a 5 watt transmitter, it also has medium (2w) and low (.5w) transmit levels. Some similar radios lack the 'medium' power option. Unlike some radios it can transmit at high power while running on alkaline batteries using an accessory battery pack. That said, I've never needed to use the accessory pack. I've never run the supplied battery down in a single day's operation. Perhaps that's just a sign I don't transmit much, but I suspect that's the norm.

It is dual band (VHF/UHF); it does not include the 220Mhz band.

There are a lot of handhelds out there. For the money you could do a lot worse than to buy an FT-60 (or two).


#231669 - 09/08/11 04:49 AM Re: Picking the right radio [Re: chaosmagnet]
ame Offline

Registered: 10/15/05
Posts: 162
Loc: Korea
Originally Posted By: chaosmagnet
APRS/GPS looks interesting, but is outside of my price range.


You can build a TNC for about $30[1], and get a serial GPS module for $40[2]. If you are using a PC you can use a sound card modem[3] for virtually no cost, and you may already have a GPS with serial output. If it's a Garmin you'll need a cheap cable[4]. There is also cheap/free software for Windows, Mac and Linux. If you don't want to use a PC you can use the TNC in [1] as a tracker, or build this one[5] for a few dollars.


[1] http://www.enide.net/webcms/index.php?page=wb8wga-tnc
[2] http://www.amazon.com/BR-BR-355-Serial-GPS-Reciever/dp/B000WA1M8M
[3a] http://www.baycom.org/~tom/ham/soundmodem/
[3b] http://www.soundcardpacket.org/index.html
[4] http://www.pfranc.com/
[5] http://www.ringolake.com/pic_proj/gps_trak/freetrak202.html

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