Handheld Radios


NOTE; AS OF 9/27/2018 THE FCC SEEMS TO HAVE DECLARED THAT IT IS ILLEGAL FOR AMATEUR RADIO OPERATORS TO USE MANY OF THE LESS EXPENSIVE RADIOS LISTED IN THIS SECTION. I WILL BE REVISING AS SOON AS I AM ABLE TO GET THIS ISSUE SORTED OUT WITH SOME CLARITY -- WHICH IS NOT PROVIDED BY THE FCC'S OFFICIAL NOTICE. SEE THE OFFICIAL NOTICE HERE: 

https://docs.fcc.gov/public/attachments/DA-18-980A1.pdf

FOR NOW, THE PRUDENT CHOICE IS TO BE SURE THE RADIO YOU ARE PURCHASING WILL ONLY OPERATE ON THE AUTHORIZED AMATEUR RADIO BANDS.


Depending on your location, a handheld unit may very well be a great first radio for you. I usually have one sitting on my desk as I work, scanning through the local repeaters, and if I run out to do errands in the car without a mobile rig, I'll toss it in the car. Even the most deluxe handhelds are reasonably affordable, and you can get a perfectly useful dual band handheld with accessories for under $50. If you're interested in a more deluxe route, I'm sure the people at any of the big ham radio stores would be happy to set you up, and I suggest you just call them directly, let them know your experience level and location, and follow their suggestions.

Handhelds are not powerhouses -- they usually pack around 5 watts, and their antennas are less than ideal, but I've worked a repeater that's about 45 miles away with one of mine. You can't count on that, though -- I'm on a hill and so is the repeater in question, so conditions are ideal in this case.

If you are out in the flat parts of the country and/or a sparsely populated area, do yourself a favor and consider moving on to the mobile/base radio section. That way you'll have the power and, even more important, antenna to reach out to someone. (This is one more situation where knowing local hams is a huge benefit -- ask!)

Handhelds don't generally work well inside vehicles, but you can get a magnetic mount mobile antenna for the roof of your car and use your handheld as a mobile unit. It won't have the power or convenience features of a dedicated mobile unit, but it will work. You can use that same antenna as a base antenna at home -- find something metal on your roof to stick it on, and you're in business! 

Baofeng UV-5R

It's hard to imagine buying more technology for $25 - $30 than the famous (and infamous ...) Baofeng (sometimes "Pofung") UV-5R. It's a dual-band handheld that covers the 2 meter and 70 cm bands. It will also work on the Family Radio Service channels, but not legally. Too much power and not "type approved" for those frequencies.

This package comes with the charger base, a belt clip. There's also an earpiece/microphone in the package. I've never unwrapped that earpiece -- it looks pretty sketchy to me, but for all I know it's a triumph of engineering.

Programming the radio without a computer is an exercise in frustration, the Chinese-written instructions are hilariously incomprehensible, and the supplied antenna is puny, but the radios are so popular that there are easy and free or inexpensive workarounds for all those issues. See below for accessories.

More $$, More Power

You can get a bit more "oomph" while still staying in the low end of the price spectrum with the Baofeng BF-F8HP. As you might suspect from the picture, it's very similar to the UV-5R, but with a bit more power. The BF-F8HP claims 7 watts, the UV-5R 4 watts.

A Real Antenna....

A great radio with a bad antenna is a bad radio. A "pretty good" radio with a "pretty good" antenna is a pretty darned good radio, and that's what you end up with when you combine the Nagoya NA-701 antenna with the Baofeng radios. About $15 -- read the reviews and avoid the counterfeits.

When you get your Baofeng, set that antenna they put in the box aside -- put it somewhere where you'll forget where it is -- and screw on the Nagoya. You'll be much happier.

Programming Cable -- a Must

While they've improved from the early days, the instructions that come with your shiny Baofeng still read suspiciously like someone in Shenzhen plugged the Chinese text into Google Translate then copy/pasted the English translation. Oh, well -- Baofeng enthusiasts have created lots and lots of English language support. Go to miklor.com for lots and lots of information.

Still, programming the radio from the radio's keypad is just not a fun way to spend an afternoon -- especially if you have big fingers like mine! It's just so much easier to download the free (free!) CHIRP software, plug in the programming cable, and set up everything the way you want it.

You do need a special programming cable -- it's not just USB, there's a chip inside the big USB plug you see above. You can save about $10 by buying a cable that uses a generic chip, but don't. 

Here's what my CHIRP setup for my "sits on the desk" Baofeng looks like:
Using CHIRP and the programming cable, you can program your radio as fast as you can type in the frequencies and pull down a few menu items, such as the "Tone Mode" and the "Tone." It will set the offsets automatically for you.

Speaker/Microphone - "Nice to have", not "need to have."

These are handy when you want to keep an ear on the radio in a noisy location and don't want the radio blaring full blast on your hip. When our ham club does exhibitions at schools, the rooms are always noisy, so I have mine clipped on to hear the kids talk on our 2 meter station.

For less than $10, it works pretty well as a speaker. The way it comes out of the box, the microphone is usually pitiful, with very low volume. That might relate to the fact that some genius in the Baofeng design department completely encased the microphone element in plastic and didn't even align it with the tiny hole it's supposed to be hearing through. You can find lots of videos on how to modify it with about a half-hour's work if you have ambitions in that direction.

Grown-up radios

The "big three" ham radio manufacturers are Yaesu, Icom, and Kenwood. Each brand has its fans. This is Yaesu's entry-level HT. With this one, you take a big step up in durability, audio quality, dependability, design quality, build quality, and ease of operation, but you also enter the world of proprietary software and accessories -- more $$$. The good news about ham gear is that, in general, you do get what you pay for.

I'd love it if you bought any of these major brand radios through my links, but before you hit "buy", check prices at the stores such as Ham Radio Outlet or DX Engineering. They often are a better deal, and those stores are important to the hobby. Win, win!
The Icom T-70A is Icom's competitor to the Yaesu FT-60R. Personally, I'm an Icom fan, but that's based more on the fact that I happen to have spent a lot of time with an Icom radio than any deep study -- as I said, all the brands have their fans. Neither the FT-60R nor the T-70A is going to overwhelm you with features, but either will be a solid, hard-working radio that can stand up to the occasional knocks of handheld life.

At least at this moment, Kenwood isn't in the entry-level HT business, so I don't have a Kenwood competitor to show you.

Shoot the works!

If you want all the bells and whistles, the big companies are happy to help! Their top-of-the-line HT's feature either D-Star or Fusion digital voice compatibility and APRS, and every special function their engineers could dream up.
The head of our club's tech group just picked up one of these Yaesu FT-2DR's and raves about it. It automatically detects if it is receiving FM analog or digital voice,  It has a GPS built in, as well as APRS, so when APRS is switched on you can track it on an APRS map, as well as use it for ham-to-ham text messaging and everything else the APRS system does. If you buy the (proprietary accessory ....) MH-85A11-U microphone, it has a camera built in that lets you send snapshots. It will even, no kidding, find your car in the parking lot.

Definitely go to Ham Radio Outlet or one of the other "real" ham suppliers for this one -- they often have substantial rebate offers. At the moment, this is $80 less at Ham Radio Outlet than it is on Amazon.
There's no such thing -- and probably won't be -- as a "D-Star and Fusion" digital voice radio, so if you're going digital, you'll have a make a choice about systems. That's down to your preferences regarding your local repeaters and what's available in your area. As of today, digital voice is nowhere near as popular as analog FM, so you needn't rush into it, but if you do, at least you know the issues.

Here's Kenwood top-of-the-heap HT, which is a tri-bander -- 2 meter, 1.25 meter, and 70 cm.
The Kenwood HT in the same price range as Yaesu's FT-2DR doesn't offer APRS. It's the TH-72A.
Icom's top model offers D-Star compatibility, and the D-Star "equivalent" of APRS, D-PRS.
Mobile
The Fast Track Ham Radio License Programs
Michael Burnette
  
Michael Burnette, AF7KB, started playing with radios at age 8.
As a commercial broadcaster for 25 years, he did a bit of everything from being a DJ to serving as a vice president and general manager with Westinghouse Broadcasting (now CBS/Infinity.)

In 1992, Burnette left the radio business behind, and took to traveling the world designing and delivering experiential learning seminars on leadership, management, communications, and building relationships.

He has trained people across the US and in Indonesia, Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, Mexico, Finland, Greece, Austria, Spain, Italy, and Russia. In addition to his public and corporate trainings, he has been a National Ski Patroller, a Certified Professional Ski Instructor, a Certified In-Line Skating Instructor, a Certified NLP Master Practitioner, a big-rig driving instructor, and a Certified Firewalking Instructor.

He is the author of:

The Fast Track to Your Technician Class Ham Radio License
The Fast Track to Your General Class Ham Radio License
The Fast Track to Your Extra Class Ham Radio License
The Fast Track to Mastering Extra Class Ham Radio Math
The Independent Author's Guide to Successful Audiobook Production
The underlying philosophy of the Fast Track series is a commitment to employing effective teaching strategies to support learners in rapidly mastering the body of knowledge that creates the ham radio hobby.

To that end, the programs not only teach the correct answers to the exam questions, but explain the principles behind each correct answer.

Put simply, other programs teach you to pass the exams. The Fast Track programs teach you to pass the exams and think like a ham.

Oh, and we have a little fun along the way, too -- that's part of creating a positive learning environment.
Each license program is available in multiple formats.

- Kindle e-book (Amazon.com)
- Paperback edition (Amazon.com)
- Unabridged audiobook edition (Amazon.com, Audible.com, iTunes.)

The Fast Track to Mastering Extra Class Ham Radio Math (Coming in February 2018) will be a workbook supplement to the Extra Class program for those who, like the author, find the advanced math of the Extra Class exam to be, shall we way, extra challenging. That workbook is available only in paperback, from Amazon.com, with supporting videos on YouTube.com.

The Fast TrackHam Radio License Programs
Michael Burnette
  
Michael Burnette, AF7KB, started playing with radios at age 8.
As a commercial broadcaster for 25 years, he did a bit of everything from being a DJ to serving as a vice president and general manager with Westinghouse Broadcasting (now CBS/Infinity.)

In 1992, Burnette left the radio business behind, and took to traveling the world designing and delivering experiential learning seminars on leadership, management, communications, and building relationships.

He has trained people across the US and in Indonesia, Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, Mexico, Finland, Greece, Austria, Spain, Italy, and Russia. In addition to his public and corporate trainings, he has been a National Ski Patroller, a Certified Professional Ski Instructor, a Certified In-Line Skating Instructor, a Certified NLP Master Practitioner, a big-rig driving instructor, and a Certified Firewalking Instructor.

He is the author of:

The Fast Track to Your Technician Class Ham Radio License
The Fast Track to Your General Class Ham Radio License
The Fast Track to Your Extra Class Ham Radio License
The Fast Track to Mastering Extra Class Ham Radio Math
The Independent Author's Guide to Successful Audiobook Production
The underlying philosophy of the Fast Track series is a commitment to employing effective teaching strategies to support learners in rapidly mastering the body of knowledge that creates the ham radio hobby.

To that end, the programs not only teach the correct answers to the exam questions, but explain the principles behind each correct answer.

Put simply, other programs teach you to pass the exams. The Fast Track programs teach you to pass the exams and think like a ham.

Oh, and we have a little fun along the way, too -- that's part of creating a positive learning environment.
Each license program is available in multiple formats.

- Kindle e-book (Amazon.com)
- Paperback edition (Amazon.com)
- Unabridged audiobook edition (Amazon.com, Audible.com, iTunes.)

The Fast Track to Mastering Extra Class Ham Radio Math (Coming in February 2018) will be a workbook supplement to the Extra Class program for those who, like the author, find the advanced math of the Extra Class exam to be, shall we way, extra challenging. That workbook is available only in paperback, from Amazon.com, with supporting videos on YouTube.com.