New License? Now It Is Time to Buy a VHF Radio ...
Inspired by the Elmer Night Discussion 1/21/09 ... de W6WTI
Last Wednesday evening at our Elmer Night, the question came up ‘What sort of radio should I get?’. While it has been awhile since I bought my first radio (OK, decades!), we discussed a number of considerations that may be of help to new Hams and perhaps more experienced ones.
OK, I have a Technician License, and I live on the coast ... what should I get?
Our two local repeaters are on 2 meters. Our emergency net meets on 2 meters. We do practice simplex operations (transmit and receive on the same frequency) on two meters. It is pretty easy to conclude that a first radio should be one designed for 2 meters. This provides an opportunity to get on the air, talk to folks, and become familiar with the basic operation of a two meter, FM transceiver.
is better for me, an HT (Handheld Transceiver/HandiTalky)
Often new hams are attracted to an HT ... smaller, cheaper, with seemingly oodles of memories, bells and whistles. They are ‘self contained’ ... you can get on the air almost right out of the box. But what are the differences? Let’s look at them, but first a word of explanation ... ‘mobile’ radios are larger, but they are NOT ONLY for mobile use. Many, if not most, see service as part of a primary home station as well as in the family vehicle.
Power Output: 5 Watts (lower power selectable) 50 to 70 watts (lower power levels selectable.)
Option for External
Volts DC? Many do -
make sure it allows full Not an issue, needs
Transmit from external operate. AC to 12
for cigarette lighters in car. Home use, car battery for mobile.
Check changes in output with (A 20 Amp supply or heavy deep
Different battery packs. cycle/marine battery and
Check changes in output with (A 20 Amp supply or heavy deep
Built in Antenna? Yes, BUT for coastal operations Needs external antenna for mobile
You’ll NEED an external antenna. Use or fixed station.
Memories? Lots of memories, even low end Lots of memories, even low end
Ones feature 40 plus memories. Ones feature over 40 memories.
DTMF Pad? Yes (avoid ones that don’t) Yes (usually on the microphone)
Needed for auto-patch use.
FM or Multimode Repeaters and Simplex use FM. Repeaters and Simplex use FM
Leave other modes like SSB for Leave other modes like SSB for
OK, what sort of external antenna should I be considering?
Since the ‘rubber duck’ antenna isn’t very efficient, and our distances are greater and the
challenging, many start with an ‘J-Pole’ antenna. KE6WC makes a good solid copper
pipe version for nominal cost. That and a suitable coaxial feedline
to the roof mounted antenna will get you on the air with a reasonable signal
from an HT or
Operating mobile also places a demand on your antenna needs. A good quality 5/8 wave 2 meter magnetic mount antenna is important so that you can radiate an optimum signal whether you are running 5 watts or 50. Using a 5 watt rubber duck in a car is a recipe for failure ... much of your RF stays in the car. The mobile antenna is essential if you wish to try using an HT in your car.
How about other features I should look for?
All of the
common HT and
So, where should I start ?
The three major amateur radio equipment manufacturers all market a solid, basic, 2 Meter HT and Mobile Radio: ICOM, Kenwood and Yaesu all make good solid radios. You really can’t go wrong. They are price competitive and a good value.
In general, though, at our Elmer Night conversation it was strongly encouraged to start with a mobile type radio ... that can be used at home and in the car. With suitable battery and/or power supply, you can also monitor without worrying about the batteries running down at an inopportune time.
With more power output and an external antenna, you’re more likely to enjoy sold copy
QSOs with your friends and neighbors. It’s pretty frustrating to be told that they can ‘tell
you’re in there, but can’t hear what you’re saying’.
Examples of good basic 2 meter FM Transceivers:
Kenwood TM-271a TH-K2AT
Yaesu FT-2800M VX-150
Will one radio be enough?
I’d be kidding if I thought you’d only ever have one radio. But, if I could only afford one
2 meter mobile radio, any one of these mobile radios would satisfy my needs. But, eventually I might want to try a hand held radio. I might want one at home and one in my car (or cars). I might upgrade to a general license and want to get on HF radio.
Basic HT’s are available from under $150. A Mobile Type Radio, with a suitable power supply, and external antenna typically will run to about $300. These are based on ‘new prices’
Good deals on used equipment show up from time to time. Comparison shopping can also result in savings. A local previously owned radio may represent a good value. If you like the challenge of finding one on-line, auction-site, or whatever, you might want to consult with an experienced club member for assistance.
Manuals and Information?
Most manufacturers support web sites which allow the downloading of brochures and operating manuals for the current and past models of radio. Before you purchase a new radio, it may be helpful to download the manual and review the basic operations. While you may not have read many manuals, some differences in organization and language may communicate better for you than others.
Why not a dual band radio ?
There are a lot of dual-band, tri-band and even quad-band radios manufactured today. The basic simplicity of a 2 meter radio makes it a good choice to start. There isn’t too much 50 MHz, 220 MHz and 440 MHz activity on the Coast let alone the higher bands. The multiple band capability is significantly more expensive than the basic 2 meter transceiver. There are a couple of 440 repeaters in the area (one in Timber Cove, another inland of Pt. Arena) but there is an ongoing controversy about 440 that may make it a little risky at this point. PAVE PAWS radar at Beale AFB over by Marysville is experiencing interference by amateur transmissions which are a secondary use authorization. Military is the primary service in the 440 band. Waiting until the dust settles may be a prudent course.
440 equipment for use in
more High Frequency (HF) transceivers are being made which also
cover 50, 144, 440 and even 1.2 Ghz bands. These a) aren’t cheap, b) are bigger and
bulkier, and c) don’t make a lot of sense until you have upgraded to a General
Class license and wish to exercise your HF privleges.
Even then, you will likely find a use for the dedicated 2 Meter
Why do I need a radio with DTMF key pad ?
Telephone interfaces with repeaters are called auto-patches. In order to utilize this repeater
function, to call for police, fire, vehicle assistance, or just to order a Pizza, your radio needs to be
able to generate the numbers to place a telephone call. DTMF tones are also used to
communicate with the repeater’s controller in order to turn special functions on and off. You
may not utilize these right away, but it is a good idea to have them, even on your first VHF radio.
For more information see the ARRL Handbook for Radio Communications.