Beginner HAM Radio Selection Thoughts


See also:  Why HAM Radio?
                 My SIMPLE Quest for a HAM Radio License
                 Local Area HAM Radio Testing

My thoughts on VHF/UHF rigs, for home or mobile.

First item to note.  You won't find any radio category for "UHF/VHF base station."  All UHF/VHF radios that aren't handhelds, and aren't build into HF rigs, are "Mobile."  They just become base units when you use them in your house.

Moving on...

Some day you might want to get into HF, or maybe you won't.  Either way, my personal preference is to separate radios for HF, and VHF/UHF because:
a) Something that can do a bit of everything, can't be the best at anything.
b) 2M rigs can be found for less than $200,  2M/440 for less than $350.  Who'd want to spend $800 or more on an all-band rig if you're not licensed for it yet.
c) If you have separate radios for 2M/440 and HF, if one breaks the other will still work.

Next you need to decide:
1) Do you want to use this radio in the house, car, and field, or semi-permanently install it in the car?  If in the car, you need to look at space considerations for your install and figure out if you need something that has a detachable face that can be remote mounted on the dashboard.  If space is of no concern, a one piece unit could suffice.
2) Do you think you'll want only 2M, or is 440 important to you? My radios are 2M/440, but to be honest I think most activity in this area is on 2M.  There's only one 440 repeater I can think of that I pick-up regularly, and usually it was cross-band linked to some other 2M repeater in the area.

The main reason I didn't opt for a 2M only radio myself was because in my small car I needed a radio where I could mount the faceplate on the dash and put the radio under the seat.  The only radio I could find at the time capable of that was of the 2M/440 variety.  If I was starting over, and I had a truck, I'd try to fit a 2M one-piece radio on the dash or in the console.  The smaller ones could even mount above your head.

There's around 8 or 10 different tranceiver manufacturers.  The biggest 3 are Yaesu, ICOM, and Kenwood.  All three are good quality, are priced about the same, and have a good following.  The other brands like Wouxun, Anytone, and Jetstream are all off brands that I don't know much about.   Alinco is another decent brand but it's a distant 4th to the big dogs.

SO,  all the above is what I'm telling you that you need to consider. From here on out are my opinions.

You want something for the house only, go with a Yaesu FT-2900R. A 2m only rig, currently selling for $189 with a $40 rebate at Universal-radio east of Columbus, and R and L in Hamilton. What I like about this is that its the highest power output of the Yaesu line at 75 watts.

You want something to mount in the car, stay with the FT-2900R if it will fit.  If it's too big, you have 2 options. The FT-1900R is a little smaller, could fit into a pocket in the dash somewhere, and is even cheaper at $135. But it is only 55 watts.  The other option is the FT-7900 like mine, 2M/440,  $329 and 50 watts, but the faceplate comes off and can 2-face-tape to the dash.

A good starter antenna can be made or purchased.  I have a Jetstream JTB3. It will hit repeaters as far south as northern Cincinnati.  If you're interested in "skip" on UHF/VHF, (reaching hundreds upon hundreds of miles away by bouncing off of storms) you'd need a directional Yagi-type antenna that I don't know much about yet.  If you want to try to make a starter 2m antenna I am willing to help out. I was thinking of experimenting with copper J-poles, made from copper water pipe (don't bother with the whole video - just skip around to get the idea).  If you wanted a disguised antenna, you could conceivably make this look like a decorative weather vane.

I'm not sure what you already have to attach the antenna to; whether you've got a TV tower, or just want to mount to the roof.  The higher, the better, but since you're not in a valley, 10 feet up or down shouldn't make too much difference.

You will also need a length of coax cable to connect the radio to the antenna.  For VHF/UHF, this coax needs to be *fat*. Well insulated. Non-lossy. I think the 50 foot coax I got was about $50-$60.

The last thing you'll need for the house is a power supply. I've got a $200 Astron RS-35M to power both the FT-7900 and the HF rig in the house, but it's sort of overkill. A switching power supply such as a Jetstream JTPS28 or a MFJ-4125 will do just as well for half the cost. I can go into the differences between these some other time, I'm already into this email 45 minutes.

One last thing - for a car install you'll need a antenna, a mount, and a length of mini-coax (much thinner coax than for the house). There's a broad range of prices depending on how big you want and how you want to attach it to your vehicle.  There are magnetic mount shorties for less than $35, and longer ones that need mounting hardware (no drilling) for $75 and more.  Look at the Diamond antennas on this page.

Article by,
John G. Milliff