Selecting a Portable Handheld Two-Way Radio, by R.

Recently I purchased a good two-way HT (slang for a hand-held Ham radio), and I thought I would share my thinking process behind picking it.

General Points

Here are a few general points. (Later I will get into the specific details.)

Conditions and Reasons May Differ

First off, I want to say that these are the conditions and reasons I used to make my choice. Yours may be different. I have a Ham radio license. This means I can operate within a wider frequency range than those frequencies covered by an off-the-shelf radio (FRS/GMRS). If you just don’t want to get licensed, I’m sure you can use the criteria I will go over to help you choose a FRS/GMRS/CB hand-held radio.

Not My Only Hand-held, Two-way Radio

Second, this is not my only hand-held, two-way radio. I have others that are inexpensive ($30 each). They do not match my criteria for a critical radio. Those $30 HT radios are made with $15 worth of parts and by what I would call “Chinese slave labor”. They work, are fun, and are inexpensive enough to take apart and hack. Get them. Learn with them, but I would never bet my life on them.

Money Set Aside As If Life May Depend Upon This Radio

Third, I figure one day my life may depend on this radio, so I put away the same kind of money for it that I would a primary rifle or handgun.

Criteria For Selection

That being said, these are criteria, in order of priority, that I think are critical when choosing a two-way radio:

1. It Works

This may sound obvious, but the most important feature is that I know “it works”. That kid-like radio you bought for Y2K, and hasn’t seen daylight since, is an unknown. It might turn on, but the conditions the battery went through may prevent it from taking many new charges, or even running for an extended time.

2. Weather Proofing

Consider this criteria of weather proofing in bold, in red, italicized, and triple underlined. If I had to chose between all the features below and weather proofing, I would chose weather proofing. I want this radio to function after swimming with it or in a hurricane. A two-way radio that is “dust and maybe sprinkle proof” is about as useless as a rifle that jams unless it is operating room clean and with very specific ammo.

3. Frequency Range Appropriate For Terrain

It must be frequency range appropriate for my local terrain and adjacent terrain. What’s usable in an apartment building may be useless in a mountain range. See my SurvivalBlog article on “Radio Communication Methods During Emergencies” for more details. https://survivalblog.com/radio-communication-methods-emergencies-part-1-r-nc/

4. General Coverage

It much have broad coverage. Beyond the frequencies that it is designed to transmit on, I want it to be able to receive the following: AM, FM Broadcast, and NOAA/WX. GMRS and FRS are a plus too, but these are not as critical.

5. Security Through Obscurity

Security is important. I want the radio to have either a lesser used digital mode or spread spectrum capabilities. Digital modes are not encryption. But like in one of Rawles’ books where he uses a CB with SSB because SSB isn’t on all CB’s, I want to have a mode that my base station has and that fewer people use.

I have a few side notes:

  • a. DMR is the most popular digital mode.
  • b. Echolink is not really digital; it’s analog out the radio, later converted for VOIP.
  • c. Hand-held radios and even base stations using 2m or 70cm frequencies rarely have SSB. They are almost always FM only, making one with SSB a good alternative to digital in that frequency range. Ideally, I would like to hear all digital modes and transmit on a lesser used one. However, that choice isn’t always available.

6. Cloning Software

The radio needs to have cloning software. It must have something that will let you program and save the programming features of the radio. This lets you copy the same config from one radio to another. It also makes frequency rotations for your radios much easier.

7. No Fancy Rechargers or Weird Adapters

It should require no super fancy recharges with X plugs and a weird adapter. I want a normal 12v barrel connection and an adapter to charge off a car cigarette lighter. 12V barrel connectors opens a whole world of recharge opportunities when you have to get power from a variety of sources.

8. Removable Antenna with Common Adapter

The antenna must be removable, with a common adapter such as SMA or PL259 connector. I want to be able to attach a better portable antenna whenever possible.

Nice To Have List

There are some other criteria that would be nice to have but aren’t necessities. This includes:

1. GPS

GPS is nice, especially if it has the ability to save a location and see how far away you are from it. Oh, and yes I can read a map and have passed the Ft Benning land nav course. However, sometimes, one hill looks just like another hill, and I’m too old to just “walk over and see”. <insert smile>

2. Ability to Send Data

It’s a plus to have the ability to send data through the radio when combined with a cable and a laptop. In Ham space, we call this a TNC– Terminal Node Controller.

3. More Than One Band

More than one “band” (aka frequency range) can be useful. Portable radios, for the most part, are either UHF or VHF. UHF is usually better around buildings. VHF is usually better in the suburbs. Although HF is also a good option if available, with CB or 50MHz (technically still VHF), the antennas start to get very long for a hand held. Again, see my article on Radio Communication Methods During Emergencies, linked above.

Applying All Criteria

Okay, so after applying all the criteria above and making allowances for “not every radio is perfect”, my choices came down to two radios. Since the price for both was a punch in the stomach, I wanted to make sure I got the best one for me. This meant it also was something of quality. Again, know your terrain. Consider what’s the best frequency range for an area where there are farms. Starbucks may not be the best terrain test for you deep mountain folks.

The two I ended up picking between were the ICOM ID51A (plus 2) and the Kenwood TH74A. Here’s how they compare, from the perspective of my itemized priorities.

Qualifications ID-51A​_ TH74A
1. It works New, not open box, no major “issues” identified on amazon or eHAM.net (http://www.eham.net/reviews/) New, not open box, no major “issues” identified on amazon or eHAM.net (http://www.eham.net/reviews/)
2. Weatherproof IPX7 (submersible up to 1 meter deep for 30 minutes). IP54/55 low dust and waterproofing by my standards, decent impact resistance.
3. Frequency range 144/430 MHz 144/220/430 MHz – note the extra frequency range (220). Also note that there are fewer hand held radios that are in 220MHz.
4. General Coverage AM/FM Broadcast, NOAA AM/FM Broadcast, NOAA, SSB
5. Digital Modes D-STAR * being proprietary, there are far fewer D-STAR capable radios out there than DMR. Also note that D-STAR supports point to point/simplex and does not need a repeater. Note, data cable included. D-STAR * same comment as ID-51a, no data cable included (to be fair, no data cable listed as included).
6. Cloning software Cloning/programming software is included, and is compatible with my other ICOM radios. Programmable over included data cable.

It was unclear from the websites if the data cable could be used for programming, but after some digging, I found that it is used for data and programming.

Not listed, I would have to use CHIRP (free) or RT-Systems.

No programming cable listed, would probably have to buy it. (again, to be fair, no programming cable listed as included).

7. Recharging 12v Barrel connector. You must turn radio off to charge it, otherwise it used the 12v connection for direct power. 12v Barrel connector. Run on vs Charging unknown – would have to research
8. Antenna SMA removable (note this is a male SMA, unlike Baofeng’s that usually come with a female SMA.) don’t expect your Baofeng add-on antenna to work without an adapter. SMA removable, cant tell from documentation if male or female. I’m sure it’s in there somewhere.
Optional 1. GPS Yes, included. Will send GPS data via D-Star DPRS if enabled. Note that this is not APRS. There are D-STAR gateways that will convert it to APRS once you are on a D-STAR repeater, but it will not send native APRS. If you are talking to someone else on D-STAR, even simplex, it will send GPS coordinates (if you enabled it to do so). Yes, included. Will send GPS data via D-Star DPRS if enabled. And will send native APRS.
Optional 2. TNC Yes, works fine though a PC/android, applications are a bit more limited though, and this is not “iPhone friendly” No bluetooth. ICOM has a free application to text/configure for both PC and Android – nothing for iOS. Yes, though I don’t know what applications are available and compatible. Note that this has Bluetooth.
Optional 3. Multi-Band 2 bands for transmit 3 bands for transmit
Optional 4. My personal opinion – I hate buying anything made in China, I’ve had too many bad experiences with Quality Control from products shipped from there. Japanese company, made in Japan Japanese company, made in China

My Selection Reasons

In the end I went with the ID-51A, for two reasons. First, it’s IP7 waterproof. To me that was the primary reason. I can live with a few less bells and whistles, but if it can’t survive a puddle, then it’s useless to me. Second, it was less money ($359 in black to around $489 for different colors) compared to the $450-$600 for the TH74). Now, don’t get me started on the cost. Though it’s not “battle rifle” price ranges, these should still have a warning on the box that states: “Sit softly after buying.”

Added Items

Just to list a few items I added to the order:

  • 15” extended antenna Diamond SRH77CA,
  • third party speaker mike with plug for ear piece, and
  • a must-have 12v car cigarette lighter adapter.

I wanted to add extra batteries, but I’m going to have to save up for them. The small one (1150 mAh) is about $69; the bigger (1800/mAh) is $99, and the 3xAA case converter to use normal batteries is, wait for it, $52. This is why the 12v barrel connection is so important. You can run off of any 12v using that connector while you save up a few paychecks for the batteries. Don’t have 12v? Make it with 6v batteries. See, you have options.

MARS Options

Note that if you order this, or something like it, from one of the big Ham radio websites, you will often see a “MARS” option. This expands the frequencies that the radio can transmit on. For a VHF/UHF Ham radio, that usually means it will be able to transmit on FRS and GMRS after the modification. I specifically did not choose this option. I have for other radios but not this one. There should be nothing risking the IPX7 rated seal. I don’t even want them to open it, even if the modification should not compromise the seal. I just won’t risk it.

Out of Your Budget

Now, I know there are folks that think this is just way out of your budget, especially if you are young or on a fixed income. Some of us take years to finally get through the ammo, guns, canned food, and other critical expenses. Personally I consider radio communications just one notch down from beans, bullets, and bandaids, so I save up for this. It took me a year to pull this together. Even after saving, not everyone can afford it. For you, I recommend focusing on two major features above all others: weatherproofing and the 12v barrel connection. Forget the GPS, fancy TNC, or digital modes. Forget the dual and tri-band options. You want something that works when you drop in in the river and can be charged and run off of anything you can get to 12v. ICOM and Kenwood have radios in that range.

The ICOM ID31A has most of what the ID51A has, including IPX7 weatherproofing but only supports 440MHz transmit. This will bring your cost down to about $299. Also, there’s the ICOM M36. It’s a Marine VHF (AM) IPX7, and it floats. I don’t know a lot about Marine VHF or this radio, except it’s a FCC no-no to use away from “water”. By “water” I think they mean in support and use of a boat. This will run about $160 and does not need a license. I haven’t really found much at an IPX7 rating that costs less than that.

Why ICOM

Are you wondering why all the ICOM? The short answer is, I like them and they have the largest selection of IPX7 that I’ve found.

Remember, I’m not saying that this radio is the best choice for you. This is more about defining specific criteria, prioritizing them, and figuring out what is most important when selecting a hand-held radio. Also note that I have and recognize a personal bias against Chinese-made radios. I have seen far too many technical components come from there that just could not pass any kind of QA test. That is my personal opinion. If you don’t share it, I’m sure you can find a number of less expensive radios that match the criteria above. But do your research, and pay attention to the comments on amazon and eham.net. In the end, you get what you pay for.

Feel free to ask any questions you have, and 73.

SurvivalBlog Writing Contest

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52 Comments

  1. Nice article, but I have to disagree. Remember the adage “one is none and two is one”. So, that means that ideally you need to buy two of them. Being conservative that would run you about $600. For that same $600 you could buy 20 of the cheap radios. Even for the price of one you could get 10 cheap radios. Do they have all the bell and whistles the expensive one does? No. But either will be just as in-effective at stopping a speeding bullet! And if you get cut off from your home base you may not be able to get to the radio. With the cheap ones you can afford to stash radios in many places and still be able to get to one.

    1. There’s nothing wrong with having the inexpensive radios. They have their place. Heck, I have a few of them. To me, its important to have a robust one too. This is especially important if you live in hurricane country.

  2. The choices available today are unbelievable to this 80 year old. In 1956 the USAF radios were all tube type and often of WW2 vintage or comparable. Range of reliable transmission on the ground at Elgin AFB in Florida were usually less than 10 miles with the truck radios and often less than 5 between trucks. The walky talkies often wouldn’t work well over about a mile. The sensitivity of the receivers,the power and frequency range of the transmitters, and the battery life are amazing. In radios one is none, two is a repeat of one, and three is about minimum if you want reliable communications within your group. In the real world of disaster, I think a well equipped knowledgeable ham will be right up there with a medic as a usefull member of your group.

    1. There are even small companies that have integrated 140/440/220 radios with android phones and tablets. One physical product to cary. It’s just a matter of time until the big manufacturers start producing them. Of course, the downside is that the old tubes could be fixed easily, these new devices are far more complex.

      Even antenna designs have made major advances (The design is not new, but off the shelf products are). I’m currently testing a few magnetic and non-magnetic loops for stealth operations. So far, I’ve been able to have two way WSPR from the US south east to CA, Texas, FL, Argentina, and Poland, from magnetic loops in my basement. Yes, my basement. Really amazing stuff.

  3. I am going to take that your fairly new to ham radio. Some of the things you write about I will agree with but most of it no. I mean after the collapse do you think repeaters are going to work ? they to have battery back up and after an EMP, who knows. I will agree that handheld do work better these day’s but on simplex it is still line of site. Terrain matters whether it is in the city or in the mountains it is line of sigh.
    The antenna is what matters. The better antenna the better transmit and receive. Now let’s cover COMSEC after the fall of society or a military takeover this matters a lot. Do you know what triangulation is? I will not go in depth here but lets say you are transmitting and some not so nice people catch your transmit they can triangulate your position in seconds and you can guess the rest it won’t end well. I will add this: There is another well-known prepper. He has a large web site, he and I had a discussion about this. He said I will go seven miles from home and do my radio op then run back home, so regarding my previous statement is this good advice? I will also tell you that you can buy display radios that still have the warranty and used radios are often a good bargain. Most of your big shops have both. So take it how want to these are things I know and can perhaps save you money and give you food for thought when the ham guys are telling you to buy new stuff and killing your budget. Best of luck.

    1. Interesting comment.

      1. Repeaters are not part of my criteria so I’m not sure where your comment on this came from. I specifically avoided repeater categories because they are regional. In my area they are very active, but if I’m traveling I might not have access.
      2. The ability to change antennas is on my list.
      3. I do specifically point out that terrain matters, when selecting frequencies. It’s in the selection conveniently named “Frequency Range Appropriate for Terrain” along with a link for more info.

      Now about DF’ing and EMP. Both of your comments are true, however to date, I have been through countless rain storms, 4 hurricanes, and ZERO EMP’s. Though I keep some radio equiptment in a faraday cage, I cannot get my head around ignoring 99.99 percent of real world emergency situations for the off chance that an EMP will hit, or that I have to worry about government DF stations.

      1. One other thing. In most cases used is fine, and I have radios that I bought used. My concern with used for a radio used in this role is specifically around the IP7 waterproof seal. It’s not a gamble I am willing to take. Your mileage will vary.

    2. I guess you don’t understand that any of the ways of transmission you talk about at some point go to a repeater type collection point. For example d-star goes to a reflector and is a type of repeater. We know that our phones can be tracked and when you hook up to android or such just easier for the bad guy’s to find you. Now I don’t care what they tell you but lets say your in New York city downtown , and you have your suggested for the city radio and band . You are not going to talk very far at all that is fact tall buildings block your signal period . Now if you are going to use a handheld in the city you will need that repeater period end of discussion. I have had friend talk on two meter from AZ to Ohio with a mobile using the repeater system, just because you are traveling does not mean you don’t have access all you need is the tone and AARL publishes such guide. Like I said before quit listening to the other ham guys and do your own study you will be better off. By the way I would not have responded to your comment if you had
      not talked down to me I would have left you to your own device’s but I feel your a smart guy you just need a nudge in the right direction.

      1. Oh and by the way I have talked all over the world with a Kenwood TS 50 a Solarcon copy stick with a Antron 99 ground plane kit on ten meters You could check it out but they redacted my call sign earlier.

  4. My favorite HT is my Yaesu VX-5. It’s small and compact, waterproof, and with the Ham bands a triband radio with 2M/440/6M bands. Also you can receive AM/FM/SW broadcast stations, NOAA weather, air band to hear aircraft. I have two of these radio’s and when I travel I always carry one with me including accessories like mentioned in the OP’s article. Mine has served me well through the years and is still going strong. Yaesu does not make the VX-5 anymore and it has been replaced with the VX-8 which can do more including GPS. And yes, I do have a Baofeng HT also that I use, but it does have it’s pro’s and con’s and I trust my VX-5 over the Baofeng.

      1. The radio comes with a 6M adaptor for the antenna when you want to use the 6M band. You will have to unscrew the 440 part then screw on the 6M adaptor and you can use 2M/6M. MFJ makes a triband antenna to use with the VX-5 and you don’t have to change out. MFJ-1720S is the model # and I use this sometimes. IMO the MFJ is a little top heavy and you have to be careful with it because you can break the connector where you screw the antenna into the radio. But the tribander does work very well with the radio.

  5. One other criteria I’d add would be the ability to plug in an earphone/microphone. Having your radio squawk when you’re trying to be stealthy or having to grab it and hold it up to your mouth to talk could both be issues in tactical situations.

    1. A vast majority of HAM handheld radios have this capability. I’m not even aware of a HAM HT that doesn’t. If you are looking at FRS or GMRS, it’s just the opposite. Don’t assume that FRS/GMRS can take an external mic/speaker. You will have to check each model for that feature.

  6. Everyone has their interests and hobbies. If you are so inclined there is nothing wrong with enjoying ham radio. I would say ditto for the cheaper civilian radios. Most of us don’t use them, don’t want them and certainly aren’t interested in paying $600 each for them. I don’t see them as necessary either in good times or bad. And I don’t see them as sustainable in bad times. A distraction along the lines of those who walk around ataring at their smart phones. Imagine what you can do with that $600 instead of buying a radio and imagine what you could carry without that weight, bulk and distraction.

    1. HAM radio is definitely a money hole. I make no argument against that. And just about everything is seriously overpriced in my opinion. If I had a kids college fund to save for, I’d probably be looking for the cheapest waterproof HT I could find.

      1. I don’t disagree. But there are a lot of factors. One is that in a tactical situation your opponent may use your radio transmission against you. about 12 years ago I bought a couple of cheap FRS radios for my two teen age boys. I gave them to them, they turned them on and said something over the air and within seconds someone else came back and identified one of my boys by his voice. So within seconds of using the radio someone new what he was saying and who he was.

        However that isn’t my primary problem with radios. If my radio is in my hand than my hands are not free. If it is in my backpack than something else must be taken out of the pack to make room. It’s all about trade offs. Then there is the problem of how much time it requires. If you depend on the radio to communicate with someone then you must leave it on and attend it. Time consuming.

        I don’t have a problem with the radios, I kind of like them, I can see the benefit from them, but I’ve got some and they have sat in a drawer for years and tears and used maybe a couple of times. Unless it is your hobby and you like spending hours a day on them their value is reduced.

        Now, I know some of this is just me and others will use them. I have a cell phone and only turn it on when my wife and I are apart. Sometimes it is off for weeks at a time. I’m just not into it. I was so happy when we got rid of our land line. Now if I could just convince my wife to shut here’s off…

        1. Relatively secure communications is critical when members of a group are not all together.

          Coordinating seperated, or task-specific groups with hand signals is exceedingly difficult. Having a radio set to a frequency where its quiet is critical. Using the cheap little hand helds sold at Walmart will reveal much of what you mentioned, cross-talk between different groups, possible reveal of identity, etc..

          The author is speaking to the idea of using much more legitimate communications systems to convey information.

          Think about coordinating the defense of your beef herd. Large space, nigh on impossible to walk over to Bob’s position to see what is going on on his side of the acreage. Having relatively secure means of getting and passing updates between group members saves time, energy, and supports near immediate deconfliction of inputs and actions.

          I’m not a ham guy, but I spent several years coordinating the actions of geographically seperated personnel who need to work in a coordinated manner. The ability to effectively communicate the ‘on-the-ground’ situation is critical to successful coordination during offensive or defensive operations.

          1. I get it. I agree with what you are saying but for a limited number of cases. It is essential for the military. It is very useful and perhaps essential if you own a 9000 acre ranch. There are probably a number of cases where you can cite how essential it is. But for most people it is an expensive distraction. As I stated if a radio is part of your plan then you must devote a considerable amount of time “tending” to your radio. After all if it is essential that your forward guy warns you when someone approaches then you must have the radio on and attended 24/7. Which means you don’t have resources for something else. Life is choices you made a choice to devote 24/7 to a radio or iphone or something while others are out there actually experiencing life. But you can cite cases where it is “essential”!! OK, that’s your choice. I am suggesting that with limited resources I prefer to spend my money, time and endless “maintenance time” doing something else.

  7. KENWOOD TH-D74A
    144/220/440MHz Tri-Band Handheld With D-Star & APRS

    HRO Discount Price: $559.95*

    COM ID-51A PLUS2 Black
    144 / 430 MHz UHF/VHF D STAR Digital / Analog Hand Held Transceiver

    HRO Discount Price: $359.95*
    I found these at hamradio.com The Kenwood is a lot more, but, SSB and 220 MHz might tip me in favor of that for purely OPSEC reasons. On the other hand you could get 3 of the ICOM radios for the price of 2 Kenwoods. Both are pricy and both have limited range (depending on terrain) so they would be pretty much confined to local communication around the homestead. Both have a number of accessories listed at HRO. The choice is up to you.

    1. Ignoring the “made in China” label which I freely admin is just a “me issue” the only issue I really have with the 74 is the IP rating, and price. Those 74’s and the Yaesu VX-5/8dr’s are great radios. Some of hose Yaesu’s has an IP7 rating too.

      1. People need to read the testimony of the FBI, NSA, and DNI directors in front of Congress this week.

        Yes, cheap chinese products are cost-effective, but to assume they don’t have complete access to everything you do/say/send is silly. The long-term goals of China do not mesh with ours/yours.

        I can abide the author’s aversion to Chinese products, but its not always a viable approach. When it is, choose another option.

        That being said, a handful of cheap chinese radios beats hand-signaling people at night.

  8. Not to be a rain on the parade, but if you haven’t discussed this previously, let me throw out this caveat…..
    You can LISTEN on any radio, on ANY frequency or band. And as been discussed on other sites, you should listen at least twice as much as you transmit.

    BUT……in order to transmit on the Amateur (ham) bands (and there are a lot of them), you must be tested and licensed. And your transmit privileges are commensurate with the level of your amateur license (Technician, General, Extra).

    Ditto for requesting or do-it-yourself on the MARS (Military Affiliated Radio Station) modification. You need to be licensed to be a MARS operator to get the MARS mod and transmit on the MARS frequencies.

    Ditto for the Maritime VHF radios and frequencies. A license is required to transmit. Not sure what the requirements are.

    The only bands I can think of for now that are UNlicensed are the FRS (Family Radio Service), and they have many, many limitations: low power, short distance, permanently attached antenna, open transmit/receive (anyone can listen, no encoding/data).

    The other open no-license band is CB. And that has been discussed to death here at one time or another. When possible, get a SSB radio. Boosts your channels from 40 to 120, and your transmit range.

    Have fun, y’all.
    Hope to hear you on the airwaves soon.
    I’m working on getting an HF antenna up in the back yard, and a 6M antenna on the rooftop soon. Plus working to connect CTCSS tone boards to my old radios (for repeater access) that don’t have them built in already.
    But for now, I’m prepping for the ham swap meet at the end of the month. Lots of old junk to sell, so I can make room to install new junk. – Woodman

        1. You are correct in that you did say that you are a ham. But I didn’t want others reading this to assume that they could just buy a radio and transmit.
          If I am wrong, I will take my 30 lashes with a wet noodle.

          1. License is definitely required to transmit on HAM frequencies. And for anyone wondering, you will learn a lot from studying to take the test. Especially around general usage of DC power. Even if you have an issue with filing with the FCC, I recommend at least studying for the tech exam.

            About maritime: the “Big” ships need a license for maritime VHF, but not smaller private boats:

            http://wireless.fcc.gov/services/index.htm?job=licensing&id=ship_stations/

            Though as stated, I really don’t have a background with them.

    1. You are correct and any radio you buy, if not used both for transmit and receive may not work when you need it. I’m a ham and also licensed in other services so consider myself somewhat prepared.

      1. I think the confusion comes from there being several types of marine bands/radios. For VHF no license is needed unless the ship is over a specific size (and other caveats). For marine MH/HF a license is needed. Here’s a quick cut-n-paste from the FCC website:

        “You do not need a license to operate a marine VHF radio, radar, or EPIRBs aboard voluntary ships operating domestically.”

        “Ships that use MF/HF single side-band radio, satellite communications, or telegraphy must continue to be licensed by the FCC.“

        Of course, knowing the FCC, there’s probably a contradiction for both somewhere deep in the documentation.

        I do want to point out that I don’t have much experience with these. However, they are usually very waterproof, much, much, less expensive than what I decided on, and may be worth looking at as an alternative for someone that doesn’t want to get licensed. They are not the same when it comes to all the features, but for harsh weather emergency usage, it might be a good option to look into.

  9. There is something I should have clarified. I live in an area where we can get hurricanes and serious rain/humidity. Because of that, the IP rating is a major factor in my decision matrix. If you live in a hot arid climate then heat tolerance might ought weigh the IP rating, for northern climates cold tolerances. I really should have emphasized the ability to function outside in harsh regional climates as apposed to a specific like IP rating.

    What matters here is the process by which I went about deciding on a product and not what product I ended up with. What works for me might not work for you.

    1. Of course. I went with Dxengineering because that’s where I god the HT. You might find lower prices out there. Just be careful with the antenna (see he antenna comment above, and my note below)

      Antenna (note that there are a lot of fake diamond and Nagoya antennas out there, so go with a known good company when you buy them)
      https://www.dxengineering.com/parts/dmn-srh77ca

      Cigarette lighter adapter
      https://www.dxengineering.com/parts/ico-cp-12l

      Handheld microphone (I went cheap with this version
      https://www.dxengineering.com/parts/pry-spm-130

      I didn’t mention it, but I got a signalink Cable too. This is just the cable.
      https://www.dxengineering.com/parts/tgr-slcabhtw

  10. R,
    Fascinating article for someone like myself whose only experience with this form of communication goes back to the 1990’s when a friend had a linear, an altered CB, and a ground plane antenna that he used to talk “skip” when the conditions allowed.

    After doing some research, I found this article from 1991 about a 5 year old girl who acquired a HAM license. http://articles.latimes.com/1991-07-21/news/hl-502_1_ham-radio

    My question is this: doesn’t the cost of the equipment and the knowledge required to effectively operate it automatically exclude those who might abuse the privilege without the requirement for a license? I just find it funny that some who completely reject all other forms of government interference where licensing is concerned would cling so fervently to this requirement. Reminds me of the Dungeons & Dragons club in high school years ago; exclusion through perceived complexity.
    It is my understanding that most local, state, and government entities use digital communications now so the intent of the 1912 request by the US Navy that sought to protect the radio waves by requiring a license would now be a moot point.

    No disrespect intended, I just think it would open the door to a new group of younger enthusiasts, mentored by experienced users, if there wasn’t the need for costly and onerous regulations.

  11. Although I don’t agree with the government requirements around a license, they do have a value. Just like a drivers license, or a pilots license, making sure that people can show basic skills in an area adds to the safety of all (usually, kind of).

    There are things you can do with ham equipment that can be downright dangerous to yourself and others. Some frequencies can mess with pacemakers, some of the experimental microwave stuff can cook, and in short, it’s all a form of radiation. You can mess with navigation frequencies causing boating and airplane issues. There is a lot of damage you can cause.

    The first level test is basically all about what you are not allowed to do, how not to electrocute someone, and how not to cook them. I see a lot of value in this.

    I also think that people can freak out over tests, when they actually know the info. That’s why I think there should be an online intro level license. But that’s all just my opinion.

  12. Been there done that. Did the “Rita Run” in 2005 when all of SE. TX evacuated early in the morning due to a shift in direction of the hurricane. Although my son and I are both licensed HAM operators our wives are not and we had 3 vehicles for four persons. Over 24 hrs on the road and many forced separations we managed to regroup using GMRS/FRS hand held. Check in at an established time setting like 15 minutes after the hour. If others are on go through a set sequence of channels. We were in relatively flat land and communicated over about 4 miles easily. Carried extra batteries and plugged into the car for charging. 73’s

  13. Everyone goes on about the cost of ham equipment. It can be as expensive or cheap as you want it. For $100 you can find an old transceiver, throw up a Homebrew antenna and you’re good. The license requirements, in my view , are very watered down. 45 years ago when I got a license you had to go in person to FCC, pass hard exam, and code test.

    1. I say amen to you brother you hit the nail on the head. Today’s ham thinks oh I passed the test I know it all, I remember passing my first exam for technician and this guy walks up and say congratulations what did you get I said tec he said oh I am an extra class and walks away. Just like I tried to explain things to the author of this article he thought I was talking down to him, but in fact told him to learn on his own and quit listening to the Poindexter’s advice . All this guy know’s is what he read in book’s and what this new era hams think they know.

      1. Actually, I’m wrong. After reading your comments about the challenges in NYC, I realized that you didn’t intend to sound that way. Speech patterns are very different up there. Having moved from Boston to the south, I ran right into that difference right away. I was often misinterpreted, and I’m not talking about accent. Frequently I thought I was being friendly, when it was taken as just the opposite. So I don’t think you intended to come off that way, and I should not have responded with attitude. There are all kinds of regional and differences here. I really should have assumed he best intent.

  14. I have been going through a similar decision process recently, but have reached completely different conclusions than the author of this piece. Different situations dictate use of different solutions. Most emergencies don’t require any particular stealth and involve cooperation with neighbors and first responders. Big snowstorms, floods and tornadoes and the aftermath of tropical hurricanes, involve teams of Hams and local governments rescuing people, getting people in touch with relatives, etc. Any 2M HT that can hit the local base station or repeater is about all you need. So get a few cheap (Chinese) units for that purpose. After TEOTWAWKI, your world becomes your family and neighbors, distribute those same HTs for routine coordination. Then stealth does become important as does range to maintain/establish contact with other groups. Directional antennas, encryption (modified DMR equipment) and using other digital modes in the HF bands would be useful. Everything depends on the plan (you do have a plan?). My conclusion was to buy cheap (Chinese or used) and learn how to repair what I have. Invest in learning, parts, test equipment and antennas.
    By the way a good triband HT antenna is made in the USA by https://www.smileyantenna.com/.

    1. Everyone’s situation is different. Making an educated choice for your situation is what matters. In my case, I need to be able to use an HT outside in bad weather. Bad weather in my region includes hurricanes and occasional flooding. If you live in an area where blizzards are an issue, then cold weather tolerance matters more.

      Just don’t be under the illusion that because your inexpensive radio works fine on a sunny day, sitting on your porch, that it will work just as well when rain goes horizontal. Like I said earlier, I have cheap Chinese HT’s they have their role to fill.

    1. SSB is available for transmit, but not all radios have that capability.
      Also, the bands (i.e., 2M) are divided into sub-bands for offset duplex (repeaters), simplex, SSB, and data.
      The information is readily available.

    2. You are going to have a hard time finding a modern SSB 2 meter handheld. They may exist, but I haven’t found one yet. The closest I’ve found is the yaesu FT817ND. The 817 is portable 5w HF through 2m. But it’s a backpack radio not a HT.

  15. To clear up several CB radio misconceptions that just won’t die:

    CB radio has 40 channels. That’s it! The claim of “120” channels is advertising hype from the 1970’s. Go ahead and spin the dial yourself. After channel 40 you are back on channel 1. While you may have three different modes of transmission available on each channel, only one conversation can take place on each channel. On the same channel you cannot have two guys talking on AM, two guys talking on LSB, and two guys talking on USB. The multiple conversations will wipe each other out. The claim of “120” channels was false advertising and hype. There are only 40 channels!

    CB radio is authorized 4 watts output power using AM, and 12 watts PEP output when using SSB. That’s it! Don’t try to read between the lines or talk about “dead key watts” vs. “swing”. Back in the 1970’s, before the FCC rewrote the regulations, the output standard was “5-watts DC input to the final amplifier stage”. This complicated standard resulted in a typical output power of around 3.8 watts. So the FCC regulation rewrite simplified the measurement and rounded it up to 4 watts.

    “Export” CB radios cannot be legally exported anywhere! They all contain a combination of frequency coverage, output power, and transmission modes that make them illegal in every country, including the USA. Plus, operating outside the regular 40 CB channels is like waving a red flag at the Feds. Instead of “blending in” with the crowd on the 40 channels, you are operating on frequencies that normally have very little activity. So your activity sticks out like a sore thumb!

    Most SSB activity takes place on Channels 36 – 40, with Channel 36 serving as the calling channel. Operating SSB on the popular “AM” channels like Channel 19 will make you stand-out. If you want to maintain a low profile, stay away from the AM channels.

    Don’t buy cheap antennas! Wilson, K-40, Firestik, and Francis are good brands that have been around for years. Don’t buy a super short antenna either. The shorter the CB antenna the less efficient it is. If a full length 1/4-wave antenna is almost 9-feet long, then a short 2-foot antenna is not going to be very efficient. Good for very short range communications, but that’s it. The cheap K-mart mag-mount antenna that is only 24″ high can usually have its range measured in car lengths, not miles.

    1. Thanks Sarge for adding this comment. CB isn’t popular in my area so I don’t spend much time on it, but it can be very popular elsewhere. Unfortunately marketing will keep those myths alive for some time. Heck, just telling the difference between a 10/12 meter and CB, or export vs normal US CB on eBay or amazon can be an adventure for some. I’ve even seen some vendors or resellers use the watts consumed by the radio for “power” rephrased to make it seem that’s the RF watts output.

      What’s most important, and it doesn’t matter if it’s CB, HAM, GMRS, FRS or any other variant, is that if you want comms you have to learn about it. And like you point out, it matters how you use it (even procedurally).

  16. Someone commented on the Kenwood TH-D74A hand-held radio having SSB capability. I researched the radio and read the fine print in the specifications. The radio has extended receive capability on VFO-B, and basically covers the entire shortwave (HF) spectrum and then some – from around 100 kHz to 76 MHz. However, it only has SSB/CW receive capability. It cannot transmit using SSB, which is what the person was hoping for. It is for receive only, which is good for the frequency range it covers. Basically, it is a VHF/UHF Amateur Radio HT, with a shortwave receiver built into the VFO-B side. Sort of a Swiss Army knife concept for a radio. But having a good antenna would be critical for good reception on the shortwave bands. Something better than the VHF/UHF rubber duckie that comes with the radio.

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