Radios to Go!
Getting the Most from Your Handheld Transceiver
By Steve Ford, WB8IMY
QST Editor Steve Ford is a writer of considerable talent, better than me. Besides running the monthly magazine, he also writes ARRL books, including this new title. I always enjoy reading his work and this book was an enjoyable read, if not always a particularly satisfying one.
This is not a badly written book — Steve doesn’t write even mediocre books — but he has attempted to combine at least two books into one, and that is where the book falls short.
The result is a book that covers a lot of territory, but only offers the view from about 35,000 feet. Which is another way of saying this book seems engineered not to cut into the sales of any other ARRL titles.
I had hoped this book would be something that it didn’t turn out to be: Something that could be handed to a new Technician to help them buy a radio and start using repeaters with a minimum of embarassment or bloodshed.
That is not what this book does (so I’m not off the hook for doing one of my own. Rats!)
The book starts by saying it won’t try to replace your HT’s user manual, and then starts explaining radio features, memories, scanning, etc. It has a nice description of why “rubber duckie” antennas suck and an interesting chapter about batteries.
A couple of curious ommissions: No mention that “drop-in” chargers are often quick chargers and not including MotoTrbo in the list of digital modes.
All the “radio hardware” chapters are really too short and could have been expanded into a larger book of their own. The short length of the chapters hurts the material. The content could be expanded with operating instructions and tips to become an introduction to FM and repeaters. That is would-be book #1.
The more interesting — and probably more useful — portion of the book is dedicated to expanding the horizon of the HT user. This is information that many hams, new or old, may be unfamiliar with. While I wouldn’t combine APRS and satellites into one chapter, Steve has. He also explains how Echolink and IRLP work, another topic that many hams, especially new ones, never explore. This is wannabe book #2.
Curiously, the book doesn’t stray much into mobile operation. That isn’t so much an HT topic as it fits the “on the go!” title of the book. There is no mention of direction finding, certainly a fun HT activity, especially with homemade antenna shields and body fade techniques.
Connecting “hardware how to” with “fun stuff to do” might have been a chapter on net operation and perhaps a reasonably thorough discussion of repeaters, a topic the book only discusses in relation to the various tones one might use on-the-air (PL, DTMF, DCS, etc.)
This book also continues the League’s annoying habit of padding the page count with documents the reader probably doesn’t need. In this case, seven pages of VHF/UHF bandplans, which uses the same amount of space an additional chapter might have taken. I don’t buy books to read reference material I can easily download.
The “buying a radio” portion of the is limited to seven pages, including the rejoinders that five watt radios use more power than one watt radios and that you might want to check the reviews in QST before making a purchase.
The eight-page chapter, “The Care and Feeding of Batteries” talks about battery chemistry, Ni-Cd “memory effect” (which I thought didn’t really exist, but if Steve says so, I’ll believe), drop-in chargers (without mentioning that some are quick-chargers), and a very valid warning not to run 12 volts directly into radio until you are sure it can handle the voltage.
There are six pages about memories, five about scanning, you get the idea, general discussions of features most portables share.
Steve does an admirable job of explaining DCS squelch, recommending it as a easy way to implement selective calling. He talks about using it over repeaters, which seems only possible if the repeater does not require a PL tone to operate. I am not sure there is an easy way to transmit DCS and PL at the same time, but having read this book I’m going to play with DCS. I never really understood how it worked and Steve taught me.
If you are buying your first talkie, there are better ways to spend money than this book. But, if you’ve had a portable for a while and have started to wonder, “Is this all there is?” Steve Ford offers excellent examples of features, functions and activities you may enjoy but haven’t thought of or noticed. That’s what it did, even for an old ham like me.