One of the questions I am asked most frequently is “What radio(s) do you recommend for new hams and emergency responders to purchase?”
My primary selection criteria for EMCOMM use is the radio must be able to operate at full power on a set of AA batteries. This is the easiest way to assure that a radio will be usable several hours into an emergency, especially a radio owned by a beginner or occasional user.
This requirement means really small talkies are not suitable unless you have multiple rechargeable batteries and a way to charge them (without normal electricity) quickly enough to stay ahead of your running them down communicating.
For several years, my primary recommendation was the Yaesu VX-170, which has been replaced by the FT-270R. These are single-band VHF submersible radios selling for less than $150. At the time, PAVE PAWS radar made UHF pretty unusable where I live, so a single-band radio made sense, especially since it cost $50 less than the second-choice Yaesu FT-60R.
Recommended Radio: Yaesu FT-60R
Today, the dual-band Yaesu FT-60R or the VHF-only FT-270R are closer in price ($145 vs. $130) and we have adopted a local strategy of building multiple low-level UHF repeater systems to take advantage of the band while staying within the PAVE PAWS restrictions. (If you live outside Northern California this PAVE PAWS radar stuff doesn’t apply to you).
Because we’ve starting using UHF, a dual-band radio is a better choice today and — unless you are planning to submerse your radio — that suggests an FT-60R for most people.
However, the dual-band radio I carry is one I have never recommended, a Wouxun KG-UV3D. This “cheap Chinese” “commie-talkie” works well (until it loses all memory every so often) and is cheap enough (about $119) but I consider it too difficult for a beginner to use. I bought mine at Dayton in 2011 and while I don’t regret the purchase, I still can’t recommend it.
Sometimes Recommended: Wouxun KG-UV6X
I am also now recommending — in very specific circumstances — the Wouxun KG-UV6X handie-talkie. This radio is more difficult to use than I’d like, but can be powered by a AA battery pack. I recommend this radio when the user is affiliated with a public safety agency and needs a radio that is Part 90 certified and can narrowband, both requirements for non-ham, public safety use.
There are also some narrowband channels (two used by local fire departments) with frequencies that cannot be dialed up on most ham rigs (but most scanners will receive). If you need to listen to Ripon Fire, for example, and want to do it on your HT, you need the KG-UX6D. The radio covers 136-174 and 315-512 MHz.
When people ask what radio to purchase, they also want to know what accessories are required. I asked Ham Radio Outlet to compile two shopping lists for me, one for the FT-60R and the other for the Wouxun. Both include all the accessories a new ham is likely to use, including power, speaker/mic and external antenna.
Both shopping lists are complete with all the accessories you need and total about $330 at this writing. If you call Mark at HRO in Oakland and quote the invoice number he will know precisely what you want to purchase. He can also help you make changes to fit your budget or specific needs.