I received an e-mail from a new ham today, asking for advice on what to purchase as a first radio. For several years, I have been recommending Yaesu radios to our new ARES members. And with good reason.
First, this disclaimer: There are lots of good radios available. I developed my recommendations after discussions with dealers, users, and considering the needs of our new hams, both financial and technical. You might recommend a different radio for reasons as valid as my own. (But, if you do, please tell me why).
Here are the criteria I used in selecting a radio to recommend.
- Low cost — The economy is bad and many people are buying a radio primarily to use in their ARES, CERT or other volunteer activities. They don’t want to spend a lot of money and would probably skip the purchase if the price seemed high.
- Ease-of-operation — This is really important as many of these radios won’t get a tremendous amount of use until they are needed for an ARES or CERT response. Fewer buttons and “power user” features are a win.
- Survivability — The radio needs to be tough and submersible is a plus. Bad things often happen on rainy days, it seems.
- Low cost — This is important enough that I mention it twice.
- Easy programmability — Yaesu doesn’t give away software. But, the RT Systems-developed software they sell, especially the new Version 4, is nice work and makes it easy for me to move my programming files between various Yaesu radios.
- Standardization — It is a huge help to have our members mostly using a single type of radio, all programmed the same (above channel 20 as we make the lower channels “user option”). During an incident, time for technical hand-holding is at a premium. Fewer different radios in the hands of inexperienced users is a win.
- Power — The radio must be capable of operating at full-power from a AA-battery pack. This was a deal-killer for many radios I considered. Including all the tiny, cute ones that I’ve tried.
- Because of the military PAVE PAWS radar located North of Sacramento, 70cm UHF has been largely depopulated in my area.
- This means a single-band, 2-meter VHF radio is an excellent choice for our members.
- Standardization is a big training win. We now have about 60 of the recommended talkies out there, all programmed alike above channel 20. All the hospital base stations are programmed the same way, as are many mobile radios.
Yaesu FT-270R: Our talkie of choice
Selling in the $130 range, the Yaesu FT-270R is a rugged, submersible radio that can be fully-powered from a 6-AA battery pack. We recommend that every new ham purchase at least the radio and the AA-pack (or, better two so one says in the glove compartment). A mag-mount mobile antenna, a speaker/mic, and a longer gain antenna as an alternative to the supplied antenna round out our recommended kit.
Total purchase price is $170 to about $250 at our preferred dealer, Ham Radio Outlet in Oakland (ask for Mark, the store manager). The FT-270R is the replacement for the discontinued VX-170R, which we previously recommended.
We have some users, however, who want a dual-band radio, primarily for scanner listening. That is going to change soon as our county moves all UHF public safety to P25 digital. But, if you live South of us — where 70cm becomes useful again — or travel, a dual-band radio is a valid choice.
Yaesu FT-60R: Our dual-band option
For these users, we recommend the Yaesu FT-60R. It is a dual-band radio that costs about $50 more than the FT-270R. There is only one VFO, so the radio tunes easily. It also uses the same accessories — including the FBA-25A AA-battery case — as the FT-270R. It is not submersible, but I believe there is a “water-resistant” claim.
I don’t own one of these radios, but the people who have purchased them like them very much. I have, however, purchased the programming software as the two radios both use the same programming cable.
Besides the AA battery case, we recommend a small “Hershey Kiss” magnetic mount antenna. (It’s named for the size and shape of the small magnet).
These are not especially rugged, but are inexpensive and absolutely necessary for anything like solid repeater coverage here running only 5-watts.
The small mag mount can also be taken inside and used on a metal surface, such as a filing cabinet or cookie sheet, to help get a signal out of the building.
Yaesu sells an expensive, submersible speaker/mic that is too large and seems to muffle the mic audio. We recommend the less-expensive “standard” speaker/mic as an alternative. It features an earphone jack on the mic. The earphone is recommended, but many people don’t buy them or can’t find them when they would like to use one to keep noise (and prying ears) to a minimum.
Some people purchase a cigarette lighter power adapter. I’d rather see that money invested in a mobile radio.
Not just for beginners
In recommending the FT-270R, I don’t want you to think I am dumbing-down the choice for our new hams’ benefit. I own a whole bunch of radios — include VX-8, VX-7, VX-5, etc. — but find them all too hard to use. OK, the VX-8 is pretty easy, but it doesn’t fully power from a AA pack.
Indeed, the FT-270R is the talkie you are most likely to find me using, too. It’s a great radio, at a price that won’t break me if the radio disappears.
Coming in Part 2: Mobile radio options — Yes, you need one.