As we welcome new people into the hobby, the first obvious question that’s asked is “what radio should I buy?” In this article, we will cover VHF and UHF for new technicians who want to use repeaters.
The Antenna Makes the Station
Most new hams focus on purchasing a radio and do not put much thought into the antenna. I would argue that the antenna is at least as important as the transceiver you choose. A handheld connected to a roof-top antenna can outperform a base station connected to an indoor magnet mount.
Of course, we can’t all put a big tower in our back yard, and sometimes HOA restrictions might even prevent any outdoor antenna. That’s alright, we can be creative here: For example, you may consider mounting a fiberglass vertical in your attic. If you live in an apartment, a magnet mount antenna on a pizza pan near a window could work.
Buy a Mobile First
This may sound counter-intuitive, but for most users, I do not recommend purchasing a handheld as their first radio. Unless you live in a big city where there are repeaters within a few miles, you will not have good results with a handheld and rubber duck antenna.
Many new hams purchase handhelds and expect them to work like cell phones, not realizing that cell phones work so well because the phone is communicating with a transceiver that is usually less than a few miles away. Meanwhile, in ham radio, you could be much farther away from the repeaters you want to use.
My general recommendation: Purchase a mobile radio. You can purchase new single-band VHF mobile radios from the “big three” for about $150, and dual-banders usually start around $300-$350. Don’t forget feed line and an antenna.
On a budget? Avoid the temptation to buy a cheap Chinese handheld or mobile. They are not good radios by any measure.
Instead, join a radio club, meet local hams, perhaps someone has a used radio they are willing to loan or sell to you for a good price. Hams can be be extremely generous, you may be surprised.
Another option would be to purchase a used radio from eBay or a local hamfest.
Mobile radios need 12V (really 13.8V) to operate. You have a variety of options – batteries, solar, or a standard power supply. I tend to prefer Astron power supplies, but there are many great brands from which to choose. You will need to review the specifications for the mobile radio you choose, but typically a 20 amp power supply will suffice.
If You Must Buy a Handheld…
If you really want to purchase a handheld, I still recommend using an external antenna. At home, you could use something like a Diamond X-30 on your roof or in your attic, or even a magnet mount 1/4 wave on a pizza pan or file cabinet!
Below is a list of various products that won’t break the bank but should help you get good results with your first station. I’m not sponsored by any of these companies.
The antenna is the most important part of your new station.
The Diamond X30A is a great base station antenna that can be mounted in an attic or outdoors.
This antenna will get excellent results into area repeaters.
Can be found new for about $70.
The Diamond MR77 is a magnet mount antenna that can be stuck onto a pizza pan or file cabinet.
Will not get nearly as good results as the X30, but it’s better than a handheld rubber duck. Great for apartment-dwellers.
Can be found new for under $50.
The Kenwood TM-281A is a 65-watt mobile radio for 2 meters, and can be used as a base station on a table or desk, or in a vehicle.
Can be found new for under $150.
The Kenwood TM-V71A is a 50-watt mobile radio that works on 2 meters and 70 centimeters. It can also be remote-mounted so the control head can be placed in a different location than the “brick.”
Price is often around $350.
If you really prefer to purchase a handheld, I am a big fan of the Yaesu FT-60R.
Can be found for about $150.
I hope these recommendations have been informative. If you have anything to add, feel free to comment below!