The Amateur Amateur: Hold My Hand-Held
By Gary Ross Hoffman, KB0H
Can't stop acquiring hand-helds
These days just about every new ham starts out with a hand-held
transceiver. They've scanned the Internet and know how much radios
cost. They understand that it's much cheaper and much easier to get
on the air with a nice palm-sized radio. The base and mobile rigs can
The shock comes when they can't figure out how to operate it. There is
only one knob, and the buttons all have numbers or meaningless
symbols on them. If they do manage to turn it on, they're likely to
get a loud burst of static.
Where is the volume control? Where's the squelch? How do I even turn it
They eventually resort to doing the one thing they never wanted to
do: Reading the manual.
Only, the manual is as incomprehensible as a treatise
on super-string theory. The words are all in English, but it's as if
they were randomly chosen from a dictionary and placed in no
particular order. (I suspect that's close to the truth.) It makes no
sense at all.
The luckless new ham then looks around for an experienced Amateur Radio
operator, and asks for help.
No problem. Is there a ham operator anywhere who would turn down the
opportunity to dispense his/her vast knowledge to a newbie? I doubt
So, with a knowing grin, the experienced operator looks at the new ham's
radio, and then the manual, and his/her grin turns into a frown.
“This is a Chinese radio!” he/she exclaims (substitute
Korean, Vietnamese, or whatever as applicable).
The newbie looks on unhappily and asks what's the matter.
Battery and replacement cells. I do not recommend trying this.
“I can't help you unless you have a Japanese radio,” the
And so the newly licensed ham gets a harsh introduction to Amateur Radio
reality. Hand-held radios aren't so simple after all.
My own introduction to hand-held transceivers came well before I got my
Amateur Radio license. I was the head of security for a few Doctor
Who conventions, and used Radio Shack CB radios for
communications. They weren't so much “hand-held” as
“lug-around”, but they sure did look official! I switched
to much smaller 49 MHz FM radios for an event hosted by our local PBS
station. They were a lot easier to carry, but didn't have a lot of
When my wife and I did eventually get our Amateur Radio licenses, we
started with a pair of Yaesu FT-530 hand-held transceivers. (I still
have them. To me, they just look like real walkie-talkies.)
Those units were my true introduction to the ups, downs, ins and outs
of Amateur Radio. It was more than just about learning operating
procedures, there were other
concerns as well.
The radios came with NiCad batteries. If I wanted to run at higher power,
I needed a larger ones. I
discovered that batteries went bad (and I learned not to try
to replace the dead cells inside them). Then, all of a sudden, better
NiMH batteries came along that didn't have the quirks that the NiCads
had, and I had to learn about
batteries all over again. And, of course, as new-and-improved
batteries were introduced, the prices went up.
Bridgecom BCH220 - "sulky voice"
Programming a radio was another issue. Even those old FT-530s required some data
entry. It wasn't terribly hard back then, and inserting
frequencies, offsets and so forth on those radios was a good, rather
gentle introduction to what was to come later.
The FT-530s were “classical” dual-band transceivers, meaning
that they operated on both the 2 meter band and the 70 centimeter
band. Today you can get dual-band and even tri-band units that
operate on a variety of different bands. I did succumb and bought one
that worked in the 2 meter and 1.25 meter bands, because I like to
play around in the 220 MHz part of the spectrum.
Ah well. I don't need more hand-held transceivers. The
manufacturers just keep putting out new models that have some feature
that really appeals to me. I can't resist.
Even before I bought the 2m/1.25m radio (a Wouxun
KG-UVD1P/2), I had obtained a Yaesu VX-8G. I got that
one because it could put out an APRS signal (Automatic Packet
Reporting System). I don't use it much, but if you see KB0H-7 on the
map, that's me.
I also picked up a Baofeng
UV-5RA dual-bander, but for the life of me, I can't imagine
why. I loaned it to a new ham years ago, and haven't heard from him
since. I hope it's not because of the performance of the radio.
The last hand-held transceiver I purchased was a Bridgecom BCH-220,
which, you might have guessed, is a single-band radio that operates
in the 220 MHz band.
Okay, I'm a sucker for special features. But honestly, I can do without
options such as flashlight-mode and siren-mode. (I
have a keychain that can do all that.) What I'd much rather have is a
radio that doesn't require an odd sequence such as “Push
squiggle-FM-0 for 1500 milliseconds while humming the first three
notes of the Star Spangled Banner”
to change the squelch setting. I mean, some of the instructions for
these newer hand-held radios just aren't humanly possible.
One final note. Two of my newer hand-helds actually talk. One says,
“Channel mode” in a friendly girlish voice when I turn it
on. The other says, “Power on!” in a sulky girlish voice
when I turn it on. I wonder if they talk to each other when the
radios are recharging?
E-mail Gary Ross Hoffman