Equipment Information For New Hams

Equipment Suggestions

It is common for ham radio operators to have both voice and digital capacity. State and federal emergency managers are increasingly moving toward digital communications. Local communications are still generally by voice.

A voice only radio will be less expensive. A radio with both capacities may position you better for future developments. Either is a good option. The recommendations below are for radios with both capacities. A voice only option by any of the recommended manufacturers is still a good choice.

A new ham’s first radio is usually a hand-held (an HT in ham speak. HT stands for handy-talkie.) If a goal is to use the radio for emergency communications, we recommend you purchase the highest-quality HT your budget will support. The three best/most common manufacturers are Kenwood, Yaesu, and ICOM. (See comments below on the Baofeng HTs.) If possible, purchase a dual-band HT. These can monitor and receive on two bands – commonly set to VHF and UHF.

If your budget is not restrained, consider a Kenwood TH-D72A. Kenwood radios have superb audio quality. The TH-D72A has the best built-in digital capacities in its class.

Yaesu, widely used by ham operators, makes a number of excellent HTs. One of its newest HTs, the FT2DR, is a close competitor to the Kenwood D72A. (Note that the FT2DR does not have full TNC capacity. TNCs are used for digital communications such as Winlink, which is in wide use for emergency communications.)

An excellent runner up, with more limited onboard digital capacities is the Yaesu FT-60R.. It’s an excellent radio. This is considerably more affordable that the TH-D72A or FT2DR and is widely in use in our area.

ICOM also makes excellent handheld radios. Several of their models are designed to be compatible with DSTAR, a proprietary digital mode that is beginning to gain traction in Oregon. The ICOM HT that best approximates the Yaesu FT-60R is the ICOM IC-T70A. The IC-T70A is not DSTAR compatible.

A comment on Baofeng radios. These are Chinese manufactured radios. They are cheap and most of us have one lying around. The manufacturer’s software is hair-raising to use but CHIRP, an open source channel programming software, is widely used for these radios. Here’s the problem: Baofeng radios – even the newer sets now on the market – will periodically “desense on receive.” This means you may not hear (receive) transmissions from other ham radio operators. There are several reasons for this, including the nature of the Baofeng circuitry and the relative overload of radio transmissions.

That said, there are expert ham radio operators in our area who are enthusiasts about the Baofengs and report no difficulties with them.

A Baofeng HT is definitely the least expensive option commonly in use in our area. The latest model Baofeng HT is the BF-F8HP. A similar model, the UV-82HP, has a slightly smaller battery capacity. Purchase these radios online.


Whatever you purchase, also consider purchasing the following:

A programming cable

The manufacturer’s software (in some cases, this is now free online)

A data cable

An AA or AAA battery adapter

An earphone/mic extension (this plugs into the radio and one of your ears)

A ¼ wave “mag-mount” antenna, to be used with a galvanized cookie sheet or similar

An SMA adapter, to attach your HT to the ¼ wave mag-mount.

Where to Purchase Your Equipment

Over time, you’ll settle in to purchases online (including Amazon and eBay) and at ham “fairs” of which there are quite a few in our area.

If you can, you might want to consider making your first purchase at Ham Radio Outlet (HRO). HRO is in Tigard, so it’s a drive. But the folks there are total pros. They will take the time to talk you through your options. Making a purchase there also establishes you in their system – you can order online from them as well. HRO is a hands-on resource you definitely want to know about.

How To Program Your Radio

The most widely used open source software for these radios is CHIRP, which is a free download. But – you really want to do some basic programming with the manufacturer’s software first, if you can. This includes such issues as setting the time-off, setting up the LCD display to your liking, and quite a bit more.

Once you have that set, you can upload commonly-used templates using CHIRP.

FYI, there is a third option. RT Systems makes excellent third-party software for most brand-name radios. There are two issues – cost and the incompatibility of some RT Systems’ programming cables with other programs such as CHIRP.

(Information current as of August 2019)