(No?) Nonsense Radio

The November 2011 issue of QST contains an Op-Ed that really left me shaking my head more than normal.  The author bemoans the complexity and feature sets of newer handheld radios and pines for the days of his IC-02AT.  He goes on at length about the “unnecessary” receive capabilities (NOAA weather broadcasts, AM/FM radio, etc) and how he has to search for the manual every time he wants to program a repeater offset.

Well, as someone who recently upgraded from a radio just slightly newer than the IC-02AT to a “modern” HT, he’s wrong on nearly every account (except the micro-/mini-USB port, which I would wholeheartedly support for charging purposes).

  • Eliminate extraneous features.  Too bad we all have different definitions of this.  I think scanning is a worthless feature, but like NOAA/NWS weather broadcasts.  In fact, my wife is delighted that we now have a battery-powered AM/FM+NOAA/NWS radio again that I will always be able to find and will guarantee that it works.  Did you hear that, guys?  My non-ham wife actually likes my HT and uses it to listen to FM radio!
  • Eliminate multilevel menu trees.   I’m just dying to replace my cell-phone-sized VX-3r with a knob-covered brick.  I’m sure you are too.  It’ll look great in my shirt pocket.
  • Eliminate the proprietary programming cables.  Maybe I’m not a typical ham, but I only have about ten memory channels programmed into my VHF/UHF FM radios and they took about 10 minutes to program through the front panel (my bad, menus).  The mini-/micro-USB port is a good idea for charging, though.
  • Allow for a battery pack that uses disposable batteries.  Last time I checked, most radios have this option.  Did I miss something?
  • Create an inter-vendor standard for user interface.  What if they standardize on Icom?!?!  The last Icom VHF/UHF FM radio I used received a “grade of S, for ‘stupid’” from its owner.  That was in 1993.  All of the Japanese manufacturers will be put out of business by the factory owned by the Chinese military that produces their products before this happens.

He should buy another IC-02AT if he liked them so much.  I bet for a Jackson or two, you could have a nice one…complete with the 6x AA battery holder.  Heck, buy two or three for spare parts.  I think I have the Service Manual around here somewhere if I didn’t already sell it.

On a more serious note, there are lots of no-frills radios available out there, even brand new ones with factory warranties.  Until recently, at least, the money in VHF FM radios was in two-way, government, and public safety, not amateur.  There are a lot of amateur rigs at the “low end” of the market that share a lot in common with their commercial counterparts.  And, of course, you can always buy used Motorola gear on eBay if you desire ultimate performance and ruggedness.

Ethan Miller, K8GU, is a regular contributor to AmateurRadio.com and writes from Maryland, USA. Contact him at [email protected].

5 Responses to “(No?) Nonsense Radio”

  • Michael N5TGL:

    He’s probably one of the same folks that whinge on and on about SDR not being a “real radio” because it doesn’t have knobs. 🙂

    I do have to say that a standard USB cable interface would be a great step forward. Proprietary cables are just another way to squeeze $$ out of the consumer. Two points on that though:

    1. USB for charging…well, hope you have a LONG time to charge. I think the max current per port is 500mA, so you’re looking at the old wall-wart speed of charging, probably around 14 hours. Still, it’s better than nothing, and nice to have the option.

    2. Programming lots of memories quickly is very handy for folks that travel. When I was on the road a lot more, I had repeaters programmed for Houston, Cincinnati, Richland, WA, Montana, etc. Doing that by hand would have taken forever. Punching them in on the computer and uploading them just took a few minutes. I can also save frequency lists if I start to run short of memories (mine only has 99) and I can swap them out in seconds.

    The suggestion of an inter-vendor standard by that guy is laugable. Apparently this guy has forgot about the consumer nightmare of VHS vs. Beta and Blu-Ray vs. HD-DVD — and that was only two standards to pick from! Imagine trying to get all of the manufacturers to decide on a standard? Holy crap! You know what you get when you design a horse by committe? A camel! Ha! 🙂

  • k8gu:

    I found the whole essay pretty amusing. In his defense, the author did appear to be a smart guy, but some of his ideas were pretty provincial and did not account for the fact that not everybody uses their radio like he does.

    A USB charging cable would be fine if you had a drop-in quick charger. I think everybody would win on that one…dealers would make money selling the drop-in quick charger accessory and cheap hams could use their cell phone charger to charge their radio.

  • Bob Heil:

    Compatibility is NOT one of today’s off shore manufacturers strong points. It
    would be great if they all ‘played together nicely’ as so many things in the commercial broadcast industry but nope – they all think their idea is the leading dog in the pack. Makes it so confusing to the end user but – hey – they no longer really care about the end user. Sad.

  • Garth, KF7ATL:

    Many, or most of the functions on my Yaesu hand held are menu-driven. I’m about as computer impaired as the next guy, but I’ve been able to read since first grade so they weren’t all that difficult to figure out after reading the owner’s manual. There are some options that I never use, but it’s still nice to have those options, just in case!

  • Tony Hoffman, AA2TH:

    The QST column rang true to me. (Mind you, I’m not decrying the feature richness of today’s radios, just the relative complexity and learning curve.) I recently returned to ham radio after a 29-year absence, getting a Yaesu FT450 for the HF bands and an VX-8DR for VHF-UHF. The friend who recommended it said that I really needed to get a disk and cable and program it–as my previous rigs had been Heathkits, the idea of programming a radio seemed alien, but hey, it’s the 21st Century now, so I got the program and installed it on my laptop. I didn’t immediately program the radio–I used it on simplex a bit, but my focus has been on HF.

    Then Dayton came along. My laptop failed and I bought one to replace it. I was to meet up with friends there, including the fellow who’d recommended the VX-8DR. I wanted to keep in touch with them while in Dayton, and figured it would be a good time to learn to program the rig, so I grabbed the disk (as I’d need to reinstall the program on my new laptop) and cable and brought them with me. When I tried to install the program, however, I found I needed a serial number, which wasn’t on the disk itself and I have no idea where it is. So the rig sits idle for now (somehow stuck on the 2M calling frequency and untunable), while I’ve been having a great time on HF–the FT450 is user-friendly enough, and I’ve been able to uncover features as need by referring to the manual.

    I guess I’ll have to go back to R&L or Yaesu or whoever it is who actually issued the serial number and try to get them to let me know what it is or give me a new one, as I haven’t found any trace of the number in my ham radio boxes. If that doesn’t work, I really don’t want to shell out another $50 to replace the disk. Maybe I’ll try to program the rig from the manual, daunting as I’ve heard that is.

    Maybe I should have gotten a simpler rig, or waited til a time when I could really concentrate on VHF/UHF. I don’t think of myself as feature-shy, and figured I’d grow into many of the more advanced features (which has been the case with the FT-450–my previous HF rig had been a Heath HW-101)–but I feel I got in over my head with the VX8-DR.

    73 de AA2TH
    Tony Hoffman

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