Are you looking for an alternative and reliable means of communication when your phone is down due to battery issues? Maybe you need something that could help you talk to your friends and colleagues at a fair distance on a hunting trip, cruise ship or at a party. Ham radios, otherwise known as amateur radios, are the exact equipment you seek!
Now we understand that there are different radios to pick from; that’s why we have conducted our research to come up with a beginner’s guide to ham radio, a guide on all ham radio operations. If any of the categories of people listed above sounds like you and you have little or no experience in the radio scene, then this is for you!
We have conducted our research based on how other people who were newbies like you felt about the available products in their user reviews and different expert opinions.
Table of Contents
Considerations for choosing the best ham radios for beginners
For someone who has little or no experience with radios, choosing a radio that efficiently serves your purpose is quite a tricky task. However, making the right choice starts with knowing what you intend to make use of the radio for.
All the different purposes for which ham radios are meant can be classified into about four classes, namely:
- Base or Fixed (a permanent location).
- Mobile (in a vehicle).
- Portable (temporary installation).
- Handheld (carried by hand, pocket, or belt clip).
You need to figure out which one best describes your needs. After sorting that out, you need to check the different ham radios’ features and accessories to see which radio has the best features to suit your needs.
Depending on which of these you need the radio for, the following factors should be considered:
INPUT AND OUTPUT POWER
The input and output power of ham radios transmitters and the choice of antennas are almost singlehandedly responsible for the communication range. It affects how much distance the radios can communicate over. As a result, it is very important to access the input and output power of any radio to be picked to ensure that the capacity matches the needs for which the radios are meant for. Handheld ham radios, for instance, need about 3 -5 watts of output for consistent coverage. Likewise, mobile radios require between 10 and 50 watts.
ACCESSORIES AND SPECIAL FEATURES
Now, depending on what specific need you need your radio to serve, you need to check out the additional accessories and feature which come with individual products to see which fits your job requirements. For mobile radios, for instance, one of the most important accessories are antennas and batteries. Other common important accessories are battery chargers, smart microphones, headsets, detachable front panels etc.
Scanning is the radios’ ability to switch from frequency to frequency in search of signals. All radios can exhibit either of three types of scanning: basic scanning, channel scanning and programmed scanning. These three types of scanning have certain advantages and disadvantages, which makes them suitable for different functions. It’s important to know which kind of scanning the radio to be picked uses to access how it suits the intended purpose.
Your choice of antenna is one of the most significant factors affecting effective communication with any radio. So when picking any radio, the antennas’ capacity is something you should check right before purchasing that new radio.
Types of Radio Sets
The types of radio sets available can be classified into three groups:
- Mobile units
- Handheld Radios
- Base stations.
Like the name implies, handheld radios are meant to be carried by hand from place to place. They often come with belt clips for easy attachment to the body hence aiding easy carriage. These radios allow for easy communication with multiple workgroups and for maximum efficiency.
Mobile units come with a bit more power than handheld devices and, as such, provide more communication range. As their name suggests, these mobile radios can be carried around in cars, operate on VHF and UHF and hence provide more transmission capability owing to the higher power of about 26-30 watts that they come with.
Base stations are built simply for long-distance communication. Unlike mobile units and handheld devices, which operate on UHF and VHF, base stations operate on HF and give them the edge of reaching people who are very far apart.
13 Best Ham Radios for Beginners
1. BaoFeng Radio
This is an amazing handheld radio for beginners with three high (8 watts), medium (4watts) and low (1watt) levels of power output for a user to select from. This radio functions with efficiency to give you the best quality in the communication you can get. It is by far the best ham mobile radio with several useful features, clear sound and a very portable design.
- This radio has up to 128 selectable channels for you to transmit on.
- It uses a larger battery, which gives better power and longer battery life.
- The radio has a built-in flashlight to help you make your way around as you explore dark places.
- It comes with an earphone, desktop charger and a detailed manual.
- The radio may be difficult to use without prior experience or the manual.
2. Wouxun KG-UV9D
This is the right choice of a high-quality amateur radio that offers you long-range and multiple power output levels. This VHF/UHF radio is easy to set up and use. It gives you a long-range so that people in your group can easily communicate with each other using the radio frequencies over long distances.
- The waterproof radio comes with a programming cable and earpiece.
- With this dual-band transceiver, you can work separately on TX and RX in different areas.
- You can turn off the screen’s backlight and the indicator light of the device whenever you want to.
- The walkie talkie has all, selective and group call options.
- Although it is a dual-band walkie talkie, it is not a duplex radio.
- The display is difficult to read in the sunlight.
3. ICOM 2300H
With this handheld radio for beginners, you can be assured of getting crystal clear communication and a great user experience. This is the perfect amateur radio with its easy to use design and functions. It has a small size and is lightweight, so it is easy to grab, handle and carry around during your many activities and adventures.
- This is the best ham mobile radio with 207 memory channels and a 65w power output.
- The transceiver has a bold multicolored LCD screen and multiple scan features.
- It is a very durable, compact and efficient device.
- An SWR meter is not one of the features of this radio.
- The user manual does not come as a hard copy.
4. TYT TH-7800
It is regarded by many as the best starter ham radio. With this, you get lasting battery life, a sturdy, durable body and impressive features from this great amateur radio. It is a dual-band mobile transceiver with an ultra-sized LCD screen and a front panel you can easily detach. This VHF/UHF radio has at least 800 memory channels, each with an independent setting, for you to communicate clearly with other people in your group.
- This is a cross-band radio that comes with a quality programming cable.
- The radio has an automatic receiver shift and microphone keys you can program to be customized for your use.
- You can select from low power to high power options based on what supports your needs.
- The FRS and gmrs transmit/receive which the radio supports can not be used until unlocked in the program.
5. TYT MD-9600
The TYT 9600 is seen as the easiest radio to use. This VHF and UHF radio is the best ham radio for beginners as it is simple, compact and easy to start with. It has a great FM radio reception over a long-range, so communication is smooth and clear on the transceiver. The 50 watts two-way radio has multiple selectable power output levels and no loss of the VHF low power packet. With the color LED display and lighted LED keypad, it is more convenient to use the radio in the dark and check in the state of the radio functions.
- The amateur radio has a GPS function and an excellent dual-band display.
- It has VOX, voice prompt, encryption and an emergency alarm.
- This ham walkie talkie can be used to send short text messages to other users.
- Users unfamiliar with DMR radios may find it difficult to navigate its settings and functions without a guide from an experienced user or a manual considering it is different from the usual FM transceiver.
6. TIDRADIO UV-5R
The TIDRADIO UV-5R radio is an upgrade of the Baofeng UV 5R radio. This two-way radio has a high power output of 8 watts and an antenna that expands signal transmission distance and allows high signal reception. Tidradio and Baofeng have the same programming software, and UV-5R comes with Driver Free Programming Cable. The radio is compatible with other radios, like the Baofeng BF-F8HP, V-82 and UV-5R.
- The dual-band two-way handheld radio features the tri-power switch. This means you can select the high power or maximize range or low power to conserve battery life.
- It uses a 3800mAH battery, which gives a longer communication time than other radios.
- This best entry-level ham radio works on both UHF and VHF frequency ranges.
- The radio is not water or dust resistant.
7. Xiegu G90 HF Amateur Radio
Xiegu G90 radio receives a frequency range of 0.5-30MHz; it doesn’t support VHF, just HF bands. This radio is a powerhouse with a high power output of 20 watts. The ham features an internal automatic antenna tuner and comes with a programming cable. It also features the LCD display, which shows all functions of the radio. The radio provides a communication range of 2500 miles.
- The radio is one of the transceivers available; it receives and transmits signals. The radio allows you to turn on or off different functions of the radio easily.
- The ease of use makes it a great contender for best first ham radio.
- The buttons are hard to press, and the radio is heavier than many radios.
8. Radioddity GS-5B
Radioddity GS-5B is a dual-band radio (VHF and UHF). The radio has 128 memory channels and an output power of 5 watts that can be adjusted to 1 watt to conserve battery life. The radio has an in-built FM tuner, a flashlight and an emergency strobe, so it’s the best ham radio for emergencies. The radio also has PTT buttons for each band.
- The dual-band two-way radio features Bluetooth programming via a smartphone.
- The amateur radio emergency service is great, as it comes with a lot of features that make it good for emergency situations.
- It has a more inadequate reception than other radios.
9. AnyTone AT-778UV
These radios help to make sure you stay continually connected with other ham operators in your group. This amateur hf radio has up to 200 channels and a great range reception. With the radio battery power, you can put it to continual use throughout the day. You can also adjust and regulate its rf power output from high (25w), medium (15w) and low (5w) based on your needs.
- It has a color LCD screen for you to stay informed about the state of your radio.
- Some of the walkie talkie’s features are the lighted keypad, 5 tone function, built-in cooling fan and the rotatable TFT.
- It offers you a variety of options on the menu with the single, group, selective and emergency calls.
- CHIRP doesn’t work on this radio, and you would have to download the appropriate programming software from the AnyTone website.
- It doesn’t work with marine channels.
10. BaoFeng UV-5RE
BaoFeng UV-5RE+ radio supplies 8 watts, 5 watts and 1 watt of power output, so you can select any you desire. It has 128 memory channels and 50 CTCSS/104 DCS privacy codes. With the 2800mAH battery, you get a longer time of power supply. The computer programming is done with Chirp software, and this makes it much easier to do. Items in baofeng UV-5RE+ ham handhelds include dual-band antennas, belt clips, wrist straps, telescopic antennas and charging trays. It operates VHF(Very High Frequency) and UHF(Ultra High Frequency)
- With the upgraded antenna, you can get about 20 miles range of communication on the device.
- The radio does not come with the channel scanning feature.
11. TIDRADIO TD-H6
TIDRADIO TD-H6 is a dual-band (VHF & UHF) radio that can work with other radio brands on the same frequency and privacy code. With 128 memory channels, you have more than enough space for the commonly used frequency. The high-quality radio uses the 2200mAh Li-ion rechargeable battery that lasts up to 12 hours on 10 watts and 24 hours on 5 watts or 1 watt. The antenna can receive weak frequencies and signals. Other features on the radio include scanning function, power-saving function, emergency alarm, monitor function, VOX function and voice prompt. The radio is also a CB radio.
- The radios come with an extra antenna and battery.
- Compared to other radios, the sound quality of this radio is weak.
12. BaoFeng UV-82
BaoFeng makes some of the best radios, and this model is one. The two-way radio has a high power supply of 5 watts but can be reduced to 1 watt. The radio is a transceiver and can receive and transmit signals. This ham comes with some significant functions that make it perfect for beginners. Some of these functions are LCD display, keypad lock, channel monitor, Time-out Timer, emergency alarm, VOX function and low battery alert. The radio also features 128 channels and 50 CTCSS/ 104 DCS tones.
- The sound quality and battery life make it the best entry-level ham for beginners.
- The charger of the radio is of low quality.
13. Baofeng UV-5R MK5
Mirkit BaoFeng UV-5R (2 pack) radios are compatible with other BaoFeng radios such as BaoFeng BF-F8HP. The Dual PTT button makes it easy for ham radio operators to operate the device. The radio has an upgraded battery capacity of 2100mAh. The ham is also one of the dual-band hams, working on VHF (Very High Frequency) and UHF (Ultra High Frequency).
- The two-pack radio has mics that allow transmission of high-quality sound.
- The upgraded battery capacity of 2100mAh makes the device last longer than the original 1800mAh battery.
- The device is not as easy to program and operate as some ham radios.
Where should I start?
In choosing your first radio, you need to gather as much knowledge as possible about the purpose your radio will be serving. In other words, you need to sort out the reasons for getting the radio. This will help you know if you need a handheld, fixed, mobile or portable radio.
Do I need a car for a mobile unit? Can I put a base station in my car?
The names are more of a convenience, as you can drive around with a base unit, as long as you bring an antenna along and keep it powered. And you can set up a mobile unit at your home station.
How much range can I expect?
Generally, VHF and UHF Bands above 30Mhz are available for all classes of ham licenses. So most commercial ham radios have an average range of about 18miles between two base stations.
How to pair walkie talkies
The first thing to consider when trying to pair your walker talkies is their compatibility. Two walkie talkies are compatible if they have matching DCS (Digital Coded Squelch codes). After that, you need to ensure both of them are in close range. Then, tune the walkie talkies to the same frequency or radio channels. When this is done, you should hear a static hissing sound; this indicates that both walkie talkies are connected. To pass a message, you need to push the PTT (push to talk ) button and hold it down while passing your message. When you are done, end your message with “over” to signal to the recipient that you’re done and then release the button.
Do I still need to learn Morse Code to get my license?
The ham community has made an effort to ensure an easy experience for amateurs as regards making use of ham radios. Yes, there are ham radios that require the knowledge of Morse code. However, the Morse code has become an optional practice in amateur radio practice as most countries have now removed the compulsory Morse component from their amateur radio license requirements.
What else will I need?
After figuring out what category of use your specific needs puts you in, you just need to match the features of each radio with those needs. Handhelds seem to have all the essentials for communication in one package. However, they lack in their power capacity. Mobile units and base stations, however, still require antennas and an alternative power source for better performance.
In all, the things you need on the radio depends on the functions you need to perform.
Wireless communication really helps avoid all the hiccups that come with communicating via mobile phones. The internet and ham radios are the very best options for this sort of communication.
Although individuals who have a background in communications might find it quite easy to know which radio to use for different purposes, with a little bit of research into the features that best suit our communication needs, anybody can know just the right radio for them.
When thinking of which ham radio to go for, all you need do is carefully sort out all the important facts about the needs you need the radio to serve; ranging from the communication range, the location and terrain of the area of use to how long you would be using the radio for. After doing this, look up the ham radios’ features within your budget range and see which one best serves your specific purposes, and you are good to go! Good luck getting your first ham radio!