An Open Letter to #HamRadio Manufacturers


Dear Ham Radio Manufacturer,

Once upon a time, companies like yours developed equipment for hams entering the hobby as Novice licensees. Your radios were fairly inexpensive, simple to build, easy to use, and treasured by the young men and women who owned them.

Hams of a certain age fondly recall their first QSOs on your gear. They were excited and nervous as they tuned up and tapped out their first CQ in Morse code.

Your rigs were a right of passage for generations who still enjoy the hobby today.

Most importantly, your radios were designed for them.

Novices. On their bands. At their experience level.

In 2000, the FCC eliminated the Novice, making the Technician the new entry level license. But except for a small patch of spectrum in the 10-meter band, the modern Technician isn’t much different from the Novice license they eliminated. It is fundamentally a Morse code license on HF.

When the FCC dropped the Morse code requirement seven years later, they did so without updating Technician operating privileges. Amateurs entering the hobby are restricted above 10-meters to using Morse code without having to know Morse code.

Unable to use most of their HF privileges for the lack of one skill, Technicians purchased your VHF and UHF radios in droves.

Companies like yours responded with Dual-Band, Tri-Band, and even Quad-Band radios.

For this generation of radio amateurs, FM repeaters have been the first (and maybe only) impression of on-the-air activity. Perhaps a few experiment with APRS, EchoLink or IRLP. Some may try Pico-Sats, but fundamentally, Ham Radio as a Technician is nothing more than GMRS with better repeater coverage.

Why haven’t companies like yours developed radios tailored for Technicians?

Why is it all FM when there are many more possibilities in the world above 50 MHz?

Where are the Dual-Mode radios, such as SSB/FM, on VHF and UHF?

Where are the sound card-ready interfaces? USB interfaces?

Why does it all look like Land Mobile Radio on Amateur Service frequencies?

Is there no imagination, innovation, or experimentation left in your Skunk Works?

Do you still have have a Skunk Works?

Please, let me be clear; this is not a call to bring Morse code back to the hobby.

When I look at your website through a Technician’s eyes, though, I see nothing that I couldn’t purchase at Wal-Mart for less money. Perhaps this is why the proliferation of inexpensive Chinese radios are so popular among entry-level licensees. They do the job their license allows them.

Perhaps you can inject new vigor into the hobby by designing something that takes them beyond a repeater.

Like a rig designed for Technicians of this generation.

Sincerely,

Brian McDaniel,
KC4LMD

UPDATE: Chris Wilson of Yeasu left the following comment. It is nice to know at least one of the Big Boys pays attention.  I’ve moved his comment up.  -KC4LMD

Hello Brian, I read your letter, It’s great to see proactive content being published by our valued customers! Yaesu USA is actively developing technology that incorporates exactly what you are saying. Radios such as the FT-991 have a multi-function USB port, integrated sound card, built in tuner and other features that appeal to the new radio operator as an “Shack in a box”. I have forwarded your letter to the Owner of the company, Mr. Jun Hasegawa and our operations director for review. I will be discussing your concerns with them this month, and you will continue to see progression from Yaesu that incorporate the features you are looking for.

Thank you once again for your wonderful letter.

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33 thoughts on “An Open Letter to #HamRadio Manufacturers

  1. I agree with Doug’s observation (above) that the US Technician licence should be considered as the entry-point to amateur radio, rather than the beginning and end of the process. By analogy, the Canadian Basic licence with a 70 – 79% exam score gives access to all modes on the bands above 30 MHz. By attaining an 80% Basic mark (or by passing a 5 wpm Morse test), one gains full HF privileges with 6 dB less permitted power than an Advanced licensee. That is still 560W PEP output on SSB! I can think of no better incentive to study a bit harder.

    As regards innovation: If we consider $1000 – 1500 an acceptable price level for a 100W-class all-mode HF transceiver (realistically the minimum power level if one wishes to be heard in these days of lousy propagation) there are quite a few high-quality HF + 6m all-mode transceivers on the market. One of the most innovative is the newly-announced Icom IC-7300, which is a compact stand-alone direct-sampling SDR transceiver. Unlike most other SDR’s, the IC-7300 does not require a PC for life-support, but can be controlled from a PC via its USB port. The IC-7300 offers an integral colour touch-screen with FFT spectrum scope driven by a bitstream from its FPGA chip. And all this within the price range I suggested.

    A new Ham could conceivably start with the IC-7300 on 6m, then start using it seamlessly on the HF bands once he has upgraded. There is really no sustainable reason not to upgrade one’s licence, especially as the Morse requirement is now extinct. (The Canadian 5 wpm endorsement is optional.) A modern HF transceiver fitted with a USB port offers easy connectivity to a computer for an ever-growing palette of digital modes, or even for remote station operation.

    For those Hams interested in all-mode HF/VHF/UHF operation, several radios are available in my suggested price range in the new and second-hand markets; the Icom IC-7100, the Yaesu FT-991, the Kenwood TS-2000, the Icom IC-7000 and IC-706 series, the Yaesu FT-857 etc. Nowadays it seems difficult for the OEM’s to make a sound business case for a VHF/UHF all-mode radio without HF capability, most likely due to lack of demand.

    My thought on VHF/UHF is that there is no reason to stop there when a little extra effort opens the gate to HF.

    73, Adam VA7OJ/AB4OJ
    Vancouver BC Canada

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  2. ATTENTION: Why not take an all mode, multi-band radio like the YAESU FT-991, and include, built-in, a MORSE encode/decode capability, wherein Morse received and sent is displayed on its built in screen, and either a KEYBOARD or conventional morse key/keyer can be utilized to send morse? Such a radio would entice ALL hams too at least TRY using CW, and HF, with the likely result that many would become “addicted”! Todays cheap and compact microprocessors should enable such a feature at minimal cost!–73, KC3VO

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  3. Doug says:

    Another issue that many hams forget (while fondly remembering the prices of old gear) is the cost of inflation and the value of the dollar. In 1976, a Heathkit HW-101 only cost $399.00, so naturally some folks think today’s rigs should also cost $399.00) or close to it.

    The problem is that you are forgetting (or choose to ignore) the cost of inflation and value of yesterday’s dollar to today’s. You can check this out for yourself at (http://www.dollartimes.com/inflation/inflation.php?amount=1&year=1976), but a $399.00 rig from 1976 would cost $1,688.00 in today’s dollars, so a Yaesu FT-991 is basically priced at a Heathkit HW-101 price (based on today’s dollar value).

    One last comment (before the hate mail starts), the no-code Technician license was NEVER intended as the beginning and end of your ham radio experience, it was just meant to give you a taste of what’s available in the hobby, it’s up to you to upgrade (which has been made so easy it’s literally child’s play). A Tech license holder (pre no-code) had to do more to pass their test than a General class does today (especially considering all of the answers are provided before you even sit down to take the test). It used to be practically unheard of for someone to upgrade from nothing to Extra in one sitting, now it’s so common few pay much attention anymore.

    Point is, if you want to experiment with VHF/UHF SSB, you can (but you actually have to look for a radio to do this), and if you still want more you can (that’s why the General class license exists).

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  4. Doug says:

    Yes, many of you would like an HF/6m/2m/1.25m/70cm FM, AM, SSB, D-Star, MotoTrbo rig for $200, but that’s just not going to happen.

    As for the Chinese, yes they are very good at copying some other company’s design (almost no R&D cost there), and using their country’s vastly underpaid work force to crank out copy after copy at below their true cost to produce (since their government subsidizes their true cost to make the units).

    Just google “VAESU” instead of “YAESU” and you’ll see another example of a poorly made Chinese copy of a Yaesu radio that I’d sure quite a few folks will fall for, thinking that they just scored a great deal off the internet.

    And speaking of the internet, that really didn’t exist (in commercial form at least) when most of us fondly remember buying those novice rigs and spending hours putting them together. Nowadays most (not all) hams practice “showrooming”, where they drive over to the local ham store (if you are lucky enough to still have one nearby), ask dozens of questions, play with the radios to see how they work and then google various websites (including those overseas and nothing more than warehouses like Amazon to place their order).

    Many ham stores have completely stopped attending hamfests because hams will stand right in front of them and use a smartphone to shop for a lower price, sometimes spending 20 to 30 minutes online to save $20 or get free freight. The ham dealers have learned that loyalty to a local dealer has literally gone out the window, especially when one ham tells another (while either in the store or at a hamfest booth) that the same product is available cheaper on E-Bay, Amazon, or some Chinese website. That doesn’t make the local dealer want to support the club (that always wants either free or greatly discounted items for their raffle ticket sales), or to travel from the store to the hamfest location (where commercial booths are never free) for next year’s event.

    I’m afraid some of you will never understand that many of the things you want will probably never happen because many of you guys helped kill the amateur radio dealer channel (and many of yesteryear’s manufacturers as well) due to your spending habits of not supporting your local dealer, or their U.S. made products. Ten-Tec will probably be the next to go, but with the flood of cheap Chinese radios it would not surprise me one bit to see one of the Big Four (Alinco, Icom, Kenwood, or Yaesu) either be forced to restructure or discontinue their amateur line as well. Many previously well known amateur radio manufacturer’s went bankrupt, as hams discovered that warehouse folks (with zero product knowledge) could hire senior citizens and high school kids to pull a product from a shelf and put it into a cardboard box for shipment.

    So before you complain about the high cost of some manufacturer’s radio, look around your shack and count how many items you own that weren’t purchased locally, or at least from a true U.S. dealer (wherever they may be) and not just some big box warehouse shipper like Amazon. If you’re honest with yourself, I’ll bet the majority of you have several Chinese radios and/or items purchased via an internet warehouse location starring back at you.

    And that, boys and girls, is why even “if” any of the Big Four could produce a $200 rig you’d like, most real ham dealers would not want to touch it, as some warehouse shipper would offer it for $195 and you’d order it from there (after checking it out at the local dealer), where it probably costs the dealer $180.00 to $190.00.

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  5. tommasz says:

    The only thing I would add is those quad-band radios that include 10 meters only offer FM. Technicians, the obvious target market for these radios, can’t use 10 meter FM.

    – KC2TCK

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  6. I would very much like to see newer smaller, lighter weight and lighter impact ot the wallet HF gear. I truly enjoy my Baofung, but the weather in SE Indianapolis is just about the same as it is in the NW corner. I truly enjoy talking the longer distances on the 100W TS-520 I was gifted with my General license (Thanks, Dad!). But as a small business owner, I do not have the funds nor space to set up the TS-250, the antenna tuner, the external VFO (that works better thant he internal) and the external speaker. I’m not even wanting a a radio with all the latest bells and whistles. But a smaller rig, I can run from 110v or 12V, SSB or Digital from a tree hung dipole in the park? Yea! THAT I would find a way to pay for. The Elecraft stuff looks great, but is so loaded with ‘features’ it is outside of my affordibility range. And I would really love to tie my two interests, computers and HAM together.

    Thanks for letting me rant.

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  7. Dr. Stephen Wilson says:

    Great post!

    I started with a Tech license (Thanks, WB5PUN!) back in 1983, with a TenTec Argonaut 505. Had a blast!

    My two favorite rigs in my arsenal today are my Yaesu FT-817 and my SGC SG-2020-ADSP2. With proper speech processing, 25 watts (SGC) is plenty on HF SSB even when the sunspots are depleted, and of course, 5 watts is fine on CW and other digital modes.

    Steve, XE1UFO (Clase II) a.k.a. KA5SUT (Advanced Class)

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  8. Mike K4ISR says:

    If a Chinese company can make a dual band 4-5W handheld for $30, how the heck are the big 3 still getting away with the same thing for 4-5 times the price with the same features? I’ve used at least 10 different handhelds from 8 different companies, and when it comes down to every day use, the big 3 at $150 are no better than the $30 Chinese radios. In some cases, the Chinese companies are taking the next step with 8W handhelds (I own 2 of those). So what we need is the big 3 to drop their prices and innovate. Simple FT1900 or 8900 with SSB, big price drops on their baseline models (like $150 for FT100DR instead of this EXHORBITANT price. There is no way they can keep asking their exhorbitant prices when we can build a new computer that can do a lot more for less $$$.

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    • You should not look at only the brand rtx, but the entire system that’s inside and then have prestigious brands as FT1900 or 8900 have the FT100DR, also Kenwood and Icom now are at par as there is nowhere to $$$ make and market, which revolve around these companies as a trademark, and that this drives up prices, although as Yaesu and a brand are a Japanese but now you are all in China

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  9. James Shaver says:

    Brian, this is very well written and in my opinion, spot on. Heck, even experienced and/or “higher” license class operators have an appetite for multi band rigs for above 50 MHz which, again in my opinion, is a WAY underused part of our allocated spectrum.

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  10. Keith KC8TCQ says:

    I would love to see at least a dual band 2m/70cm(440) if not tri band 2m/70cm/6m all mode mobile/base with 100 watts out on all modes for sideband/simplex FM operations. there isn’t a valid reason why something like this does not exist. I have HF privileges, but enjoy VHF simplex FM and would like to experiment with 2m SSB. Same with 6m, my HF rig has 6m but not at 100 watts all modes which is a shame.,

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  11. Hello Brian, I read your letter, It’s great to see proactive content being published by our valued customers! Yaesu USA is actively developing technology that incorporates exactly what you are saying. Radios such as the FT-991 have a multi-function USB port, integrated sound card, built in tuner and other features that appeal to the new radio operator as an “Shack in a box”. I have forwarded your letter to the Owner of the company, Mr. Jun Hasegawa and our operations director for review. I will be discussing your concerns with them this month, and you will continue to see progression from Yaesu that incorporate the features you are looking for.

    Thank you once again for your wonderful letter.

    Like

    • Chris,

      I am honored you would see some value in my little note, and am humbled that you would pass it along to Mr. Hasegawa. Thank you, and I appreciate what you do for the hobby. 73s.

      Brian

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      • I think the Raspberry Pi is a place to start. It is a disruptive technology that is an entry-level product for computer science. It is not difficult to turn one into a transmitter, either.

        With radio communication moving towards digital and SDR, a Raspberry Pi-like device at 25 watts VHF/UHF could be very inexpensive (less and $200, perhaps).

        I don’t think there is anything on the market like this today.

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      • I I know that in that in the USA is used very CW, but here in Italy there is no longer a driver’s license for the CW, as long as you have that for SSB, I have voice, but you want to make the CW with me overseas for a contact Morse code

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  12. Luke says:

    Well said! I’ve been pondering the same things lately. While 10m isn’t open very often these days, there’s still a 200khz chunk of SSB bandwidth there for Technicians, but good luck finding anything less than a full blown $500+ radio that will give you access to it.

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    • Thanks, Luke. I think it will take an independent company to kick-start a new trend. The big Japanese makers won’t move until they know they can make money on the product.

      Then, again, the Big Three don’t make any QRP radios, so maybe I am dreaming.

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      • Luke says:

        Yaesu (1 of the Big 3) manufactures an all mode 2 meter 440 + HF QRP transceiver. 5 wattts (or less) on all those bands in all modes. Yes it can operate SSB & CW on 6 meters, 2 meters and 70 centimeters as well.

        It’s the Yaesu FT-817

        Luke

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      • J Gray says:

        Brian, There are plenty of QRP rigs out there. Ten- Tec, now part of rkr design, have the Argonaut series. Flex radio, and Elecraft are made in america. Icom made an 703 and 703 plus. Kenwood made one at one time the TS 130V. Yaesu still make the FT 817D. All of these make rigs that are CW/SSB/FM. There are many more that are CW only QRP. Youkits, Elecraft, older Ten-Tec Century rigs like the Century 21 and 22. Elecraft, MFJ makes several Single band rigs in SSB or CW. The Icom 730 had a switch under the cover to turn it into a QRP rig, it runs CW/FM/SSB/AM They are all great radios and hope you find one to your liking to fit your budget.

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