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Railfan Technology > What is a Good Hand Held Radio and antenna for rail fanning

Date: 02/05/17 13:22
What is a Good Hand Held Radio and antenna for rail fanning
Author: CSX1346

My friend wants something better than a scanner to rail fan with.  After listening to my VX-170 he is convinced he needs something other than a scanner.  My radio was picking up traffic his scanner would not.  I told him something like the Yaesu would work but he asked me to check with the experts.  He also wanted to know about an antenna to go with it.  Looking forward to hearing from you folks.

Russ Austin

Date: 02/05/17 14:37
Re: What is a Good Hand Held Radio and antenna for rail fanning
Author: jkh2cpu

My two cents? Get an amateur radio 'handy-talky'
and a 1/4 2 meter whip for amateur use. Doesn't
really matter who makes them. If you want, Diamond
makes a 5/8 whip 2 meter that will give a few extra
DB when extended to full length.

Just don't transmit in the amateur band without a
license, which is easy enough these days. You had
to know morse at 5 wpm back in 1958 when I was first
Kn6KMJ ;-)

John, aka K6KMJ.

Date: 02/05/17 16:37
Re: What is a Good Hand Held Radio and antenna for rail fanning
Author: TCnR

The Yeasu FT-270 is very stout, good audio and built to be weather'resistant (or proof not sure). I've been using the FT-60r quite a bit as it covers the EOT frequencies which lets you know there is something within range. Not the same case, audio is not so good, the knobs are too small but it does catch a fair number of trains. Also highly recommend the additional software package and adaopter for the Yeasus to reduce set-up time.

Here's one of our numerous threads on antennas:  http://www.trainorders.com/discussion/read.php?9,3989726,3990018#msg-3990018 , there are numerous threads on the radio topic with a number of quality radios listed as recommendations. I'm noticing that I get pretty good EOT reception without having a 'dual-band gain' antenna, having the gain antenna sized for the RR band seems to be adequate for the EOT band.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 02/05/17 16:42 by TCnR.

Date: 02/06/17 08:55
Re: What is a Good Hand Held Radio and antenna for rail fanning
Author: NKP715

Second the motion on the FT-270.  Very good reception,
solid die cast housing, and excellent speaker output.
​Antenna upgrade a mustr, and software package
highly recommended.

Date: 02/06/17 10:21
Re: What is a Good Hand Held Radio and antenna for rail fanning
Author: WW

One more time:  The FT-270 is a very good quality radio, but it will not, I repeat, will not tune the "splinter" AAR frequencies that narrow banding opened up.  To my knowledge, no railroads are using those splinter frequencies, but that could change at any time.  And, of course, NXDN digital is still on the horizon at some point, though the current overall railroad slowdown may push its implementation a little farther into the future.  I still believe that it is coming--why would the major railroads continue purchasing more expensive NXDN-capable equipment if they have no intention of using its capabilities?  Answer: they wouldn't.

By the way, Icom's newest NXDN portable and mobile radios are now out there.  I've yet to see one in the flesh, but the specs are impressive, 1024 channels for one.  I haven't seen prices, but I suspect they will be pretty spendy.

Date: 02/06/17 11:04
Re: What is a Good Hand Held Radio and antenna for rail fanning
Author: TCnR

Two additional comments, once the world ends Yeasu (and similar) radios will have a decent re-sale value with the large HAM re-sale market. Ok, maybe moments before the world ends.

I re-habbed an old BearCat/Uniden 100-XLT (the real tall case with the teeny buttons on the keypad) with a new battery pack and charger. It still has the 0.2 micro-volt sensitivity and pretty much kicks butt for any RR hobby use. It also has th eadvantage of being an school 'tri-band' scanner, so I can get the RR Band, the EOT and the 47 MHz State PD channels. The batteries cost around 50 bucks but is certainly money well spent, not to mention the 150 bucks spent back in the 80's for the radoo itself.

Date: 02/06/17 11:35
Re: What is a Good Hand Held Radio and antenna for rail fanning
Author: wa4umr

If you want to go on the cheap side, BaoFeng makes a radio you might be interested in.  Let me say upfront, it's not much of a scanner.  It takes about 30 seconds to scan through 100 channels and at that rate you can miss a lot of the action.  Keeping that in mind, if you know what frequency/channel you want to monitor, it's a decent radio.  It has good selectivity and sensitivity.  The transmitter does not meet FCC specifications but since you won't be transmitting anyway, it doesn't matter.  The battery life is great.  Often you can find them for under $30.00.  Spend another $20 on an aftermarket antenna and you ca have a pretty good radio for not a lot of cash.  Side by side with my Yaesu, the performance is almost as good as the Yaesu.  

Antennas by Diamond, Comet, or MFJ are available for all of the radios and makes a pretty impressive improvement for any radio.  They come with different connectors so you have to make sure you get the right one.  I wrote a little summary of a test I did several years ago.  You might want to read it.


Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 02/06/17 13:07 by wa4umr.

Date: 02/06/17 15:38
Re: What is a Good Hand Held Radio and antenna for rail fanning
Author: mojaveflyer

I  found the Uniden BC125AT is an excellent radio under $100 on Amazon. Correct, it doesn't do digital, but UNTIL the railroads go digital, it's an excellent low cost radio. I'd recommend the Diamond RH-77 antenna that seemed to boost the reception... I bought the Butel software for the radio to program it (about $30) and have found it excellent for railroads and airshows, both civilian and military... My $0.02 worth. I've been a ham for 27 years so I have some experience with radios as well.   

James Nelson
Thornton, CO

Date: 02/07/17 16:04
Re: What is a Good Hand Held Radio and antenna for rail fanning
Author: jst3751


That is a great indepth discussion about the various parts of a scanner, well worth the time to read and understand it.

Date: 02/08/17 06:25
Re: What is a Good Hand Held Radio and antenna for rail fanning
Author: WW

The BC-125 might be an OK radio, based on the fairly glowing reviews that I've seen here--but I haven't tried one for myself.  (I have no incentive to try it since I already have several very capable commercial radios at my disposal.)  If it follows the Uniden pattern over the years, its most likely failings will be in selectivity (RF interference rejection) and "tinny" audio output.  A very good litmus test of a radio is to watch a railfan that is using one.  Is he/she constantly having to fiddle with the radio?--especially constantly having to adjust the squelch due to RF interference.  Is the radio silent while another radio nearby tuned to the same channel is happily blabbering the audio traffic on the channel?  Can he/she hear the audio from the radio in a noisy environment?  A good, but pretty unsocially acceptable test of radio audio output is this:  if it's loud enough to really bother people who are anywhere within 20-25 feet of the radio, it's probably got loud enough audio output for railfanning in the noisy railroad environment.

One final note that I've repeated often--a portable radio inside a vehicle with only its rubber ducky antenna is about as useful as having no radio at all.  At least connect the radio to a good quality external antenna when driving in a vehicle.  Better yet, purchase a good quality mobile radio for use in your railfanning vehicle and connect it to a good quality external antenna.  My short list, aside from one of the NXDN digital capable mobiles, for a mobile radio is the Kenwood TM-281A amatuer mobile.  It will tune the splinter channels and has exceptionally good sensistivity and selectivity.  It's attractively priced in the $130-$150 range.


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