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Date: 08/18/21 10:47
Hand held radios
Author: mully

Saw the post about the Kenwood and other radios. I’m thinking about getting a new handheld.
What does everyone recommend ?


Posted from iPhone

Date: 08/18/21 11:29
Re: Hand held radios
Author: SP4360

WW is a good source of information.

Date: 08/18/21 11:32
Re: Hand held radios
Author: TheNavigator

Some good information at this thread:  https://www.trainorders.com/discussion/read.php?9,4860165,4863906#msg-4863906

Even though the thread is 2 years old, many of the recommendations are still valid.


Date: 08/18/21 15:02
Re: Hand held radios
Author: WW

I will repeat one big caveat about portable radios:  NO portable radio with a "rubber ducky" antenna has a reception range as good as a mobile radio in a vehicle with an efficient, preferably roof-mounted antenna.  There is, of course, the option of using an external  mobile antenna on a vehicle, and connecting it to a portable radio inside the vehicle.  Many commercial portable radios have a similar circuit board for reception that their "sister" mobile radio uses--for example, the Icom IC-F3161D portable and the Icom IC-F5061D mobile.  Still, if one is using a portable radio with an external antenna in a vehicle, one has to fumble around with changing antennas when one takes the portable radio in and out of the vehicle.  Also, a mobile radio will usually have much louder audio output (usually double or more) than its portable counterpart.  I long ago graduated from using a portable in a vehicle to having a professionally installed, permanently-mounted mobile radio in my railfanning vehicle.  My use of a portable radio is generally limited to when I'm away from my vehicle for whatever reason. 

A couple of other limitations of portable radios:  In addition to a portable radio's inefficient rubber ducky antenna, the rubber ducky antenna has no ground plane.  An old portable radio "trick" is to set the radio on top a car hood or metal "plane" in marginal reception areas--it will improve reception of weak signals somewhat.  Also, if you are carrying your portable radio on your belt, try not to have your body between the radio and the antenna transmitting to the radio. Your body will absorb a significant percentage of the transmitted signal trying to reach your radio's antenna.  Finally, REGULARLY check the physical condition of the rubber ducky antenna.  If it is severely bent, broken, smashed, or with a damaged connector, its reception capability can be partly or even completely compromised.  On many portable radios, especially inexpensive scanners and amateur radios, the antenna or the radio's antenna connector are common failure points.  As I've noted elsewhere, if you have a scanner,. the factory "wide-band reception" antenna that comes with the radio is usually a poor performer in the VHF railroad bands.  Try to find an antenna tuned to the railroad band (160-162 mHz), or, at least, one tuned to the 136-174 mHz VHF band.  Also, as many have noted, a quick way to test the reception capability of an antenna for railfan use, is to tune in the NOAA weather radio channels--they are close to the railroad band frequencies, though  the weather channels are still broadcasted in wide-band.

Date: 08/18/21 19:09
Re: Hand held radios
Author: exhaustED

Yaesu FT-250 or 270, or whatever has replaced them... Possibly put a MFJ1717 antennae to get the best results but the stock one is pretty good.

Date: 08/18/21 20:44
Re: Hand held radios
Author: trkinsptr

Yaesu FT270 with Auxilary speaker and Larson NMO mount for 1/4 or 5/8 wave roof mount antenna works great! There are some new model Yaesu's that are good and won't break the bank.

Date: 08/19/21 09:19
Re: Hand held radios
Author: WW

I will repeat this once again--the Yaesu FT-250 and FT-270 are good radios; I used their predecessor models that were nearly identical to the FT-150 and FT-270, the Vertex VX-150 and VX-170, for years.  That said, they WILL NOT tune the splinter analog AAR channels that the railroads may use at some point.  That is why they are OFF of my recommended list of portable radios.  As it stands now, the Uniden BC-125AT scanner would be a better choice over the Yaesu (or most any other) amateur portables because it has performance nearly as good as the Yaesu radios and will tune the splinter AAR channels.  In my case, my VX-170 radio (my VX-150 died awhile back) is relegated to amateur and WX alert use.  If you already have an FT-250 or FT-270, that's great,  but I don't recommend that anyone go out and buy one now for railfanning.

These days there is only ONE amateur portable or mobile radio that I currently recommend for purchase for railfan use:  the Kenwood TM-281A mobile radio.  Know up front this is an analog-only radio (no NXDN) and is based on a nearly 15-year-old design.  Amateur radio operators often criticize it because it lacks a lot of the bells and whistles that hams like (none of which are necessary for a railfan radio).  What keeps the 281A on my recommended list is that it WILL tune the analog splinter channels and has excellent sensitivity (the best that I've ever seen in a non-commercial radio)  and selectivity.  Unlike most amateur radios, the TM-281A is also built on a commercial-quality chassis and case.  Even the microphone is commercial quality.  Sadly, the TM-281A shows as discontinued on most vendor sites (it still shows on the Kenwood website), but there may be a few new ones still floating around somewhere.

The Alinco DJ-500T is an amateur portable that  will tune the AAR splinter channels (tuning the splinter channels requires a 2.5 kHz tuning step in the radio, which most amateur radios do not have).  I can't put it on my recommended list because I've never physically seen one or tested one.  I've only owned one Alinco radio--long ago--and it was the worst performing amateur radio that I ever owned.  Maybe the DJ-500T is better . . . ?  The Alinco DR-138HT is an amateur mobile that will tune the splinter channels.  Again, I can't recommend it because I've never physically seen nor tested one.  Also, for those concerned about it, most Alinco radios these days are manufactured in Communist China. 

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