New ham radio operators have a lot of questions to figure out. Where can I put up an antenna? Will my neighbor disown me for appearing to try and make radio contact with aliens in outer space? The most critical question you need to answer is, “What should my first ham radio be?”
It’s not an easy question to answer. There are a lot of variables that go into choosing the best ham radio for you. What bands interest you? What kind of operating modes interest you? These questions will impact the ham radio that’s best for you. However, most new amateur radio operators start with a handheld VHF/UHF radio, often called a dual-band Handheld Transceiver (HT). They’re affordable, less intimidating, and let new hams get their feet wet on local repeaters. That’s what we’re going to focus on in this article.
I’ve been a ham radio operator for thirteen years and owned and experimented with more radios than I can count. These are the best ham radios for new amateur radio operators:
The Yaesu FT-4XR is Yaesu’s answer to supplying a quality radio to the entry-level ham radio operator on a budget. This HT radio provides both VHF and UHF coverage with reliable 5-watt power output and the ruggedness you need to brave the elements. I’ve owned numerous Yaesu HTs, and they make my favorite handheld radios, no question. They take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’, as the saying goes. The radio should provide a full 15 hours of operating time from the 1,750 mAh battery.
- VHF/UHF Dual Band FM Handheld Transceiver
- One Watt Powerful Audio Output and Clear Audio from the 1.4″ Front Speaker
- Three Selectable TX Power settings (5 W (High)/2.5 W (Middle)/0.5 W (Low))
- Over 15 hours Operating time with Supplied 1,750 mAh Li-ion Battery pack *1
- WX Channels with “Severe Weather” Alert
- PC Programmable with Optional Programming Cable (SCU-35)
- FM Broadcast Receiver Equipped
- ARTS (Automatic Range Transponder System)
Do you have a little more money to burn in your pocket? You should look at the Yaesu FT-70DR. This radio is the big brother to the FT-4XR and includes digital voice capabilities. The FT-70DR is a great way to get a fantastic analog radio while getting the chance to experiment with digital voice. Digital repeaters allow you to connect and talk to other hams worldwide using the Internet to link your repeaters together. The radio is built to commercial-grade standards, including an IP54 Rating for Dust and Water protection. That means it can handle operating in even the harshest conditions.
- Wideband receive coverage: 108 MHz – 580 MHz (B Band) and continuous reception for aircraft, public service / public safety channels, etc.
- Versatile Scanning Capabilities: Programmable VFO Scan, scans all channels in the desired frequency range, Memory scan allows scanning of user-selectable frequencies, Priority Channel Scan can be used to scan memory channels while making one channel a priority. Weather Alert scan alerts the user when severe weather is approaching.
- Automatic Mode Select (AMS): The Automatic Mode Select function detects the receive signal mode, whether it’s analog or digital. The transceiver then automatically selects one of the four communication modes according to the signal received. This is extremely convenient when listening for communications, as you do not need to be aware of the other party’s communication mode.
The Baofeng UV-5R has revolutionized the amateur radio community, whether some like it or not. Baofeng provides an incredibly cheap radio that can get new hams started on the airwaves making contact on their local repeater. It’s a Chinese-made radio that is seemingly designed to be disposable. — no, really. Many hams buy a new one when their Baofeng UV-5R breaks due to being dropped.
The Baofeng UV-5R is an excellent choice if you’re unsure ham radio is for you. If you want to dip your toe in the water before jumping in, the $20 price tag will let you do it. These radios don’t have the best build quality or features, but the guys on the local repeater won’t know the difference.
- High / Low Power Settings (4W/1W)
- 127 Programmable memory channels
- Frequency Range: 65-108 MHz (Only commercial FM radio reception) VHF: 136-174 MHz(Rx/Tx). UHF: 400-520 MHz(Rx/Tx)
- 1500mAh Battery (1800mAh Label); Broadband (Wide) 25khz / Narrowband (Narrow) 12.5khz Selectable
- Built-in LED flashlight
What are the best radios for new ham radio operators that are just starting out? I’ve been a ham for over a decade and can remember the feeling. Here are the five recommendations I have for you after 13 years in the hobby.
The Kenwood TH-72a has been a popular radio for a long time. Kenwood has always been known as making some of the most robust HTs on the market. The Kenwood TH-72 is no different. Why could this be the radio for you? It boils down to one word: satellites. This radio features full-duplex operation. Meaning it can receive even while transmitting. A feature that is invaluable when working satellites. If you’re really interested in using ham radio to experiment with low-earth orbit satellites this may be the best first radio you can buy!
The radio also features a MIL-STD810 and IP54 certification making it great if you’re planning on being outside in thunderstorm (not advised).
- Built-in high-performance GPS receiver APRS firmware equipped as standard USB (Mini-B) port (USB PC Programming cable included) Kenwood MCP-4A PC Programming Software
- Kenwood Sky Command System II Compatible with ARRL “Travel Plus” for Repeaters Simple node access with EchoLink memory DX Cluster Tune (Packet Cluster)
- Built-in 1200/9600 bps TNC compliant with AX.25 protocol Long operating hours (high-capacity battery included) 1000 Memory Channels Stand-alone digipeater
- Enhanced operating ease and visibility MIL-STD810 & IP54 weatherproofing Weather Alert/RX (US only)