guest article by ‘Minerjim’
There have been a lot of conversations on MSB lately about ham radio for communication preps. Most of this conversation has been geared towards getting a Ham Technician’s license and getting on the air legally with a 2-meter radio.
Many of us are familiar with the Bao-feng handhelds, which now go up to about 8 watts of power. Good for short-distance communications. But what if you want to really reach out into the distance to find out what is going on in the next county or state???
You need higher power, to begin with. This is where some folks have upgraded to higher powered radios in the 50-80 watt range. These are usually vehicle mounted (12 volt DC) or home base stations (12 volt DC or 120volt AC).
While there are a lot of older 2-meter FM ham radios out there, the cost of new is really pretty low. Do a search online for “2-meter mobile/base station radios” and you will see what I mean.
So which 2-meter radio is best???
They all have basic functions, but each has its own “bells and whistles”.
Truthfully, they will all do what you need them to do as far as transmitting and receiving. They are so cheap ($180-250) that looking for a used, older, 2 meter FM radio really doesn’t make sense, imho. Just buy a fresh radio with a guarantee, and learn to use it.
(Note: there are “Nifty” brand ‘cheat sheets’ for most new ham radios. Basically they are quick-start instructions for all the radio functions printed on laminated card stock. I consider these a must. Under $20 each)
Setting up a 2-meter radio base station
So what do you need to set up a 2-meter FM radio base station setup??
I will point out that FM is the most common 2-meter mode of transmission. There are other modes, but not widely used. The radios I list below will all be 2-meter FM mode radios.
Well, here is a minimum setup:
2 Meter FM radio, 50-80 watts
Most will be 12 volts. Recommendations as follows. Prices are in the vicinity of about $200, plus or minus.
(view on amzn)
(view on amzn)
Icom IT-2300H or similar older radio
(view on GigaParts) (no affiliation)
12-volt power supply
This is for setting up a 12-volt DC radio inside your place. You don’t need this if you buy a 120 volt AC radio. You do not need a 12-volt power supply if you are setting this up for your vehicle.
(view at MFJ) (no affiliation)
(view on amzn)
2-meter FM antenna
This antenna is vertically aligned. You can use a vertical antenna to start.
Your ability to send and receive is reliant on how good your antenna is. I can’t stress this enough!
If you’re looking for directionality, having a vertically aligned Yagi antenna will put more of your signal in the direction you want it to go. Much more efficient., but costs more.
- Comet, MJF, etc., ($40 and up for a basic mobile antenna) (maybe $200 for a yagi)
Of course there are tons of sites online to show you how to build your own, great, antennas for 2-meters for pennies!
[ Ken adds: Strictly based on amzn popularity, here’s the leading base station ‘Comet’ brand antenna ]
RG8 (50 ohm) coax cable
To connect the radio to the antenna.
[ Ken adds: RG8 has less loss and is thicker (.405″) in diameter than RG58 (.195″). Definitely get better coax (such as RG8) for a base station setup. ]
To connect 12 volt power supply to the radio.
So where does this put you money-wise for a really fairly good 2-meter Ham radio?? Figure about $400-650, if you just want to buy it all off the shelf and set it up.
Can it be done cheaper? Yes! By buying good used 2- meter FM radio, power supply, etc. Also, if you make your own 2-meter antenna, you will not have that expense. This is very easy to do, as our own ‘Plainsmedic’ here on the blog, will tell you. If you put your radio in your vehicle and run it off the battery, or run it off of an existing 12 volt solar system, I bet you could get your cost down under $200 for a good 50 watt 2-meter FM setup.
Here’s a suggestion: Find a local Ham radio club that has classes for “Newbies” to get their Tech license, they will often provide you help to set up your station.
I want to stress that setting up any ham radio is going to take a bit of work and learning on your part. It is not like going down to Wally world and buying a “burner” phone and plugging in a sim card. Ham radio takes a bit of thinking, trying, tuning, aligning. That is the nature of the beast.
This is why most Hams recommend you get your technician’s license. In learning to pass the test, you learn the basics of ham radio to help you get on the air will less frustration. Also, you will be legal, and despite what some folks will say, it is important! The best way is to learn by doing the right (and legal) way! The reward for all your hard work is a reliable backup comms system.
In conclusion, I have to say there are probably several other ways to get a 2-meter radio setup. There are so many good radios out there from the major manufacturers. What I have presented is what, imho, I would do if I were just starting out. Best of luck to you all.