VX-2R: Great Little HT

Every so often, a really great product lands in my hands that I really, really appreciate and enjoy. One of these products is the Yaesu VX-2R. The story starts with the Yaesu VX-1R, which was OK for what it was but had a number of not-quite-so-good attributes. Yaesu apparently learned from the VX-1R and fixed the issues when they designed the VX-2R.

This all started when I was looking for the ultimate backpack radio. Basically, I was looking for an HT that was small enough that I would easily toss it into my backpack when loading up for a multiday backpack trip. Anyone that has gone backpacking knows the drill….you get everything you think you need into the pack for a 3-day trip and the pack weighs 423 pounds. At the last minute, you start tossing everything out to make the pack lighter. In a matter of minutes, items that were essential turn into unnecessary ballast that must be cast aside. If you work really hard, you can get the pack down to about 215 pounds and still have everything you need for the next 3 days.

In this situation, I really don’t want to carry a heavy radio. I have a Yaesu FT-817 which is a sweet little radio, covering HF through 440 MHz with CW/SSB/FM. This is a fine rig but just too dang heavy for a backpack trip. Worst than that, it consume batteries like a toaster so I’d have to carry 43 pounds of batteries to keep the thing running. OK, that leads me back to a handheld transceiver, commonly know as an HT.

The key features of the ultimate backpack HT are:

  • Transceive on the 146 MHz and 440 MHz amateur bands
  • Receive NOAA weather frequencies
  • Receive FM broadcast stations (for weather and news)
  • Wideband receive of national park and US forest service frequencies (typically 168 MHz)
  • Transceive on FRS frequencies (462.xxx MHz), emergency use only, of course

Normally, I’d look for a battery pack that uses standard AA batteries. That way, I can share batteries between my flashlight, digital camera and ham radio. The VX-2R uses a very compact NP-60 Li-ion battery pack, used on many digital cameras. These battery packs are available from after-market vendors at a very reasonable price. I recently bought 2 of these battery packs from Battery Merchants for $10 (plus shipping).

The stock antenna is very compact but does not perform that well. It is OK for casual listening but a longer antenna is a must for anything but short range use. The VX-2R uses an SMA connector for the antenna. A good choice is the Diamond SRH77CA which is a 1/4 wavelength on 2M and 1/2 wavelength on 70 cm (about 16 inches long).

A carrying case/holster is another great accessory with this little HT. I use the
Nite Ize Clip Case Universal Holster available from a variety of outdoor shops.

73, Bob K0NR

Portable VHF/UHF Repeater Project

My latest ham radio project is assembling a portable repeater for VHF and UHF operation. The basic idea is to package two VHF/UHF transceivers and a repeater controller into a rack mount box that can be easily transported and powered from a 12 VDC source.

I chose the Yaesu FT-7800R for the transceivers since it covers the 2M and 70 cm bands and has a data/packet port for easy access to the required control signals. Specifically, the data port has transmit audio in, receive audio out, squelch signal and PTT (Push To Talk). The repeater controller used is the NHRC-6, which is designed for use as a bridging controller between two transceivers. Most repeater controllers are set up for a conventional repeater configuration, always receiving on one frequency and always transmitting on another. I plan to use the repeater in this mode (on the 70 cm band, with a small UHF duplexer) but also wanted to run the transceivers in a crossband repeat mode. The NHRC-6 handles this quite well, able to route audio in both directions between two transceivers and with identification support for both rigs.

I’ve got the system assembled and I am playing around with the configuration. More to follow, probably in a CQ VHF article.
73 Bob K0NR

Competing for Ears

In the online world, you’ll hear people talking about competing for eyeballs. That is, web sites, blogs, advertisers, search engines, etc. are all trying to get people to look at their stuff. This is an extension of television, where broadcasters attempt to capture your attention and have you watch their channel.

I’ve noticed that I have a similar issue with audio sources…there is extreme competition for my ears. Here are the things that I find myself listening to, all of which are screaming out for more than their fair share of attention (in no particular order):

  • AM/FM car radio with CD player
  • HiFi Audio system at home (includes AM/FM receiver and CD player)
  • iPod mp3 player (music / podcasts)
  • Mobile telephone
  • VHF/UHF FM Mobile Ham Radio Transceiver
  • VHF/UHF FM Handheld Transceiver (HT)
  • HF Ham Transceiver
  • Police/Fire Scanner
  • Weather radio
  • Notebook PC Sound Card (mp3 music, etc.)

I have left out some potential audio sources that have fallen out of favor:

  • Shortwave receiver
  • Walkman (cassette tape)
  • Discman (CD player)

Of course, there are some very important non-electronic devices that must be listened to:

  • Wife
  • Kids
  • Other people

There are two main chunks of time when this audio competition exists. The first is when driving my car. Clearly, we live in a mobile society, spending way too much time driving from place to place. I tend to listen to audio content while driving since it helps make use of the time and is (mostly) compatible with driving. Other media such as books or video displays are not recommended while driving.

The second chunk of time is when I am doing something around the house that doesn’t require complete concentration. I like to have something to listen to in the background. Often this is music but it might just as well be other audio sources.

What does this have to do with ham radio? Plenty. I find that my ham transceivers are getting displaced by these other audio sources. It seems that there is no end to alternative things to listen to and my on-the-air radio operating is declining. The biggest winner is my iPod, offering an endless supply of commercial-free music and a wide variety of podcasts, all customized to fit my listening preferences. There are even podcasts about ham radio, so ham radio is competing with itself.

The biggest loser is good old AM/FM broadcast radio. I find myself turning off the AM/FM radio, tired of the stale format and endless commercial advertisements of the broadcast stations. I really think broadcast radio is in deep trouble.

Is this just a trend or just a fad? I think it is a trend. What do you think?

73, Bob K0NR