New Ham radio equipment questions

bjewett

Enthusiast
Apr 2, 2017
8
0
1
Urbana, IL
atmos.illinois.edu
Greetings all. I'm a meteorologist / experienced chaser, but new to ham radio for calling in spotter reports. I figure I'll use SpotterNetwork when in cell range via RadarScope, but want ham 2m/440 for when out of range. I have been on several ham sites but realized I should ask you all about equipment. (I haven't bought anything or gotten my license/FCC ID yet):

* How important is APRS for spotting? Can't you just tell the skywarn net where you are?
I understand it is different if you are part of a regular skywarn/NWS net, which I'm not.
I'm leaning towards the Kenwood TM-V71a, which can have APRS added later.

* I take it dual-receive is worth having? Some hams consider it a deal-breaker.

* Any preferences on car antennas? I need to start with mag mount or trunk lip mount, no drilling at this point.
I hear Comet and Diamond are good ... and gain is worth it esp. on the Plains/Midwest

Thanks -
 

Drew Terril

Staff member
First off, welcome to the Ham world. I highly recommend getting connected with a ham group local to you, as they'll be able to help you prepare for the test and help you get practice on the airwaves. Since many of them do weekly nets, that's great practice for operating on a severe weather ARES net. You may well end up like me and discover that there are other aspects of the hobby that you are interested in as well. I got a taste of some of the digital modes and started playing with those. I also got a taste of HF, which led me to obtaining my General license and now studying for Amateur Extra.

As far as APRS, I do feel it is good to have. While I do verbally give my location to any net controller, I will also mention that my APRS beacon is on in case they do have it set as a place file on GRL3 or have aprs.fi pulled up. So while it's not a necessity, it can be useful. Some organizations use it, some do not. It varies significantly. With that said, the TM-V71A can only do dual receive on the same band. So if you're operating on 70cm (which there are many SKYWARN repeaters on the plains on that band), you cannot listen on 2m, nor can you operate APRS on 144.390MHz. The D700 and D710 series from Kenwood does true dual receive, as does the Yaesu FTM-350 and FTM-400. All of those have built in APRS capabilities as well (although the FTM-350 does not have a built in GPS).

As far as antennas, I cannot in good conscience recommend any mag mount. At best, you will damage the paint and it negatively impacts your ground plane (and ability to transmit/receive over longer distances). If you are unable or unwilling to drill a hole (I have 4 on my pickup with two more planned so that's obviously my preference), then the trunk or hood lip mount is the way to go. Some cars have channel mounts available that often don't require drilling as well, so I would look into that too. Anything from Diamond or Comet are good as far as the dual band antennas go. I personally prefer Comet myself, and have an SBB5-NMO on my pickup for my FTM-400, although that's not the radio I use for SKYWARN reporting (I have single band commercial radios that I use for that purpose). My Comet has been dinged up a few times on accident and still works ok, although I've been contemplating the SBB7-NMO to replace it. If antenna height is not an issue, the SBB7 is probably your best bet, and I would personally recommend an NMO mount as opposed to the traditional UHF mount, as it's more compact and equally effective. That way too, if you do later decide you're willing to drill into a trunk lid, you can use the same antenna and probably the same coax as well.

Hope this helps! If you have any more questions, feel free to ask. And if you'd like to spec out a build, either myself or @B. Dean Berry (also a staff member here) will be more than willing to help you out.
 
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Mark Jack

EF0
May 31, 2019
27
16
1
Westmoreland, KS
I'll touch on a couple of things here. I don't use APRS at all when I'm chasing and it doesn't bother me a bit. I'm sure it may come in handy at times but in my opinion it's not needed as you can relay where you are to a local net or SN.

I absolutely believe that having a radio with dual receive is beneficial. I'm currently running a Yaesu FT8900R that has dual receive and it's like having two radios for the price of one. When chasing I usually have one channel tuned to the local repeater and another set on the national simplex chasing frequency.

Comet, Diamond, and Nagoya are all great brands that I have used before and continue to use. (I can only speak for those because I've used them.). The antenna I have plugged into my FT8900R is a Diamond CR8900A. Yes, Diamond can be a little pricey but you're getting what you pay for.
 
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Mark Jack

EF0
May 31, 2019
27
16
1
Westmoreland, KS
As far as antennas, I cannot in good conscience recommend any mag mount. At best, you will damage the paint and it negatively impacts your ground plane (and ability to transmit/receive over longer distances).
I second this! I've used mag mounts when I first got into amateur radio and it destroyed the paint on the roof of my SUV.
 
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Drew Terril

Staff member
I leave my APRS beacon running while chasing, primarily because I know some net controllers do utilize it. Since I'm giving my callsign when I call in anyway, I'll mention that my beacon is active, and they can then keep an eye on that to monitor my positioning, rather than having to call back just to ask if I've changed position. But that varies from net to net. Some use it, some don't. But I've received enough calls solely asking for my positioning after I've checked in that it's worth it for the occasions that it is utilized.
 
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Randy Jennings

Supporter
May 18, 2013
502
454
11
My 2 cents:

APRS is a nice to have, but not a necessity. Some spotter groups use it a lot, but most don't. Of those that do, some filter for a specific comment flag so they only see their groups spotters. Having said that, I have been called by net controllers when chasing out of area when they saw my beacon to ask me what I am seeing and are they are appreciative to have the help. I will note that many areas have no digipeater coverage, so often APRS will not do you any good and will not help you keep your track. Even when running APRS you should always verbally report your location because no everyone listening will be running APRS or logged onto a website to view APRS and even if they do your beacon could be out of date.

Dual-receive depends on the ham. If you can listen to two things at once, it is great. If that is hard for you, then it doesn't matter as much. In general I consider being able to monitor 2 channels at once a good thing, although I will occasionally turn one down.

Comet and Diamond are the most popular brands for sure and are good quality products. There are other companies that make good antennas also. Antenna gain is very important.

A good resource for frequencies is hamchaser.org, although Scott and I really need to update that.
 

bjewett

Enthusiast
Apr 2, 2017
8
0
1
Urbana, IL
atmos.illinois.edu
First off, welcome to the Ham world. I highly recommend getting connected with a ham group local to you, as they'll be able to help you prepare for the test and help you get practice on the airwaves. Since many of them do weekly nets, that's great practice for operating on a severe weather ARES net. You may well end up like me and discover that there are other aspects of the hobby that you are interested in as well. I got a taste of some of the digital modes and started playing with those. I also got a taste of HF, which led me to obtaining my General license and now studying for Amateur Extra.

As far as APRS, I do feel it is good to have. While I do verbally give my location to any net controller, I will also mention that my APRS beacon is on in case they do have it set as a place file on GRL3 or have aprs.fi pulled up. So while it's not a necessity, it can be useful. Some organizations use it, some do not. It varies significantly. With that said, the TM-V71A can only do dual receive on the same band. So if you're operating on 70cm (which there are many SKYWARN repeaters on the plains on that band), you cannot listen on 2m, nor can you operate APRS on 144.390MHz. The D700 and D710 series from Kenwood does true dual receive, as does the Yaesu FTM-350 and FTM-400. All of those have built in APRS capabilities as well (although the FTM-350 does not have a built in GPS).

As far as antennas, I cannot in good conscience recommend any mag mount. At best, you will damage the paint and it negatively impacts your ground plane (and ability to transmit/receive over longer distances). If you are unable or unwilling to drill a hole (I have 4 on my pickup with two more planned so that's obviously my preference), then the trunk or hood lip mount is the way to go. Some cars have channel mounts available that often don't require drilling as well, so I would look into that too. Anything from Diamond or Comet are good as far as the dual band antennas go. I personally prefer Comet myself, and have an SBB5-NMO on my pickup for my FTM-400, although that's not the radio I use for SKYWARN reporting (I have single band commercial radios that I use for that purpose). My Comet has been dinged up a few times on accident and still works ok, although I've been contemplating the SBB7-NMO to replace it. If antenna height is not an issue, the SBB7 is probably your best bet, and I would personally recommend an NMO mount as opposed to the traditional UHF mount, as it's more compact and equally effective. That way too, if you do later decide you're willing to drill into a trunk lid, you can use the same antenna and probably the same coax as well.

Hope this helps! If you have any more questions, feel free to ask. And if you'd like to spec out a build, either myself or @B. Dean Berry (also a staff member here) will be more than willing to help you out.
Hi Drew, thank you for your long post with helpful suggestions. I've looked further into the V71a and it seems it was inaccurately quoted in some sales ads. In Kenwood's documentation, www.kenwood.com/usa/com/amateur/tm-v71a/, they say: "In addition to simultaneous receive on both VHF and UHF bands, this radio can receive two frequencies on the very same band. " So I take it the V71a can do U+V, V+U, U+U and V+V, then? I didn't even understand dual-receive but now - seems like a very useful thing.

As to APRS, I'll look to add it later I think. I'm having a hard time justifying $600 outlay at the start before everything else without having really convinced myself I need APRS. When in cell range, I can mPING from Radarscope, so I see the ham radio as particularly useful for reporrting when I'm out of cell range (e.g. the Verizon cell-service hole in western IL). So I'm not sure I'll use APRS much, but Murphy's Law may say otherwise.

The mag- vs. trunk/lip-mount debate is interesting as I've seen pretty lengthy posts by folks saying mag mounts really do work "ok" but - the paint scraping I can totally believe after a friend's large mag mount was blown off the roof of my car by a passing semi on a 2-lane road.

Have you purchased through Universal Radio and/or The Antenna Farm? I'm guessing both are solid bets.

I would appreciate your help on not leaving something out when getting the radio. If I get the TM-V71a, I'll mount it in the trunk following other posts I've seen, and detach and mount the control head up front - somewhere (my Mazda 3 hatch is pretty tight on space). Do you know what I would need to add with? I'm thinking right now,

* v71a
* Not sure if I need this: MARS/CAP Modification for 136-174 & 400-470 MHz Transmit Operation
... are we even allowed to transmit outside the standard range? Do you use anything like this?
* Face Plate Separation Kit includes Panel mount and Cable - guess I need that to put the control head up front?
* DC noise filter - or should I wait and see if there's noise?
* External speaker (or I may have one hanging around from an old scanner)
* Don't need wiring add-ons I don't think, I can handle that
* K412CNMO Diamond medium trunk/lip mount for NMO
* Diamond SG7500NMO $70 yikes this stuff adds up
* Programming cord & software - no idea, I take it there are multiple options .. RT Systems? CHIRP?
I have a Mac rather than PC, though emulation software is available...

Am I missing anything?

Brian
 

bjewett

Enthusiast
Apr 2, 2017
8
0
1
Urbana, IL
atmos.illinois.edu
My 2 cents:

APRS is a nice to have, but not a necessity. Some spotter groups use it a lot, but most don't. Of those that do, some filter for a specific comment flag so they only see their groups spotters. Having said that, I have been called by net controllers when chasing out of area when they saw my beacon to ask me what I am seeing and are they are appreciative to have the help. I will note that many areas have no digipeater coverage, so often APRS will not do you any good and will not help you keep your track. Even when running APRS you should always verbally report your location because no everyone listening will be running APRS or logged onto a website to view APRS and even if they do your beacon could be out of date.

Dual-receive depends on the ham. If you can listen to two things at once, it is great. If that is hard for you, then it doesn't matter as much. In general I consider being able to monitor 2 channels at once a good thing, although I will occasionally turn one down.

Comet and Diamond are the most popular brands for sure and are good quality products. There are other companies that make good antennas also. Antenna gain is very important.

A good resource for frequencies is hamchaser.org, although Scott and I really need to update that.
Hi Randy, thanks for taking the time to reply. Your post was really helpful in that I feel I could get the V71a w/o APRS, and add it later if need be. From what I've heard about dual-receive it seems really useful so I'll limit my choices to that. I'm in flatland IL, and can't see chasing anywhere where it isn't mostly flat, so gain seems like a good idea. For antennas I was looking at a Diamond SG7500 NMO, which claims 3.5/6.0 dBi ... with a 40" height, so I guess I will be pretty visible with that thing.

Brian
 

bjewett

Enthusiast
Apr 2, 2017
8
0
1
Urbana, IL
atmos.illinois.edu
I'll touch on a couple of things here. I don't use APRS at all when I'm chasing and it doesn't bother me a bit. I'm sure it may come in handy at times but in my opinion it's not needed as you can relay where you are to a local net or SN.

I absolutely believe that having a radio with dual receive is beneficial. I'm currently running a Yaesu FT8900R that has dual receive and it's like having two radios for the price of one. When chasing I usually have one channel tuned to the local repeater and another set on the national simplex chasing frequency.

Comet, Diamond, and Nagoya are all great brands that I have used before and continue to use. (I can only speak for those because I've used them.). The antenna I have plugged into my FT8900R is a Diamond iCR8900A. Yes, Diamond can be a little pricey but you're getting what you pay for.
Thank you Mark. I'll look for an option to add APRS later, from your and other posts. And, limit my choices to dual-receive radios. For the antenna I'm thinking of a Diamond SG7500NMO with high(-ish?) gain. I'm trying to think if a 40" antenna will hit drive-through roofs but, probably not -

The cost of all this really adds up, but I'm trying not to cut corners now and have to add on later. The pattern looks to be getting more active farther east so I'm pondering Sat/Sun in the near term (I live in eastern IL)

Brian
 

Drew Terril

Staff member
I have not personally bought from Universal Radio or Antenna Farm, so I can't speak for them. I have bought from Ham Radio Outlet before, and most of my antenna related stuff I've either bought from another ham or off Amazon. I've bought most of my radios at hamfests, which unfortunately are not happening right now in the current environment.

As far as the Kenwood you've been looking at, I noticed that most places have them listed somewhere slightly below $400. I personally have trouble paying that much for a radio that either does not do a digital mode (such as D-Star or System Fusion) or APRS. I actually paid less for my FTM-400 (which is System Fusion digital and APRS capable, along with dual receive and cross band repeat) after being willing to look around and being patient for a deal. That's not to say the TM-V71 is not a quality radio, I just don't see a dual band FM analog only radio being worth that kind of price tag. I would highly recommend looking around to see if you can find a better deal if you are, in fact, dead set on that particular radio. I would also check the secondary market (eBay, etc.) for the FTM-100DR or the quad band FT-8900R. Unfortunately, Yaesu has discontinued those models, as they were very affordable with dual receive capabilities, and cross band repeat in the case of the latter. You also might be able to find the TM-V71 at a significantly better price on the secondary market as well.

As far as programming, I recommend RT Systems no matter what radio you choose. CHIRP is simply too finicky, and many of the modern Yaesu options in particular allow programming by SD card, which means a programming cable is not needed. RT Systems software is set up to accommodate SD card programming, and IMO the software is worth every single penny. It is Mac compatible, although I have not used it myself on my Mac (software for my commercial radios is Windows or DOS only, so I keep my old Windows laptop around for that, and for GRL3). When you pick a radio, make sure you get a programming cable if it requires one. I believe the TM-V71 does require a programming cable. RT systems will be able to tell you if it requires one or not, and will bundle one with the software. I have their cables for my older FT-7900R and FT-65 radios that used to be my primary mobile and HT, respectively, and they work flawlessly. I believe I have RT software for 5 or 6 different radios that I can think of as well.

For mounting, go to ProClip USA | Car Phone Holders and Dashboard Phone Mounts and search your year/make/model to find a mount that will bolt into your dash. That will give you a great mounting point for the control head for whatever radio you do end up with.

A lot of information, but I hope this helps!
 

bjewett

Enthusiast
Apr 2, 2017
8
0
1
Urbana, IL
atmos.illinois.edu
I have not personally bought from Universal Radio or Antenna Farm, so I can't speak for them. I have bought from Ham Radio Outlet before, and most of my antenna related stuff I've either bought from another ham or off Amazon. I've bought most of my radios at hamfests, which unfortunately are not happening right now in the current environment.

As far as the Kenwood you've been looking at, I noticed that most places have them listed somewhere slightly below $400. I personally have trouble paying that much for a radio that either does not do a digital mode (such as D-Star or System Fusion) or APRS. I actually paid less for my FTM-400 (which is System Fusion digital and APRS capable, along with dual receive and cross band repeat) after being willing to look around and being patient for a deal. That's not to say the TM-V71 is not a quality radio, I just don't see a dual band FM analog only radio being worth that kind of price tag. I would highly recommend looking around to see if you can find a better deal if you are, in fact, dead set on that particular radio. I would also check the secondary market (eBay, etc.) for the FTM-100DR or the quad band FT-8900R. Unfortunately, Yaesu has discontinued those models, as they were very affordable with dual receive capabilities, and cross band repeat in the case of the latter. You also might be able to find the TM-V71 at a significantly better price on the secondary market as well.

As far as programming, I recommend RT Systems no matter what radio you choose. CHIRP is simply too finicky, and many of the modern Yaesu options in particular allow programming by SD card, which means a programming cable is not needed. RT Systems software is set up to accommodate SD card programming, and IMO the software is worth every single penny. It is Mac compatible, although I have not used it myself on my Mac (software for my commercial radios is Windows or DOS only, so I keep my old Windows laptop around for that, and for GRL3). When you pick a radio, make sure you get a programming cable if it requires one. I believe the TM-V71 does require a programming cable. RT systems will be able to tell you if it requires one or not, and will bundle one with the software. I have their cables for my older FT-7900R and FT-65 radios that used to be my primary mobile and HT, respectively, and they work flawlessly. I believe I have RT software for 5 or 6 different radios that I can think of as well.

For mounting, go to ProClip USA | Car Phone Holders and Dashboard Phone Mounts and search your year/make/model to find a mount that will bolt into your dash. That will give you a great mounting point for the control head for whatever radio you do end up with.

A lot of information, but I hope this helps!
Thanks Drew! Yeah, the V71 isn't cheap, but the alternatives - new - with APRS soar over $600, and I can't see it. I saw one Yaesu deal but delivery from China might take to mid-July. I'll look around some more though. The V71a currently goes for $345 at HRO. In any case, I want a warranty! Thx for the RT Systems vote, I'll stick with that. And proclip - didn't know of them at all, had only recently come across Rams mounts. I already have camera / weather / tablet stuff up front, so space is at a premium. Thanks again for taking the time!
 
May 25, 2014
385
169
11
Just catching up on older threads here.

I have found that dual-watch/dual-receive is OK-ish, but a lot of consumer ham radios don't offer something I find even more important - Zones. Too many ham repeaters out there run in full CSQ, or CSQ-on-RX, and as a result, you're going to get a lot of hash that will stop scan on a channel that is actually nowhere near you, when you have hundreds of channels programmed all in one list. I have tried multiple times to deal with it with a consumer ham mobile, because I wanted Yaesu's Fusion C4FM digital functionality, but I have found this masssive oversight on the part of the radio industry to be an absolute deal-breaker.

My solution to having dual receive on VHF and UHF, and actually having zones, is to use two commercial mobile radios. Afer much trial and error over many years, I have settled nicely into a pair of Kenwoods from different lines. UHF is a TK-5820, VHF is a TK-7180. The 5820 is a dual-mode radio which does FM analog as well as P25 digital, while the TK-7180 is FM analog-only. Both radio faceplates look nearly identical, and use the same KRK-10 remote-mounting kit, where I have both heads stacked on a swivel trunnion mount, in the overhead center console area. Yes, the mic cords hang like a big rig, in my sedan. This is what I'll be staying with from here on out. The only exception to this will be if I can source a TK-5720 to replace the TK-7180 with, as I'd like to also have P25 functionality on VHF, but that's not an absolute requirement, and TK-5720's seem to be a lot more scarce on the used market than TK-5820's were. The Kenwood NX-700 and NX-800 are the same radio as the TK-5720/5820, except that the digital protocol is Kenwood NXDN (NexEdge)/ICOM iDas digital. I previously had an NX-700, and the only NXDN Skywarn repeater I have ever heard of, in Ashland County Ohio, seemed to have that functionality removed when I chased there back in June. I don't see NXDN picking up in popularity moving forward, so it's a dead issue as far as Skywarn is concerned. The biggest player will always be FM analog wideband, with DMR Tier II (MotoTRBO Conventional), Yaesu System Fusion I/II C4FM, DSTAR, and APCO P25 Conventional being the digital players mostly associated with reporting severe weather.

I may look into a Connect Systems CS800D mobile in the future, as it's a commercial radio that is dual band, has a remote-mountable head, and has DMR Tier II digital, and add it to the control head stack. The only real hangup about commerical mobile radios is the issue of programming them. There is no FPP unless it's an expensive option. No VFO operation. Everything is carried out through the software and a programming cable. While many ham radios are going this direction, especially with the excellent RT Systems software and cables, the tradeoff for commercial radios can sometimes be more than what some people are willing to deal with. The only real ways to get the programming software for these commercial radios are either to buy the software packages from the manufacturer ($80-$500 from Kenwood, up to over $2000 from some companies like Harris), to find them for free on the internet from pirates, to know a guy who'll hook you up either for free or at a price, or to buy them for $25 on a flash drive from shady techs on Ebay.

Another major issue I've seen with the consumer ham radio market is space constraints of modern vehicles, and the elimination of the middle price point. Modern cars no longer feature mounting space under the center dash, or center console areas clear of stupid stuff, like 5 cubbyholes for no reason, 4 cupholders in the front seat, or a floor-mounted shifter for an automatic slushbox of all things. The radio companies know this is the case. If you look at Yaesu four years ago, they offered two different monoband dash-mount-only radios in the form of the FTM-3200DR and FTM-3207DR, at a low price point of $120, the mid-size FTM-100DR that featured a mid-size remote-mountable head at $300, and their top of the line FTM-400DR that offered a mid-size body and large remote-mounted head at $450. This year, that has changed. Your choices are now the mid-size FTM-7250DR dual bander in a dash-mount-only configuration for $250, the mid-size body & head remote-mountable FTM-300DR at a whopping $530, and the same FTM-400DR they offered four years ago for $450, except it's now $650. For the money, you could get a matched pair of Kenwood TK-7180/TK-8180 mobiles, a pair of KRK-10 remote head kits, a pair of aftermarket DTMF microphones, a pair of NMO 3/4" hole mounts with 17' coax pre-terminated with PL259's, a UHF 1/4 wave NMO antenna, a VHF 1/4 wave NMO antenna, a programming cable, and the programming software (either KPG-89D or SJ-180 flavors) on a flash drive on Ebay for like $500-$550, if you know how to hunt Ebay sales. You could now have a maxed-out commercial setup including every option you could want, including the software and antennas, for less than the price of Yaesu's mid-tier mobile radio alone, and that radio isn't going to include things like a remote head cable longer than 5 feet, the speaker will be on the body of the radio rather than the head which will require an extension speaker cost of $20-$50, and won't include the mic extension cable at all. Some of these radio companies also do highly dishonest things, like selling a radio that can really only be used as a remote mount radio, but they don't include the bracket to mount the remote head, while they'll happily sell you one for $65 from their web store. I can't remember which model I saw that had this as a caveat, but one model out there includes neither the radio body mounting bracket, nor the power cord, as a standard feature. They are options.