29 December 2022

FT-818 QRT

Word dropped yesterday that the venerable FT-818 was taken out of production by Yaesu. As of this morning Gigaparts does not list the radio at all on their website, and HRO shows it either out-of-stock or low stock at all of its stores.

I've written extensively about this little radio on this blog and on various Facebook sites. I consider it the last of the 'good' generation of Yaesu radios, along with its sister rigs - the FT-897 and the FT-857. The FT-818 had a 20+ year production run, perhaps the longest of any Amateur Radio (although I think the Icom IC-718 may be giving it a run for its money). In the end it was killed off by the one thing no electronics system can escape - parts availability. According to Yaesu they couldn't source many of the components needed to build this radio. Of course they could have re-designed the rig to take advantage of components that are available in the market. A lot radio manufacturers have had to do this - including Icom and Elecraft. My guess is that Yaesu gave it some thought but realized that, given the age and design of the radio, it was just time to let the old girl go and work on bringing something new to market. At least I hope that's what Yaesu was thinking. Yaesu is being very cagey about what might be coming. I'll say this though - throughout the pandemic and chip shortages, Yaesu has been the one Amateur Radio manufacturer that hasn't been shy about bringing new products to market. Some have been minor refreshes like the FT-5DR handheld, some have been new development products like the FT-710. But while all the other manufacturers have been sitting on their hands waiting for things to shake out, Yaesu has pushed ahead. To me this indicates that Yaesu is likely to already have a replacement for the FT-818 waiting in the wings.

In an earlier post I mentioned that in 50 years there'll be more FT-817/818 rigs still on the air than  Icom IC-705s, and I truly believe that. Given the sheer number of 817/818 radios out there, and the fact that the 20 year old design is easier to maintain than an SDR, I'll wager that in 2101, the 100th anniversary of the FT-817s introduction, there'll be special event stations dedicated to firing up these great old rigs and getting them on the air. By that time the IC-705's will all be recycled electronic waste. 

So raise a glass to the old gal, the radio that defined the QRP shack-in-the-box concept and helped  launch the SOTA movement. And if you have one, make sure she gets on the air every now and then.

W8BYH out 

26 December 2022

No One Radio Can Do It All

Last month I attended a Georgia AUXCOMM class, and one of the key take-aways (for me) was always knowing what your communications capabilities are. I own too many a lot of radios, and it's been a few years since I did a feature comparison. My question was, which radio I currently own offers the broadest range of capabilities; a true shack-in-a-box. 

While nothing fit the bill 100%, I was only slightly surprised when the winner emerged - the Icom IC-7100. Sadly, this incredibly capable radio was taken out of production by Icom a few months ago. I can only hope there's a replacement already waiting in the wings, and Icom's only holding back on shipping them because the northern sea lanes between Japan and the port of Los Angeles are still choked with dangerous icebergs.

It should be no surprise that the Icom IC-705 is the runner-up. That little radio is just begging to be up-sized. I'm hoping it's the up-sized version that's being held up by the icebergs

Other radios on the list have their own unique capabilities, which is why I hang onto them. The Icom IC-7200 is a no-frills, built like a bulldozer HF rig. All it does is HF, but it'll do it all day, every day, for months on end. The KX2 may not look like it does much, but what it does it does better than any other radio on the market. It's an amazing piece of technology to behold - and you can behold it in the palm of just one hand, with room left over.

Given my current stable of radios, what would I grab going out the door for a SHTF situation? Well, it wouldn't be just one radio. I'd need at least three. Based on the combination of requirements I anticipate - both HF voice and digital, using a variety of modes, the ability to do wide band TX (the 'MARS mod'), the ability to do ALE scanning and HF chat using either Vara Chat or JS8CALL, the choices came down to:
  • IC-7200
  • IC-705
  • ID-52
Some of you are surely yelling, "you're letting your inner Icom fanboy leak out!". No, and yes. In the past I've been a Yaesu fanboy, a Ten-Tec fanboy, a Hammarlund fanboy, even a cheap Chinese radio fanboy. I'm still an Elecraft fanboy. For a long time I didn't particularly like Icom products. I thought they were over-polished and over-priced; slick toys that didn't offer anything better than the competition, but at a higher price. In my mind I was paying extra for the Icom badge. It took a few years of struggling with Yaesu's configuration settings on several of their HF radios to appreciate Icom's well developed and mature interface and settings libraries that spans much of their product line. Icom radios are easy to set up for digital or voice operations, share operating principles across all of their modern rigs - HF and UHF/VHF, and share Icom-developed apps like the RS-BA1 wi-fi rig control package, the RS-MS1A Bluetooth rig control package, and the ST-4001A picture utility program. While none of these packages will win any awards for world-class features or functionality, they are solid apps that allow different Icom rigs to be operated through a shared interface, and to share data across platforms, mostly via DSTAR. 

The IC-705 and the ID-52 (and the ID-51) go even further and share battery packs. This means I only have to worry about one type of battery pack and charger for two different radio models. 

You may ask, "why not the IC-7100, if it's so capable?". Truthfully, it was initially in the mix as I was writing this post, but then I figured I'd need to scan ALE channels using either Ion2G or MARS ALE, and the 7100 can't do that. Only the IC-7200 (with the quiet scan mod) or the IC-7300 can do that. The IC-7300 would seem the next logical choice, but I wanted a 100 watt HF rig that could run continuous duty cycles on digital modes like Vara Chat, and the IC-7200 with its better cooling arrangement just seems a better candidate.

By grabbing these three specific radios I'll have all the coverage I need for voice and digital comms, with redundancy. One hundred watts of HF voice and digital, a 10 watt backup, and a 5 watt hand held. The IC-7200 is a high duty cycle radio that can do voice, digital and ALE scanning, The IC-705 provides an advanced SDR capability on HF, Gen3 DSTAR capability and wideband receive. The ID-52 provides handheld UHF/VHF dual watch voice and Gen3 DSTAR capability. Bases covered.

So remember, in today's market there's not one single radio that can do it all, from any vendor. If you need to relocate for any reason - your own house is damaged or destroyed, or you are deploying to provide comms support for a disaster - you'll need a mix of radios to cover all the requirements. 

Yes, there's a point to all this. It's called Winter Field Day 2023. 

W8BYH out

21 December 2022


I recently spied this beauty for sale on QRZ.com. Radios like this make my heart race and I get lightheaded.

One of the great tragedies of American ham radio was the demise of Ten-Tec. In their hayday they made truly great products, all in their Sevierville, Tennessee facility, and they bent over backwards to accommodate the ham radio community. Ten-Tec's public face was always as a rock-solid, well respected, US-based ham radio manufacturer, but I think their bread and butter - the thing that kept Ten-Tec profitable - were their government contracts for radios like the RX-340.

When I got my General ticket back around 2004 I bought a Ten-Tec Jupiter, and it became my gateway drug to HF operations and Ten-Tec products. It was a groundbreaking radio - a true SDR with a dedicated rig control interface. I think it became Ten-Tec's most popular HF radio. I ended up owning a series of Ten-Tec rigs - an Omni A (typically and correctly referred to as a 'solid-state boat anchor'), a Triton I, a Triton II, and one of their 2 meter mobile rigs. 

Ten-Tec's service was always first rate. You could ship them any Ten-Tec radio, in any shape, and they'd return it to operating condition for a relative pittance. I bought the Omni A off of a seller on eBay who advertised it as being in 'perfect working condition'. When I got it, it was a mess. Certainly not 'perfect'. Not even operational. I opened a complaint against the seller through eBay, and he eventually admitted he knew nothing about the radio and was selling it for the widow of a local SK. He refunded half the selling price and all the shipping costs. I sent the radio off to Ten-Tec, and for a whopping $114 they re-built and re-aligned it and got it back into perfect operating condition. The cost of the parts alone had to exceed the final bill, not counting the labor cost involved.  

Ten-Tec hosted an annual hamfest at their Tennessee factory, and I made the trip up one year. It was held on the factory grounds, and included a factory tour. The corporate staff bent over backwards to make everyone comfortable, and were very open about new developments that were in the pipeline. I was somewhat taken aback by the age of the facility; Ten-Tec had been making electronics products in that building since before WWII, and it showed. They did everything in the building - design advanced SDR radios, form sheet metal for radio cases, mold plastic and metal components, assemble and test new products, service used radios, and run retail sales. It was a well used and somewhat tired and inefficient building.

I took a four year hiatus from ham radio between 2015 and 2019, and during that time Ten-Tec was sold twice over and effectively left the ham radio market. I'm told the original Ten-Tec owner was facing mounting facility modernization costs and just wanted to retire, so he sold the company and facilities as-is to the highest bidder. The succession of new owners were after the government contract side of the business. Of course each owner promised to keep the ham radio side of things running, but never did beyond a token effort. The company eventually landed in the hands of Dishtronix, and Distronix has effectively ceased production in the face of COVID, worldwide chip shortages, and a factory move from Tennessee to Ohio. Will Ten-Tec ever be competitive again in the ham radio market? I doubt it.

In its prime Ten-Tec made some of the world's finest receivers, like the RX-340 above. These ended up in the hands of a lot of three-letter federal agencies, and it was said you could hear a flea fart in Havana using an RX-340 in Washington. Gives you an idea who was running them. Ten-Tec's high end receivers don't often come up for sale on the used market, and when they do they don't sit around long waiting for a buyer. I think this radio sold within a day of being posted, and the owner got full asking price.

But darn it, beyond the performance, the RX-340 just looks like a real radio; all the buttons and knobs and digital displays you need to run a radio without having to insert a computer into the mix. Radio the way Marconi, David Sarnoff, Edwin Armstrong, Arthur Collins, and Wayne Burdick and Eric Swartz (the founders of Elecraft) intended - radios with real knobs and readable displays that show you everything you need to know, and not a single digit more.

W8BYH out