Thursday, July 04, 2013




Back when Doug and I became Hams (almost 30 years ago) the whole system was in flux, testing, manufacturing, Hamfests and tailgate sales, along with the disappearance of the local HAM or Electronics store.

At the time we got licensed (Thank you "CW DAVE"/NA5CW) we could go into downtown Houston and if the service calls weren't there we would hang out at Madisons, which besides looking similar to an Episode of "Hoarders", had a whole aisle with used stuff a new or seasoned Ham could use. There was another store just North of downtown that lasted a few years, but Madisons was the big dog in town.

Having passed the written exam, then the 5 wpm (wpm = words per minute) test we were still "Technicians" yet we could use part of 10 meters to actually talk on a transceiver (it wasn't too much longer when they made us "Technician Plus", and those who only passed the written test with "Technician" status). So having a flock of new hamlings wanting to talk on 10 meters, a lot more 10 meter only radios came to the market with Uniden's HR2510 being the most popular.

Uniden HR2510

If you were lucky enough to pass the 13 wpm exam, then you had quite a bit of Amateur Radio designated to use. So IMHO, the mid-80's gave us the most rigs to choose from. We could buy a new one (still a wee-bit pricey), or a used rig, and in that field we could pick a 60's all tube transceiver, or choose from a slew of Hybrid (part tube, part transceiver, part terminator - just checking to see if you're paying attention, 'Nuff Said), or some of the early all transistor transceivers. A newly ordained "General", on a budget, could easily find a used transceiver for under $500.

Almost no one bought a full featured all-mode HF transceiver from his local store because they would have to pay tax. Most Hams have what has been found in DNA research as the "Cheap Ass Cell" so they bought their rigs from out of state stores to avoid tax and get free shipping to their doorstep.

So naturally, Madisons would get a phone call (remember no readily available Internet back then) asking if they had a particular radio in stock, and if so, how much was it, and did they charge for shipping. If all criteria were met, Madisons would ship it out of state to the buyer. Even if they didn't get the sale, it wasn't like it would kill them because the margin of profit on radio sales was so slim you almost didn't notice it.

Accessories, antennas, microphones, etc. had a healthy profit along with having a good technician to do in-house repairs for your customers. At one time, a Ham could successfully repair his own radio, but with almost every rig using surface mount technology, it would take a very steady hand, good lighting, large magnification and a prayer or "Hail Mary" to do it now.


I used to attempt such things but lately it appears as if the components are getting even smaller, discouraging the Ham who was always used to repairing or modifications but now has to take a class just to learn the various menus and what they do.

I attended a couple Hamfests this year and pricing hasn't changed much - and only those with almost throw-away pricing sell rigs. For example, a FT-101 sold new, in 1971 for $499, which was 42 years ago. A used, scratched, but working FT-101 sells in a price range between $300-->$450 today. Was it built with gold plated casings? No. The FT-101 series was a good line that came out with revised versions of the model proceeding it, and if a new ham wants to make that jump from FM to HF, he'd have to check his wallet, the safe in a wall clock, and money in an envelope taped to the bottom of the driver seat, then $450 sounds a lot better to him than $700 and up for a new rig.

The good news for the younger ham, who just got his ticket is that it's much easier to pick up an HT now than it was in the 80's. I remember Doug and I at Madisons looking up at the Kenwood TH-215 2m handheld and seem to recall a price tag of nearly $300 [ed. - keep in mind, this was 2m ONLY]. It was Doug's first HT.

Jumping to the present day, almost 30 years later and single band HT's are in the minority today, replaced by the handheld dualbander HT. If you're not a ham, been asleep under a tree for 30 years, and haven't checked prices if you're reading this blog post I can imagine your thoughts; "If a 2m HT cost almost $300 back then, they'll have to be more expensive now - so what's the use". Don't despair, until recently you could pick up a dual-band HT for about $170, almost half of the price of a single band  HT from the 80's.

I did say "until recently", because there has been a shake up in pricing as of late, along with the well established manufacturers like Yaesu, Kenwood, and Icom facing HT competition from Chinese manufacturers. So what can you expect in pricing?

Yaesu's FT-60r has been around a long time and you'll find it under $150. Baofeng, one of the new Chinese manufacturers has the UV-5RA and UV-5R+, both dual-band handhelds selling for under $50 each via places online like Amazon.

I've owned and used the 5R+ for a little over six months now and it still works great. I paid about $45 for the HT and $10 for the programing software and cable [ed. - Hint, buy the s/w and cable and save yourself the grief]. I wanted to know what would happen if I went even cheaper and bought the 5RA for about $35 recently, and all I can say (having it for such a short time) is: "So far, so good".

Looking at it another way, if you spend $40 for the Baofeng HT, you've spent the price the "Big 3" charge for just the programming software and cable.



I'll be interested and looking forward to their first venture into the world of HF, because if they maintain the quality that these HT's have (at least the ones I own), it could really change the landscape as far as who is the most dependable HF transceiver maker, with the lowest price.

For now, I'm happy with what I have and hope the Government doesn't take away Amateur Radio band space, just for the money, allowing for more cellphone frequencies.

If you are a Ham now, you should be watching this carefully, and I'd recommend joining ARRL to keep informed and add to the ranks of those who are fighting to keep our frequencies.

'Nuff Said,

Email to: Woody