Blog and Projects

You Do Not Need An Amplifier In Amateur Radio

I remember the days when I started out in CB. I was 15 years old and had a truck that my Papa gave me. I had a CB installed in, and an antenna installed on the outside before I could even drive. I was heavily influenced by my brother-in-law regarding CB. I tried it for a while but soon learned that CB was just a wild west of people, and the constant sound of overdriving the audio, voltage, and PA just made it sound incredibly… awful.

When I first learned about amateur radio from my friend Matt, and I decided that I needed to get my ham license, I did. I remember replacing the CB in the truck with a Yaesu FT-2500M 2m radio and the 8.5′ (102″) stainless steel whip antenna. The antenna was replaced with a 5/8λ 2m monoband antenna. Rarely would I ever transmit at 50 watts. Just because I could use it did not mean that I need that kind of power. Contrary to some CB friends that constantly said to push max power, I did not need to.

As I began to dabble in the HF world, I believed I needed an amp. This was kind of because of my old way of thinking about RF and the thought of needing the most power I needed. Even to this day, I usually do not go more than 50 watts on HF. I fundamentally did not understand how radio worked and what the capabilities were. In my first few years in HF, I thought I needed an amp to really be effective. This is wrong. Once you understand how radio works, you can understand why you do not need it.

One way to think about it is this, if a distant station hears you at S5, in order to reach a 56, you must double your power transmitted (3dB). If you want to be heard with an S7, you must quadruple your power again (6dB). So let us say you are transmitting 100w and being heard at 55, quadruple your power to 400w to achieve S6. Double your power again to achieve S7, so we are at 400w. Double your power to achieve S8, so now we are at 800w. Finally, if you want a legitimate S9 report, you must double your power again to 1600w to achieve an S9.

Power Ratio Decibel Value (dB)
0.001 -30
0.1 -10
0.25 -6
0.5 -3
1 0
2 3
4 6
8 9
10 10
100 20

As you can see by that chart from the Technician question pool, every 3dB increase is a double in power. Generally, every 3dB on the radio is the equivalent of one S-unit.

One of my favorite YouTube channels is QRP School. I know I just opened a can of worms by even mentioning QRP.

…and a second video explaining dB again.

As you can see, it is very easy to get sucked into the I need an amp mindset, but you actually do not. I have worked stations all over the world on a wire and 100 watts just fine. I specifically worked the latest HF station on my log sheet [I know it was in 2018 while testing an antenna] on 10 watts and I received a 57 (five-seven) report on my signal, so it can be done. I would encourage you to try it out before buying an amp. Those bad boys are expensive and may not benefit you as much as you think.

73

GMRS for Emergency Communications Needs

I have been a ham (amateur radio) operator since 1999. I have used it for everything from just talking to friends to providing weather reports to the weather service and local EOCs, location beaconing to providing email services over the radio. I love it. I love the study of radio. I love teaching classes for new hams and being around like-minded people that enjoy the same.

Very Brief History

Even with all that said, I have gotten into a non-ham, but very similar service called GMRS. GMRS has been around for a while. It was started in the 1960s under the name Class A Citizens Radio Service. You did (and do) need a license and it was open for both individuals and businesses, so the airwaves were constantly busy with business activity, but that was changed later in the 1970 and the business band was born. This freed up the Class A Citizens Radio Service to be used by individuals and families.

Skipping ahead 50 years, the Class A Citizens Radio Service has been renamed GMRS and many updates have been put in place. Many things are simplified, making it easier to understand how to use for those that do not want to know about wavelengths, modulation, or any other technical jargon.

Growing Popularity

Hams have said for years that we are better prepared for emergency communications needs. Well, the snowstorm in February 2021 may have either shown that to be true for some or false for others. I did hear multiple reports on the TV about cell sites going down within 24 hours of the power going out. This left a lot of people without the ability to do basic communications with friends or family to report their status. Many hams were fine. A lot of us have backup battery systems to keep us on their air, but most of the rest of the populous have nothing like that, so they are up a creek in a time of need. This is where GMRS can come into play for those that are not technical but want to have some way to get out during a situation as we had.

I think that many people did see the need to have something. I read about some going and buying satellite phones, some trying other things, and some discovering the benefit of a GMRS radio. With amateur radio, you must read, study, and test to legally get on the airwaves with a license. In the GMRS world, the only requirement is to buy your right to use our free airwaves for $70 ($35 next year) for a 10-year license. This gives you access to a very usable area of the radio spectrum that works very well. Something simple as this would provide common users the ability to communicate with others in their local area, allowing for simple welfare checks with those around you. This is a common service that hams have had access to for years; now GMRS licensees can too. There are multiple reasons that GMRS is growing like a weed now:

  • Off-road enthusiasts are migrating from CB to GMRS because it provides a better service than they have had in the past
  • As people watch the headlines, people are starting to realize that in a disaster, it is common to be on your own for a duration. People are now understanding that you are responsible for your safety and wellbeing during an emergency or disaster, and you cannot wait on the government or someone else to save you. They are busy saving themselves too.
  • It is a very inexpensive method of communication. A person can go to their local big box store and find blister pack radios. Now, these are usually very feature-limited and cannot take advantage of some of the services that GMRS offers, but they will allow basic communications.

I have a set of Radioddity GM-30 handy talkies (walkie-talkies) that allow for the use of all the GMRS services including repeaters. These are going to be better quality than anything you can buy from a big box store, but they do have a bit more complexity to use them all. It is not more difficult than someone watching a couple of YouTube videos to learn about though.

Why it is so awesome to have?

Other than what I said earlier regarding a one-time fee, and the radios can be very inexpensive, why is it so nice to have a GMRS license? One license covers your ENTIRE family. Read what the FCC has to say about what a family is:

FCC part 95E, §95.1705[c]2: Any individual who holds an individual license may allow his or her immediate family members to operate his or her GMRS station or stations. **Immediate family members are the licensee’s spouse, children, grandchildren, stepchildren, parents, grandparents, stepparents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and in-laws.

That’s broad. One license for multiple users. You could communicate car-to-car on a road trip as an example.

My final thoughts

It is my opinion that there is finally a very easy method out there to keep yourself connected to others in your area during an emergency or just a weekend vacation. Turning on the radio and coordinating channel 7, or any of the 22 channels available, is easy for everyone. It provides reassurance that when a time of need comes, you can stay connected. It is a nice tool to have in your toolbox.

The Wouxun KG-UV980p Surprise

I started my ham career as a Yaesu person because that was the first brand I saw in the HRO catalog in 1999. I continued as a Yaesu person until after moving to Texas years ago when I found an Icom radio on sale and purchased it. I was impressed by the quality improvement and functionality. Eventually, I got into the Kenwood world. I can say this, Kenwood is top-of-the-line. A long story short, I ended up a Kenwood fan, and this is what I wanted as my next FM/AM radio. I have a Kenwood TM-V71a dual-band mobile installed at the house. This was what I wanted for the car also, but… I just had reservations about installing a $450 radio in my car and another $450 just was not in the budget at the time.

After going hard on DMR for the past six years, I have decided to take a break. Nearly every radio I have in my arsenal is DMR capable and I wanted a radio that was strictly FM and could receive AM/Air also. I started looking around and was very surprised at the abysmal selection. The “Big 3” want you to use their digital modes and finding a radio that is not digital is like finding a needle in a haystack. Yaesu has one, Icom has one, and Kenwood has two non-digital radios to choose from. I hate to say it but the Chinese-made radio market is dominating the traditional Big 3 guys.

Eventually, I narrowed it down to two radios, the Kenwood TM-V71a or a Chinese-made Wouxun KG-UV980P. They are both top-quality radios. Wouxun is a Chinese-designed and built radio, and traditional hams will hate it because of that, but the radio is a great piece of equipment. It has dual-superheterodyne receivers, not a radio-on-a-chip, that function independently from each other.

After many hours of comparing and other back-and-forths, I decided on and purchased the 980P, using a coupon code from a YouTuber, the radio came to under $300 with tax and shipping. This also includes the front panel separation kit in the box. I had the buyer’s remorse almost immediately because it wasn’t what I thought I wanted. I just spent a lot of money on a Chinese radio, albeit a high-end Chinese radio, but still, I did not think I was getting that Kenwood quality I wanted.

Programming

Let me start with the programming of the radio. If you have spent any time programming radios, you kind of have certain expectations. One of the best programming options out there for programming radio is the Chirp software. Ready to get started, I opened Chirp and looked for the radio in the radio list. Not there. Well dang. I downloaded the software from Wouxun and opened it. Easy enough… I thought. You CAN NOT import CSV files to quickly load the memories, so I started one-by-one entering the repeaters I wanted into the radio. That only took a few minutes. I like to listen to air, rail, MURS, and GMRS. I live near DFW airport so there are a considerable number of aviation frequencies I wanted to program. This took a few hours to get all of the channel memories loaded with everything I wanted. This took approximately three hours to completely get everything in except for rail. There are 97 AAR frequencies and that would have taken a very long time to complete, I’m talking hours and hours more. I uploaded the code plug to the radio and voila, there it was. I always double-check my codeplugs and I found a couple of fat-finger issues that I corrected and uploaded.

Due to us working on some car replacement issues, I had no plans of installing the radio in the car, yet. I boxed the radio back up and waited. It sat there for a week or so and I just wanted to power it on and see what it could do. I disconnected the Kenwood radio and set up the 980p, and I was not disappointed.

First Use

My first contact on the radio was on the Hurst repeater where I received excellent audio reports, which was a concern of mine after hearing other Chinese radios on the air. The audio quality was reported great on both a repeater and the Hurst Simplex Net. I am feeling better about my purchase now and the buyer’s remorse is subsiding.

One of my favorite things to listen to is DFW Airport traffic. It is not uncommon for me to have one bank on my radios set to aviation, and the other to ham, Kenwood was no different. I received DFW West Tower 1 usually pretty good along with the air traffic in/outbound. I swapped the cables around and tuned DFW West Tower 1 on the Wouxun radio and BOOM, a received just as good, if not a bit better than the Kenwood. This was a surprise. I love my Kenwood radio, but could it be being beaten on the receiver side. The two radios a very close, but I can hear airborne traffic better on the Wouxun than the Kenwood.

My first opinion of the radio is a great one.

Receiver Specifications

So far everything I have talked about has been from a visual and audio standpoint. Listening with my ears and watching what the radio does on the screen was what I have used to compare. I wanted to make sure I had not heard what I wanted to hear and formed a bias against one or the other. I do not have any specialized testing equipment so I turned to the user manuals. I have no reason to believe they are lying, so here we go. Take a look:


Kenwood TM-V71a Datasheet


Wouxun KG-UV980p Datasheet


Do you see what I see? The Wouxun has a more sensitive receiver than the Kenwood does. It is more sensitive by 0.07µV. I have had the Kenwood for years, and maybe receiver technology has just advanced. Regardless, I like what I see. At the time of this writing, I have NOT been able to test whether the receiver frontend is easy to overload like the Baofeng and other lower-quality Chinese radios are, or if it stands strong as the Kenwood does. I am kind of suspecting the latter because this radio has surprised me at every turn.

Usability

This is an area that separates the Big 3 from the Chinese radios out there. Yaesu’s menus where you have to drill down into menus and submenus sucks. I have always thought that, even when I bought my first radio from them. Icom and Kenwood do a pretty good job with their menus and buttons. They keep it simple and pretty self-explanatory. Wouxun does a fairly decent job too. Some of their menu items have to be deciphered at first to understand what they are. i.e. SNI-SW and SC-REV

  • SNI-SW – “Caller ID Transmission Settings”
  • SC-REV – “Transceivers Caller ID in Arabic Numbers 0-9”

The V71a has these functions also, but they call them REM.ID, so poor comparison? Yes, I think so. The one thing I have NEVER seen on a Chinese radio is the Automatic Repeater Offset where the radio knows the + and – offsets for its operating bands. Every Japanese-built radio (Big 3) has this feature built-in as part of the firmware coding, and none of the Chinese build radios have it. This is such a nice feature, but I can live without it.

After a few weeks of use, a lot of scanning, and hosting three nets for two clubs, the radio is a solid performer. There is one little thing that catches me each time I transmit though, the electronic T/R switch is very audible for what it is. It is not loud, but you can hear an audible click when the transceiver is activated. It is nowhere as loud as the click on my former (sold) MD9600 DMR dual-band radio. I find myself using this radio over my Kenwood daily and will probably continue until after I get it installed in the car.

Final Thoughts and Errata

I know there was a lot of comparing of radios from the traditional big guys and the assumed lower quality Chinese radios. A lot of them are junk, but I do believe that Wouxun has differentiated itself as a higher-quality radio manufacturer. I have owned Baofeng, TYT, and other Chinese equipment, and always come to expect them to be junk, as most are. I have heard from many sources that Wouxun is a top-tier provider and I think it is so. I told Carrie, KD5YIZ (XYL) that I would not mind having another one.

I am still a Kenwood fan, and probably will always be one too. I am just saying that currently, they are in good competition with radios from foreign lands now and the competition is tough.

The radio is solid and is a great performer. After three weeks, I am happy to report now that the front end does not overload, just like my Kenwood can resist it.

Summary

I like the radio a lot. It is good. I would recommend it to anyone. The menus are good and easy to use after you learn the menu option names. I do wish it had the automatic repeater offset, but that is by no means a disqualifier in my book. I would be happy and confident in recommending this radio and its GMRS brother version the KG-UV1000G which is the same radio with GMRS-specific firmware. Heck of a deal for sure. Good job Wouxun.

This post was written over three weeks just to make sure what I was saying was correct.