The Radios I'll Take While on Vacation
The kit I'm taking while on the road covers mobile, base, and digital radio
I’m going on a long road trip, something I haven’t done since…well, I don’t remember the last time I was able to do this!
My wife and I will be driving from Portland, Oregon to Spokane, Washington, then on to Helena and Glasgow, Montana. From there, we slide east to Bismarck, North Dakota for a national conference related to work. (So yes, there are about six work days on this trip.)
After Bismarck, we will work our way south to Wichita, Kansas for a long visit with relatives. Following Wichita, we visit Rice, Texas. After that, our itinerary becomes much more fluid. We plan to camp our way back to Portland by way of Santa Fe, Moab, Elko, and who knows where else!
Being a ham radio operator on a long road trip, I’m obviously going to take a radio…or two…or three. But which ones?
Mobile: Icom ID-5100A
Normally I would have my Kenwood TM-D710G VHF/UHF mobile radio in the car and my Yaesu FT-450D in a case for radio play from parks and hotel rooms. But the Kenwood is not working right and I have other radios I want to try out.
In the car, I’m taking my Icom ID-5100A VHF/UHF mobile radio. The Icom is not my favorite radio (in fact, it’s not my favorite brand, either) but it has some uniquely interesting characteristics. What I like or otherwise find useful:
Removable faceplate. This feature makes it much easier to position the radio in the driving space without overwhelming the driver or passenger.
Dual band. During my ham radio time, it feels like VHF repeater activity has decreased and UHF has, in some places, increased. A dual-band radio seems almost a necessity now.
D-STAR. I confess that I’m not a fan of D-STAR. Some of the D-STAR transmissions I hear sound so bad that it hurts to listen to them. My favorite digital systems are AllStarLink and DMR, probably because the voice codecs they use are the best…or at least they sound the best to my ears. Still, there are plenty of D-STAR systems around the country so I look forward to monitoring D-STAR in the places we’ll be staying. Maybe my opinion of D-STAR will change once I broaden my horizons a bit.
Geo-fenced repeater selection. That’s not how Icom describes it. They call it: Near Repeater Search Function. It is GPS-based repeater scanning and I find it very helpful on journeys. A good discussion of how this works in real life is archived on Reddit. This is my favorite aspect of this radio and I wish other mobile radios had this feature.
What I don’t like:
Display. The display is sometimes hard to see. I wear polarized sunglasses while driving and the display is remarkably washed out and hard to decipher while I’m on the move. Even when I lift my sunglasses the display can still be hard to read.
Speaker is on the base unit. This is not uncommon in this style of radio but it is always slightly disconcerting to hear voices coming from underneath my car seat.
Volume output could be better. The output volume could be a bit better. It’s adequate in a reasonably quiet vehicle cabin, but when driving on a noisy road surface, it is not quite sufficient.
The mobile antenna for the Icom is a Comet SS-680SB half-wave mounted to a crossbar on the roof rack. The advantage of the half-wave antenna is it doesn’t require a ground plane. It also has a spring in the base which has proved helpful when I encounter tree branches that are lower than I think they are. I have a taller half-wave mobile antenna but it smacks almost every drive-through canopy I normally visit, so I swapped it out for the shorter Comet.
Base: Ten-Tec Scout
This trip will be the test of a new-to-me Ten-Tec Scout. The beauty of this radio lies in its simplicity. There are no menus. In a world full of multi-layered menus and poorly constructed interfaces, a simple radio can be a joy to use.
My manual tuner is an MFJ 945E. It’s a bit large for packing in a suitcase but I find that having a dual needle SWR meter to be very helpful. I’m not packing it to a summit so the size becomes less significant.
For antennas, I’ll take an end-fed half-wave wire antenna and a 17-foot telescoping aerial antenna on a ground spike. With the tuner, I’ll be in good shape.
Digital: AllStarLink node
I’ll be running AllStar node 588416. This has AllStarLink 2.0.0-beta running on a repurposed Chromebook. I’ve loaded the Debian 10 ISO with ASL on it on the Chromebook, giving me sufficient computing power plus a monitor and keyboard, all in one package.
Attached to this will be my AllScan ANR100-N acting as the audio interface between the node software and an Alinco EMS-57 hand microphone. To keep the package smaller, I’ll bring stereo earbuds and use a mono-to-stereo adapter plug to get even audio in both ears.
I can run this system using hotel wifi or my T-Mobile cellular hotspot. To control the node, I use AllScan on the Chromebook or enter DTMF codes on the hand mic.
I’ve even operated an AllStar node while mobile using my hotspot, with good audio reports received from other nodes.
I am tempted to instead take my Anytone AT-D878UVII Plus radio and MMDVM hotspot to talk over DMR. But honestly, I get just as much enjoyment using AllStar and a real radio microphone. That package gives me a great retro-modern feeling where I get to handle a microphone while using the fantastic audio quality of AllStarLink. It’s a great way to play radio and reach the world.
Handie Talkie: Yaesu FT-5DR
Finally, I might take my newest HT (not counting the Anytone): a Yaesu FT-5DR. That would give me VHF/UHF portable capability. I’ve found that hams in some places use the VHF calling frequency (146.52 MHz simplex) extensively while in other places, it is almost always silent. I don’t know what I’ll find in some of our stops so having an HT in my pocket might be worth the small effort of bringing the radio and charger.
What radios do you take with you?
What suite of radios do you take with you when you travel?