Handheld transceivers should understand anything one
First off, my recommendations for radios are going to be primarily based on handheld applications. While there are certainly pros to having a larger base station transceiver, the handhelds have it when it comes to portability, ease of use, versatility and more. They can be used at home, in a vehicle, or even in the field.
What is a transceiver?
A transceiver is essentially your radio. A transceiver is a unit which contains both a receiver and a transmitter. While these used to be separate units until the 1920s, most modern radios are transceivers. Occasionally you’ll see just a receiver, but this is mostly for shortwave listening and beyond the scope of this article.
Frequency and Power
Addressing each of these questions one at a time will give you a background of what essentials to look for. What you want to do with the radio is important, are you just talking outside within line of sight of another person? FRS radios are great for this application, but if distance is a concern, they’re not for you. FRS transmits and receives on UHF, which by nature doesn’t travel as far as VHF due to UHF’s shorter wavelength. This of course completely discounts obstacles you may encounter, which will decrease range even more.
Remember that more power equals better range, so the FCC legal limit of 0.5 watts on FRS is a real let down, when you can move to VHF and MURS frequencies and bump up to 2 watts of power. Pay your $90 to the FCC for a GMRS license and you can transmit at 5 watts to 50 watts. Have a HAM license? That changes things too.
What you’re looking for in a good handheld is as much wattage as you can buy, while keeping in mind the legal limits you can operate on within your chosen frequencies. The frequency range the transceiver operates on is also very important. Obviously if your intent is programming MURS frequencies into your handheld, a handheld set up for CB with an operating range only in the High Frequency 27 MHz range, isn’t going to work with MURS and its 151-154 MHz range. The radios I’ll be recommend in this article are going to speak directly to versatility and can handle MURS, GMRS, NWR (Weather) and some HAM frequencies.
Dual Band and More
Having a dual band monitor feature on your handheld can be quite helpful. This feature will allow you to monitor two different frequencies at once. These can be VHF/VHF, VHF/UHF and even UHF/UHF. This might be hard to understand, so I’ll put it in the perspective of how we’ve used dual band before. During our recent ITS Muster, we assigned a radio to each of our squads and they had a designated main frequency to talk to the ITS staff on. The staff also had a frequency that we’d use to talk to each other on that the attendees didn’t have programmed into their radios. So we’d “monitor” both of these frequencies simultaneously with the dual band function of our radio transceivers and were easily able to select the specific frequency we wanted to transmit back on.
So in theory if the main frequency was channel 1 and our inner-staff channel was channel 2, we’d just have to make sure we were transmitting on channel 2 if we didn’t want the attendees to hear our conversation. One more thing about dual band is that you want to ensure your antenna can support dual band as well. If you’re buying a radio with dual band built-in, the antenna that comes with the radio will more than likely support it, it’s aftermarket antennas you have to worry about.
Another important thing to look for in a radio transceiver its the ability to program it manually, as well as with programming software using a cable. More on programming in the next section. What I mean by programmed manually is that it has a keypad, a digital display and that all menu options can be set with that keypad and display. The display also provides visual feedback on what channel/frequency you’re operating on.
A few other considerations are as follows:
Does the transceiver have a memory bank to store your favorite frequencies?
What’s the battery type? Is it rechargeable? Is a charger included?
Is there an external mic/push-to-talk connection? This is likely also where you’d connect a programming cable.
Does it have an FM radio? (76-108 MHz) Do you need access to an FM radio?
What kind of antenna connection does it have? Is it SMA or BNC? (more on antennas later)
Does it have a manual channel adjustment knob? This can come in very handy.