Modern Communications for
the Journalist in the Field, Part III

by Roger Williams

In Part I, we introduced the capabilities of amateur radio as a means of upgrading field communications (TDJ May 1999). In Part II, the licensing procedure was reviewed (TDJ June 1999).  In this issue, we will talk about the radio-related equipment needed to complete the journalist's communications capabilities. 

To review: as a licensed radio amateur, and member of the radio community, the journalist can gather information and communicate with other journalists over a range of many miles. He or she can participate in organized amateur radio emergency organizations, and link the two for the advancement of both. 

The amateur radio community is involved in many neighborhood betterment projects. It participates in emergency, search and rescue, and disaster service/preparedness. And as a member of this group the radio amateur can be a link between his community and the rest of the public.

The equipment reviewed is all repeater capable. It may be used on the range-extending repeating devices (usually club-owned), and placed on top of tall buildings, or even on mountain tops. The user transmits the signal to the repeater which is relayed over distance to receiving stations.  Properly placed repeaters can relay radio signals many miles. The radio clubs run repeaters which are open for use by any radio amateur, although it is considered good form for an amateur to belong to at least one club to help defray costs. The average membership fee runs about $35 per year. Many of the clubs' repeaters have phone-patch capabilities, allowing limited access to phone lines. They may also have message centers, do automated radio checks, and report the weather among other functions.

The repeaters can be linked--repeater to repeater--with a number of ownership participants providing services spread over large distances. For example, the Condor net operates a simultaneous coverage (can be used by the entire link) from San Diego to northern California and into Arizona and Nevada. There are 17 repeater links on this system. The area coverage is so complete that there is almost no place in the system where any participant cannot communicate with another participant anywhere in the area. The ZIA system has coverage from San Diego, California, to central Texas as another example. There are links such as these throughout the country, and usually no fee is charged for their use.

Most repeater systems are not linked, but still provide communications over a radius of 100 miles.

There are three bands used for this type of communication, the 2-meter 220, 440 bands, and the equipment most commonly used is a combination 2-meter 440 radio. For the purpose of simplicity we will confine ourselves to a few popular pieces of equipment by several manufacturers. 

As the amateur radio operator becomes licensed, he or she can investigate the various manufacturers and learn which produces the equipment best suited for them. All amateur operators have opinions on why they bought their favorite piece of equipment.

There are some shared values between equipment manufacturers.

1. Small hand-held radios are available providing convenience and normally have sufficient power to "hit" any local repeater, or get into links. 2-meter 440 band hand-held radios are available at low cost, and although are lower in power than their fixed-mobile counterparts have most of the same capabilities. These units can be used in the car with an outside antenna extending their range.

2. Mobile (fixed in car or home) can operate over a longer range because of higher power. they share most of the capabilities with their hand-held counterparts, however need power sources in the home, or are fixed in the car drawing power from the battery.

The following are some of the more popular units available:


Kenwood TMV7A      $460.00
            * Complete capability 2-meter, 440 MHz, transmit
               and receive 
            * Simultaneous receive on both bands
            * 50 watts power 2-meters 35 watts 440 MHz
            * Voice synthesizer
            * 280 memory channels, (180 using alphanumeric
            * Wide-band receiver

           Icom IC2710H       $460.00

           * Complete capability 2-meter, 440 MHz transmit and receive
           * Removable front panel
           * 50 watts power 2-meters, 35 watts, 440 MHz 
           * 200 memories
           * Wide-band receive


Kenwood THD71A     $329.95

* Complete capability 2-meters, 440 MHz, transmit and receive
* 6 watts power
* 200 memories
* Wide frequency range receiver for police, fire and aircraft

          Yaesu VX5R         $359.95

          * Complete capability 2-meters, 440 MHz, transmit and receive
          * 5 watt power
          * Addition of 6 meter (49 MHz band) for long distance FM skip to other countries
          * 220 memories
          * Extensive receive capabilities for police, fire and aircraft

Note: All the equipment mentioned above is available through any amateur radio supply house in the United States.

Other dual-band transceivers are available from Yaesu, Icom, Kenwood, ADI, and Alinco--many at lower prices with reduced capabilities. It is recommended that if the first purchase is to be a used radio, usually at about a 35% reduction in price, that an experienced local radio amateur of at least General Class level, and a five year license holder be used as an advisor. As in anything, people take advantage of novices. Any General Class amateur from a local club will be more than happy to guide a first purchase.

In some areas, the 220 MHz band is used for local and linking systems--largely  in the two coastal regions. Most parts of the country operate with the 2-meter 440 MHz systems. The 220 MHz equipment is slightly more expensive because fewer are produced.

Some amateurs prefer to run only the 2-meter band. The radios are considerably less expensive, but the capabilities and quality of equipment and communications are as good as the dual-band units.

Once again, amateur radio can be a major addition to the communication capabilities of any journalist. Moving into the 21st century, it will be to the journalist's benefit to take advantage of any means to assist in reporting the news, and staying competitive. As the day of the journalist staffer wanes, and the journalist functions more and more as an independent producer, he or she will need every tool available. The ability to talk to each other over great distances, participate in news breaking events as they happen, and become part of the vast worldwide amateur radio system is in keeping with the New Age of Journalism--the Platypus.

I would like to credit two outstanding radio amateurs for their assistance in researching this series of articles: Tom McDuffy, KM6K of Ham Radio Outlet in San Diego, and Phil Parton, N4DLO of Ham Radio Outlet in Atlanta.

Any questions about this series or the equipment mentioned are welcome and should be directed to

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