Is a Walkie-Talkie ("HT") enough?

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A so-called "handie-talkie" (hence "HT") is the first radio picked up by a lot of new hams, and no wonder: it's the most affordable way to get on the air, it's a familiar form-factor, it's portable, and it's a lot of fun!

The question of whether an HT will suffice as one's only radio is a reasonable one to ask, and the answer depends in large part on what your goals are with the hobby. Having said that, an HT as it comes out of the box is a relatively limited resource:

  • If it's like most HTs, its antenna is a so-called "rubber duck." While basically functional, and presenting the radio a reasonable impedance match, the rubber duck antenna is called by many hams a "rubber dummy load," because it offers little to no gain. This significantly constrains the range at which you can talk.
  • The built-in batteries in most HTs don't provide a great deal of receive time, and sometimes *very* limited talk time.
  • Audio quality tends to be poor, and it can be hard to hear what's going on in a noisy environment.

If that all sounds discouraging, take heart: there is much you can do to get a lot of good use out of your HT:

  • Buy--or build--an upgraded antenna. Or more than one, depending on what you want to do. For example, if you want to use the HT in mobile operation as well as when walking around, you'll need a purpose-built mobile antenna for the vehicle, and a good quality whip-style antenna for when you're walking around.
  • Get a bigger battery pack, or consider getting a "battery eliminator"--an adapter that connects where the battery goes, and lets you power the rig from an external source (typically 12v DC). A pack designed to hold alkaline AA cells can often be a good choice, too.
  • Get a speaker mic or a headset. This does two important things: it gets the RF source (when you transmit) away from your delicate and rather valuable brain, and it allows you more mobility. If you're using the HT as a makeshift mobile transceiver (and your author did so for years and had some awesome contacts that way), this is the only way to do it safely. Do be aware that in some places, you aren't allowed to wear a headset while driving, especially if it covers all 2 of your ears.

Depending on the model, the HT may be simple--or incredibly frustrating--to program via the buttons on the device itself. Most, if not all, modern HTs can be programmed via a special serial cable between the HT and a computer. Many hams find this a much more efficient way to program the HT than via the buttons.

An HT is an extremely useful radio, and if you use it with discretion, you can get a lot of utility from it. While most seasoned hams will tell you that it shouldn't be the only radio you own, you would also be hard-pressed to find any ham who doesn't have, and use, at least one of these little marvels.