“Transceiver does not have CB frequencies…”

OK, I admit it. Ham radio has a PR problem. Most people know more about its more free-wheeling cousin, CB. And others tend to mix the two up or think they’re one and the same. However, it’s one thing for someone not to have heard too much about ham radio. It’s another thing altogether for someone to lodge a review about a ham radio, with his review showing to the world just how utterly clueless he is about it.

Malcolm (KH6MSH) forwarded a review to the EARC net control station list written by one Brad Boutan. It was for a Yaesu FT-7900R mobile dual band radio. (I have its older cousin, the FT-7800R – it was my primary radio until my FT-857; it’s now part of my go-kit.) I have to admit, I had a pretty good laugh at first. But reading it again, some of the stuff is just plain false. It basically showed a fundamental lack of knowledge about what ham radio is. So, in case you happen on across this review, I hope this sets the record straight. Let’s address his bullet points one by one:

First the bad news. 1. Transcever [sic] does not have CB frequencies. I was under the false impression that it did…

I have more bad news for you, dude. CB is CB, ham is ham, and on the airwaves, never the twain shall meet…legally, that is. CB has its own FCC band (11 meters), and although it’s a close neighbor to the ham radio 10-meter band, if a ham radio transceiver is legal in the U.S., it cannot include 11 meters. Nor can a type-compliant CB radio transmit on 10 meters. So if you’re looking for a radio that can transmit on CB, look elsewhere. Like, an actual CB radio. Next.

2. Documentation inadequate for proper sellection [sic] of antenna, and power supply.

The documentation for a ham radio presupposes that you have a license. And having a license implies that you passed the Technician class exam, which covers the basics of antennas and DC power in some length. True, some of this stuff comes from learning from other hams, but even then, if you went through the Technician exam, you have the basic knowledge to understand what antenna you need – you’ll have the basics of SWR (and why it’s a bad thing); you’ll understand why your quarter-wave vertical mobile antenna needs a pizza pan to work, and so on. You can even make your own. And you’ll know that you need 12V to run it. So, if you need to be told what kind of an antenna you need – you need to pass the exam first.

3. Inadequate public notice of requirement for U.S. government license.

Oh, come on. Hams put their callsigns on display for the world to see – especially on their cars. Not all radio users have government issued callsigns, which implies that it’s something special, and maybe (gulp) needs government approval? I’ve known for a while that hams needed licenses, and getting one was on my bucket list for a while until I finally got it in 2007.

Now, this criticism could apply to some radio services, such as the General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS). You wouldn’t know, on reading the packaging on those two-way radios in your local Best Buy or Wal-Mart or what have you, that you need a license. I’m talking about those radios that boast about a 10-15 mile range. (Which, by the way, is only true under ideal conditions – that is, true line of sight or flat ground. Add mountains, obstructions, or buildings, and you’re lucky to get 2 miles at most.) You can use the radio out of the box on the Family Radio Service channels at the FRS power limit of half a watt, but to legally use the full power, you need to apply to the FCC and pay a little-more-than-nominal fee of about $80. (For comparison, with some time and effort, you can get your ham license for as little as the typical exam fee of $14. And if you’re really adventurous, you could run the table, go from zero to Extra in one sitting, and pay as little was $42.)

But ham radio is not one of those. It’s not a secret that hams need licenses. And if it’s news to you…well, what can I say?

4. Again inadequate documentation for proper user friendly operation of all features of Transcever [sic].

OK, I’ll concede that owner’s manuals are not the most user-friendly things in the world. That said, learning all the bells and whistles of any piece of equipment takes work. The most essential function is transmission, and that’s pretty much the same across all radios. But there are essential skills in ham radio that you need to know, but the specifics of doing so may vary from radio to radio. For instance, knowing how to set your radio between repeater/duplex mode and simplex mode. Or memorizing frequently used frequencies. Or learning how to listen on the “reverse” – i.e. the input frequency of a repeater.

You do need to read your manual. I hope our reviewer friend knows how.

5. Non disclosure of Manufacturer (ie. is it from a Hostile nation with computor [sic] circuitry designed to malfunction or other harmfull [sic] acts.)

The manufacturer is pretty clear – it’s Yaesu. They’re a well-known name in radio communication and particularly among hams. All the radios I use are made by Yaesu. They’re not the only one out there (their competitors, ICOM and Kenwood, come immediately to mind), but they’re well respected. By the way, they’re a Japanese company, so I don’t think they’re going to harm anyone, unless you really, sincerely think that Pearl Harbor will ever happen again.

6. Has permenant [sic] auto shut off of Transmitting capability if FCC detects ANY operator transmitting without a license. Even if a one time, 5 second transmission is made, results in auto shut off. Even on very obscure frequencies. … Unite [sic] must be taken to Ham shop to reset trip.

OK, here’s what I picture – the FCC constantly monitoring 2 meters, and seeing if anyone is transmitting unlicensed so that – BOOM – they can send some weird signal that short-circuits their radio and turns it into an expensive paperweight.

And if you believe that, can I interest you in some prime land on the slopes of Kilauea?

<sarcasm>I’m sure the FCC can tell if someone has a license just by listening to their transmission for a mere five seconds.</sarcasm>

I’m also sure the FCC has better things to do than to do that. And I’m sure that they’re not going to fine you $5,000 if you momentarily lapse and drop your callsign after 10 minutes and 2 seconds.  They’re not THAT strict. However, if you habitually forget to ID, or do other things that are no-nos, the FCC can take complaints and take action. Hams will defend their frequencies against abuse.

The whole licencing scheme is a scam of Freedom of Speech Right, and Right to Public Access.

Freedom of speech has never been absolute. You’ve heard of shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theatre, right? (The ham bands have an equivalent: falsely declaring an emergency on the air.) And right of public access? The roads are publicly available, but you still need your driver’s license to operate a motorized vehicle on them. Safety, safety, safety. I talk about the hows and whys of ham radio licensing at length here, but suffice it to say that if you transmit unlicensed and break some of the rules in the process, you’re going to sound like a total fool, you’re going to have quite a few hams ticked off at you if your transmission causes interference, and you’ll probably attract the attention of the friendly neighborhood FCC.

In the end, dude, no one is forcing you to go into ham radio. If CB is more your speed, more power to you (up to 12 watts, of course). And next time, you might want to read up on ham radio before actually purchasing one. And yes, I know you actually purchased it. Amazon says so.

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