dual-band mobile radio for storm spotter

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bjewett

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Greetings. I'm a meteorologist looking for a mobile ham radio for communicating with skywarn/NWS radio networks. That's it. As such I'm considering 50W (for range) and 70cm/2m, which seems to be the bands of interest, ~144/440 MHz. I am not currently a ham. My best friend ham radio expert has passed away :(

I'd appreciate your thoughts. I am tech- and car-wiring-friendly but not a pro. The more intuitive the better, and I won't be trying to broadcast out of band or hit hams in other countries.

In the lowest-price well-regarded radios I was seeing the Kenwood TM-V71a and Yaesu 8*** radios. I'm surprised these radios originated 5-10 years ago but they seem to be some folks' favorites. I see the anti-China-radio community and don't care beyond ease of use and reliability, which seems to take me back to the above two. The Icom's seem to require extra $100s of add-ons, so I'm less inclined there. Any thoughts are much appreciated.
 

djpaulino

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Greetings. I'm a meteorologist looking for a mobile ham radio for communicating with skywarn/NWS radio networks. That's it. As such I'm considering 50W (for range) and 70cm/2m, which seems to be the bands of interest, ~144/440 MHz. I am not currently a ham. My best friend ham radio expert has passed away :(

I'd appreciate your thoughts. I am tech- and car-wiring-friendly but not a pro. The more intuitive the better, and I won't be trying to broadcast out of band or hit hams in other countries.

In the lowest-price well-regarded radios I was seeing the Kenwood TM-V71a and Yaesu 8*** radios. I'm surprised these radios originated 5-10 years ago but they seem to be some folks' favorites. I see the anti-China-radio community and don't care beyond ease of use and reliability, which seems to take me back to the above two. The Icom's seem to require extra $100s of add-ons, so I'm less inclined there. Any thoughts are much appreciated.
You can't go wrong with the Kenwood TM-V71.



a.
 

mrweather

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The TM-V71A and Yaesu FT-8800 are very good, analog dual-band radios. I've owned both and was happy with them (I've since moved on to Fusion).
 

mmckenna

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I'll also recommend the Kenwood.
While I've never owned that model, I have owned the TM-D710, which uses the same RF deck (mostly) but a different control head. Good radio, easy to use, and Kenwood is a reputable company.

As such I'm considering 50W (for range)
While I know it's tempting, don't get hung up on power output. The most important part of your radio setup is the antenna. If you want this radio to work well, do a proper antenna install. That means an antenna mounted on the roof of the vehicle, preferably smack in the center. Permanent install is much preferred. 25 watts into a properly installed antenna will outperform 50 watts into a poorly installed antenna any day of the week. Don't spend all that money on this radio, then cheap out on the antenna.

As for wiring, power the radio directly from the battery. Do not tap into any existing wiring, including the cigarette lighter plug. Run the + power lead to the + terminal on the battery. Fuse it as close as you can to the battery. Do not connect the - lead to the battery, connect it to a body ground point.
 

bjewett

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I'll also recommend the Kenwood.
While I've never owned that model, I have owned the TM-D710, which uses the same RF deck (mostly) but a different control head. Good radio, easy to use, and Kenwood is a reputable company.

While I know it's tempting, don't get hung up on power output. The most important part of your radio setup is the antenna. If you want this radio to work well, do a proper antenna install. That means an antenna mounted on the roof of the vehicle, preferably smack in the center. Permanent install is much preferred. 25 watts into a properly installed antenna will outperform 50 watts into a poorly installed antenna any day of the week. Don't spend all that money on this radio, then cheap out on the antenna.

As for wiring, power the radio directly from the battery. Do not tap into any existing wiring, including the cigarette lighter plug. Run the + power lead to the + terminal on the battery. Fuse it as close as you can to the battery. Do not connect the - lead to the battery, connect it to a body ground point.
Thanks for the comments! Everyone seems to like Kenwood. As far as power, I assume signal strength drops as square of the distance, and want an "increased chance" of hitting a skywarn repeater if I'm in tinytown, NE. I'm less sure how to proceed with the antenna because I have other "stuff" (cameras, mics, weather instruments) on the roof and they may change location. I'm also not sure what 50W will do to the video being taken up there. Maybe I could start with a large mag mount and later to a solid drilled install, location TBD? [I see your .sig says, drill the hole...]
 

KK4JUG

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Either the TM-V71A and Yaesu FT-8800 will serve you well. They're time proven.
 

kayn1n32008

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Having used a wide variety of ham gear, AND commercial gear, my preference is LMR gear. If it were me, and I had the budget to, I would go with separate VHF and UHF mobiles. I’m partial to Kenwood, but recently got a VHF XiR-8668 with remote head. I LOVE it. It has replaced my V71A, and I will be adding a UHF one in the future.
 

n5ims

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One thing to think about is getting a radio with APRS capability. It'll add to the cost, but provide the SkyWarn net control with accurate and up-to-date location information, assuming you have it to beacon often enough and your net control has what's needed to monitor the packets. The Kenwood D-710 GA is recommended since it has a built-in GPS. Some of the newer Yaesu radios also have a built-in GPS for their APRS functionality, but unlike the Kenwood, they don't provide full access to the built-in TNC. Full access allows you to use that radio for other packet radio functionality, such as WinLink, without additional hardware.

In my county, we can add a string to the APRS comments section that allows the net control operator to see their properly equipped and configured spotters location on their radar screen. This allows them to warn specific stations to move to a better location or find appropriate cover during severe storms. They will also automatically check you in if you're beaconing with their string in your comments. This saves time when the net is often quite busy since they only need to call out the stations that show up on their screen instead of waiting for them to check-in manually (and sort out the typical doubling when multiple stations try to check in at once). Typically, they don't assume that a checked-in station is always available since that station may be doing other necessary chores such as collecting and measuring hail or keeping themselves or their family safe.

Having the APRS beacons on their screen also makes reports quicker and more accurate since it has the GPS location of their latest beacon (and most radios, like the 710, allow you to force a beacon when desired). This is much better than saying "I'm 2 1/2 miles west of the intersection of 380 and 1541" (are you sure of that location and distance and are those federal, state, or county road numbers ...). Also if you're spotting in a location that you really don't know well it really helps.
 

mmckenna

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Thanks for the comments! Everyone seems to like Kenwood. As far as power, I assume signal strength drops as square of the distance, and want an "increased chance" of hitting a skywarn repeater if I'm in tinytown, NE. I'm less sure how to proceed with the antenna because I have other "stuff" (cameras, mics, weather instruments) on the roof and they may change location. I'm also not sure what 50W will do to the video being taken up there. Maybe I could start with a large mag mount and later to a solid drilled install, location TBD? [I see your .sig says, drill the hole...]
50 watts is 50 watts, and you are right about the inverse square law. A lot of coverage depends on your antenna and the antenna and receiver sensitivity at the far end.
You can increase range by adding a gain antenna. A 3dB gain 5/8th's wave VHF antenna will effectively double your radiated power. So a 50 watt radio into a 3dB gain antenna will be like using a 0db gain antenna and a 100 watt radio.
This gain is accomplished by focusing the radiated energy out towards the horizon. That works really well out on the plains, not as well when you get in the taller hills/mountains. I'm surrounded by hills and mountains, so lower gain antennas have the advantage here since radiated power goes up a bit higher off the horizon.
So, yeah, higher gain antenna on top of your car. Your antenna should take some level of priority as your primary communications source. Radiated RF can mess with things like cameras and sensors, so you'll need to get a bit creative on how/where you mount things. Some consumer electronics have very poor shielding, so high RF fields can be a problem.
I'd encourage you to prioritize the antenna install, since it will really make a difference.

Depending on exactly what type of vehicle you have, there may be options for other mounting locations, but up high and in the center of the ground plane really makes a big difference.
 

MTS2000des

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The FT-8900 is still in production and is a close cousin to the 8800. It does crossband repeat, but has the addition of 10 and 6FM band coverage. Yaesu gives a 3 year parts and labor factory warranty, Kenwood has 1 year parts/labor. The price is neck to neck, Yaesu usually includes the remote head install kit, Kenwood it's an optional kit if you want to remote mount the rig.

They are both excellent ham radios with a good history. Since you are new to the game, unless you KNOW the seller, I would avoid buying used and risk inheriting someone else' problem. The price delta isn't that great on sites like Ebay/Amazon on used gear anyway, why not get something from a legit dealer with a factory warranty? Chinese radios are what they are. Again key here is a US based SELLER who stands behind their sale.

Everything about antenna is dead on. Don't cheap out and don't use a mag mount. You could go out and buy a Motorola APX8500 (around $9100 is what we paid) and connect it to a garbage pail antenna on a mag mount and it will perform like a garbage pail antenna.
 

KK4JUG

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I have an FT-8900 and it's my go-to radio when I travel. Coupled with RT Systems programming software, it's been completely trouble-free.
 

bjewett

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One thing to think about is getting a radio with APRS capability. It'll add to the cost, but provide the SkyWarn net control with accurate and up-to-date location information, assuming you have it to beacon often enough and your net control has what's needed to monitor the packets. The Kenwood D-710 GA is recommended since it has a built-in GPS. Some of the newer Yaesu radios also have a built-in GPS for their APRS functionality, but unlike the Kenwood, they don't provide full access to the built-in TNC. Full access allows you to use that radio for other packet radio functionality, such as WinLink, without additional hardware.

In my county, we can add a string to the APRS comments section that allows the net control operator to see their properly equipped and configured spotters location on their radar screen. This allows them to warn specific stations to move to a better location or find appropriate cover during severe storms. They will also automatically check you in if you're beaconing with their string in your comments. This saves time when the net is often quite busy since they only need to call out the stations that show up on their screen instead of waiting for them to check-in manually (and sort out the typical doubling when multiple stations try to check in at once). Typically, they don't assume that a checked-in station is always available since that station may be doing other necessary chores such as collecting and measuring hail or keeping themselves or their family safe.

Having the APRS beacons on their screen also makes reports quicker and more accurate since it has the GPS location of their latest beacon (and most radios, like the 710, allow you to force a beacon when desired). This is much better than saying "I'm 2 1/2 miles west of the intersection of 380 and 1541" (are you sure of that location and distance and are those federal, state, or county road numbers ...). Also if you're spotting in a location that you really don't know well it really helps.
This is a good point, and someone else also pointed out APRS. For net control to control their spotters, it makes sense that this is essential. I was in VORTEX-1 long ago, when the NOAA NSSL control would move us around. But now I am going solo and am not part of a spotter group associated with any regular NWS or SKYWARN net. I can see value for APRS when calling in analog, but if I am in cell service range I'll probably make my reports with Radarscope/SpotterNetwork. Adding APRS also requires add-ons (>$200?) to the V71a or stepping up to the D710+ for another $250. It is hard to justify that much more when I still have to consider the antenna and hookup costs.
 

bjewett

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The FT-8900 is still in production and is a close cousin to the 8800. It does crossband repeat, but has the addition of 10 and 6FM band coverage. Yaesu gives a 3 year parts and labor factory warranty, Kenwood has 1 year parts/labor. The price is neck to neck, Yaesu usually includes the remote head install kit, Kenwood it's an optional kit if you want to remote mount the rig.

They are both excellent ham radios with a good history. Since you are new to the game, unless you KNOW the seller, I would avoid buying used and risk inheriting someone else' problem. The price delta isn't that great on sites like Ebay/Amazon on used gear anyway, why not get something from a legit dealer with a factory warranty? Chinese radios are what they are. Again key here is a US based SELLER who stands behind their sale.

Everything about antenna is dead on. Don't cheap out and don't use a mag mount. You could go out and buy a Motorola APX8500 (around $9100 is what we paid) and connect it to a garbage pail antenna on a mag mount and it will perform like a garbage pail antenna.
Thanks for taking the time and passing on your experiences. I did see a Used v71a on sale but it was no return / no warranty / no-anything, so -- no. The 8900 seems to be discontinued on universal-radio and gigaparts; can you recommend another 70cm/2m Yaesu?
 
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