Cheap Amateur Radio. The FT-450D and holy s**t it’s cold! And some flowers and stuff

Okay, can we stop with this nonsense already? It’s only Nov 8, for pete’s sake! Normally we don’t get really cold weather and snow until mid to late December. Usually it’s in the mid 30s to low 40s this time of year and you can still go outside without freezing your bits off. Last night it was 10 degrees. Night before that it was 11 degrees. And snow? Really? A lot of years we’re lucky if we have snow by Christmas. In the last two weeks we’ve had a total of about 12 inches here. Most of that melted off, thank goodness, but now that the temperatures have plummeted it’s sticking around.

There’s so much we didn’t get done outside this fall. Between MrsGF’s knee surgery and everything else that’s been going on, I just didn’t have time to get everything done. I didn’t get some of the dahlias dug up, so those are probably going to be a total loss. Didn’t get any of the leaves raked because I was waiting for both the pear tree and the maple in the backyard to shed their leaves. Only they didn’t this year for some reason. It’s been a strange, strange autumn.

On the plus side, MrsGF’s Christmas cactus is in full bloom and it’s gorgeous. I know a lot of people who just can’t get these things to blossom no matter what they do, but MrsGF has a real knack with plants. I’m not sure what it is. I suspect she could take an old, half rotted twig, shove it in the ground, and in a few weeks it would turn into a healthy tree. This thing just keeps going and going. Some years it blooms twice.

And she has a rose bush in the living room this year, also in full blossom, in November. I don’t know how she does that, either. But it does make me grin like an idiot to have a rose in full bloom while it’s 10 degrees and snowy outside.

But I was really going to talk about amateur radio stuff when I started all of this so let’s get on with this…

Yaesu FT-450D hooked to the SCU-17 interface. It’s been in production for a while but it’s still one heck of a nice little radio for the money

Oh, before that, though, I thought I’d just throw this in even though it has nothing to do with the headline starting this off. This is what it looked like here on Oct 31 a little after 6 AM.

Last day of October in Wisconsin.

Now I know this is Wisconsin and the weather here is a bit, well, odd, but still, really? Ick.

Now, finally, the amateur radio stuff!

The Dilemma

Whenever I start talking to someone about amateur radio, whether they’re other amateur radio operators or people who know nothing at all about it, invariably the topic turns to cost, and it becomes clear immediately that a lot of people, including a lot of hams, think that amateur radio is way too expensive. A lot of people I know who would otherwise be interested in getting into the hobby think it’s so expensive they could never be able to afford it. And that simply isn’t true.

I can’t really blame them for thinking that because some of this equipment is indeed expensive. The top of the line transceivers that the manufacturers and owners love to show off can quickly push up into the $5,000+ range or more. The Kenwood TS-990 sells new for just under $8,000 and iCom makes one that sells for more than $12K, for heaven’s sake. Once you add in other things that you may think you need, if you believe the ads, like amplifiers, computers, morse code keys, etc. you can quickly end up sinking $15,000 or more in a top of the line set up.

But here’s something the manufacturers don’t want you to know:

You don’t need any of that high priced junk.

Seriously. You don’t. If you want to get on the air on the HF bands (shortwave) you don’t have to spend a fortune. That little Yaesu in that photo up there costs literally less than one tenth of what my TS-990 costs new, and to be perfectly honest, does everything you need. Granted, it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles the 990 has, doesn’t have the fancy displays and all that, but when it comes down to actually communicating, those bells and whistles aren’t really necessary and the 450 will do everything you need.

I was looking for a fairly full featured, small, full power (100 watts output), 12V powered transceiver to lug out to field day and special events or whenever I feel like it, in situations where the little low powered 818 wouldn’t do the job. I love that little 818, but let’s face it, with a maximum of 6 watts output (3 watts or less running digital), any kind of communications using it is going to depend more on luck than anything else. I ran across someone talking about the 450 and it sounded like a nice little transceiver so I looked into it more and decided it was just what I needed. It sells new for about $750 – $800 which is, as I said before, one tenth of the cost of my TS-990. You can find them used for about $500 or even less if you look around.

And for that price what you get is not some stripped down little radio, either. This thing has a lot of features, including a built in antenna tuner, decent filtering, good noise reduction features, etc. In fact, just about everything you might need in an HF transceiver is packed into this little unit. True, it doesn’t have many of the goodies my 990 has, but I have to admit that in real life I don’t use a lot of those goodies anyway. If this were the only transceiver I had, I would be more than satisfied with its capabilities.

But for me the main question was how well was it going to work using digital modes like PSK, FT8 and JS8Call because those are pretty much the only modes I use. And it turned out it deals with digital very, very well indeed. It took me all of 10 minutes to get it up and running with the SCU-17 you see sitting on top of it in that photo. It was just a matter of plugging in the cables, setting the baud rate in the menu, firing up the computer and setting things up in the software there, and I was on the air. Now granted I had only just fairly recently set up the Yaesu 818 with the same interface, computer and software, so I already had experience working with Yaesu equipment which certainly made it easier. But still, for me, getting a rig up and running on digital modes in under 10 minutes is a bit of a miracle, really. It took me days to get my TS-2000 working properly with digital modes when I first started this years ago.

It’s currently set up in the basement, hooked to the Titan Gap vertical antenna, and it’s been doing a very, very nice job. I’ve made contacts all over the place with it using JS8 and FT8, putting out about 40 watts.

Sidenote: The 450 may be capable of putting out 100 watts, but you never run full power in the digital modes on any transceiver because the power ratings of all transceivers are seriously misleading. Those maximum power ratings they give you are for single side band, which does not stress the transmitter in the radio. With SSB you’re actually averaging far less power output than advertised. Your signal may peak at 100 watts, but you’re actually averaging 50 – 60 watts or so because of how SSB works. Unlike SSB, most digital modes are considered to be 100% duty cycle. A general rule of thumb is when using digital, always dial your power levels back to less than 50% of the radio’s maximum. Sometimes the recommendations are as low as 25%. Otherwise you risk overheating the radio and damaging it.

Anyway, I’m very pleased with this little radio. I didn’t really expect much from it when I got it, and it has certainly exceeded all of my expectations. I’ve been having a lot of fun with it, and I’ve been using it more than my TS-990 of late.

Lets see, what else? Oh, yeah. This showed up courtsey of our friendly UPS delivery person the other day.

I picked up a Raspberry Pi 4 to play with to join the RPi 3s I’ve already been playing with. I have a specific goal for this one. There are Linux versions of FT8 and JS8Call that, I’m told, run just fine and dandy on the RPi. I’ll find out this winter as I experiment. My eventual goal is to put together a compact QRP digital system that is backpackable that I can take along when I’m out on the trails with the bicycle. I’d thought about configuring the Rpi as a tablet computer with just a touch screen and no keyboard. I’ve done that before with the Rpi3s I’ve had, but I think that might be a bit awkward, so I’m looking at compact keyboards and maybe a small trackball or touchpad for mouse control. We’ll see. This is still very much a work in progress.

I know, I know… The used Lenovo laptop I picked up was supposed to serve that role, and it does, but while it works just fine it is also big, heavy and clumsy to lug around. I can squeeze a RPi into a package not much bigger than a small tablet computer and a fraction of the weight. We’ll see how it goes.

And that’s about it for now. I’ve been boring you long enough with this.

Author: grouchyfarmer

Yes, I'm a former farmer. Sort of. I'm also an amateur radio operator, amateur astronomer, gardener, maker of furniture, photographer.

11 thoughts on “Cheap Amateur Radio. The FT-450D and holy s**t it’s cold! And some flowers and stuff”

  1. With a little creativity you can get on the air with HF for less than $1000 and still have a respectable set up. Bumping the budget up to $1500 opens many more possibilities. I know guys who spent $25,000 or more on a fishing boat they only use a few weeks a year…and they still need a $50,000 truck to tow it! Amateur radio is truly a “poor man’s” hobby compared to things other people blow money on.

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    1. Yep, all things considered amateur radio can be amazingly cheap to get into. That little 450 at around $750 – $800 new is a good example. I just saw one used, like new, on QRZ going for about $500. You can get similar deals on Kenwood and iCom equipment. I still need to come up with a better way of powering everything in the field. Right now I’m using an AGM motorcycle battery I charge up at home. I can run a long, long time off it, especially when I’m using the 818, but I’d like something lighter, maybe backpackable. The Bioenno batteries with solar charging systems are starting to look very, very tempting

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    1. It’s a great radio, compact, lots of features. It’s basically all you need to get on the air and is pretty cheap. I’m glad I picked it up. I generally run it at 30 watts or less and I make contacts all over with it. Right now it’s the only HF rig I have operating because the antenna for the TS-990 came down in the last snowstorm.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ah brings back memories. My brother was majorly involved in the Dayton Hamvention for decades. He died in 2017. We never could get decent cellular service when we visited his house. He said it had nothing to do with the massive tower he built outside his hamshack. Maybe it didn’t, but I still loved to tease him about how he was blocking the signal for everyone in the surrounding county and burning the paint off the neighbors’ barns. LOL

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    1. It’s great fun to tease ham radio operators sometimes. His tower likely had nothing to do with poor cell phone reception, of course. It’s not as bad now that TV broadcasts have moved, but back before the switch to digital TV hams got blamed for every blip, bit of static or poor signal by everyone in town. I knew one poor fellow who had an irate neighbor accuse him of “ruining” his ball game with his equipment when the ham in question had actually sold all his equipment a month before to cover some financial problems.

      I’d love to visit the Dayton fest but that seems unlikely. I just don’t have the time. And unfortunately because of the virus I’ve been getting notices that just about every hamfest is being canceled over the next few months.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. I don’t do contesting but I imagine I’m going to be on the radio a lot over the next few weeks because *everything* is shut down around here now. It’s annoying but necessary considering how easily this thing seems to spread.

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            1. A simple explanation of contesting is that hams try to make as many contacts with other hams all around the world as possible within a specific period of time, like over a weekend. Points are awarded for each contact. Personally I think it’s more than a bit silly. And while magazines like QST make it sound like it’s the most exciting thing ever, it isn’t. And not that many people actually do it despite all the hype.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Oooh. Thank you for the info. I just remember being a lot younger and hearing my brother repeat this into the microphone over and over, “Contest … Contest …. Connnnnnnnnnntest’. I thought maybe he had a verbal tick or something. LOL

                Liked by 1 person

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