Buying Cheap


Inexpensive VHF/UHF handheld transceivers from China have catapulted from obscurity to mainstream in our market in just a few short years. American hams were obviously too busy chest-bumping each other the first time they saw a $40 dual-bander for sale to recall that FM repeaters are dead. Or at least that’s what amateur radio enthusiasts tell each other and every journalist who comes calling with questions about our fading hobby.

Everyone wants a bargain, and at these prices you can afford to buy a half-dozen of them and so what if a few of them fail? I mean, other than the fact that radio amateurs take pride in being Johnny-on-the-spot when all else fails — why not trust the safety and well-being of yourself and your community during a disaster on a dirt cheap handi-scratchy?

Bob Witte, K0NR is a VHF enthusiast, columnist and FM guru. He wrote recently that he is frequently asked by new hams if they should buy those cheap, Chinese handhelds, and as you might expect, he has some wisdom to share that makes good sense.

I’ll admit to having purchased one during the forty-dollar crap rush (now they’re thirty-dollars) era and was fairly unimpressed with it, other than the dirt-cheap price tag, and ended up giving it away.

(As a side note to giving them away — these have become the lousy fodder “proudly” offered as door prizes by really cheap radio clubs).

Buying on price is rarely a smart idea. But I think it goes beyond just cost, value, and even performance.

Kenwood, Yaesu, Icom and Alinco have invested plenty in amateur radio. The Chinese have not. At least not yet. Perhaps they will in time, though with this sort of predatory pricing it’s difficult to imagine them being so profitable that they feel compelled to sponsor the next big DXpedition.

These four all seem to have a lot of skin in our game. The Chinese do not. At least not yet and I think that makes any decision about whether or not you should buy a Chinese handheld pretty simple.

Author: Jeff Davis


3 thoughts on “Buying Cheap”

  1. Good Morning Jeff,
    I respectfully disagree. I own several brand name Amateur radios such as YAESU, ICOM, and KENWOOD. These are good radios, perfect for on the go rag chews, emergency service use and such. But so are the other radios I own and operate such as the BAOFENG and WOUXON. They work just as well. They cost less that’s why I recommend the Baofeng to new hams as a good choice for a first radio ht because the cost. I leave out that they will be ridiculed by other hams for their choice radios. I say this because I grew up in an era of buy American! Do not buy Japanese. I currently own a Toyota Tacoma, a truck better then the American Ford or chevy pickup, in my opinion. The last American named truck I owned was a ford ranger. I could go to an auto salvage yard and literally take a part off a Mazda pickup of the same year, and use it to make my Ford ranger go. No field mod required just bolt it on attach wires or hoses and go. I take a lot of ribbing from guys such as you when I show up at radio events with my Chinese radios. My wife came from one such event, upset because the WOUXON she brought was not recommended by the club we WERE members of. I purchased her an FT-60 largely because members of that club ridiculed her about the HT she brought for use and she thought it important that she own and use a good radio. HaHaHa. Not a poor quality, cheap, junk Chinese radio. Is it that important that we have the brand name, chic radio, or fashionable merchandise. I don’t think so. I have not had any problems with my so called junk cheap Chinese radios. The battery life is more then adequate, the sound quality is as good as the FT-60. What I’m trying to say Jeff, if you chose and use a brand name and I use another at the end of the day does it really matter? Respectfully, KG6RBJ

  2. Brian. I stand by my original thesis. Icom, Kenwood, Yaesu have made significant investments in our hobby over the decades. They reinvest some of their profits by supporting hamfests and DXpeditions. The recent manufacturers and distributors from China have not — and at $30US for a handheld, I suppose they never will.

    What they bring to the market is cheap gear. No one has ever written a head-to-head review between, say, an Icom handheld and a Wouxon handheld and concluded that the Wouxon was technically superior. About the best I’ve ever read was something like “at this price, you can afford to drop one and not lose sleep over it”.

    That’s a fairly poor endorsement, in my opinion. So is recommending them to new licensees based solely on low-price. Those with the least investment tend to engage less with the hobby. I certainly understand that there are folks who can’t afford a $200 handheld radio, but there’s nothing wrong with encouraging newbies to make a little more investment in their new hobby than $29.95 that can be easily tossed in the garbage without remorse the first time they become offended on the air… and they will.

    But having said all that, I find it reprehensible that radio hams would discriminate against fellow hobbyists based on the price tag of the gear they use. That’s never right and it shouldn’t be tolerated by any of us. We all know some hams who have spent a fortune on equipment – and are the poorest operators on the air.

    The price of the equipment used is never a reliable indicator of the operator behind the key.

    73, Jeff

  3. Not only do Yaesu/Kenwood/Icom/Alinco have a lot of “skin in the game” for the Amateur Radio market, their higher prices also demand that the buyer has some skin in the game as well. That ultimately may prove equally important. First, the Chinese radios are indistinguishable from toy walkie-talkies at $30 a pop. A $150-$200 radio might give the average unlicensed person pause, whereas these do not. Now the clueless boob can easily and thoughtlessly join the ranks of freebanders, not just the serious and intentional enthusiast. Second, I have written on occasion about the “easy come, easy go” problem with hobbies. For the health of our hobby, we should focus on cultivating the passionate practictioner rather than vacuuming up every maker, taker, and prepper who expresses passing interest in radio by telling them it’s “cheap and easy.” People stick with things because they are continually challenged by them or feel like they belong to a community (devoted to the challenge), not because they are cheap and easy.

    Having been born in 1980, I don’t remember the last time we had one of the cataclysmic shifts in the Amateur Radio marketplace (when Yaesu and Kenwood entered the US market in the 1970s). Were the same conversations had and arguments made then?

    To Brian’s story: while I agree with Jeff’s that it’s reprehensible to judge someone on the cost of their gear, there may be good reason for a club to recommend a specific radio that is not the lowest common denominator: 1. so operators know how to use each others’ radios in an emergency, 2. so radios can be cloned in support of reason #1, and 3. they may simply be known to be more reliable. They may also be elitist jerks.

    I have never owned any of the Chinese handhelds (or HF radios), but the last new HT I bought was an Alinco DJ-580T in July 1993 and the only other HT I’ve ever owned was a VX-3R I bought broken (for the cost of a UV-5R) in 2010 and repaired, which my XYL subsequently broke beyond repair. The DJ-580T still works great, though.

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