Some new gear

It’s true. I have a pretty good station with two Yaesu FTM-500DRs and a Yaesu FTDX-10. But Yaesu really chaps my hide sometimes. Their mobile radios are missing features that are found in all my other radios. And they clearly don’t listen to their users. Makes me mad. The fact that no official channel exists to provide them product suggestions or feedback is very telling.

So I figured I’d put away my two FTM-500DRs and buy an ICOM ID-5100A. The 5100A has the alleged missing features. But immediately after I got the 5100A… I started really wanting an ICOM IC-7100. I was happy to see them become available again a little while back. My wife encouraged me to do this and that was all I needed. I am well aware that my FTDX-10 is a better HF radio than the IC-7100. But I really like the IC-7100. And to be honest, I’m really not that into HF.

So now I have a new ICOM ID-5100A and a new ICOM IC-7100. And I have a new problem. Both of these radios do VHF/UHF, but I have only one VHF/UHF antenna. The ID-5100A is a great radio. I could run it on a dummy load for use with my hotspots. But I think I will put it aside in favor of using the IC-7100 in the manner for which it was designed. And that is, one radio to do everything.

So I put away my two FTM-500DRs, my FTDX-10, and my ID-5100A. And with no C4FM radios in the shack, I have no further need for a WiRES-X node. So I put that away as well. I may sell one (or both) of my FTM-500DRs. But for now I will just sit tight and see what kind of different ideas I come up with for my shack. Right now there are no Yaesu radios in sight… and I’m good with that.

Unwinding this

When I make changes to my shack… often they are small changes strung together that over the course of time lead me in circles. I have enough gear where I can set things up many different ways.

My last blog entry spoke about switching to all handhelds. Well. Part of that choice was setting things up to run each digital voice mode natively. And this meant putting away my openSPOT4 Pros in favor of my Pi-Star based hotspots. Because there was no need for the openSPOT4 Pro if I’m not cross-moding. Also, running three modes natively meant having three separate radios. Three separate mobile radios on my desk is messy, so I went with three separate handhelds instead. Nice and simple. All is good. Running only handhelds made sense.

Then I start contemplating. What would I have to give up to swap the Raspberry Pi hotspots out and go back to the openSPOTs? Because after all, the openSPOTs have a much nicer form factor than the clunky Pi 400s I use for my Pi-Star based hotspots. And the openSPOT4 Pro does have a lot of things going for it.

The answer to that was… I’d have to give up DMRGateway and TGIF. Because neither of those work on the openSPOT4 Pro. But after listing out the pluses of the openSPOT4 Pro I decided to go for it. Boom. Back over to the openSPOT4 Pros I go.

Ok… now I’m like well… if I am going to run the openSPOT4 Pros… why do I need to run three different radios so that I can run each mode natively? After all… the openSPOT4 Pro is great for cross-moding. So… I no longer need three different radios. And if I don’t need three different radios… I can go back to a proper mobile radio instead of using all handhelds.

Yes it’s true. I have put my two FTM-500DRs back on my desk. And I have put away all of my handhelds. I’m running one FTM-500DR on my attic antenna and the other FTM-500DR on a dummy load. Works great with the hotspots. I also put my Astron / Bioenno 12 volt power setup back up.

At this point the circle is complete. And part of the cost of going around in that circle was the new ICOM ID-50A that I will not even be using now. Because my plans change that quick. But next time I go around this circle… I will have a nice new handheld to use… at least until I complete the circle and end up back using mobile radios again.

I am the first to admit that this whole process… which repeats itself frequently, makes me feel like a hamster on a wheel. With each change I think I’m accomplishing something and making a positive change. But I end up going around and around in circles wasting not only time but money as well.

There is a certain entertainment value here. I completely reconfigured six openSPOT4 Pros from factory reset back to 100% functional in about 30 minutes. When I change things around this often I get pretty good at it. And I do get to buy new gear on occasion to facilitate my constantly evolving shack configuration.

I think when people have a hobby… they tinker. And I tinker a lot. Sometimes it seems futile. And it probably is. It is probably a textbook example of what the word “pastime” describes. It is a way to pass the time in a way that is at least semi-agreeable. It’s a diversion.

All handhelds, all the time

In my quest for simplification, I decided to try something I haven’t tried in awhile with regards to my shack configuration. I basically decided to just start putting stuff away. I put away my FTDX-10 and the associated antenna tuner. I put away my FTM-500DR. I coiled up all the coax and put it in the closet. And I put away my Astron power supply and Bioenno battery setup that was powering my shack.

It’s kind of hard to justify having a base VHF/UHF FM rig on a base antenna. Other than nets, the local repeaters have very little activity. Of course, this is what drove me to digital voice modes in the first place.

With regards to putting away my FTDX-10… I very rarely key up the mic on HF. While I have made a few memorable contacts, my end-fed random wire at 6 feet is a pretty poor excuse for an antenna. But just like my FTM-500, I basically concluded that it wasn’t worth the desk space to have this radio on the desk.

I did end up putting my WiRES-X node back up. That’s the only thing I have running off 12 volts at this point. So now I get to limit my activities to doing digital voice with my WiRES-X node and six hotspots or doing Allstar via my two Allstar nodes. And all with my handheld radios. I like the simplicity of this.

In addition to putting away virtually everything but my handhelds… I also bought a new ICOM ID-50A. Pretty nice little radio. But the sad thing is… the new price on the ID-50A is almost exactly what I sold my ID-52A for six months ago. I did give the buyer a good deal. Maybe a little too good. Too bad I couldn’t predict the future.

Did I say simplification?

My last post indicated I was simplifying things. But I quickly realized, the result was way too much stuff on my desk. And six, count them, six microphones on my desk. I had to work from home a day or so last week. And the desk was way too crowded with the extra laptop. So today I did another reorganization.

I have ditched my WiRES-X node. Because I think WiRES-X doesn’t give enough benefit to make it worthwhile. I could easily run a WiRES-X node. I have the gear sitting right here. I see no point in it. I will still use YSF reflectors however.

And I have ditched the TGIF DMR network. The TGIF DMR network does not play nicely with the openSPOT. And neither SharkRF or TGIF want to fix it. They both understand the problem. And either one of them could fix it if they wanted to. Because of this… if I wanted to use the TGIF network I would have to use a DMR radio and a Raspberry Pi hotspot. And yes, I have several DMR radios and several Raspberry Pi hotspots. But it’s not worth the extra clutter on the desk when I have so many other ways to communicate. The other DMR networks I use work fine with my openSPOT and my C4FM radio.

Oh yeah… and I ditched my VoIP phone that I had setup with ham only VoIP services. It might have been a neat idea. But it in reality it ends up being a little creepy unless you have friends that also have it.

With my FTM-500DR I can talk through my six openSPOT4 Pro hotspots, my two Allstar nodes, or my attic antenna. I figure that should be enough. At the moment I’m thinking this is better than a desk full of radios.

More simplification

I got a wild hair this time. I pulled out several radios from their boxes. And I put away a bunch of hotspots and such. Then I proceeded to reduce things down to one thing “per mode”. I will have:

  • One way to do C4FM. My WiRES-X node.
  • One way to do D-Star. My ICOM IC-4100A in terminal mode.
  • One way to do DMR. Only one hotspot, running DMRGateway. Monitoring multiple talk groups and networks on one frequency.
  • One way to do Allstar. One node instead of two.
  • One FM frequency on my base antenna. 146.52

This setup essentially means, no more spinning the frequency/memory selector knob on any of my VHF/UHF radios. All the radios will be parked on their single frequency. Each radio will have one mode. And each mode will only have one frequency. Gone are the days of having fifteen nodes and hotspots all going at once. I no longer have to decide between WiRES-X and YSF reflectors. C4FM will always be WiRES-X. And no more crossmoding. Each mode is native.

What I had going here was some serious scope creep. If I stick to this setup… I might have some gear to sell.

Ok… I did it

After deciding to simplify my shack a bit more… I concluded that I could get by with only two radios on my desk. They would be my FTDX-10 and one of my FTM-200DRs. Soon after that, I was thinking… if I’m only going to have one FTM-200DR on my desk… a shiny new FTM-500DR would be even better in that role. While it is lacking various features I might like to have, it’s probably the best VHF/UHF radio on the market. And if I sell my two extra FTM-200DRs, that makes the net cost quite reasonable. Boom!

So, I clicked the BUY button on the Yaesu FTM-500DR and associated RT Systems programming software. I have sold my two spare FTM-200DRs. I still have a third FTM-200DR acting as my WiRES-X node radio.

This change simplifies my shack. I now only have two radios on my desk. The other change I made to help simplify things, was to discontinue the use of my six Pi-Star hotspots. I figure that six openSPOT4 Pros give me enough to listen to. I don’t need the additional six hotspots. Having twelve hotspots, a WiRES-X node, and two Allstar nodes was a little overwhelming.

I do waffle back and forth between simpler vs better. But depending on how you look at it, they may be the same thing.

Not gonna do it

The new Yaesu FTM-500DR is all the rage among Yaesu fans. You have people buying them and posting pictures of the box when it arrives. Of course, for ham radio operators… any new gear put out by their favorite company is tempting. To be honest, getting new gear is half the fun of ham radio. But think I will be passing this time around. This is highly unusual for me.

After recently switching from ICOM over to Yaesu I realize (and already knew of course) that Yaesu has its own problems. The new FTM-500DR carries on a trend of new Yaesu radios that lack the features that are present in their competitor’s products… or even their own previous products for that matter.

Currently available Yaesu C4FM mobile radios are missing the following features:

Memory banks

The memory bank issue is self-explanatory and has been beat to death on social media. Without memory banks you literally cannot scan more than one set of memories on the radio. As a dual-receive radio… my first move would be to set a bank of memories to scan on receiver A and a different bank of memories to scan on receiver B. No can do with Yaesu mobile radios.

Scan restart time

The scan restart time feature is not as well-known. Say you’re scanning a set of memories. And the scan stops on a frequency… you’re listening to a conversation… and the signal drops. Well… if you are able to set the scan restart time, you can have the radio wait for up to 10 seconds after the signal drops before it restarts scanning. This way… you’re way less likely to get jerked out of a conversation that you wanted to listen to. Without that feature… as soon as someone unkeys… boom… you are gone… back to scanning… completely missing the reply someone may have had to what was said.

Temporary skip / nuisance delete

I’ve actually never seen this feature on a Yaesu radio. But it immediately became one of my favorite features after I bought my first ICOM radio. And my Anytone radios also have it. What do you do if you’re scanning your memories… and there is some annoying net on one of them that you don’t want to listen to? Without this feature you would either have to manually set the memory to skip (and remember to unset it later)… or simply stop scanning. With the temporary skip feature, the radio will temporarily skip that memory while scanning. This is great because you don’t have to remember to “unskip” the memory later. It will automatically be included back into future scans.

Yaesu radios are “OK”. But they could be way better if they would listen to their customers. Due to the aforementioned missing features… instead of buying an FTM-500DR… I simply bought another FTM-200DR.

So now I have two FTM-200DRs on my desk and a third one I use for my WiRES-X node. Of the two on my desk, one is hooked to my attic antenna. The other is connected to a dummy load for use with my hotspots and nodes. Two FTM-200DRs on my desk actually give me more functionality than an FTM-500DR and at a lower price.

With two FTM-200DRs… I can scan two different sets of memories. Something you can’t do on an FTM-500DR. And in my case, having two FTM-200DRs gives me the distinct advantage of being able to run one of them on a dummy load for use with my local nodes/hotspots.

And now for something completely different

I got a wild hair a couple of days ago. I decided to switch all of my ham radio gear over from ICOM to Yaesu. There are various reasons for this. I’ve listed these in order of importance, 1 being the highest.

The reasons…

  1. The ICOM IC-9700 has a really annoying problem. In order to sound good (or anywhere close), the mic gain for DV mode must be set much lower than the mic gain for FM mode. Switching modes requires adjusting the mic gain. Every time. ICOM knows about this and no solution is forthcoming.
  2. I came to terms with the fact that D-Star is the worst sounding digital voice mode. Yaesu’s C4FM is probably the best. Even though I crossmode quite a bit, using the better mode on the radio I’m using makes sense to me.
  3. I’ve been wanting to try the Yaesu FT-710.
  4. The ICOM ID-52A is a great handheld. But it was sitting around not getting used most of the time. I’ll always prefer operating on a base rig.
  5. Two of my ICOM radios were fairly expensive. Both the IC-9700 and ID-52A are the highest-priced radios in their class. Although some might argue there is nothing else in their class. Let’s just say they were both way more radio than I needed. And getting the money out of them was appealing.
  6. The ICOM IC-9700 and ICOM IC-7300 are twin brothers. If I was going to sell my IC-7300 to buy a Yaesu HF rig… that’s one less reason to keep the IC-9700.

Long story short…

I sold…

  • ICOM IC-9700
  • ICOM IC-7300
  • ICOM ID-5100A
  • ICOM ID-52A

I bought…

  • Yaesu FTDX-10
  • Yaesu M-70 microphone
  • Yaesu FTM-200DR x 2
  • Yaesu FT-70DR

I initially bought the FT-710 and tried it for about a week. Then I took it back to HRO and swapped it for a Yaesu FTDX-10.

The FTM-200DR is the perfect VHF/UHF radio for me. I have zero need or desire to have the dual-receive feature. I’ve had the FTM-300DR and FTM-400DR before. I prefer the FTM-200. It does exactly what I want it to do. My plan is to use one FTM-200 on my desk. And the other will serve as a node radio for my WiRES-X node (along with the HRI-200 I already had).

I’ve always heard good things about the Yaesu FT-70DR handheld, so I figured I’d try it. I’ve had the FT-2DR, FT-3DR, and FT-5DR. Those radios were all considerable overkill for what I need in a handheld.

I sold most of my gear on the for-sale forum. If you list something for the right price there it will sell within minutes. My IC-9700 and IC-7300 didn’t last an hour.

Hotspot farm

I have waffled back and forth on my hotspot strategy. I initially wanted to monitor multiple digital voice reflectors (or talk groups, or whatever). So I thought having a radio for each mode and multiple home-built Pi-Star hotspots was the way to go.

Then I discovered the idea of cross-mode operation. Pi-Star was never very good at that. But with the openSPOT3, cross-mode operation became quite viable. So I bought one. I eventually accumulated four of these. This allowed me to monitor various modes all at once… just by putting my radio on scan… and all with one radio.

But the Pi-Star still had attraction. There is some really fun software written by Tom Early (N7TAE) that one can use as an alternative to Pi-Star. Of course this software will not run on the openSPOT.

When the openSPOT4 came out… I sold all my openSPOT3 devices. My intent was to go back to different radios for different modes. And I did this for awhile.

For my Raspberry Pi hotspots… I went with the Pi 400. Because all the other Raspberry Pi were impossible to get. The Pi 400 is essentially a Raspberry Pi 4 built into a keyboard. I simply zip-tied six of these units together into pairs because I used them headless with no need to access the keyboards. Then… I had six ZUMspot-USB devices. One of these plugged into each of the six Pi 400 units and I had six Raspberry Pi hotspots ready to rock. This was a happy solution for a while.

Then… SharkRF went and had a sale. Their prices were very reasonable. That’s when I decided two things.

  1. It was time to divest myself of my Yaesu equipment.
  2. It was time to go back to the openSPOT.

So I sold all four of my Yaesu radios and bought six of the openSPOT4 Pro devices.

So once again I’m able to do all the digital voice modes with one radio. And I can park on six different things at once. Add in two Allstar nodes and that makes eight.

Update 3/27/2023: In addition to my six openSPOT4 Pro… I am now running my six Raspberry Pi hotspots as well. I use the six openSPOT4 Pro to cross mode to DMR and YSF from D-Star. And I use the six Raspberry Pi hotspots to run native D-Star. If you count my two Allstar nodes… this makes 14 different local nodes I am typically scanning at any given time. Still a Yaesu-free shack.

For my Raspberry Pi hotspots I am using the Raspberry Pi 400. Each one uses a ZUMspot-USB stick. The Raspberry Pi 400 is basically a Raspberry Pi 4 built into a keyboard. When I bought these, the normal Raspberry Pi were unobtainium.

New shack setup

I’ve had an ICOM IC-7300 for a few months. I knew it was only a matter of time before I would also end up with its VHF/UHF twin the ICOM IC-9700. These radios make a nice looking pair. Add a couple of matching speakers and walla.

I’ve done something new with these radios. I bought a Heil iCM mic for each of them. In theory this should result in very good transmit audio.

With this new addition to my shack, maybe now I can get a break from GAS (gear aquisition syndrome) for a little while.

I will admit that the IC-9700 is overkill for me. I don’t do satellite work. But I do have a horizontally-polarized dual-band antenna for it. This would of course be better if there was actually some SSB activity on VHF/UHF in my area. But there generally isn’t.