Getting into ham radio isn’t easy with all the choices you have to make. The amateur radio community tends to be rather exclusive, which might seem really off-putting for anyone who just wants to prepare for the worst.
Picking the best ham radio base station doesn’t need to be hard, though. If you are a novice to ham radio all you need is the right guidance and that is what we aimed to provide in a recent post called The Ultimate Survivalists Guide to Ham Radio.
What Makes a Base Station Different from Other Radios?
A base station radio, or rig as hams call them, isn’t usually meant to be moved. However, some do come supplied with mounts so you can put them in a car.
Unlike even the best handheld ham radios, they can offer fairly beefy amounts of power. This increased power increases your range significantly, which is extremely important in a serious emergency when all regular lines of com munication are down and not available.
The better base stations are compatible with a wide array of antennas, which can help give you options if you’re in a disaster area and have to improvise something.
They also give you more memory pairs and features than normal rigs would which is important if you’re going to do any work with repeaters.
Picking a Radio that’s Good for Repeater Usage
When you’re dealing with very high frequency (VHF) wavelengths, you’re probably going to want to dial into a local repeater. These powerful stations are typically installed in elevated areas to help people communicate who otherwise wouldn’t be able to. Since they’re seldom tied to regular networks, they can help you communicate even when nothing else can.
You will probably want to make at least some use of these stations, so you’ll need a radio that includes a healthy number of memory channels.
These will save offset frequencies, which are needed to access repeaters. You don’t need to know anything about the math formula used to calculate these offsets. Merely get a radio with memory channels and it will walk you through how to enter them.
You’ll also need a radio that supports CTCSS, which is a complex system of sending little tones needed to turn repeaters on. Once again, there’s a ton of math involved that you don’t need to know.
Just make sure that your new rig includes this feature so you don’t miss out on something a ton of other preppers and survivalists will be relying on.
Do I Need a Receiver or a Transceiver?
Be very careful when selecting a radio that merely has the word receiver on the package. This probably isn’t a complete rig!
You want to get a transceiver, which has the ability to both send and receive messages. The name comes from the fact that it’s both a transmitter and a receiver in one single convenient package.
If you get just a receiver, then you’ll need to get an external transmitter. You don’t want to be traveling around in a postapocalyptic wasteland with two different pieces of consumer electronics in your pack!
Also, transceivers will normally use less power, since they include both halves of the equation in a single package.
Some hams claim that external receivers are more sensitive than combination models. This might be true, but it’s only important for those who take the hobby aspect of ham radio seriously.
Emergency preparedness aficionados normally suggest that beginners go with a single combined radio.
What Modes & Bands Do I Need?
Radio manufacturers love to brag about these two metrics. To most beginners, they make little to no sense at all.
More than likely, you’ll find radios that claim to offer FM support. This doesn’t have anything to do with the FM radio band that’s found on a car stereo.
While it technically uses the same sort of frequency modulation that FM radio does, ham radio operators don’t use the same wavelengths that broadcasters do.
Nevertheless, FM is a very popular mode among hams. You’ll see a good deal of FM activity on the two meter (144-148 MHz) and 70 cm (420-450 MHz) bands.
If for some reason you can only have coverage on one single band, then you’ll want to pick one of these two. You’ll also want FM as your only mode if you had to pick.
Single-sideband modulation (SSB) is nice to have, but it won’t matter too much to most survivalists. This mode compresses everything you say into a microphone into one compact signal to give it a little more punch.
Amplitude Modulation (AM) is sometimes offered, which can be good when it comes time to talk to people using modified Citizen’s Band (CB) radios. Otherwise, this mode isn’t related to the AM dial on your stereo either.
You may be a bit more interested in checking out which digital modes are available, since these might be necessary to use some kinds of repeaters.
What are D-STAR Radios?
D-STAR refers to a digital voice system that’s designed specifically for ham radio. It was originally promoted in Japan, but it quickly became popular through the USA and Canada.
Everything you say into a microphone on a radio equipped with D-STAR can be encoded into compressed computer data. Some repeaters can then relay it.
Once it gets received by someone else, their radio will automatically reassemble it into a human voice so you can understand it.
This system has a few advantages that some in the survival community like. Certain repeaters require you to use D-STAR to log onto them.
Since D-STAR relies on digital technology, the sound of your voice should be received crystal clear for as long as signal conditions hold up.
You won’t have to worry about the fuzzy static noises sometimes associated with less than ideal radio conditions.
Since these digital transmissions don’t travel quite as far as traditional analog ones, other preppers have insisted only on using traditional radios whenever possible.
Top 5 Ham Radio Base Stations for Beginners
With all the makes and models on the market today, deciding on just one radio is tough. We took a few moments to narrow it down to just a select five.
BTECH Mini UV-25X4 25 Watt Tri-Band Base
BTECH’s UV-25X4 is a mobile radio that’s also designed to work as an excellent base. That means it’s light enough that you can carry it in an emergency.
If you need to hear transmissions from other services, then you can tune up to around 520 MHz with the handy dial.
Microphone gain settings allow you to keep on talking even if you find yourself in a situation where you’re not allowed to make too much noise.
- Includes an automatic power off function, which is useful if you’re running off an improvised power source
- Works with several commercially-available antennas
- Simultaneously monitors channels on three different bands
- Narrow filter gives you the freedom to block out noise
- Occasionally makes a noise while transmitting
- Needs an external speaker for good audio quality
- The display is rather small
- Includes some features base operators won’t ever need
TYT TH-9800 PLUS Version
If you’re looking for a light and relatively inexpensive base station that works on all the most popular bands, then the TYT TH-9800 should offer everything you need.
This rig lets you transmit and receive on more than one band at a time. Since it can transmit on several popular wavelengths, you’ll be able to speak to most other preppers in an emergency no matter what kind of equipment they’re running.
Since you don’t want to go searching for a frequency in an emergency, you’ll more than likely appreciate the fact that it includes over 800 memory channels to pick from.
- Transmits on ten, six and two meters
- Puts out 50 watts of power on VHF
- Can receive VHF AM transmissions
- Includes programming cable and software
- Might not work with all PCs
- No support for digital repeaters
- Needs a 13.8 volt external power supply
- Pack-in microphone is somewhat flimsy
Beginners who don’t mind spending just a little more to get everything that ham radio has to offer in a single package can do no better than the FT-857D from Yaesu. This rig can work stations on all of the popular bands and includes receive capability outside of normal ham frequencies.
That gives you a great deal of options in a serious emergency.
Since it comes with a standard jack, you can hook whatever kind of external antenna you want to it and literally talk to people all over the world. You could even use it remotely!
- Covers all ham bands from 160-2 meters plus the popular 440 MHz band
- Offers a full 100 watt output
- Supports AM, FM, SSB and CW transmissions
- Includes 200 different memory channels
- Rather expensive for a first-time buyer
- Doesn’t support 1.25 meters
- Needs 22 Amp external power supply
- Operators have to learn many controls
ICOM 2300H 05
While the IC2300 is tied to standard FM communication, this is all most preppers will ever need anyway.
This base station is perfect if you’re looking for something that won’t take you very long to get used to.
You can probably learn to use all of the 2300H’s features in a single afternoon. You might even want to get one and then stash it in your emergency kit.
It’s durable enough that it can sit around for years and then work the moment you apply power to it for the first time.
- 65 watts of output at all times
- Over 200 different alphanumeric memory channels
- Very basic user interface anyone could learn
- Extremely durable military-grade build quality
- Only transmits using FM on two meters
- Doesn’t receive out of the 144 MHz band
- Uses a proprietary microphone jack
- Buttons can be difficult to push
Yaesu FT-8900R Quad Band Transceiver
While it might have a similiar name to several other Yaesu products, this rig is actually quite a different beast.
It features all the CTCSS and DCS tones you’ll need to log onto pretty much any analog repeater. It also receives quite a few frequencies outside of the ham bands, so you’ll be able to stay in touch with everything going on in the world around you.
Unlike most other radios in its price range, the FT-8900R is fully equipped to send digital transmissions. If you want to prepare for the worst, then this is an excellent way to ensure that you’ll be able to send and receive weather maps and the like.
- Transmits and receives on two, six and ten meters as well as the 440 MHz band
- Comes with a packet jack for sending digital data over the radio
- Offers selectable low power settings to save your battery
- Works with quad-band antennas
- May need to be programmed using a chirp system
- Skips over some non-ham frequencies
- Dual display may take some getting used to
- Knobs need to be adjusted before use
Assuming you don’t mind paying a slightly higher upfront cost, the FT-857D blows most other options out of the water.
It offers coverage for almost every major band a ham operator could ever need. You’ll never have to worry about hardware compatibility issues in an emergency since it enables you to talk almost anywhere in the electromagnetic spectrum that you’re allowed to.
While you’ll need antennas for all these different frequencies, Yaesu’s offering makes it easy enough to swap them out whenever you need to.
Those who don’t want to risk that much money on a single radio might instead want to consider BTECH’s UV-25X4. It’s rare that a radio in this price range offers full support for the 1.25 meter band.
Best of all, it’s affordable enough that you can buy more than one. That means you can keep one at home and another in your kit or at a remote shelter.