You’ve studied hard and just earned your FCC Technician License. Congratulations! If you’re like most Hams, you’re eager to get started with your new hobby, and that means purchasing a radio to begin putting what you’ve learned into practice.

You can certainly consider going all in with a mobile or base station right away. But a handheld transceiver, also known as an HT or “Handi-Talkie,” makes a smart choice to get your feet wet with an all-in-one rig that can be used at home, in the car, and in the field.

Depending on its capabilities, a handheld radio will enable you to talk directly with other operators, use repeaters to communicate with Hams in a wider area, take advantage of digital modes, participate in emergency operations, compete in “hilltopping” contests, and maybe even contact an Amateur Radio satellite. And this only scratches the surface!

Handheld transceivers come in a range of prices and band coverages, including 70cm, 2M or 1.25M single band; 2M/70cm dual band; and other multi-band options. With many handheld transceivers on the market, it’s easy to find one perfect for your needs and skill level—from units built for basic communication to more complex rigs with an array of advanced features.

So where do you begin your search for the right handheld transceiver? While there are numerous lower-priced HTs available, many new licensees have found that selecting a radio from a longstanding manufacturer, such as Icom, Kenwood, Alinco, or Yaesu, is a sound choice and a great way to grow into the hobby. Complete handheld radio starter packages that include these brands are available. They come with a high-quality radio, programming software and cable, an upgraded antenna, and microphone or earpiece.

Why not simply buy the lowest-priced radio? For a modestly higher—and value-enhanced—investment in your first rig, you can get a true appreciation of the fun and usefulness of Ham Radio, and avoid the frustration that results when your expectations of getting on the air don’t quite match with reality. Plus, you can enjoy the same advantages that experienced operators get by choosing trusted gear:

  • Superior instructions that are clearly written and complete
  • More reliable programming software and programming cables
  • Units are individually tested rather than “batch tested,” meaning you receive a rig that has undergone a much higher degree of quality control
  • Better frequency control and peace of mind that you are staying within the Ham bands
  • Solid construction that can withstand rugged daily and outdoor use
  • 100% compliance with FCC rules—some less-expensive HTs have been found to cause harmful interference with other radio services in violation of FCC guidelines
  • Exceptional customer support

DX Engineering Getting Started HT Radio Packages

The Alinco package comes with the DJ-500T 2M/70cm FM Dual-Band Handheld Transceiver, featuring 5 watts of power, 200 memory channels, semi-duplex dual-band operation, Li-Ion battery pack and charger, and multiple scanning modes.

The Icom package includes the IC-V80-SPORT VHF FM Transceiver—a full-featured 2 meter handheld with 5.5 watts of RF power, 207 alphanumeric memory channels, quiet standby with CTCSS and DTCS tone codes, automatic repeater functions and easy programming.

The Kenwood package features the TH-K20A 144 MHz Handheld Transceiver, a workhorse that slips into your pocket and delivers ease of use and simple, clear communications. The robust unit has 200 memory channels, multiple scan modes, wide/narrow channel spacing and more.

The Yaesu package comes with the FT-270R VHF 2-Meter HT, a durable and waterproof handheld built to IPX7 standards, with power-saving features to extend the battery’s already lengthy life. It’s loaded with an automatic transponder system and extended receive range.

See all of the handheld transceivers and handheld starter packages available at DX Engineering.

 

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The customers and experts have spoken! The ICOM-7610 HF/50MHz All Mode Transceiver, featuring advanced dynamic range performance, true dual receivers and a host of other
next-level benefits, has been well worth the wait.

From the Experts’ Perspective

In his User Evaluation and Test Report, Icom maven Adam Farson, AB4OJ/VA7OJ, analyzed the unit’s physical feel, architecture, touch-screen, receiver front-end management, filters, noise reduction, noise blanker, AGC system, menus, metering, CW, RTTY decoder and memory keyer, VFO/memory management, on-air experience and more.

He concluded: “Although the IC-7610 is in a higher price category than the IC-7300, I nonetheless feel that the 7610 provides excellent value and capability for its price.” Read the entire report here.

In an interview on Ham Talk, Rob Sherwood of Sherwood Engineering, NC0B, offered ample praise for both the IC-7300 and IC-7610. The Ham Radio guru and highly respected gear-tester lauded many features of the IC-7610, including its dual receivers for working split and the unit’s solid TR switching and audio peak filter—major upgrades for serious CW operators. Listen to the entire interview here. To see the numbers crunched, check out Sherwood’s technical breakdown of the IC-7610.

From the Customers’ Perspective

Here’s a sampling of comments from buyers in the review section at DXEngineering.com. A total of 17 out of 18 commenters have awarded the rig five stars.

  • “The flexibility of this new technology is just amazing. When you purchased a radio in the past what you got was locked in. With the new technology the manufacturers can easily add changes and updates that can be downloaded to the radio to both correct and add new features. The IC 7610 is just a pleasure to operate and I can’t say enough about DX Engineering and their staff.”
  • “By far the best receiver I have ever owned or listened to on SSB or CW. The Digi Select and APF in CW will pull the weak ones out of the hash on the low bands.”
  • “Worked 15 Euros the past two nights on 160 CW. Can’t work ‘em if you can’t hear ‘em, and the 7610 sure hears ’em. Kudos to Icom for the great RCVR.”
  • “Replacing my 8 year old IC-7600 and [the IC-7610] is a significant upgrade. Last night on 160m I had an S-6 background noise level on the qtr wave INV-L. Switched to my SAL-30 rx antenna and noise fell to an amazing S-0….yes, ZERO, while working SM5EDX 599 both ways.”
  • “I am extremely impressed so far with the 7610. It combines the best of the 7300, 7600 and 7800. That is the best brief summary I can give at this point of my ownership. The screen size and resolution are excellent without using an external monitor and my eyes aren’t young. The 7610 is exceptional (I don’t use that term lightly) for identifying on the scope, digging out and peaking weak CW signals, and that is a huge plus given we are descending quickly toward the bottom of Cycle 24.”
  • “It has been flawless in its operation after being used or “on” about ten hours a day … all modes but mostly CW and Digital. It is hands down the most enjoyable CW rig I have used since I parted with my Ten-Tec Corsair.”
  • “The 7610 is a 7300 on steroids.”
  • “Been 18 years with my IC-756Pro. Glad I upgraded. Radio is easy to use. RX and TX reports have been outstanding.”
  • “This is an amazing transceiver. The rig is easy to use and the noise reduction is great.
  • My 7610 replaces my 7600 and has been in operation for ten days. So far it has met or exceeded my overall expectations.”
  • “Love the low noise level and the noise reduction system.”
  • “The performance of the IC-7610 compares favorably with that of the IC-7851. It’s equal in sensitivity and in some cases handles noise better than the IC-7851 does.”
  • “I have been accused of being an Icom “fan-boy” because I have many. I was totally amazed by my 7300 and the 7610 is even better. Just an amazing radio.”
  • “I enjoy the ability to do PSK31 or RTTY without having to tote my laptop everywhere I go. My IC-7300 was a treat to use but now comes along the IC-7610, this thing has ears! I’m hearing things I could only imagine before.”

Read more about the IC-7610 at DXEngineering.com.


It used to be that when you purchased a radio or other device for your shack, the only way to upgrade its capabilities or fix a glitch was to open it up and get your hands dirty. For many do-it-yourselfers, that was a big part of the fun of Ham Radio. But if you weren’t as technically inclined, you were stuck with what you bought and learned to tolerate it, or you purchased a new rig.

Things are much different today. Amateur Radio operators can take advantage of the ease and convenience of installing factory-released updates to the programs that run the device, known as firmware. These updates come in two forms: fixes to software bugs and improvements that add features and enhance existing functionality, such as wider frequency ranges, more transmit options, and the addition of waterfall screens.

Modern radios come with SD card slots or USB ports for installing firmware updates. These important upgrades are posted on the manufacturer’s website for download. Manufacturers provide detailed instructions online and in their user manuals for proper file saving and how to perform firmware updates on their gear.

Here’s the best part: The feature-rich radio you own today has been designed for continuous improvements that will further your enjoyment of the hobby tomorrow. When the manufacturer discovers a new way to enhance the equipment, the company writes a firmware upgrade and then notifies users of its availability. This translates into multiple upgrades over the course of the equipment’s lifetime—and greater value for your initial investment.

It is important to recognize that firmware updates do not mean you have purchased an incomplete or defective rig. Even after many months of real-world testing, it is virtually impossible to simulate all operating scenarios and detect each bug that may affect performance. Using customer feedback, manufacturers produce firmware upgrades that enable equipment to become even more user-friendly and operationally pristine.

General Advice on Firmware Upgrades

  • It is strongly recommended to keep your equipment up to date with the latest firmware upgrades
  • Before installing, check the manufacturer website to ensure the firmware upgrade is intended for your specific model
  • Read the manufacturer instructions first and then carefully follow them
  • Follow on-screen warnings and instructions as you install
  • Never disconnect the USB cable during the update
  • Do not power down the device while updating firmware. Check to see if the battery is fully charged or DC power supply is working
  • Make sure the upgrade has been completely installed to avoid partial firmware updates

While there will be thousands of experienced Hams worldwide who will be attempting to make contact with Bouvet Island 3Y0Z, they will undoubtedly be joined in the pileups by scores of first-time DXers. As a service to those who are new to this exciting part of Amateur Radio, DX Engineering is posting a series of articles you can use to get started on the right foot.

So what is a pileup?

Imagine you are one of many reporters at a White House press conference, all simultaneously trying to get called on by the president. A din of voices fills the air until someone is chosen. A DX pileup is similar, only a heck of a lot more fun–and just as challenging.

Because a DXpedition grabs the interest of Amateur Radio operators from around the globe (like it has for Bouvet Island 2018), many individuals will be on the air at once attempting to log a rare contact. When multiple stations transmit their call signs at the same time and on the same frequency or over a range of frequencies, this creates a “pileup” of noise as each operator attempts to be called out by the DX station The DX station picks out one call sign–maybe the loudest or the clearest or the luckiest–and makes a short contact, most likely a simple exchange of signal reports. Then the pileup starts again.

Snagging an extremely rare contact such as Bouvet Island is a thrill for seasoned and beginning Hams alike. How can your station break through this auditory traffic snarl? Any veteran DXer will tell you that your ears are your most valuable tool when confronting a pileup. Before transmitting, listen to learn the station’s pattern for ending a QSO (contact) so you know when it’s time to call. By listening to experienced operators, you will also pick up on proper etiquette for transmitting your call.

Don’t be a tuner-upper! A tuner-upper is an operator who tunes up the radio or amplifier with the antenna tuner right on the DX’s frequency while a pileup is in progress. It is proper etiquette to move down the band to tune up before returning to the DX’s frequency.


While there will be thousands of experienced Hams worldwide who will be attempting to make contact with Bouvet Island 3Y0Z, they will undoubtedly be joined in the pileups by scores of first-time DXers. As a service to those who are new to this exciting part of Amateur Radio, DX Engineering is posting a series of articles you can use to get started on the right foot.

What difference does a good antenna make?

A good antenna is the best accessory you can have for your transceiver. There are many designs you can build or buy that will help focus your signal on the DXpedition and reject signals from other directions. Even simple antennas like dipoles can be quite effective. Make sure your antenna system is in good working order before the DXpedition begins.

Dipoles: Single- and multi-band dipoles are very efficient, inexpensive and radiate well. The key to good performance for DXing is to install them at one-half or more wavelengths above the ground.  At 20 meters, this is about 30 feet. If you have only one support, you can install the dipole as an inverted V, held up at the center or sloping in the direction you want to favor–in this case, toward Bouvet.

Verticals: Ground-mounted vertical antennas are most effective when they have a good set of ground radials about 30 feet long or more, with length not being critical. As few as eight radials on the ground will work, although more is better. If you mount the vertical in the air, the radials should be cut to lengths specified in the owner’s manual. Ground-independent verticals can be mounted at any height– see the manual for your antenna for guidelines.

Beams: Even at modest heights of one-half wavelength, a small beam can dramatically improve your chances of working DX. Small “tribanders” for 20, 15, and 10 meters are light enough to support on a metal mast that can be turned by hand. Rotators controlled from the station can point the beam for you.


While there will be thousands of experienced Hams worldwide who will be attempting to make contact with Bouvet Island 3Y0Z, they will undoubtedly be joined in the pileups by scores of first-time DXers. As a service to those who are new to this exciting part of Amateur Radio, DX Engineering is posting a series of articles you can use to get started on the right foot.

How important is my receiver?

The noise of the pileup and interference from the many signals will be far stronger than usual. You’ll need to know how to use your receiver effectively to hear the DXpedition station as clearly as possible.

Filters: Know how to select and adjust your receiver’s filters, including notch filters. Learn to adjust the passband shifting function and use your receiver incremental tuning (RIT).

Noise Reduction: Most transceivers have both noise blankers and noise reduction functions. Find out what controls activate and control these functions and how they respond to noise at your station.  Experiment until you find the combination of settings that gives you the clearest reception. Be ready to alter the settings as conditions change.

Gain: Your receiver can be too sensitive and overloaded by the strong signals, creating noise and false signals internally that you hear as interference. Turn off preamps and noise blankers unless absolutely necessary. Try turning on your transceiver’s attenuator to further reduce noise. Receivers are plenty sensitive, so only use the amount of gain you need to hear the station.


While there will be thousands of experienced Hams worldwide who will be attempting to make contact with Bouvet Island 3Y0Z, they will undoubtedly be joined in the pileups by scores of first-time DXers. As a service to those who are new to this exciting part of Amateur Radio, DX Engineering is posting a series of articles you can use to get started on the right foot.

What is an operating split?

Split means transmitting on one frequency and listening on another. This helps everyone hear the DX station better so they can time their calls, follow instructions, and not create unnecessary interference. Expect the DXpedition to operate “split” while the pileups are medium to large, possibly up until the last few days of the operation.

A typical DXpedition might transmit on 14.195 MHz and specify they are listening “from 14.200 to 14.210.” Your receiver should be set to receive on 14.195 MHz and transmit somewhere in the 14.2 to 14.21 range. This is typically done by using the VFO A and VFO B settings (VFO stands for variable-frequency oscillator). Most transceivers have a “SPLIT” button or menu item that alternates between the VFO on receive and transmit. The transceiver manual will have instructions on how to do this.

Practice setting your VFOs, say with a friend on the air, and get used to setting the VFO used for transmitting to different frequencies a few kHz away from the DX transmitting frequency. On CW (Morse code) and RTTY (radioteletype), the typical shift in frequency is 2-5 or 10 kHz. The DX station will send “UP” or something like “UP 2” after completing a contact.