Beyond FM:  VHF/UHF/Microwave Equipment

By Jim Aguirre, W7DHC

Previously, we took a look at the VHF, UHF and microwave bands available to radio amateurs. Now, let's look at what radio equipment is available to operate on those bands.

Operating 'Beyond FM' requires equipment that provides SSB and/or CW capability. These are usually referred to as 'all-mode' radios. Virtually all of the major manufacturers have had at least one all-mode HF/6M transceiver on the market for the past 10 years. The more recent Icom IC-706 MkIIG and Yaesu FT-100S transceivers will get you on THREE VHF/UHF bands: 6-meters, 2-meters and 70-cm with very respectable performance! Earlier versions of the IC-706 provided 6M and 2M capability. At last word, Yaesu is still offering its FT-690R/290R/790R series of 6M/2M/70CM low-power, portable all-mode monobanders. They make nice portable rigs.

Of course, there are some higher-end all-mode, multi-band rigs available too:

  • the Yaesu FT-847 and new FT-817 (both offer HF, 6M, 2M and 70cm)
  • the Icom IC-746 and IC-820 (2M, 70CM)
  • the new IC-910H (2M, 70CM and 23 CM)
  • and the discontinued Icom IC-970 (2M, 70CM plus 50-905 MHz receive)
  • the Kenwood TS-790 (2M & 70CM)
  • and the new Kenwood TS-2000 (HF, 6M, 2M, 70CM, 23CM)

They're all great rigs, but are also fairly pricey.

Among older radios, 6M capability is widely available in the Kenwood TS-660/670/680/690 series, and Yaesu's FT-650/726/736 radios. The FT-726 and FT-736 also cover 2M and 70CM. Icom's IC-551/571/575 series were 6M monobanders. A companion 2xx series and 4xx series of 2M and 70CM monoband all-mode transceivers were offered as well. Critical replacement parts for many of the Icom monobanders are no longer available, so they may not be repairable. Check with Icom on the availability of key parts before buying one of those rigs.

Unless your budget is really low and you like to tinker with things, avoid the tube-type and early transistor rigs such as the Drake TR-6, Swan 250, Kenwood TS-600/TS-700 and similar. While fine radios in their day, their performance doesn't compare with more modern transceivers.

Okay, so much for VHF and UHF rigs; what about microwave gear? There are a few all-mode transceivers available for 1.2 GHz (and even 2.4 GHz if you search in Japan), but they are fairly pricey. As noted earlier, these include the Icom IC-910H and Kenwood TS-2000, as well as the discontinued Icom IC-1275 and Yaesu FT-736R.

Many microwave operators use 'transverters' to get on the bands above 70CM. Transverters are simply up/down frequency converters that use a 10M or 2M all-mode radio as the 'intermediate frequency or 'IF' transmitter/receiver. They're a relatively simple and fairly inexpensive way to get on the bands where dedicated transceivers are either scarce, too expensive or not available.

We'll explore transverters in the next article in greater depth.