Make: Holiday Gift Guide 2009: Hobby Radio

Make: Holiday Gift Guide 2009: Hobby Radio

Here are some great hobby radio gift ideas, ranging from radios themselves, to books, to the perfect radio-related vacation, everything you need to transmit a bit of holiday cheer. di-di-di-dit dah-dah-dah di-di-di-dit dah-dah-dah di-di-di-dit dah-dah-dah.


When looking for radios, I really like Universal Radio. They have comprehensive descriptions of all of the radios they carry and model comparisons of different brands. The site is easy to understand, especially for someone without an electrical engineering degree (such as myself).


Elecraft KX1 ($299.95, Elecraft)
For those who like the challenge of QRP (operating with low power), this is a great kit for a super deluxe, high performance CW (continuous wave) transceiver. Very low power radios transmit Morse code, which uses less power than voice. Small Wonder Labs has a more affordable kit for $55.


Yaesu VX-3R ($154.95, Universal Radio)
This is a really great handheld radio for someone getting started who doesn’t have an operating license. The VX-3R is the smallest HT (handheld transceiver) and is super portable. But due to it’s size, it has good receive-coverage, but doesn’t transmit very far. If you don’t have a license, this is a great radio, since you can listen without a license (but you are not permitted to transmit). It’s great for listening to local repeaters, nets (meetings on local repeaters), police and fire departments, air traffic control, weather, etc. For more power, check out the Icom IC-91A ($274.95) which works well for both receiving and transmitting. These handhelds operate on VHF/UHF frequencies and can receive broadcast shortwave stations.


Yaesu FT-817ND ($599.95, Universal Radio)
This low power (5W) radio is great for portable operation. Like the handhelds, it transmits on VHF and UHF, but also on HF (high-frequency), which can travel hundreds, even thousands of miles (as opposed to VHF/UHF which only communicates locally). However, since this radio is low power, the coverage is not as good as the larger portable and desktop radios. A comparable radio is the ICOM IC-703 ($729.95).


ICOM IC-718 ($549.95 after rebate, Universal Radio)
This is one of the most affordable 100W radios that covers all of the HF bands. It is an entry-level desktop radio.



Vintage Straight Key ($25-$40, Ebay)
The J-38 straight key is collected today by many Morse code enthusiasts who love its “feel.” The J-38 key was developed for the US Army Signal Corps as a training tool during WWII. These keys are popular on eBay, but are not always in working order. You may want to buy two so that one can be scrapped for spare parts.


Begali Signature (€235.00/~US$350, Begali)
Just as there are premium cars, like Porsche and Ferrari, there are also premium Morse code keys. Begali is one such premium key maker.


Throw Line Kits ($30-$40, WesSpur)
Typically used by arborists, throw lines are great for portable radio operations, and help you in hoisting a wire antenna, for example, up into a tree. There are some neat slingshots that work well, too. But throw lines are the more portable option.


Multi-band End-Fed Wire Antenna (25W) ($69, Par Electronics)
This is a great portable antenna for HF that works on three bands (10, 20, and 40 meters). Most end-fed wire antennas only work on a single band. I like to use end-fed antennas with a throw line because antennas only need to be connected to the feed line on one side.

The Par Electronics antennas are very popular and they are now only taking consumer orders once a year. You can put in an order on Jan 3 for a late holiday gift.

Reading Radio

Here’s are a couple of great radio reference and history books to consider.


The ARRL Handbook for Radio Communications 2010 ($40.46)
This all-purpose guide is a great gift for those with a strong interest in electronics. It contains everything from radio design to the fundamentals of electronics theory. My uncle isn’t a ham, but still refers to his ARRL Handbook for Radio Communication 1978 for electronic projects.


Heathkit — A Guide to the Amateur Radio Products ($29.95, CQ)
In the 1960s, before there was a Maker Shed, there was Heathkit. This book takes a fun look at some of the first electronic kits, Heathkits, for creating your own radios. Heathkit made radios affordable by taking away the price of labor and putting radios in the hands of makers. I really like that this book contains black and white photos and a history for each Heathkit model.

Dream Vacation


Hamvention (tickets are $20 for three days)
What gift guide would be complete without a dream vacation? For all things radio, Dayton Hamvention, May 14-May 16th in Ohio, is the place to be. During the day, there are talks, meet-ups, and halls and halls filled with all of the latest radio technology (along with some of the oldest radio technology). I enjoyed seeing the Enigma cipher machines and Richard Garriott speaking at the AMSAT forum about his experience operating aboard the International Space Station. In the evening, there are ham radio club-hosted dinners and gatherings. There are also designated hotels for interests, such as QRP and DXing (distant tuning). While Dayton Hamvention is the biggest such event, there are many other ham radio conventions around the United States that would make a great present for the radio enthusiast on your holiday shopping list.

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Fashion + Technology Diana was a contestant on Project Runway season 2, graduated from RISD, and currently lives in New York City.

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