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What is a Handheld Ham Radio?

Patrick Roland
Patrick Roland

Ham radio has been a popular hobby of people worldwide for many years, but its expense and bulk, with a transceiver, antenna and more, prohibits many from partaking in the fun of amateur radio broadcasting. A handheld ham radio offers the international two-way radio communication of bigger models in a size that easily fits within a purse or backpack. The technology also is moving into the digital world with personal digital assistants (PDAs), but this exciting technology is not without its issues, and it does have its drawbacks.

A handheld ham radio looks like a radio scanner or a large walkie talkie with a digital interface. The digital interface allows users to dial in a specific radio frequency from the vast spectrum of options with the push of a few buttons. Each radio is lightweight and portable, so users can take them wherever they go instead of needing a stationary place from which to broadcast, as is the case with traditional amateur radio setups. Like a walkie talkie, a portable handheld ham radio has a built-in microphone.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

There is a great deal of flexibility provided by a handheld ham radio, but this piece of technology also has its drawbacks. Chief among the limits of a handheld ham radio is its antenna. Stationary models have powerful amplifiers and large antennas that stretch a signal around the world, but handheld models are significantly less powerful. Another drawback comes because the quality of the handheld equipment is generally lower than traditional models and therefore does not offer high-quality production values. Battery life also is an issue, because batteries eventually die out, which limits the amount of time a user can spend using the radio before having to install new batteries.

Digital technology has caught up with the handheld ham radio. The walkie talkie format has been around for many years because of its lightweight portability and durability. With the rise of mobile phones and PDAs, many amateur radio operators are turning to PDA ham radio for a fix of international radio chatter with the palm-sized phones or similar devices. By downloading a program or application, users can convert the phone into a digital scanner, picking up signals from all corners of the world via the internet and listening to broadcasts just like they would on a handheld ham radio.

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