Global Skywatch

Ted’s essays

handheld radio recommendation

Tytera MD-390


Progress in two-way radios is similar to that in all other electronics. That is to say this recommendation will not be the optimum choice years from now. Nevertheless, this radio can serve you well for many years.

The other caveat is there are many good choices. This is only one of them. I am making this suggestion to help the novice find a solid handheld transceiver that is well received within the amateur radio community. In a crowded field of feature-rich radios, the MD-390 has most of what you would want while being in the lower part of the $25 to $500 price range ($130).

IMPORTANT NOTE: Make sure you order this in the 400-480MHz UHF (ultra-high-frequency) model if you are not a licensed ham radio operator. There is no inherent advantage of one set of frequencies over the other, so there is no benefit to illegally using the VHF bands.

The UHF GMRS set of frequencies was established by the FCC specifically for non-ham, non-commercial group use with a $70 license covering the whole family’s use for ten years. Many people use these without the license, and the FCC may someday drop the requirement altogether.

I recommend GMRS radios as a backbone community communications system. Having one or more licensed ham operators in your group makes this a powerful information gathering and dissemination system during emergencies.

Because close exposure to RF transmissions are not healthy, handhelds rarely output more than 5 watts. In radios of this quality, that can give us real-world line-of-site communications of 25 miles or more. This is many times what those inexpensive blister-pack walkie-talkie pairs claiming 25 miles will do in the real world.

The real power comes when you program for, and utilize GMRS repeaters that amateurs in your area put up for their communities. Having a 50 watt repeater with a large antenna high in the air retransmit your message dramatically increases the range and utility of local communications.

The Tytera comes with programming software and a cable to link radio and computer together. I would hate to program a radio without this, so I appreciate their facilitation of it.

Other significant features include good water resistance, digital mode (greatly enhancing transmission clarity and reach), VOX (voice actuated, hands-free transmission), a good speaker, straightforward controls and a great display.

A good source is Buy Two Way Radios.com

A review of the Tytera TYT MD-390 DMR Portable Radio adds a lot more information to what I gave above.

A map of repeaters that can be used to your advantage: Repeaters

Best Handheld Ham Radios of 2018 – Buying Guide and Reviews
While this reviewer warns you need Windows computer to program the Tyteras, I am able to use my Linux computers for that, but the reviews otherwise look good to me.