Love it or hate it, the Chinese invasion continues in the two way and ham radio and market. Buyers are taking advantage of the low cost, high quality radios and brands like Baofeng, Wouxun and TYT are replacing old legacy names like Kenwood, ICOM and Yaesu.
In the forefront of the Chinese influx is Tytera Corporation based in Fujian, China - now the leading Asian exporter of two-way electronics. TYT claims to produce over 50,000 radios a month from its modern production facility that includes 20 full time R&D engineers on staff.
One of the most popular TYT units is the TH-9800 quad bander, a compact mobile radio that operates on four bands (hence the term "quad bander") and is clearly modeled after the more expensive Yaesu FT-8900. This radio caught the attention of American ham operators when released three years ago with a price tag over $500. Now in 2016, the radio is in its third firmware release, most of the glitches are gone, and the price has dropped below $300.
This was all the reason this Hartford Hobby Radio Examiner needed to pick one up (from Amazon.com with prime shipping and two day delivery.) I also ordered the programming cable and software disk, which took two weeks to arrive because they were shipped from Hong Kong. No matter - programming by hand is easy, especially if you follow one of several tutorials offered on YouTube that walk users through the basic steps. Here's a link to one that I found extremely helpful, posted by GrapevineAmateurRadio.com.
Like lots of new radios, the TH-9800 is menu driven - there are 42 menus to be exact, but only a handful are essential to operate the radio.
- Menu 2 lets you turn on and off the automatic repeater shift (ARS), for programming the offset on ham repeater channels;
- Menu 4 turns off the incredibly loud beep that sounds every time you press a button or perform a function (turning this off was a no-brainer for me);
- Menu 26 is for setting scanning preferences. The default has the radio resume scanning after only five seconds, even if there is activity on a channel;
- Menus 30 and 31 are used to enable the PL or DCS tones, and encode the transmit signal for repeaters;
- Menu 35 activates the cross-band repeater, which connects the left side and right side transceivers together. It's possible to talk locally on 144 MHz and 440 MHz - the two most popular repeater bands, while cross connected to the skip-prone 10 and 6 meter bands (29 and 54 MHz). One fun possibility can be to use a UHF handi-talkie (from your back yard?) to access your TH-9800 and cross-band chat with someone across the world.
Front panel buttons let the user set up lots of functions - pressing and holding the "low" button toggles through the output power choices - five, 10, 20 or 50 watts (40 watts on UHF). SCN turns scanning on and off, and the center button (with the dot on it) brings up the menus.
Once you get used to the layout, it's possible to set up each memory channel and alpha tag it (six characters maximum) in a minute or two and there are 800 available memory channels.
How does the radio play on the air? Quite well! Performance has been good on 10 meters (FM), two meters and 70 CM (UHF) but I haven't given it a whirl on six meters just yet. In my area of Connecticut, there are a few 10 meter FM repeaters and remote bases, and I can access the wide area KQ2H system in New York at 29.620 MHz.
On the down side, the transmit voice audio is generally too "hot" and needs to be reduced (with menu 34 which adjusts the mike gain) and there is only one antenna connector at the rear of the radio. This means you need to disconnect antennas when switching bands, or install an antenna A/B switch. Another solution can be an antenna duplexer, which distributes the signal to the correct antenna port while isolating it from the wrong antenna(s). Duplexers and even triplexers are available with different configurations of connectors.
On the positive side, the TH-9800 comes with a versatile hand mike with lots of buttons. It has up-down channel buttons, DTMF number buttons (used for frequency entry) and four open programmable buttons marked P1 through P4 which can be customized through menu settings. The radio can be easily remote mounted with an included 14-foot cable that separates the control head from the body of the unit, plus there is a very extended receive range: 26-33 MHz, 47-54 MHz, 108-180 MHz, 320-512 MHz, and 790-950 MHz making the TYT ideal to monitor public safety, business and other services.