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Sunday, July 29, 2018

Knowing When To Hold'em and When to Fold'em: Timing The Sale of Ham Radio Treasures

Ham radio as a hobby can get expensive and is also easy to accumulate too much stuff over the years. Since this hobby is part driven by technology, certain items get outmoded or outdated.

Knowing when to buy and sell something is a part of this hobby that needs a little open discussion.

Kenny Rodgers is known for his song "The Gambler", but its not clear if he gambles when it comes to ham radio related purchases or not.

Finding ways to keep ham radio manageable and affordable is something I have always tried to do while at the same time trying to have some of the latest and greatest toys to get on the air with and talk with other radio amateurs.

This is an example of modern amateur radio with many technologies ready to experiment with

Today, technology is moving much quicker than it was just thirty years ago and I wanted to quantify a few things based on some recent on and off the air discussions with other amateur radio operators.

When it comes time to decide what projects to fund and decide what is worth hanging on to or selling  off,  its become apparent that more people or loved ones do not want to get caught with a basement full of ham radio treasures that not many will see a value in.

The beauty is in the eye of the beholder with this messy basement "ham shack"

A Ranking Of Sorts

What I set out to do was find what were some of the most influential, affordable and most widely used amateur radio equipment put into the market between 2018 and 1988, which is a 30 year window to cover and do a little bit of a ranking for fun.

I came up with two general sets of parameters or axis's of  sorts called innovation and implementation.

Each axis has a small subset of criteria to better sort things further.

Implementation Axis

Implementation has to do with a vendors success in getting product into the hands of amateur radio operators.  Three sub-criteria were used to calculate overall implementation scores for specific models of radios that have been widely used. 

Affordability, accessories, accessibility and launch versus current market pricing value are the four areas looked at.

Affordability is a relative term.  Based on the price at launch of the product and what its current market value is today in 2018 were used to determine this criteria. An example of one would be Kenwood TH-F6a  tri-band handheld radio launched in 2001 for around $325.00 and is still in production today. 

Used market pricing varies because of how long this radio has been on the market, but generally sells for between $150-$225 used.

A scale of 1-10 in curved graduations of around $100 increments were used.  A score of something costing new between $389.99 and $499.99 was given a 5. A score of 10 was assigned for anything that was newly priced at under $100 dollars.

A score of 1 was assigned for anything that was newly priced over $1,000 dollars.

Kenwood TH-F6a  SSB with 144, 220, 440 for sale
The Kenwood TH-F6a was unique when it launched in 2001 for including the ability to monitor the HF bands in SSB mode as well as operate on the 3 different VHF and UHF bands in use across the United States. Almost 18 years later, there are only two other radios that would compete with it.

Accessories are something that can contribute over time to the enjoyment of certain equipment and may be purchased right away or over time. Some accessories are offered by the manufacturer who released the radio in question. Others are aftermarket items or easily built by amateur radio operators themselves.

The robustness of the accessory ecosystem was simply graded between 1 and 10, with 10 being the most accessory options imaginable and 1 being the very least. Of the 30 official radios used in this ranking, the average for accessories turned out to be 6.5 which shows the market saw a lot of additional opportunity beyond just buying the radio itself.

Accessibility is a combination of a few factors.  At some point in time was it possible to go in to a physical store and purchase the radio? If you asked someone "Do you know anyone who has this radio I can talk to before purchasing it?" and "I saw XYZ at a recent hamfest walking around with it and I think I may want to get one" is some of the thinking that went into this accessibility ranking.

In the last thirty years, we have gone from only local store, mail order purchase and long decision times to almost instant internet based research, purchase and next day delivery.

In order to not take into account inflation,  it was simple to look at the pricing for when a radio was released and what it is currently selling for today on the used market. Even for equipment released within the last 24-48 months are easy to see what is holding market value based on when something newer is available.

In years past, certain radios held value longer than others or dropped value quickly.  Equating a percentage for example of when then the popular Radioshack HTX-242 which launched in 1998 for around $299.99 is worth about $50.00 on a good day 20 years later or less then 14% of its original value.

Radioshack HTX-242 for sale
The Radioshack HTX-242 was the first 2m mobile radio for many ham's from 1998 until 2003 and saw high adoption becuase it was easy to purchase in person from a local store instead of waiting on the pre internet ordering options of the day. 

Innovation Axis

What prompts most amateurs to buy something over another is what can it do that no other product can at a price that seems reasonable.

Also, what else can it be made to done that it was not thought of by the original designers had intended is another. 

Three total sub-criteria were used in the innovation axis and they are direct competition, features and modifications

Direct competition comes in waves for most of the larger radio vendors such as Icom, Yaesu, Kenwood and others. Every so often these or other more narrow vendors come up with something so unique and fascinating, there is often no direct competition.

A great example when it launched and for years right after is the Yaesu FT-817 multi-band multi-mode portable radio that opened up new ways of operating or attracting new hams into the hobby.  It was clear early on Yaesu had a hit on its hands since its launch and only recently saw a minor refresh due to changing part suppliers, but even the new FT-818 replacement is honestly not that different than the original.

A scaled of 1 to 10 with 10 being the least amount of direct competition at launch was used to rank each of the 30 radios.

FT-817 for sale
The Yaesu FT-817 proved that ham radio was not a basement hobby any longer. This radio allowed you to take the entire "ham shack" into the woods and beyond for all sorts of adventures for a modest price

Features are in the eye of the beholder sometimes. Some are fact and  based on specifications or instruction manuals, others are more mental for certain people.

The idea that even like designed radios could vary much in features is hard to grasp, especially when some amateur radio operators will go to great length to dispute which radio is better than another even though they are very, very similar.

A scale of 1 to 10 was used to rank features relative to competition available at the time of launch.

Lastly, modifications was used to define innovation. This is not just about clipping a certain green wire in some radios, but really looking at how quickly users figured out ways to make something better and widely documented the results.

Everything from changing certain capacitors to make certain radio sound better on different modes, to re-writing the operating software running the most widely adopted modern radios was taken into account in the ten possible points available for the most modification friendly radio out there. 

Other Criteria

To increase the objectivity, no one vendor could have any more than five radios in this list of 30, save for a honorable mention of a very unique radio that paved the way for many innovations still not seen today.  Also, only ready built and major commercial vendors were included.  

The idea for what would make it on to the final list of 30 amateur radio items over the last 30 years also was focused on mass adoption versus niche purchases or devices. 

Anything that proved to be a huge hit for a particular vendor was included and balanced against rigorous research from the opinions of many amateur radio operators globally about some of the most popular equipment they own or seem to always talk to someone on the other end about what they like or are using.

The List You Have Been Waiting For

It was really tough to develop this list of equipment, but I can pretty much guarantee that if you have been a ham for at-least most of the past 30 years, you will recognize the majority of this list. Some items were chosen to keep things manageable and not dominated by one vendor or another.

The top 5 items with score go to:
  • Baofeng UV-5R (875.8489706)
  • Inexpensive SDR USB Dongles (827.2830524)
  • TYT MD-380 (769.8098983)
  • Anytone D868A (732.5622234)
  • Alinco DJ-596 (645.3345454)
The bottom 5 scored items with score go to:
  • Kenwood TS-2000 (174.0128162)
  • Icom IC-746 (167.6209362)
  • Yaesu FT-991 (151.9583962)
  • Kenwood TM-742 (144.8730979)
  • Yaesu FT-100 (138.1904794
Honorable mention, just to see how it would have scored had it been a bigger hit goes to the obscure Icom IC-900 mobile radio system.

Here is how it fared against the 30 most innovative, influential, affordable and widely adopted amateur radio over the past 30 years.

Icom IC-900

What made this radio unique in 1987 and even today, 31 years after its launch was its complexity and flexibility.

This was a modular radio system that bolted together to offer the user all sorts of band or mode options and then output to a control head using fiber optic cable up to 65 foot in length.  

Icom IC-900 for sale value
The Icom IC-900 is obscure but pretty cool even 31 years later

Its hard to find accurate pricing on this radio and how many Icom actually sold, but its estimated that the options to make a 2m, 70cm only version would have cost at-least $900 when this was on the market.

Today, these still demand a good price because of its rarity and innovation and is why it received the honorable mention and a scoring of:
  • 2 for Affordability
  • 2 for Accessories
  • 10 for Direct Competition
  • 8 for Features
  • 2 for Modifications
The estimate for pricing was hard to place, but looks to be about 44% of its original sale value today, but this could be on the very best or very worst day.

Does this obscure radio look anything like what we see today?  If you are thinking of the current Icom IC-7100, then yes.....maybe it does

Icom IC-7100 for sale
The Icom IC-7100 is a modern marvel, but is it for you?

The total innovation score worked out to 20 and 6.4 for implementation. A final score calculated to 56.65691462, which was far, far below what the Yaesu FT-100 got in the top 30 ranking found here for download.

Wishful Thinking

It would be a huge undertaking, but it would be interesting to develop a larger database based on details found on websites like, plus others and then refresh the list annually in order to compare over time how the market changes for amateur radio equipment that is in demand. 

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The summary of equipment in approximate order by release date is below:

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