The Handheld Transceiver (HT)

A handheld transceiver (HT) is often a new ham’s first radio.  As the name suggests, it is small enough to hold in your hand and has enough performance to be useful under many circumstances.

zys-ft-60rThe appeal of a HT is in its relatively low cost plus its obvious portability.  Some new hams want to spend as little as possible to get started in amateur radio and new HTs can be had for less than $50 (although not recommended by experienced hams).  Other new hams get started with a local emergency communications group which uses them.  Still others simply want a radio for keeping in touch with others while hiking or some other outdoor activity.

These radios have a practical range of one to three miles from one HT on the ground to another.  This is limited mostly by power and terrain or obstructions.  Greater range is achieved by operating from an elevated position or through the use of repeaters (refer to the repeaters topic).

Amateur use of handhelds is most common on the 2m (146MHz) VHF and 70cm (435MHz) UHF bands using frequency modulation (FM).  HTs are available for a few other VHF and UHF ham bands as well, depending on local usage and repeater support.  While HTs can be found for upper HF bands, antenna length makes them less practical as handheld devices.

Dual-band HTs are quite common and practical, costing little more than a single-band radio.  Many of these also allow the user to receive non-ham band transmissions such as weather alerts, aircraft, and police-fire-EMS dispatching.

While useful in some situations, HTs have limitations for ham radio use.  To obtain reasonable battery life a HT has a low-power transmitter (typically 5w max.)  The antenna is also a limiting factor, certainly when using the factory-supplied rubber duck.  Both of these affect the range and performance of the radio.  Using a repeater can often compensate for these limitations.

To improve HT performance the antenna should be replaced with a quarter-wave whip or other after-market device.  Using a RF power amplifier to increase transmit power is also an option, at the sacrifice of portablility.  Popular accessories besides a better antenna include an improved speaker and microphone or headset and spare battery packs.  We will discuss HT accessories in greater detail in a future post.

If a HT is all that a ham has to use, their amateur radio experience may be frustrating and the new ham may lose interest.    If this applies to you, please reach out to experienced hams for guidance.  Besides improving your HT performance by using repeaters and accessories, some friendly advice and encouragement will help you experience more of what ham radio is all about.

HT is properly understood to mean handheld transceiver.  The term Handie-Talkie (or Handy Talkie) is sometimes used by old-timers but this phrase specifically refers to a Motorola trademarked product, a handheld two-way radio produced for military use just before WWII as the model SCR-536.  Some history on this found here and here.


The SCR-536 had sub-watt power, used amplitude modulation and operated on the lower HF spectrum, not to mention that it had vacuum tubes and dry cells and weighed five pounds.

As you can see the Handie-Talkie® bears no resemblance to the modern HT so it doesn’t make sense to use the phrase now.  But don’t be surprised to hear it anyway.

2 thoughts on “The Handheld Transceiver (HT)

  1. Always on that learning curve. The whip antenna really helped me when I start. Move to a mag mont fot truck and used a 30amp amp to push my signal further. Finally made the move to a FT-8800, mobile radio. Currently trying my hand at HF when I can.


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