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Wedged in between the 2 meter VHF, and 440 UHF bands, the 220 band lies in the shadow of both, and has developed into a radio version of the road less traveled. Those who have become 220 enthusiasts see themselves as a bit apart from the rest of the amateur radio community, as indeed they are. The band inspires a sort of an esprit de corps among the minority by whom it is used. It is the same sort of cliquish loyalty shared by hobbyists on the fringes of any recreational pursuit who self identify as being just that much more unique and individualistic than those who follow the more mainstream path. So 220'ers are caught in the dilemma between wanting to be a bit of a specialized group, and their fear that underuse will cause loss of their band.
For a years, I longed to get on 220. I finally did pick up an old Yaesu FT-127RA - largely because the price was right; but, great old radio that it is, it has certain limitations. I was a bit disappointed at all of the things that the old radio could not do, and wanted something a bit more modern and capable. In particular, I wanted programmability, PL tones, scanning features, and a number of other advances that can only be had with today's microprocessor controlled units. I also didn't want to pay a fortune for a radio for use on a very low traffic band. So for a couple of years more, I longed for a somewhat more modern 220 radio, but was unwilling to part with the premium prices that gear for this band seems to command. Eventually I found what I was looking for.
As I already had my old Yaesu base, antiquated as it may be, I wanted a handheld. This left me the choice of purchasing a Kenwood, Yaesu, or Icom model, at a very high cost, or going with a Wouxon, TYT, Baofeng, or some other off brand. I would save some money, by this route; but would also be taking a real chance on again getting something that didn't really fill my needs. There are also some older radios out there, with 220 capability; but many do not have PL codes, and a few don't even have the ability to work splits. There are also a number of multi band radios with 220; but most are quite expensive, and in some cases the 220 band is added as a sort of an afterthought, and has neither a high power output nor a properly matched antenna.
I ended up with my first ever Alinco radio, the model DJ-296. Alinco is somewhat well known as a producer of decent quality low priced gear. They are not Kenwood or Yeasu; but they are also not Wouxon. This model, introduced around 2002, has been recently discontinued, and replaced by the DJ-V27T, which currently sells for around $150. The DJ-196, when available new, sold for $189. I picked up mine for $65 on ebay. So far, I am very pleased. With the acquisition of this radio, I now have a base and a mobile unit. I already feel myself becoming a bit of a 220 enthusiast, along with a few other dedicated individuals in my area.
Looking a bit like a vintage cell phone, the DJ-196 is light, handy, and more than capable of getting me on 220. The radio is a bit clunky and surprisingly heavy for its size. It reminds me a bit of a pack of cigarettes on steroids, and feels a bit like a brick in the hand. This isn't a criticism, and the unit is easily able to fit in a short pocket though it will bulge a bit. It just isn't proportioned the same as so many of today's long slim radios. Much of this is due to the battery pack being nearly half the thickness of the radio. The unit has the more or less conventional LCD display, indicating frequency, mode, offset, battery condition, channel (in repeater mode), and s/rf.
The little radio puts out 4.5 watts (a full 5 watts when hooked up to 12 volt), has 160 memories - sadly, far more than required in today's sparsely populated 220 landscape, and extended receive from 216 MHz to 250 MHz. Tuning steps are adjustable from 5KHZ to 30KHz. Though the radio is not narrow band capable, it does have a 12.5 KHz step setting so that you can match frequencies with radios that are. This will likely never be a requirement on 220; but when narrow band commercial gear comes on the market and is configured for use on this band, it might be a nice feature to have.
The original battery is a rather unimpressive 700 mah unit; but a 1500 mah version is available. Fortunately, this high capacity battery was included in my purchase. On the extra capacity battery, the unit can run on receive for a couple of days, before the power gives out. This compares pretty closely to the rated draw of 50 mA on stand by. Enabling battery save mode should double this. You might be able to get by for a day on the standard capacity battery. Even more interesting is a 6 AA cell battery pack.
The included battery is a 9.6 volt unit, which will require a 12 volt charger unit. The radio includes a wall charger that takes 12 hours to top off the standard battery, or eighteen hours to completely charge the extended battery. A drop in rapid charger is available. The 1.5 amp drop in charger takes a couple of hours to charge, compared to the 200 mA wall charger. Though this may seem like a marketing ploy, there is a reason for the differences in charging time. The wall charger operates through a port on the radio and must pass through the radio's circuitry. Drop in chargers connect directly to charging tabs on the battery. The charging port doubles as a DC input and can accept up to 16 volts.
Like most of today's handhelds, the DJ-196 will pretty much do everything a full sized radio will do, but in a smaller package, and with a lower output. Splits are adjustable from 0 to 99.995 MHz, with the standard 1.6MHz being the default. Features include CTCSS and DCS tones, as well as a full tone pad for DTMF. The unit has 160 memories, as well as 9 programmable DTMF sequences, and the ability to scan the band, selected portions, or memory channels. Memory channels can be named, though the procedure is tedious.
All of these features are pretty standard stuff these days; but nice to have. One dubious feature is the high pitched tone generator which is supposed to act as a mosquito repellent. Being a natural born skeptic, and rather fond of my blood, I have not yet put this feature to the test. There is also a time out timer, and a number of power saving modes. I rarely use power saving features, as they tend to be more trouble than they are worth. I will also likely never use most of the scanning features, though they can be handy sometimes. Having all of these features on such a small radio does not come without a cost. As with most of today's small and feature filled radios, the cost is in the nature of the controls.
The layout of the controls is a warning that there will be many of the menus that some radio enthusiasts hate, and others swear by. There are two buttons on the antenna side of the radio, one being the PTT, and the other being a monitor button. The other side has only the charger port. There is but a single dial on the top of the unit, and then eighteen keys on the front mounted keypad. These keys are, very sensibly, slightly recessed to prevent inadvertent activation.
Nearly everything on the radio, including adjustment of volume and squelch, requires a function key to be pressed first. In some ways this is a good thing, as it prevents accidental changes in your settings. On the other hand it can make quick operation difficult. Such trade offs are getting to be pretty much the norm these days. Though we have come to accept such things, many of us have never really come to like them.
We all want small radios, and we want them to do everything. Though many radio operators complain about the menus, in order to have all of these features with separate controls, we would need a radio that fit in a backpack rather than a pocket.
The radio gets out pretty well, particularly for a handheld. This is part of the secret of the 220 band. the little six inch rubber duck antenna, which is such a handicap on most handheld radios, is a full quarter wave antenna on 220. The reason this is such a big deal is that antenna efficiency drops off remarkably quickly once an antenna shrinks below a certain level - from 100% at a half wave, to 25% at a quarter wave (unless a ground plane is employed), down to 2% at an eighth wave. This is a huge advantage over the typical 2 meter handheld.
From inside my house, I can easily and clearly hit my closest repeater, which is a bit over15 miles away. From outside the house, I can do even better, particularly on a rise, or a bit of high ground.
Like most modern radios, the DJ-296 can be computer programmed, or cloned from another radio. Both of these features require a special cable. There is even an optional trunking board, allowing for channelized trunking operation. The radio is also backward compatible with accessories produced for previous generations of Alinco radios, including those for 2 meter and 440.
In addition to the programming/cloning cable mentioned above, and the high capacity battery, drop in chargers are available, as well as a car adapter, mobile mount, and various speaker/microphone combinations and headsets.
The standard BNC antenna connector means that it is a simple matter to add an aftermarket antenna, or connect to an external antenna or a mobile car antenna. Attaching an external antenna, along with an external microphone and hooking up to a house or automobile power supply would make this a handy little baby base or mobile unit.
Adventures in 220 land - the 1.25 meter band
In most areas, if you are using the 1.25 meter band, you have it pretty much to yourself. Though this is usually called the 220 band, 220 MHz is no longer part of the U.S. band plan. In the Untied States, allowable frequencies for amateur use are from 222 MHz to 225 MHz. The FCC removed the 220 MHz to 222 MHz portion from the band plan in the 80's to turn it over to commercial use (primarily at the request of UPS, which then never followed through). These frequencies are presently being used by local maritime. This has left the amateur users of 220 with a justifiable apprehension about the future of their band.
The band has been not so much abandoned as ignored, more out of confusion than malice. When looked at on its own merits, the 1.25 band would appear to be a nearly ideal band, in terms of operating characteristics. Being a VHF band, it does not exhibit the scatter and attenuation characteristics of UHF; but it has a short enough wave length that it allows for an efficient antenna that is short and practical - the best of both worlds.
Despite its advantages, 1.25 meter never really caught on. The loss of part of the band is only a part of the reason. Like any radio band, 220 is a mixed bag. Its unique features are listed below.
The band is not used in many countries.
There is a limited
assortment of gear available, and it is expensive.
The future of the band is somewhat uncertain, and there is some concern that it might be lost.
It has most of the characteristics of 2 meter, but uses antennas less than half the size. It does not scatter to the extent of 440.
If you get yourself a base or repeater, a mobile and a few handhelds, you can have a whole band to yourself in many areas.
Even six meter FM seems busy compared to 220. Still, I wanted to give 220 a try, and wanted a transceiver that could cover the entire band. I also wanted a digital display, and the ability to access repeaters.
Most operations will be FM via repeater - if you can find one. There are seven repeaters in my metro area, out of which I can only hit one on a regular basis, with occasional success hitting another. Many areas have little or no activity and few if any repeaters. The standard offset on 220 is 1.6 MHz A fairly large proportion of the repeaters on this band do not require a tone. Though I have heard such radios exist, I am aware of no 220 operations on AM or SSB. The band is also somewhat unique, particularly for a VHF band, in having a gap, between its upper and lower limits.
The band has been around since the thirties, and is quite ancient for a VHF band. Up until the sixties, it and the rest of the VHF/UHF bands were largely limited to commercial or experimental use. Though the antennas for these bands are relatively small, the electronics, shielding, and connection of the higher frequencies is quite complex, when compared to the regular HF bands.
Solid state electronics allowed for a bit of a boom in VHF/UHF. Permitting these radios to be made small enough and cheap enough to be practical for the more casual user. It also permitted repeaters to be more easily and more inexpensively set up. Large numbers of commercial, public service, and military radios were made at or near the 440 and 2 meter bands, permitting a great economy of scale to be passed onto the ham radio community. The same was not true of 220. The 220 band is sandwiched between Television channel 13, and the military aviation band. Neither use large numbers of radios, and neither are practical sources for surplus gear.
Interestingly, the loss of part of the band may ultimately save it, and increase its popularity. One big reason for the slow start that 220 has gotten, is the dearth of applicable radios. For most of its history, the adjacent frequencies were used by the military, and by commercial television. Where the more popular 440 and 2 meter bands had nearby police, commercial, and business users, there was no such common use on 220. This may soon change.
With the loss of the 220 MHz to 222 MHz portion of the band, and its reassignment to commercial and maritime users, we may see some relatively large scale production of radios for commercial use. This might filter down to amateur operators in a larger a larger selection of radios, and lower prices. It will result in a large number of radios produced for commercial users, many of which will eventually filter down to amateur operators.
In the meantime, the band has drawn to itself, a small but dedicated group of enthusiasts.
Listed above are the repeaters that I have programmed into the unit. These will probably only be of interest to people living in my area. There is little traffic on 220; but I actually have seven local repeaters, out of which I can hit two. I am hoping to do a bit better with a proper antenna connected to my 220 base. What is rather surprising, to those of us used to working 2 meter or 440 repeaters, is that so many of the 220 repeaters out there do not require tones. Open repeaters are very uncommon these days, outside of 220. This is part of the nature of how open and underutilized the 220 band is.
The seven repeaters in my metro area are actually quite an abundance. Even so, there is barely one repeater's worth of activity here. A few of our repeaters are secondary or experimental repeaters by some of the clubs. Others are homebrew individual efforts. This is why so many do not yet require tones to access. It's kind of encouraging to see so much interest starting to be aroused in the band. Perhaps it is finally starting to get the respect it deserves.