My love for Analog FM

A new ham recently wrote me & asked me about my thoughts on the new digital FM modes, and so I thought I’d make a post about it! I’ve...

A new ham recently wrote me & asked me about my thoughts on the new digital FM modes, and so I thought I’d make a post about it! I’ve dabbled a bit in digital FM over the past couple years with C4FM & DMR. First with my Yaesu FTM-400DR radio (C4FM), and then with a Connect Systems 580 HT (DMR). I thought that the technology was pretty neat – crystal clear audio, that even worked better it seemed, when the end user was on the fringe as opposed to analog FM. I’ve yet to experiment with D-Star (though I’m sure I will one day!).

C4FM was initially more enjoyable because it was immediately accessible from my radio by entering my callsign & waiting what seemed forever while the poor GPS receiver on the 400DR acquired a GPS signal (which isn’t required – but tells the other user exactly how far away you are if you’re in the right mode). DMR on the other hand requires that you program something called a ‘Code Plug’. Generally requires that you plug the radio into a computer, with programming cable & use the proprietary software of whomever the radio manufacturer was. Not too difficult, but most seem to complain about the code plug process & that you can’t usually program a DMR radio directly from the radio front panel. Don’t forget to register for your DMR network ID number either which is required in the settings on your DMR radio to access the network. This is your ‘caller ID’ so to speak. If the other user has a database big enough in his/her radio, and has all the contacts saved, its possible that they might see your info on the radio. I imagine that database is filling up quick! C4FM on the other hand uses a stand alone system.

C4FM & DMR Repeaters have popped up all over the nation it seems. Heck, our own N5OAK repeater is C4FM, but in order to interlink it with our IRLP node & EchoLink we can’t activate that function. Many of these repeaters are interlinked with one another, some creating some very wide area networks which have quite effective coverage, but I’ve noticed as these systems have grown, they’ve become quite overpopulated. I’d imagine most of these systems are interlinked using an internet connection of some sort.

I have two primary complaints about digital FM modes like this –

  1. Interoperability – I’ve yet to see any radio manufacturer step in and try to fix an issue that is all too easily fixable. In the Network Admin world – we use something called the ‘OSI Model’. Which is the Open Systems Interconnection model – basically allows the entire massive network of computers/servers/telecommunication hubs/etc to communicate with one another on this massive globe. Some have interlinked DMR/C4FM/DSTAR machines together, which is a step in the right direction.
  2. Simplex – Unless its scheduled and planned, and your community has a designated Digital simplex channel, your chances of calling out on 146.520 (or any other for that matter) and getting a hit on digital are slim. I have never made an unscheduled digital contact & I have called out more times than I can count.

If the first issue is fixed, then that’ll fix the second 🙂 Proprietary technology keeps things separated & segregated. As far as which sounds better? Digital has a certain quality about it that sounds crisp & clear, but analog has that warmth to it that digital just can’t pick up. Each has their strengths/weaknesses IMO. For some, these new digital modes are the bees knees and a breath of fresh air into the hobby. Still relatively new, I can’t really complain too much either. I’m sure as interest grows, and hams start asking for interoperability more, equipment & standards will change.

For now, i’ll stay cuddled up to my new FT-60R this winter and getting acquainted with an ‘old in the tooth’ HT! I ordered my last off-brand DMR HT recently & had a horrible experience with it. Yet another HT with a front end receiver so wide – nothing gets filtered, I’d imagine the same is true of transmitting. Too many of these companies are manufacturing these dirty HT’s which have so many issues, they’re coming out with 100 firmware updates the first month its on the market. That says something about their QA/QC. There are certainly better radios for the task though!

This is in no way bashing the digital modes. I’m all about maximizing contacts & making those ‘random’ contacts in ham radio which make it ‘magical’!



9 Comments on this post.
  • robert
    5 December 2017 at 6:12 AM

    All great points, thanks! I’m a recording musician, and the digital world is a big part of my life. New technology can be great when it’s as transparent a tool as possible, but when some major kinks haven’t been worked out, using the tool can be frustrating. That’s kind of how I feel about advances like digital FM in ham radio. I agree with you that, although these kinds of advances can be great, they really need to be well thought out and properly implemented. And that definitely means that there need to be common standards on which all manufacturers can agree.

    There are those who think that’s not possible, but an amazing example of such an event happening was when competing music product manufacturers got together in an unprecedented manner back in ca. 1980 to create the MIDI interoperability standard, which is still very much in use today. And it continues to spawn the development of amazing new technology. So I suppose we can hope.

    But actually, I also really do like the sound of analogue radio. Maybe it’s just because I grew up pulling remote and fading signals out of the hash from places around the world I’d never heard of, which trained my ear to “pull” the signal out of the noise. And it may have helped my ear for music! As a kid, I could usually ID shortwave stations simply by the sound of their carrier. Even though I really dig all the great new filtering options in the latest rigs, I always like to simply use my ears first when I’m trying to ID a signal.

    In any case, I also really like the idea of keeping things simple. In a disaster situation, we hams will always have to fall back on the most common and reliable forms of communication, so I think that makes my choice easier as well.

    73 de K1RSK

    • Bryan
      5 December 2017 at 12:44 PM

      Great points there as well Robert. One of my big concerns is that to entice younger people to step into this world, it needs to be somewhat streamlined (standardized) in terms of the tools. We have to remember that we’re in HEAVY competition with cell phones, tablets, PC’s, etc, and those devices, even when the platform is different, all talk to each other with little difficulty.

      The early days of television in the U.S. went through the same growing pains with the advent of color. There were two competing systems created by CBS and RCA. The FCC finally settled on the RCA system which became known as NTSC. Or what we engineers jokingly refer to as “Never Twice Same Color). RCA had figured out a way to make color broadcasts compatible with black and white TV and beat out the CBS color system.

    • K5ACL
      5 December 2017 at 4:08 PM

      Thanks for your comment – I can relate! Here’s to hoping for common standards. Some appreciate having different flavors anyways in Ham Radio. 73

  • wholigan1964
    4 December 2017 at 2:57 PM
    • K5ACL
      4 December 2017 at 9:51 PM

      Love it!

      • Mike Hohmann
        11 December 2017 at 11:08 PM

        me2, Mike, KEØGZT

  • Mat – S57ME
    3 December 2017 at 10:55 AM

    I agree, HAM radio is about antenna and nothing more. Even on VHF and UHF. No internet and stuf.

  • Scott Dupuie
    1 December 2017 at 7:50 PM

    They don’t make them like the FT-60 anymore, that’s for sure. I have a Kenwood TH-D72A which is a nice radio, but almost 3x the cost of the FT-60. If you don’t need dual simultaneous receive, GPS/APRS, or cross-band full-duplex capability for satellite operation, then the FT-60 is a great analog radio.

    • K5ACL
      1 December 2017 at 8:01 PM

      Exactly! I was actually considering the D72A – it was on sale at Universal Radio for $365, but that’s as much as I paid for my TM-V71A! What pushed me over the top with this HT was the squelch knob, AA Battery pack, and the numerous accessories available for it. I’m sure its the same with the D72A! APRS coverage has also been pretty spotty, at least in the areas I’ve visited. 73 Scott