Air and marine band radios - evolution

I’m doing a project, collecting radios as they develop, and I’ve put a little clip of video up for somebody, but thought people here might be interested. I pulled out some older marine band and air band radios from the store - Back in the 80s, when programmable radios started to appear, Icom used the same chassis for quite a few radios - marine, ham, business and air - all shared the same look - then they headed different ways. So - here are just 6 from a very wide timespan, and they ALL still work.

I can remember when a lot of handhelds were commonly ICOM in maritime and ground side air band comma. The biggest diff was mostly a difference under the hood between vhf lo optimization and vhf hi optimised and AM/FM respectively depending on segment and user service.

Hand plenty of fun with an old borrowed Maritime market ICOM handy, dummy load, and a scanner seeing how many hidden unlisted BCD combos I could discover in an attempt to assess whether it would be worth attempting to mod a vhf-lo example for 4m use (at the time, 4M hadn’t been reinstated but it was in the wings) as I was going through a commercial modding phase whilst doing RAE prep and had got bored of Pye/Phillips Telecom gear (what was not reinventing-the-wheel conversation wise needed resources I didn’t have sufficiently at home).

But having seen a lot of the more usual HH suspects used commercially, I could easily see why some people went the extra cost distance opting for ICOM gear - as far as what we got in the UK, the ICOM stuff was very high end overall quality wise, something that’s never really faded.

Given that LMR commercials (and non-land service counterparts) fell into cheap and cheerful (what were often budget conversation donors) and high end stuff that was as well constructed material wise as it performed RF wise - the high end brands were a narrow field (UK and Japanese brands wise) and a couple of American brands as I recall. But one thing they all had in common was (new and used/TA cert intact) how horrendous the ticket prices were - at least I thought of it that way until I was one foot in the PMR field and then I realised the pricing was much what commercial market gear was priced at.

Outside of the VHF ICOM gear I used at sea and harbour use, when I did stints on training vessels, my best maritime radio experiences came from listening to all manner of HF on a Plessey unit on vessel had, which was (vs even today’s radios) a pretty much RR of radios.

One item, which I can’t recall beyond seeing fitted but unused on one vessel, was a VHF maritime set that was a dual board, high end MW/LW/SW broadcast receiver on one side and a VFO tuned maritime VHF on board 2, with dual audio output and an inductive AM relay output switchable to either board. It looked like a regular 70s era car radio as was fitted to MK2 Celica/Carina cars. Highly dubious if it was still legit if it ever was, hence it only getting used as an AM receiver for the shipping forecast.

But indeed, there were some really obscure and unusual maritime sets and hybrid LMRs in general.

But one thing they all had in common, brilliant examples were and the rubbish were only really good for parts.

Thankfully, most common stuff you’d see used was at least moderate quality stuff.

Some of the Marine stuff now is really nice - built in GPS and AIS, so even a lightweight portable appears on ship plotter and similar, and has the red emergency buttons. None of my aircraft band handhelds are 8.33KHz compliant but my flying colleagues find people really confused with 1. The real operating Frequency, 2. The displayed frequency, and 3. how it is described by ATC and other users. It does seem a real mess up. I’ve got a rather nice Icom HF marine radio - AM, and SSB, and have my marine licence - Using it in my office is out though - Antenna space is difficult so all my antennas are very low - doesn’t matter for local, but with the tuner, I can use the 28MHz quad band - however, the four phone cables to the insurance office upstairs run 4 ft above it, and pressing the PTT crashes their broadband system!

Hi Paul, well the whole aviation and maritime and marine radio arenas are very much in a transition, gear and systems and tech, much like where more mainstream LMR commercial stuff was a few years back and in some cases still is. So you get some interesting digital world featured creep into newer examples of legacy analogue systems and hybrids. Not always in a comfortable coexistence, but sometimes the odd couple relationship between digital arena features and legacy analogue and forgotten telephony style trunking features actually work out to be useful.

I’m a bit behind that state of kit in the maritime/marine arena, having no involvement to motivate interest, but I did note there’s some pretty interesting transportable and handheld aviation transceivers out there which are definitely evolved animals even if they are principly legacy radio tech in nice modern efficient construction. I was tempted by an ICOM handheld, aviation specific, to use as a dedicated receiver/scanner - but until I can put up a decent lo-band antenna up again that’s fairly optimal there’s not a lot to motivate buying. But in all honesty, maritime side HF and aviation traffic on HF was always more what I chased as a listener and that’s comfortably doable with a top notch wide coverage HF rig so no need for change there.

Whilst it’s not a maritime or aviation set, I am curious enough about an FT-818 with fully unlocked coverage to maybe one day take out to the coasts and LOS to the coasts to do portable monitoring between spells of Ham Dx qsos. But as things are, there’s no real urgency or need to make such buying decisions.

But when it comes to interesting examples of radios and tech, sometimes it’s those very narrow market items that can hold some interesting creative thinking in the engineering. After all, maritime and aviation demand robust and reliable consistency that even the best LMR commercial sets would struggle to meet for TA requirements and given how long they typically end up in service for, they need to be a minimum of a few percent better than TA requirements demand to ensure that age deteriorated performance still is ■■■■ close to what’s needed.

If commercial LMR is a whole different country to CB and Ham Radio, requirements wise, then maritime and aviation radio are two small nations mostly overlooked but highly depended on and mostly off the radar to the rest of the radio world - it’s almost, HF/VHF wise what radio astronomy is to UHF/SHF radio.