Yaesu introduced its now ‘classic’ mobile HF rig nearly thirty years ago way back in 1980. For its era it was a relatively compact piece of equipment and whilst not particularly lightweight packed a punch in terms of its specification and overall quality. A bit like old Mercedes motor cars Yaesu’s of the era were distinctly solidly built, over-engineered even (metal cased, die-cast metal front panel etc.) and offered good quality for the price. Quite why the rig was dubbed the ‘Wayfarer’ remains a mystery, Yaesu certainly never marketed it with that name and it is probably now something lost in the mists of time!
Flicking back through amateur radio publications of the time (circa 1981) the FT707 typically retailed for £569 which to be honest compares favourably with the FT857 now (particularly if you take into account 27 years of inflation). Reviews of the rig at the time varied but generally it was felt to be a good quality mobile radio but unsurprisingly better suited to mobile use than as a base station. In retrospect the rig has built up quite a following being reliable, powerful (100w PEP on SSB) and with its classic looks still ‘cuts the mustard’ in my view. There was also a range of matched accessories for the unit including the choice of dedicated low or high output power supplies with integral speaker, antenna matcher and an external memory VFO.
Yaesu launched two versions of the radio, the low power (<10w) FT707S which lacked the rear mounted heat sink and cooling fan, and the high power (<100w) FT707. The rig covered the amateur frequencies from 80m up to 10m (including the WARC bands on 10MHz, 18MHz and 24MHz) on AM, CW wide, CW narrow, USB and LSB (all switchable – no memory channels or automatic defaults or menus here!). A gripe when new was the lack of top band (1.8MHz) but amateurs are resourceful types and there is a very clever modification by G3TSO which can be found on the internet to install the band if you feel brave enough.
The rig in use is a pleasure to operate, this really is radio!! There is a chunky and very smooth to operate VFO knob controlling both a graduated scale and a digital display calibrated down to 0.1kHz, there is a switchable clarifier control and IF width control (very useful for tuning out QRM on difficult to hear stations), there is also VOX operation.
The receiver is amazingly sensitive, even more so than my much newer FT747 and the RF gain on a radio like this really comes into its own to attenuate strong signals as well as to minimise interference from adjacent frequencies. With careful juggling between the clarifier, IF width and RF gain its amazing just how much you can clean up reception on a crowded band – bear in mind this was produced 20 years before DSP and it still holds its own so to speak!
For an old radio there is not too much to really criticise. There is a tendency for the frequency to drift 2-3kHz HF until things have warmed up (about half hour) which may be old components but interestingly a 1981 review in QST reported exactly the same occurence so its probably inherent with the rig.
The coloured LED bar for S meter/Power meter/ALC meter has had criticism over the years but as with anything once you get used to it its fine AND it seems to work progressively which cannot be said for all radios, some of them much newer!! Things to bear in mind include the Yaesu 4 pin power plug can fail (see Marketplace ‘wants’ !!) and with a modern Heil headset the AF output from the headphone socket is rather low and can distort when turned up.
FT707’s crop up from time to time on good old ebay as well as at radio rallies, a lot were produced so finding a good one should not be too difficult and the rule of thumb seems to be that values for a well sorted and cared for radio that has not been abused or badly (or illegally) modified tend to be in the £100 - £120 region.
Illegal modifications? Yes, the radio came out at the time of the early 80’s CB boom and found favour with 11m SSB operators, it was the natural next step from a Cobra or a NATO ‘sidebander’ I suppose with quite a few having the 10m frequency crystals being replaced with 11m or 26-27MHz crystals. Indeed my first experience of the unit was just such an operator who had a six foot ‘Moonraker’ on the roof of his mk2 Escort and a modified FT707 on the passenger seat!! I suppose perhaps the memories of the thing being used to work far off places whilst hiding out in field gateways has helped generate part of my own perception and the mystique for the thing but there is so much more to it than that. The rigs capabilities offer so much more than one band too high in the HF spectrum to be interesting for most of the eleven year cycle and its capabilities are such that once I had found a good one it became a permanent and most used fixture in my own shack.
The personal logbook contains contacts made mostly using the FT707 and whilst the thought of trading for something newer with more toys and gadgets has appealed from time to time it is still there and in use and there are no plans to part with it. I’ll never sell it and if it should die then the replacement will in all probability be another one just the same!!
The Yaesu FT290r mark 1 – The original backpackers rig!
The radios popularity was probably influenced greatly by the early 80’s rise in class B amateur licensees coming onto the bands and looking for a good quality first transceiver, that and the attractions of getting outdoors and playing radio in the good weather!! The result of this now is that there are still a lot of the type available on the second hand market. Even more attractive is the option of the Mutek front end board, an after market addition which lifts the FT290r’s receive sensitivity from barely adequate for short range working to the best in its class for its era and, allegedly even comparable with some modern radios. Failing the inclusion of the Mutek board (which is sadly no longer available) using a good external pre-amp will work well enough and gives the radio an edge it would otherwise lack. The downside with this though is in built up areas and busy localities it can mean strong RF signals can swamp the front end and create inter channel interference in the receiver, not attractive!
A word of warning though, the integral telescopic whip is not the strongest, can easily get broken and even in good condition there are question marks over its state of tune meaning your RF output stages could be in danger so the acquisition of a properly tuned ‘rubber duck’ antenna and (preferably) using the rear panel SO239 to connect to a ‘proper’ antenna whenever possible has to be the best bet. Other failures on older rigs to be aware of include being off frequency (old capacitors and possibly the need for a new frequency control crystal), failed display bulbs (tricky to get to) and historic damage from internal batteries leakage (messy, nasty and not too easy to rectify…, yuk!!). Like all old Yaesu’s though they were built to go on pretty much forever so find a good one and hang onto it, chances are it won’t let you down…, unless you abuse it somehow!!
‘Another old clunker?!’ by Rob 2J0RZD
Those of you who know me will doubtless be aware of my enthusiasm for radios of a ‘certain era’, much like many amateurs who would never consider using a radio that does not contain valves it seems with the passage of time I have managed to acquire a healthy collection of ‘rice boxes’ from Mr Hasegawa’s factory in the Yaesu district of Tokyo, Japan, and whilst newer and better equipped examples have now started to supplant the older, bulkier and heavier items there will always be a special place for the ‘old timers’!
Many years ago as a sallow youth the extent of my radio usage had been confined to the shady depths of what was colloquially known as the eleven meter band, probably least said the better! However most of the radio magazines in the large wobbly heap behind the aforementioned youths bedroom door were copies of ‘Ham Radio Today’, ‘Amateur Radio’ or brochures for various amateur radio transceivers. A dog eared copy of ‘The RAE Examination Manual’ was also present but unfortunately none of this resulted in sitting the RAE let alone obtaining the crucial piece of paper and becoming, I suppose a ‘Jaight’ (G8) or similar!!
Anyway, enough muttering about what might have been, when I finally did obtain my (Foundation) transmitting license a few years back I was at last able to use my ‘new’ VHF transceiver obtained to listen some months earlier to the 2 metre band and the locals in the Plymouth area, as well as some not so locals on the SSB portion of the band. I had been to a local radio rally and apart from salivating over a number of new or nearly new transceivers I spotted a superb condition Yaesu FT480r circa 1980 vintage with a new mobile whip and magmount for under a hundred quid and the deal was done there and then. I had a recollection of the 480r as it was one of the radios that undoubtedly a good many new licensees in the early 80’s would have purchased, the class B license of the time restricting transmission to 2 metres and above although SSB could be used. Also at the time the radio had been available for a little while and the prices were starting to reduce in the face of newer competition from Icom and Trio/Kenwood making it a good quality choice without costing a fortune.
So to the subject in hand! The FT480r is a 2 metre only mobile transceiver for the 144/145MHz band (in UK spec.) on FM/SSB/CW in its later guise having limited satellite capability and a ‘proper’ repeater split control on the mode switch. Output was limited (by design) to 10 watts though many have been modified to in excess of 20 watts but watch out for fried finals!! There is a pretty substantial heat sink on the back of the radio but even prolonged use seldom results in this even becoming warm.
The unit couldn’t be described as at the cutting edge of radio communications, probably not even when new, however it is easy to use with positive controls which are clearly labelled and the whole unit is attractive and feels well built. As with other Yaesu radios of the era the whole unit is metal cased and no lightweight but stands up well to use (and abuse) being designed for a mobile environment where dust and dirt are prevalent as well as the occasional kick! Mine used to be slung under the dashboard of my previous car and could catch out the shins of unwary mechanics when the car was in for service!
The output being ‘only’ 10 watts on both FM and SSB is quite sufficient for most purposes particularly when connected to a good antenna (and the ideal level for driving a linear amplifier) and the front end is reasonably selective and quite sensitive for the majority of instances. Co-channel interference is negligible, even when connected to a decent gain beam antenna though it is doubtful an urban environment would be so kind to the receivers front end. The display has a nice clear LED frequency display down to 100Hz and a LED bar graph meter which is pretty to look at but otherwise fairly unhelpful in giving signal reports being pretty much S9+ or nothing very much! But then, we should by now be able to give a realistic RS report based on an experienced ear shouldn’t we? (Ed. See editorial)
The radio is designed for FM repeater use as well as SSB having a microphone optimised for SSB use but still delivers reportedly good audio on FM, a clarifier switch allowing SSB and CW fine tuning via the main VFO knob and dual VFO’s but only transmitting on one of these, the other for receive being designed for split frequency operation. There is no CTCSS for repeater activation due to the age of the radio but there is a 1750Hz tone burst with auto tone burst which will still, even nowadays, activate a good many of the UK based repeaters. Tuning steps are switchable at FM between 1, 12.5 and 25 kHz and at SSB/CW between 0.01, 0.1 and 1 kHz. Rapid QSY at SSB is simpler by switching to FM to allow the bigger channel steps to be utilised.
Results with the FT480r have always been good even with relatively low power. The radio was mounted in a car for more than three years and never missed a beat, even for an old timer, eventually being replaced by a much newer dual bander but regrettably without sideband. Mobile VHF SSB is from most peoples experience it seems a non-starter though with the need for horizontal polarisation and decent amounts of gain and directivity on the antenna to be essential if trying to talk to anyone other than locals. A recent overhaul and service to make sure the rig was on frequency and to ensure optimum output has boosted the output on SSB to a hefting 12 watts PEP and given the radio a new lease of life but now as a base station radio hooked up to a decent crossed ZL beam antenna for both FM and SSB.
Reviews of the time weren’t outstanding, presumably due to the nature of other high quality rivals, some examples were reported to have suffered problems, nature unspecified but the accepted wisdom seems to be that if one has survived this long then it’s a good’un!! This is borne out it seems by the number that appear from time to time on the secondhand market and in good condition and still holding their value well.
For the anoraks amongst us there is metal ‘docking station’ specifically for the FT480r which can hold two rigs and giving the option to run these to separate antennae, power units and switching to a main desk microphone common for both rigs allowing the use of the FT480r with one of its sister and visually identical rigs, the FT780r for 70cms or the FT680r for 6 metres. Examples of the FT780r are still reasonably plentiful on the secondhand market but the FT680r is as rare as the proverbial hens teeth, I was told a few weeks after buying my 480r that there was a 680r at the same rally and it was snapped up…, almost for the same price, such is life!
If all of this leaves you tempted to at least have a test drive of such a radio you won’t need to look too far, the JARS are proud owners of a (slightly dusty) good working order FT480r in the radio shack (with the matching Yaesu power supply) connected to the VHF multi band vertical and regularly has made contacts well into the UK via the repeater network.
The good old FT101ZD by Rob MJ0RZD
I started out wanting an FT102 (that was in 1983) and a few years ago I was shocked at the price of old ones in good condition, I was then lucky enough to be presented with a very dusty/dirty disused Mk.'0' FT101ZD which I obtained for the princely sum of £25!! Well much cleaning fettling and assistance from others (notably Phil GJ4CBQ and Jules M1AGY) and I ended up with a tidy working and rather enjoyable old rig to be proud of! This continued for a year or so but then old age caught up once more and the digital display started to die giving random numerical readings once warm up had started. He was still a good old and trusty campaigner though and when properly set up and tuned (strictly in accordance with the manual please or you can destroy the valve PA !!) and could tune up at 130W PEP on 20 metres SSB (though he was never used at that sort of level).
Anyway, the advent of the FT1000MP Mk.V and a distinct lack of time in recent years meant the ZD just sat and gathered dust at Radio Rozel, then the move to France meant leaving him on a shelf at the club until bringing him back to France last Christmas (2011). An advert for a digital display on eBay was tempting but the cash had been put towards new adventures with the acquisition of the new FT817ND so it was either leave the old chap to get dusty again or put him up for sale (on a spares or repair basis). A quick bit of work with eBay and a week of advertising and he has now gone I'm afraid but I know has gone to another amateur in South Yorkshire (Martin) who will appreciate him and I hope give the new lease of life he so deserves. I'll miss my old 101 but am glad I had him as part of my 'garage' for a while!
A no hoper for me but a pleasant surprise! by Rob MJ0RZD
The Yaesu FT-221r was a late 1970's solid state VHF multimode rig which a good many new B-license amateurs in the late 70's / early 80's (hmmm right up my era had I taken the exam!) and was a pretty good unit, especially if upgraded with a Mutek board for the front end on receive. Well, this one had been kicking around the club for a couple of years with a dent on the back, no leads but still a classic bit of kit. So I figured, 'take the plunge' and see if the beasty could be brought back to life! Unfortunately the initial hopes based on static, lights etc. were all very well but it was clear that some open rig/heart surgery beyond my meagre skills would be needed. At that time I was offered a nice/clean Icom IC-251e (not with Mutek unfortunately but hey!) so this one was sold and the Icom purchased. In a bizarre twist I actually sold this for more than I paid for it (again!!) so to all intents and purposes the Icom cost me nothing...., I love it when things come together!! The controls and most particularly the operation of the VFO are for my preference smoother and nicer but I guess I was always a Yaesu man!! And at least the Icom works!
Useful stopgap by Rob MJ0RZD
I was gifted this old FT-211RH as a potentially non-working FM 2 metre rig being based on the U.S.A. 2m frequencies, deft attention one club night between Mike PDJ and myself around the PA board and startlingly the unit came back to life and was viable again albeit for old type 25kc frequencies rather than the new 12.5kc channellisation. Still, the rig worked fine for a while but was, to be honest surplus to requirements so has been moved on (good old eBay once more) but hopefully will continue to find good use, even if as a simplex rig.