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Early 2-Meter FM Surplus Driven

early 2-meter fm

Early 2-Meter FM started when regulators reduced land mobile radio channel spacing. The result was thousands of great commercial radios entering the surplus market. 

While writing my recent article about Miles for Millions ham communications, I got to thinking about early 2-meter FM gear that we used in the late 1960’s. Today, we all have low-cost VHF/UHF handie-talkies that we use with local repeaters. Not so back then.

If you look through your old ham magazines and handbooks, you will notice that two meters has hardly used fifty years ago. There was some SSB/CW experimentation and a bit of local AM with rigs like the Benton Harbor Lunchbox. But no FM.

The paradigm shift started like this. Following World War II, especially in the United States, commercial land mobile radio proliferated on FM. There were three bands used by business and public safety organizations. These were low, high and UHF bands. High band (150-174 MHz) was the most popular. During the 1950’s these got very crowded.

As you might expect, more channels were needed. Starting in 1958, the FCC mandated that all new land mobile radios reduce their peak FM deviation from 15 to 5 kHz. If you do the math, this enabled reducing the channel spacing from 60 down to 30 kHz, thus doubling capacity. As of November 1963, no more wide deviation was allowed.

In most cases, the new requirements were easier to meet with new radios. So, tons of commercial VHF FM radios entered the surplus market. Early 2-meter FM growth was based on hams modifying cheap surplus high band radios down to the 144-148 MHz band. By the 1970’s, ham manufacturers in the US (like Drake) and later Japan began producing new ham radios geared to VHF FM operations. Initially, these were all crystal controlled and looked a lot like CB mobiles.

Early 2-Meter FM – Remembering the Classics

Most of my early 2-Meter FM exposure came through surplus radios from Motorola and General Electric. You can see some of these above. The HT-220 handie-talkie (left) might have been the best of its kind, with great strong signal performance. In the middle, you can see the famous PT-300 lunchbox. We even used a few of these at CJOB for portable reporting. And, on the right is the Motorola MOTRAC mobile. Many of these were the first true mobile VHF radios used by many hams.

The General Electric Progress Line was also very popular when converted to ham radio use, especially the transistorized variant. The old commercial gear was also easy to modify as building blocks for VHF repeaters, which began to spring up everywhere in the late 1960’s.

2-Meter FM remained the most popular venue for local ham radio coverage until the arrival of cell phone in the mid-1990’s.

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