The TS-990: The Sine Quo Non for a Ham radio enthusiast

The Kenwood TS-990.  It’s like a high end BMW (except it’s made in Japan).  It’s a Ham Radio.)  So what’s the purpose of this photo?  This radio is on my mind! Laughs.

Me: w/Kenwood 990 ChromaKey  50 inch monitor

Kenwood 990 on a 50 inch monitor behind me.

This radio has variously been depicted as a “game changer“.  The “finest and most innovative”  ham transceiver ever built. In my view, Kenwood redefined what it is to operate HF.  They have made the experience far more interactive giving the operator aural AND visual real time information feedback to almost every action. A “Touch screen QSY” function and IP connectivity is standard (at last!) and features like the Auto CW Tune functionality boggle the mind when first experienced. (“Wow! How cool is that?” was my response!)

Of course much of this could be said about the Icom’s IC-7850 as well. And Yaesu’s FT-9000 too. But it is the 990 with it’s imaginative display integration and $7500 price point that has my attention.

I’m recently retired. I’m a Ham. I am awed by the 990. I can afford it. So what’s the problem?

The Kenwood TS-990 is “Big Iron”.   A large, rectangular box [ 54 lbs!] that sits on a desk (as Ham shacks have been so devised for a century) and the operator sits there and engages the ether and connects to others of similar configuration around the world (often accompanied by “Big Iron Antennas” ) to hurl RF through the atmosphere and communicate.

Now don’t misunderstand. The visceral feeling/sound of a big Amp relay going “Clank” as a pair of transmitting tubes are hit with high voltage and the cathode glows bright, electrons rush to the plate forcing analog Power and S-meter needles to slam to the right ! This event is (and remains) one of the great  “rush” factors  of using  a “big iron” station.  The mighty base station with it’s every possible feature, as much amp as one can afford with all the metal you can mount in the sky . You have the smug satisfaction knowing that if you’ve got propagation, there is no doubt your presence is “felt” by those who tune across your frequency.

And the “Big Iron” radios offer more nuanced experience as well. All manner of filter combinations, frequency agility, output configurations, memories and near every popular mode of transmission all in a single integrated platform! For a kid who learned morse on an ARC-5, the big iron of the present is  a treasure trove of RF delight!

Yet I “dither” [to delay taking action because you are not sure about what to do].  “Big Iron” with all it’s fun features is also burdened with hassles. One could make the case that you don’t buy a contemporary maximum base station radio unless you’ve got a well above average antenna farm to compliment the device. (I don’t have more than a modest HF antenna capability). Further, I am  a “casual” Ham.  I don’t get on the air  daily (though I SWL often) and I don’t engage in operations that require the deep (yet so alluring) feature sets of the high end rigs. And hey! What’s wrong with the Icom 7600? the Kenwood 590?  or the Yaesu FTDX 3000?  NOTHING! (or the many other modest xcvrs!)  Finally, hasn’t the “Big Iron” craze been played out by 2014? (Yes yes, many will argue that it’s still a viable concept— much the same way NASCAR remains popular)  Yet it seems to be the antithesis of the contemporary technology era. Brute Force Ham Radio is passe’ to me in 2014.

I’m not the first to have doubts. KE9V’s classic blog post: “The Anti-Shack” (which I cannot find the link to at present but will post) addressed the issue.  And G4LIO’s, “Is technology good for Ham Radio? query also wonders about the need for ever more features.   APRS, Mesh networks, Digi-modes, SDR’s and the ubiquity of IP connectivity makes clinging to “Big Iron” feel like an anachronism!

I confess the seductive allure of the 990 (and radios like it) make these navel gazing thoughts seem what they are to many. Ridiculous!

“Shut the Fuck up Mike!  Just buy the radio and get on the air and have fun!”

Maybe I will. But I’m gonna think about it some more! Laughs!

TS-990S Comprehensive Overview