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Saturday, May 5, 2018

'China syndrome' continues for ham radio

Six years ago, I wrote an article for a news and features website about the popularity of Chinese import radios among ham operators. Then, the trend was just a few years old and labels like Baofeng, Wouxun and TYT were shaking up the established big three: Kenwood, ICOM and Yaesu, which to that point had controlled the portable and mobile market.

Now in 2018, the Chinese import business is bigger than ever, with a dozen or more brands available through eBay, Amazon and ham radio retailers, some of whom are authorized import resellers.

An original VX-8DR
Chinese knock off bearing
a Zastone label
On the downside, there are problems with counterfeit radios bearing big-brand names. ICOM has been plagued by fake IC-V8 transceivers that hit the internet market a few years ago and are still proliferating. 

Another Chinese company is marketing the “Vaesu UV-8DR,” a blatant rip-off of the popular Yaesu VX-8DR, a durable, waterproof quad-bander that sells for more than $300. The knockoff costs about $60.

Sketchy practices aside, the import trend isn't going away,  Keep in mind amateur radio is a hobby, lives are not at stake (because ham radio isn’t public safety) and cheap radios are wallet-friendly. I know there are purists out there who hate Chinese radios. Sorry. Write your own blog.

In April, I made my third Chinese radio purchase since 2012. (My first was the Baofeng UV-3R mini dual bander, and my second was the TYT TH-9800 mobile radio bought in 2016 and still going strong. See my Squelchtale post from August, 2016.)

My WLN KD-C1 with pro-
gramming cable attached.
This time, I invested $19 in a WLN KD-C1, a no-frills 16-channel UHF radio with no channel display and a short, fixed antenna. This radio is sold under several different labels, including the Radioditty R-1, the Zastone ZT-X6 and the Radtel RT-10. I suspect they are all made in the same mega-factory in Fujian Province, China - home of Baofeng and its affiliates.

I ordered the radio through eBay April 7 and it arrived nearly three weeks later, April 25, having been shipped from China. I also bought the $6 programming cable.

Before I ordered, I downloaded and installed the software, hoping I wouldn’t be stuck with a $19 paperweight. I used the R-1 download from the Radioditty website because of its comprehensive list of software and drivers.

My only sweaty palm moment occurred when I plugged the radio into the computer and activated the software, only to get a "device not recognized" message. Eventually, I figured out how to select the proper COM port (COM port#3) and the radio started talking to the software.

Prior to installing my frequencies, I uploaded what was already in the radio and was surprised to see frequencies in the 453 and 460 MHz range, which are mostly allocated to business and public safety in the U.S. That makes the KD-C1 illegal to use as shipped, but I bet lots of people buy these radios in pairs to talk to each other, not worrying about what frequency they're on.
Channel template for the KD-C1.

For my 16 channels, I installed four local ham repeaters, four 70-cm simplex channels, six GMRS/FRS frequencies and two fire departments that use UHF. My intention is to use the KD-C1 with my cross band TYT 9800 and link into 10 meter FM (29 MHz) now that summer season is here and 10 meters will be active.

The radio is minimalist in design. There's an on-off /volume knob and up-down buttons on the left side of the unit. A voice announcement (English with a Chinese accent) tells you what channel you are on, and "scan" is accomplished by holding the channel-down button. Charging is done through a mini-USB port, or with the included cradle charger. The KD-C1 uses a proprietary 3.7 volt 1500mAh battery that is slightly larger than a camera battery and spares are available online.

I love this radio, but if I had a concern, it would be that the squelch seems a bit too tight and there is no way to adjust it. Receive audio is loud and undistorted, and the radio transmits at two watts - more than enough for my needs. I've been getting more than 16 hours of receive time on a single charge - but that's without transmitting.

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