As 2022 draws to a close the amateur radio community was in a bit of shock as Yaesu announced that production of the FT-818ND will cease as well as the FTM-400XDE.
Greater minds than mine have paid homage to a classic:
On one hand it is sad because the FT-817/818ND has been and still is such a great radio for so many hams. I had owned three of them (maybe four) before buying a used 817ND in October as a portable LEO uplink radio. I now own a second one which I will not be parting with any time soon. I “speak Yaesu” having owned many Yaesu radios, and currently own two 817NDs, a FT-991A, a FTM-300D, and a FT3D. (I don’t have a problem, YOU have a problem!)
The 817/818’s low price, wide RX and TX coverage, and small size have made it the right rig for many purposes. The paired 817/818 (1634/1636) approach put thousands and thousands of QSOs in the logs of satellite ops. It has also been a mainstay in backpack/SOTA/POTA operations. They are found as IF rigs in many microwave stations. Even with the original battery it is one heck of a self-contained QRP radio. With one of the modern high capacity replacements it is even better. It is a natural for manpack operation with that front-mounted antenna connector. The one I recently purchased was in use as a bedside radio checking 80M and 40M net activity for a long time ham! It’s the Zelig of Amateur Radio.
They are known for durability, with some claiming they will be the cockroach of the used amateur transceiver market. They have an alloy chassis, metal covers, and a simple and not-fragile control/display cluster. The aftermarket has been very good to the 817/818, with all sorts of mounting, power, antenna, and user-comfort accessories available. A blind spot in the aftermarket is a reliable source of crystal filters. That would be a game changer. One of the rigs I owned about 15 years ago had both of them installed. Before the supply dried up. Kicking myself but that’s how it goes.
On the other hand this was predictable. Was it a perfect radio? Not even close. At its time of release it was known that the internal battery was garbage, the idle current was high, the power connector was terrible, the receiver was average (though not fatiguing) and it kinda needed those expensive optional crystal filters to be really useful, especially on CW. Oh, and the original FT-817 had an appetite for final output transistors. Even though the design and construction are more expensive now than they were 20 years ago the price has remained very stable. That’s not sustainable. The boards are full of discrete components, not offloading a lot of features onto a big CPU like you see on the Icom IC-705. It is a throwback radio in a world of muscled-up iPhones with an antenna connector.
I’ve written in this blog that I believe Yaesu is philosophically incapable of making a real competitor to the ICOM IC-705. They have doubled down so hard on HF+6 contest/DX radios and have gone so far away from the 817-type market that I don’t see them coming back. The 705 could be described as a 10W IC-7300 and a 10W ID-5100 shoehorned into a small box with a big display. It also uses a standard Icom battery. Brilliant. There really is no equivalent in Yaesu-world. Maybe a FTdx10 and FTM-300 mashup? Maybe I’ve just been juked too many times recently by Yaesu’s teasing of a groundbreaking new radio only for it to turn out to be the FTdx10, or the FT-710. The latter was especially tough because that was the rig I thought would be the IC-705 competitor and I could not have been more wrong.
I feel lucky to say that I run a 817ND and a 705 side by side in my LEO-bag rig, and it is an amazing contrast. I’d take the 705 receiver and DSP all day long, same for the built in recorder and the ICOM twin filter, but the simplicity of the 817ND and the flexibility, especially the dual antenna connectors, is unmatched in a shack-in-the-box rig. Once the noise dies down and the price gougers get their fill we can expect a long post-production lifespan fot these radios. Not unlike the ICOM IC-706/MKII a rig this capable will always be attractive.
Here’s to the little rig that could, and can, and will. Cheers.