Is there a market for a $400 “prepper” radio?

Is there a market for a $400 “prepper” radio?

By Dan Romanchik, KB6NU

A couple of days ago, a reader wrote:

“I would like to know if it would be feasible to build a radio with the following features:

  * SSB operation (only SSB is required, CW would be an additional benefit)
  * 20 – 50W of power
  * Portable-friendly (lightweight, capable of operating at lower voltages from small portable batteries)
  * Low receiver current drain
  * Coverage of 40m and 80m bands. Very limited coverage is acceptable. Even channelized coverage of a few select frequencies would be acceptable.
  * S-meter

“It strikes me that there is a large market for ham radio products for “preppers,” and there has been a lot of interest in the Baofeng line of radios from that market.  I think there would be a LOT of interest in a radio that could go far beyond line-of-sight and contact friends or family hundreds of miles away.  Preppers would have little interest in contacts more than a state or two away, and no interest at all in novel operating modes.  I wonder if a radio that trims away excess features (all-mode operation, wide frequency coverage, high power output, sophisticated audio filtering) could be produced for a lot less cost than currently available HF rigs.  If so, and it was paired with a decent NVIS dipole and some General-class study materials and sold as a package deal, it could be a huge hit – Something you could tuck in a bug-out-bag, set up in the field, and use to make contacts in a reasonably local area, or set up in your backyard at home and use minimal power to operate.

“Is there a reason why I don’t see radios like this on the market, some kind of technological limitation that would make this sort of thing impractical?  If something like this was built, what kind of cost and performance would you expect?  I’m certainly not expecting any kind of detailed analysis, but even just a speculation about if such a project could be feasible would be appreciated.”

I replied:

“I think one of the reasons you don’t see radios with the feature set you describe is that more full-featured radios are already pretty inexpensive. The Yaesu FT-450D, for example, costs less than $800 and offers 100W output. The FT-817ND, which is designed for portable operation, costs less than $700. Is that too much for preppers?

“While it might seem like you could sell a radio with fewer features for less, I think that you hit the law of diminishing returns. At some point, removing features, doesn’t reduce the cost all that much. For example, removing the CW capabilities from a transceiver capable of SSB operation really doesn’t save that much because in a way CW operation is really just a subset of SSB operation. You’ll save the cost of a key jack, but how much is that? Maybe a buck or two. Having said that, it could be that the big amateur radio manufacturers are overlooking an opportunity here.”

We swapped a couple more e-mails about this. He noted, “Most preppers would probably rather buy a high-end AR-15 or several months worth of storage food for $800 than a radio.” I suggested, “If there was a catastrophic event, and you really needed to communicate, wouldn’t it seem silly to have not spent the extra $400 on a really decent radio?”

What do you think? Is my analysis a little too simplistic perhaps? Are amateur radio manufacturers ignoring a potential market?


Dan, KB6NU, is the author of the “No Nonsense” amateur radio license study guides, and blogs about amateur radio at KB6NU.Com. You can contact him by e-mailing