BK Radios for Amateur Use
I have converted a few commercial Bendix King radios to Ham Radio use. I bought 5 Bendix King EPH 5101 and 5102 series radios. Why Bendix King Radios? Well, they are U.S. made and the Forest Service uses them around here and I wanted to see how well they worked as an experiment. After I found out they would be easy to convert to Ham Radio use and program them without sending them to a dealer it was an easy decision. I also had access to programming and set up tips via the NIFC web page. In researching the radios I found out they are actually field programmable. That is not something I found on any other commercial type radio that I have seen. I also own a number of Motorola Radios and one is even programmed for Ham Radio UHF use but I had to take them to the local Motorola service company to get them programmed which at $39 a radio was pretty pricey and not very operationally flexible. The YouTube link at bottom right gives a good overview of the process of converting Bendix King radios.
After buying the radios (via eBay), I made sure they worked. All did but one has audio that is not as clear as I would like (that one will need to have a dedicated hand mic). I went to the BK Radio group on Yahoo and downloaded "Ham and Eggs" software which allows you to "down band" the radios to the Ham Radio VHF frequencies. I also found the programming software for the radios available and downloaded that as well. These radios are out of production and the software is as well. Neither are for sale anymore and only available via the web from various user groups. Parts for the radios are available from a number of companies. Parts are a bit expensive from some vendors but not bad at others so shop around if you go looking for piece parts. I bought a broken and non-repairable EPH 5101 and used it as a parts radio to bring the other radios up to good cosmetic and operating levels. I also bought AA battery boxes for the radios (the orange base on the radio at right is the AA Battery Box). I bought a couple new antennas and some rubber covers for the ports on the side of the radios. All in all I had maybe $500 invested in 5 radios, one drop in charger, one car charger, AA battery cases, two Nicad batteries, one programming cable and four hand mics (two of which are public safety type with antenna mounted to the mic).
The down banding and programming software will not easily run on newer PCs. I have an older PC, 1998 vintage in fact, that the software will load on and work as it was designed. I bought an interface cable to connect the radio to the computer. It is USB to Radio so it is a special cable that you need to make or buy. The cable was more expensive than a single radio but via eBay not as bad as it could be. I connected the radio to the computer and ran the down banding software. It worked so all of the radios were opened up to Ham Radio VHF use. I then opened and ran the programming software on the same computer. The software is the same vintage as the computer so it ran perfectly. I developed my frequency list, channel names and set up the programming. This was very straight forward other than naming channels since I had only so many alphanumeric characters to work with. I then saved the frequency file to the computer. I "read" the radio to see what was on it and saw a bunch of 162 range of frequencies programmed. I opened my file and "wrote" to the radio to load the new programming. It worked well. As with anything like this, you may experience some "odd" problems here and there. I find the Yahoo BK Radio group to be extremely valuable in helping me work through my questions and issues.
One thing I found was that while the EPH 5102 radios worked perfectly with the frequency programming file I created, the EPH 5101 did not. I found out why by asking the group (Link Below). I found that the 5101 does not display alpha characters and only has 14 channels while the 5102 radios can do alphanumeric displays and have 14 banks of 14 channels. To accommodate the differences I simply made the EPH 5101 a "local" radio for use in and around town and created a separate frequency file for its use. The EPH 5102's are programmed to use repeaters north, south, east and west of the immediate area as well as all of the SW Idaho Frequencies. Because the radios accept frequencies in the 162.000 range I programmed in NOAA Weather Radio on channel 1 on the 5101 (Local NOAA frequency) and bank 1 on the 5102 radios (All NOAA frequencies).
I like the Bendix King radios and they provide good service. I get good reports on the audio as well so they work as I desired.
So far I have had a lot of fun with these radios. I put two into a Faraday Box along with two AA battery clamshells (minus batteries) for contingencies. I also keep one (the "local" radio) at my office as a "just in case" radio.