I was, to be honest, shocked to find out that I could get an 8 watt handheld HAM radio for $65. It's not some stripped down, no features, glorified toy either. It has can monitor two channels, is fully programmable, can receive and broadcast all standard HAM frequencies, and can also monitor Marine Radio and FRS walkie-talkies (see comments below regarding restricted frequencies).
Baofeng (also branded as Sainsonic) are the kings of low priced HAM radios. I got mine off Ebay with free shipping directly from Hong Kong. Sure it took a month to receive it, but I wasn't in a rush. If you want yours faster then choose a US distributor, but pay close attention to shipping cost. TIP- for cross border shipping use air mail, it won't get hung up in customs processing.
IMPORTANT - Government regulations require you to have an Amateur Radio Licence to operate a HAM radio. No licence is required if you are sticking it in your glove box for an emergency, but if you want to chit-chat you need a licence. Use google to find an Amateur Radio club in your area. Many of them offer courses and testing, and if they don't they can hook you up with someone who does. You don't have to take a course to write the test, but it's the fastest and easiest way to do it.
I chose the GT-3TP over the other Baofeng models (some of which are even cheaper) for a few reasons:
- Selectable power up to 8 watts. Low power is often desirable in order to keep channel clutter to a minimum, and for when you want range 8 watts is the highest I have seen in a handheld.
- Decent antenna. The 8" antenna included is significantly better than the shorter and stiffer antenna included with lower models.
- Water and shock resistant housing with bright colors. When I drop it (yes, not if, when) it is likely to survive and I will be able to find it in low light.
- Good value. It has all the features I need so no point in going to a higher priced model.
For me the main reason I have a handheld radio is to use it for spotting (guiding) as friends drive their rigs through tough sections of trail. It's a lot easier to talk into the radio than to try to shout above engine noise, and it gives me more freedom to move around and assess the situation. The GT-3TP excels at this, and low power is all that is needed so my battery lasts for days. I will be buying a stubby flexible antenna at some point so it's easier to stick the radio in a pocket, and also getting a magnetic roof-mount antenna for using in my car on road trips. All in all I love the radio and would enthusiastically recommend it.