The news wasn’t shocking.
One would have to be living deep in a cave not to have heard the news. Just before the new year, seemingly out of nowhere, Yaesu announced that it was discontinuing the venerated FT-817 & FT-818 radio.
Although the news came as a surprise, anyone with even a little objectivity knew the 818 was already a decade or more past its shelf life. Beginning in 2001 as the FT 817, it was upgraded to the 818 a few years ago. “Upgraded” is a somewhat generous term. Since the original 2001 release the FT-81x has had only minor technical changes and almost no physical changes.
Being real. FT-817 & 818
Let’s not BS ourselves. You have to be a high-level fanboy to overlook the tiny, difficult to operate controls, vague display, labyrinthian menus, and tendency to drink a lot of electricity. To be fair, putting up with all that did come with a handsome payoff.
The FT-817 was very rugged and compact. Over the years, a huge selection of aftermarket products allowed a ham to modify their FT-817 for any personal need. Even people who hated it had to admit it earned its legendary status. It had a large, almost cult-like following. I suspect that following will become even more devoted.
Yaesu states a lack of component availability is why the are pulling the plug on the FT-818. That’s an easy excuse in these times. I think there is more to it. If Yaesu truly believed in their product, they’d temporarily suspend production until parts are available, or find some other way around the problem.
The FT-818 was simply passed by (see also: Icom IC-705) and Yaesu either couldn’t or wouldn’t innovate. The “upgrade” to the FT-818 was so poorly executed, it was as if Yaesu didn’t want the product to continue. I own an FT-817ND and love it…but I can be objective enough to see that Yaesu got caught sleeping. The IC-705 is a vastly superior radio. Sorry, not sorry.
The specialty QRP portable market will now be occupied by Icom and Elecraft at the top of the pyramid, and various Asian manufactures at the bottom. The saddest part of the FT-818 product dirtnap is that Yaesu has no plans —that they are talking about, anyway— to introduce a successor. For all practical purposes, Yaesu is abandoning the QRP portable market segment. The dynasty, such as it was, has ended.
Farewell to a legend. FT-817 & 818
I deeply respect the FT-817 & FT-818, so I want to end this obituary on a positive note. Misgivings aside, it was and still is a great radio. I got many hours of enjoyment out of mine, as have countless other radio amateurs all over the world. It deservers a place in the pantheon of great radios, and signals from FT-817 and FT-818 rigs will continue for decades. The FT-817 & FT-818 were the genesis of the modern QRP radio. Surviving Yaesu competitors should not get too full of themselves now that the king is dead because being technically superior alone is not enough. Spirit and personality, the intangible qualities that give a radio an “it” factor truly make a radio a legend. The FT-817 & FT-818 had that “it” factor. Time will tell if any of the rest can fill the big shoes of that little radio.