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Reviews For: Kenwood TM-281A

Category: Transceivers: VHF/UHF+ Amateur Base/Mobile (non hand-held)

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Review Summary For : Kenwood TM-281A
Reviews: 84MSRP: 174.95
2 meter FM mobile transceiver providing 65 watts of power
Product is in production
More Info:
# last 180 days Avg. Rating last 180 days Total reviews Avg. overall rating
K9POW Rating: 2023-04-13
Kenwood TM-281a (A Tank of a Radio) Time Owned: more than 12 months.
Well, guys, I purchased this radio second hand from the original owner and I've got to say it is built like a tank, literally. A Ham loaned me his TM-281a after my Yaesu FTM-3100R gave up the ghost with burnt out finals. I immediately fell in love with this radio. Since I own a Yaesu 991a (recently) I don't use the TM-281a as much as I did before. I have it hooked to a Cushcraft Ringo Ranger II, a two meter only antenna and, even on simplex, it really gets out there. I am thinking of opening it up and installing a stereo jack in the back so my Heil Pro 7 will get audio in both ears. The TM-281a's output is mono only and you get audio in only one ear. I know it won't be true stereo, but I'd like the audio to be at both ears since I've lost quite a bit of hearing (USMC & jet engines). If you want a tank of a radio, I would recommend this radio to anyone. As I said before it's built like a tank. I know it puts out more than 60 watts 'cause it pegs my watt meter. Cheers from eastern Tennessee
ND3Y Rating: 2021-06-22
Very well made, a little underwhelming for 2021 Time Owned: 0 to 3 months.
Got mine on sale from HRO. I've been a ham for a long time, but I finally got around to upgrading from my first (HT) radio, a Yaesu VX-170, which I got back in 2007.

First off, some disclaimers about my search for a new radio. I had a low budget, so no fancy dual band radio. Also, in shopping around, I noticed that Yaesu's newest radio (the 3100) didn't have the digital capabilities of its predecessor (the 3200), so I figured those "new" features were going away in the newest radios within my budget, and that I would be settling for a strictly analog FM radio.

My impression of the TM281a, after reading the manual and using it this week, is that it is very well made. It feels like you could hammer a nail with it. And what it does, it does well.

Other than that, it is very basic. Like, more basic than my old HT (which had ARTS among other features). The 281 has VFO, memory, DCS, weather alert, and that's about it. The Yaesu 2980 has WIRES, but was sold out at the time of buying and has reports of overheating even at low output.

If what you want is to hit repeaters, it's great. It's just that paying three digits for a unit that feels like it's from 2005 has left me a little underwhelmed. I should've just gambled on an old, used radio radio from eBay/QRZ/eHam, because the functionality would have been the same.

Part of me wishes I had saved some money and just updated my HT to Yaesu's new 4XR; it fits in a backpack, does 70cm, and receives FM broadcast. I'm realizing now that having the power of a mobile might not be as fun (for me) as having the features of these newer HTs. But that's my fault: I knew what I was doing and I should have reflected on my use case more.

UPDATE (6 months later):
I just ordered a Yaesu FT-2980r and am selling the Kenwood TM-281a. After a week of owning the Kenwood, the push function on the VFO knob, which is used to access the menu, came loose inside the radio and is now very hard to push; it also wiggles the LCD screen when I try to use it! More than that, the local club repeater (very close) is a Yaesu, and I have problems keying it up—we think it's a PL tone problem. So I gave up and ordered a Yaesu for the brand compatibility. This was my first and last shot with a Kenwood radio.
KK4QEV Rating: 2021-01-11
Great 2M Time Owned: more than 12 months.
This little radio works great! I use it at my QTH along with my TS-940 HF rig. Mainly use it for local nets. It is hooked to an Arrow aluminum j-pole about 12 feet up and I always get good reports. Take some time with the manual and you'll get the hang of it pretty quick.
KF7ZSE Rating: 2021-01-10
BEST 2M RADIO AVAILABLE ! Time Owned: more than 12 months.
(Review from 2013)

Update: The radio is still working!

Small, but it packs a lot of punch! I received this radio for Christmas, and I love it! It has superb audio quality and great sensitivity. It is very easy to use. I never programmed it and I do not need to as it is already virtually programmed. It is worth every cent! My rating for this radio is off the scales 10+! I use it as an all-purpose radio plus it is very durable. I don't know what else to say because it is so good let the radio tell you the rest! I have a feeling this radio is going to last for years.

Thanks Kenwood!
WB2ERJ Rating: 2020-09-04
Dated workhorse Time Owned: 6 to 12 months.
I got this rig for my car because I have seen it's commercial equivalent in use in various harsh environments, plus I got an incredible black Friday price on it. It's like the old Timex commercials, takes a licking and keeps on ticking. I program it via the free software as like all modern VHF rigs, it is cumbersome to do via the radio itself. It works just fine via the cigarette lighter in my car at the 25 Watt level. The tiny front-firing speaker isn't high fidelity, but it cuts through the noise very well, even with the windows down. The scan speed is incredibly fast.

I take off a full star because Kenwood does not appear to have changed a thing during the lifetime of the radio. There is no dedicated squelch knob, which is unfortunately fairly common nowadays, so changing squelch settings is impossible without taking your eyes off the road. The PC programming interface is very simple but looks like it was written 25 years ago.

All that said, I do recommend the radio due to it's size, quality of construction, and value.
KM6QJJ Rating: 2020-01-23
Love it Time Owned: 0 to 3 months.
I was going to pick up a Baofeng (BTech) model but fortunately I read the eham reviews and ended up with the Kenwood 281A. This radio is built well, works great, and really not that bad to program just via the radio (no cable / no software). Probably will pick one up for my truck as well.
N3HGB Rating: 2019-02-11
outdated Time Owned: 0 to 3 months.
I just got this radio for an APRS project. For that it works great. As a mobile radio it would drive me nuts. The menu system seems like a leftover from 2 decades ago. If you ever had to adjust the squelch while driving it would not be possible, it is a multi-step dive into the primitive non-obvious menu structure. I was also annoyed to discover there are no power settings other than 25 and full. I get the impression this is a derivation of a commercial land-mobile radio where the end users were not expected to program anything themselves.
NY5S Rating: 2019-02-01
great 2m rig!! Time Owned: more than 12 months.
I have owned 2, one in the house and one in the F-150 and they work great. I have received a lot of queries as to why I didn't get a dual bander, but I could not justify the cost as most of the 440 repeaters are linked to an adjacnt 2m repeater, so why bother?? Anyway it is great, I can load up all the repeaters for an area of the country on the excel format, write it into my rig in the truck and head out, if I go somewhere else, I change my selections, takes only a few minutes.
K5AHH Rating: 2018-05-22
Nice Overall Time Owned: more than 12 months.
I've owned this radio since 2013, and it's never missed a beat. Easy for ME to program because the way you program it is very similar to the Kenwood handhelds I've owned. Loud audio when traveling in the pickup, too. I used to keep the radio in a Havis brand center console over the transmission hump in my 2013 Chevrolet Silverado, but I've since removed it, and installed a Kenwood TK-7160H (basically the commercial version of the Kenwood TM-281A). The 281A is still in service at the house, though.

--I really wish Kenwood would have a "5" watt setting for really long QSOs, or even have the power output setup like this: 5, 10, 15, etc. until it gets to 65. It probably would not take much finagling from some Kenwood engineer, lol! Also, I wish the radio had the heatsink on top like my ICOM IC-2200H did, or the ICOM IC-V8000 I had with a heatsink on top AND a small fan on the back. I guess a downward facing heatsink is perfectly acceptable for short transmitting for periods of time, but I am long winded at times, so when using the radio in the house, I simply got a small desk fan and forced the air onto the sink! Works FB.

--The audio from the front-firing speaker (I love front-firing speakers, since I have my mobile radios in a Havis Console which would otherwise block a top or bottom-firing speaker) sounds much nicer, overall, when compared to radios I've owned such as the ICOM V8000, ICOM IC-2200H, and Yaesu FT-8000.

--These are just really good radios, and for $130, you can't beat it. I'd give it a 4.5 because of the bottom-facing heatsink (heat rises, yes?), and the lack of a lower power level of 5-10 watts. I've learned to live with these "quirks", if you want to call it that, and I'll just give it a 5. Thanks, Kenwood! Nice little radio.
SWLCHRIS Rating: 2018-03-25
Good radio Bad directions Time Owned: 0 to 3 months.
I got my Kenwood TM 281A Saturday at HRO in New Castle DE. I got it home, took some 12 gauge wire to the battery and hooked everything up. It turned on and I began a nightmare 45 minutes to an hour trying to program what should have been easy repeater settings in the channels.Each time I went to enter a repeater setting, it got lost. I had my choice of NOAA or nothing when I would try to pull up the memories I just programmed.It wouldn't hold a memory if I had a gun put to my head. I was on the verge of taking my day off to return the radio and get something else.
Something told me to google Kenwood TM281 memory issues and there was the answer !!
It appears that in the manual it states to press MR button when ready to commit to memory.Which is what I was doing.
What it DOESN"T say is that you have to press MR twice to have the memory set.
As soon as I did that ...everything worked great. I now have my local repeaters and simplex programmed in and easy to access.
So far as radio quality goes, it seems to work a lot better than the Chinese radio I had before or the Alinco handheld I had in the Jeep.I"m able to hit repeaters 30 miles away with ease using my dual band antenna on the roof of the truck. I don't have the intermod issues of the Chinese rig I had before or the random signals from the Alinco.
Time will tell how this radio performs but for a new ham that lack of thorough direction in the manual might be a dealbreaker if they don't look up the issues.