Icom R20 Quick Start Guide

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Icom R20 Quick Start Guide

This quick-start guide is an attempt to provide some help when coming to terms with the R20 and the manual. While it isn’t a total rewrite of the manual, the purpose is to provide enough information to get minimally functional and offer some tips and tricks along the way. Hopefully it will help those without the manual, be they new users or picking it up second-hand. But by all means, get a real manual too.

This guide looks worse than it really is. Even for a quick-start, you won’t be changing all of this every day!

Dual Watch Key

For those that want to really skip ahead and explore on their own, just know that the Dual-Watch button serves as an ESCAPE button if you just lightly tap it. Holding it down will toggle you between single and dual watch, but a quick TAP on this key will back you out of many things, or just stop what you are doing.


The lithium battery that comes with the unit has two sides – grooved and smooth. While you need to line up the terminals on the right hand side, it is possible to insert the lithium upside down so that the grooves are face down. The battery door has ridges to fit into these grooves, yet you can still manhandle it closed. And there are even two terminals on both sides! Make sure the grooves are face up.

If you bought the R20 used, try to make sure you also get the AA spacer if you want to run from AA batts.

Lithium care – Icom makes good recommendations about long-term storage for the lithium battery – that is, don’t store it fully charged, nor do you want to store it completely dead. Use up about 50 percent of the capacity before storage. At least use it a little bit before storing it.


The reason it's mentioned here is that you may have picked it up used, and it may be in an unknown state from the previous owner. This guide is based on a default setup, which of course you can change. You can choose partial or full reset. Of course this will wipe out everything in there.

For a full-reset: Simultaneously hold down VFO MHZ and MR S.MW and then press the Power button. A successful reset should show up in the display as 146.010


The keys are dual function depending on whether you TAP them or HOLD them. For most of the buttons, the white silkscreen above the button is the alternate function that gets activated when you hold it down. Any key that does not have the white silkscreen above it still has a dual function usually listed on the key itself. More on this frustrating labeling later.

Don't try to activate a sweep with the VFO/Mhz key. This isn't the correct procedure.

Part of the issues with the manual is that they list the entire key definition when dealing with one function or the other. Just press TX/m.sw/vfo/dial-sel/att then.... So in the following, only the silk-screen of the keys that we need are spelled out.

So the emphasis here while learning is just to keep an eye on on when you need to TAP, and when a HOLD is needed to access a function. You’ll get it.

Volume Knob/Tuning Knob

The R20 has some duplication of knobs and buttons for your amusement. There are two up/down buttons on the side of the case, in addition to the top knobs up top. Normally, the up/down buttons AND the left knob control the volume. The right hand knob is for tuning OR for when choosing options. VOL will appear on the left hand side of the display near the up/down keys.

If you want this to be reversed so that the up/down keys AND the left knob do tuning, whereas the right hand knob does volume:

Hold down the DIAL SEL key. This happens to be the #1 key as well. Now DIAL will appear near the up/down buttons.

The only way to remember was that when you change the function of the up/down keys, the function of the nearest knob to those keys is the same.

The reason for all this duplication becomes clear when you start using DUAL-WATCH with split receivers! (see near the end of this guide) So for now, you have an extra knob to play with.


The top button on the left side of the case is the squelch. Press and hold it to open the squelch for weak-signal monitoring. For HF fans, you will usually want this open. Hold in the squelch button and turn the knob on the right. You can now choose between OPEN, AUTO, and Levels 1-9. You can also make this button "sticky", that is, if you hold the squelch button down long enough, it will lock itself open until you push it again. We’ll get to that later when we get into the setup options.

(If the top knob right knob changes the volume instead, you’ve switched the keys with DIAL-SEL didn’t you?) A quick tap on the squelch key is a good way to activate the backlight temporarily without changing anything else.


Holding down the rewind key activates the silkscreen function above it, the attenuator. This is about 30db attenuation and is obvious in the display. Normally turn this off, unless you live under an rf cloud.


This is especially useful for HF operations with external antennas, in addition to the attenuator. Try to use the rf-gain control first. HF operations with modestly sized antennas has been pretty successful, where not so much gain was needed, but different directionality. And for the low-bands, many ops with higher quality desktops and normal antennas tend NOT to run preamps on 49 meters and below, especially at night.

Hold down the fast-forward key. By holding, it will activate the silk-screen function above it. You can choose between min, max, and anything in between. You might need to keep it on MAX, unless you are experiencing some overloading. You certainly should double-check this on a used R20 if you haven’t done any resets.

Common Settings

There are a few settings that you might want to set up. To get into the setup menus, press and HOLD the SET key. That’s #8.

(If you were already playing around, remember that a quick TAP of the Dual-WATCH key will stop what you are doing.)

You should see a list of options to choose from and can point to them with the arrow by rotating the right knob.

Let’s change the backlight to be permanently on. We used a HOLD on the SET key to get to the menu. Use the Right knob to move the pointer to BACKLIGHT. This time, just TAP on the SET key. Use the knob again to point to ON. Once again, TAP the SET key. The backlight option is now setup, and you are brought back to make more changes to other settings.

(If you just want to get out at this point, just TAP the Dual-WATCH key.)

For HF and Airband AM operations you may want to fine tune the audio response with the AF Filter. Icom does a generally good job of cutting off the highs without going too far. You may also want to try using the ANL (automatic noise limiter) separately or in conjunction with the AF Filter option.

Turning on the EXPANDed menu options. Icom shortened the list of options and this will get you into many more. You can enable the expanded menus to get to some more common stuff

HOLD the SET key. (#8 key) Use Right knob to point to EXPAND. TAP the SET key. Right knob again and point to ON. TAP the SET key.

One important option found in this expanded menu set is the MONITOR option. Changing this allows your SQUELCH to be "sticky", that is if you hold down the squelch button, it will remain open until you press it again. This is one way of operating the squelch when bouncing back and forth between HF and scanning.

Just like changing the options above, go to the MONITOR option. You have two choices: PUSH and HOLD. Change this to HOLD if you like using this style of the squelch button.

And as always, if you are tired of the menu system, a quick TAP of the Dual-WATCH key will back you out.

Using the VFO

Finally! Stop what you are doing by a gentle TAP on the Dual-WATCH key.

TAP on VFO. Now use the Right knob to tune up or down. Or you can enter a frequency directly. Let’s tune the NOAA weather channel. Enter 162.550 (or whatever your location uses). Don’t forget the decimal point. You should now be tuned to NOAA.

Forget the decimal point and now it shows up as 1625.50 ? TAP the Dual-WATCH key to back out and try again.

Tip – you can leave off pressing the trailing zeros by immediately pressing VFO after the last 5.

How about 481.0125 ? WHAT – as soon as you press 2, it tunes. That last digit is needed! Just rotate the knob one step. BUT now it is close, but on the wrong freq! Change your Tuning-Step. (HOLD on TS #9 key. Change your tuning-step with the right knob. TAP on the TS key.)

WARNING!!! Not hearing anything when you know you should? CHECK THE MODE!

The top four keys get a lot of mileage and it is EASY to be in the wrong mode. TAP the MODE key to get to the right mode, which for NOAA is FM.

Want to jump around by only 1 or 10 mhz at a time? This time, HOLD the MHZ key instead of tapping. The 1 mhz digit will blink. Use the knob to change it. TAP MHZ again to set it. To change by 10 mhz steps, HOLD on VFO again. The 10’s of mhz will blink and you can use the knob to change. TAP MHZ to set the 10 mhz digit and then use the knob for fine tuning.

Changing to the 10’s of mhz was tricky as it was a dual-hold routine, but do it once or twice and it will become natural.

Want to move by large chunks of the spectrum? TAP the BAND key. Successive taps will move you near your desired spectrum and then you can tune as above to get on freq. Note that the R20 will remember what you last tuned in the VFO, so if you jump around again, it will TRY to be on the last frequency you tuned. This is somewhat useful, but is no substitute for real memories.

That Keyboard again! THIS is where a lot of the confusion comes to play.

With the top 4 keys, a TAP activates the upper silkscreen designation on the key. A HOLD activates the bottom silkscreen designation. Except for the BAND key which only accepts a TAP.

But then there are the NUMBER keys, which when TAPPED, activate the number on the key, but when HELD, activate the upper silkscreen!

Scanning With The VFO

Get into the VFO mode – TAP on VFO. HOLD the SCAN key. Keep holding it, and now rotate the knob to choose your preferance: ALL (dc to daylight), BAND (the current band) or PROG-00 , PROG-002. Even at 100 cps in vfo mode, the ALL option will get you there – in a few hours. The BAND or PROG-XX band-limit options are more usable. For scanning just an amateur band, the PROG-XX memories need to be programmed with the start and stop freqs. While you program them in memory mode, you USE them from the VFO.

Tips For HF VFO scanning:

  1. Set your squelch to OPEN.
  2. Change your Tuning-Step to something reasonable like 5 khz to start out with. When you get close to freq, change the tuning step again to 1 khz. CW? Change it down to .01 khz and tune around.

You’ll learn to love the R20 and it’s quirks. It just takes a bit of practice.

Memory Mode and Scanning

Get comfortable with the VFO mode first, because this is typically where you’ll be setting up your frequencies for putting into the memories.

Before we enter any ourselves, lets take a look at what Icom has already programmed in.

TAP the MR key.

Do you see 146.010 and MR 000 in the lower right? OR, perhaps 440.000 MR 001? Those are the two frequencies included with purchase, although there isn’t too much happening on those freqs in my area. If you use the right knob, you’ll also see band-limits of 136.000 00A to 174.000 00B and also 400.000 01A to 470 01B. For now, stick to programming new frequencies into 000 and 001 and scan them.

TAP the MR key again. Yikes! TV channels. TAP the MR key again. WX channels.

Some folks like to avoid these "special" memory areas such as the wideband TV and NOAA weather channels these days

Moral: TAP the MR key until you get back to your own memories (MR 000 for example) that we can program ourselves.

Programming a Memory

How about we program 146.520 into memory channel 000 ?

TAP the Dual-WATCH key. This is not absolutely necessary, but it will STOP or back you out of what you may be been doing in the meantime. It has become a habit for me now.

TAP the VFO key.


Now CHECK THE MODE. It should be FM. Check this often – this can't be stressed that enough since it is so easy to change by mistake.

Press and HOLD the M.SW key for JUST ONE SECOND until you hear a single beep and a small menu item shows up. If you hold it too long, a double-beep will be heard and it will immediately go into memory. While this is not bad for our very first channel, you can easily overwrite succeeding channels until you get the timing right. So once you hear the first beep LET OFF THE KEY.

Now we see:

146.010 MR 000 <--- What is wrong here? We wanted 146.520! Read on....

BANK: -----

MNAME: -----



There is nothing else for us to do here, but this menu was described for the future - if you were to HOLD the SET key, and rotate the knob, this is where you can change these bank, name, skip, and clear items in memory. But for now we’ll continue.

In the upper right, we see MR 000 As this is our first memory we want to program, we are good to go to finish the job.

Now HOLD the S.MW key until you hear TWO BEEPS. 146.520 is now stored in memory. Even though we initially saw 146.010 in there, even after we tuned up with the VFO, it only took our new frequency once the double-beep was heard. Whew!

Let’s program in 446.000 simplex as our second frequency so we can actually scan these two.

Get into VFO mode by a TAP on VFO.

Enter 446.000 from the keypad (don’t forget the decimal!)

HOLD the S.MW key for only one second until ONE BEEP is heard and that mini-menu comes up:

146.520 MR 000 < --- What? Not again! I wanted 446.000 … just keep going...

BANK: -----

MNAME: -----



PAUSE HERE! Use the right knob, and rotate it until it shows MR 001 in the upper right, otherwise you are going to overwrite 146.520 in memory 000 with 446.000

Even though the display shows 146.520, when you now press and HOLD S.MW, 446.000 will briefly show up, TWO BEEPS will be heard, and 446.000 is now in memory.

Want to check it? TAP the MR key, and use the knob to scroll through your newly stored memories!


Here’s a good one – you forget to go into VFO mode to enter a new frequency and you are still in the memory mode. So you start to enter a UHF 446 frequency, but as soon as you hit 6, the R20 beeps and stops with an empty display and nothing but 446 in the lower right.

You’ve just entered the memory-jumping zone. Do not adjust your television.

Just enter 000 or whatever memory number you like to get back to the real world. Rather than using the knob and wearing it out, just jump to whatever you last programmed or wish to go to directly.

If you want to store more frequencies, just get into VFO mode, tune your frequency, and do this while process again, but this time, choose MR 002 and so on and on and on...


To scan our two frequencies in memory, TAP on the MR key to get into memory mode. HOLD the SCAN key and before you let up, you will see "ALL" at the bottom of the display. When you release, all two of our channels will be scanned. Note that the scanning speed is only 20 cps when in memory mode. Yep, this is not really a turbo-scanner, but a fine receiver that scans.

Had you programmed in banks, it is here before you let up on the key that you could change the "ALL" option, to bank scanning by rotating the knob. Note that you cannot program banks ahead of time. You have to program in a memory first, and then you will be allowed to start a bank from that.

To stop the scan, just TAP on Dual-WATCH.

Dual-Watch - the Real Thing!

Speaking of Dual-WATCH, how about actually using it? Instead of scanning our two frequencies, how about being able listen to both at the same time? It is like having TWO R20’s in your hand.

HOLD the Dual-WATCH key this time! The display will be split. TAP on the MAIN/SUB key, and you can pick which "receiver" you want to control. Note that not all combinations of spectrum are available for dual-watch.

The default or this split display is to come up in VFO mode. Yet you can operate both in memory-mode if you prefer, or even run one side VFO and the other in Memory mode. Nice.

AND now the reason for all the duplication with the two knobs and two up/down keys on the side! Try moving either knob and note what they do. Press either up/down key and see what they do. Aha!

If you want to reverse the volume and tuning functions of the knobs and keys, HOLD the DIAL-SEL key. You won’t see any indication of it in the display, but you’ll know instantly when you tune or change volume.

When using DUAL-WATCH for real, the audio is reduced a small amount, so you may want to crank up the volume a little bit on each side.

To get OUT of the DUAL-WATCH mode, HOLD the DUAL-WATCH key!


The R20 is a great receiver with scanning features. Too bad some scanners don’t reciprocate by having better receiver specs! But don’t compare this to a scanner. The RF-gain control is a real bonus, which provides a better signal-to-noise ratio than just using the attenuator alone for HF work. The 15-segment S-meter is also a handy tool with enough resolution to be able to quickly compare antenna combinations, coax loss etc. Try doing that with a 3-5 "bar" silly s-meter on a scanner – if it even has one. The high-frequency audio rolloff combinations of ANL/AF Filter are a nice touch. Even a noise-blanker, although your mileage may vary. And of course, one of the nicest HF receivers for a handheld – although spinning and grinning the HF bands will wear out your knobs. After 4 years of casual use, they can get wobbly.

Thanks to Hertzian for the writeup