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*Updated 2-8-17

Looking to become a Ham, Interested in the Hobby?

Give our ‘How to Become a Ham Operator’ episode a listen Here

Continue reading below for more information

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Countless folks ask the same questions everyday.

“Where do I start, and what do I buy?”

Valid questions for sure!  At the very least, if one wants to become a ham, you must study and pass the Technician Licenses Test.  There is no more CW (morse code) required.  Just a 35 question test-you don’t even have to make a 100%.  Studying nowadays is pretty simple too!  There are loads of free online sites, study apps and books available.  I personally recommend the following.

1.  KB6NU No-Nonsense Study Guides.  Dan has written his No-Nonsense Study Guides to help make sure you understand what you are learning, and pass the test.  Like good Neapolitan Ice-Cream, they come in 3 flavors to match the 3 levels of Ham Radio Licensing.  Dan was featured in Episode 19 of Fo Time.

Technician-Level 1

General-Level 2

Extra-Level 3

2.  Ham Test Online.  I used the HTO site to pass my General Upgrade with ease.  Yes it’s a pay site, and there are some Free one’s out there, but I used this and I know it works!  HTO is an intuitive study site that teaches and repeats until you ‘get it’.

As you begin studying, you should also begin looking around for a local club and local testing session.  The highlighted ARRL links can help you along. (the ARRL is an advocacy group for the Amateur Radio Community in the US)

Links to Recommended Study Materials


Yes, I’m sure you’ll pass with a minimal amount of study (10 hrs for Tech) and you can reward yourself with some gear.  Or more than likely, you’ll want to buy some gear;  just because!

Shopping Shows where we discuss what to buy:

listen to our first Shopping List Episode!

listen to our 2nd Shopping List Episode!

Listen to our Most Recent Shopping Show v3.0

There are a few school of thoughts on what a New Ham should buy first.  I happen to agree with both of them.  I’m a budget minded guy, and know that not everyone has a pile of cash lying around to draw from.

China has flooded the US market with Ultra-Cheap (all in price, most in quality) Hand-held Ham Radios.  In the hobby they are called Handi-talkies (HT), and for less than $40 you have own your very own Hand-held Ham Radio Transceiver!

What the Chi-com HT’s lack in a fun user interface they make up for it in the initial low cost and potentially poor performance.  *therein lies the rub, there have been many reports received-one from the ARRL that shows just how ‘bad’ the Cheapie Radios Perform*  Link to KD8DVR Blog Site with Test Results


School #1

Pass the test and buy a Handi-Talkie.  Not really a bad option, especially if you live in a location that offers a large Ham populace.  Usually with more Hams, you’ll find more repeaters.  That means you should be able to use a Hand-held radio to communicate pretty effectively.  *This may not necessarily be the case (see note above about local clubs-seek local guidance.)

School #2

Pass the test and buy a mobile radio.  Install the radio in your home with an external power supply and base antenna.  Get familiar with Ham-speak and the operation of your rig before installing in your automobile.  This school cost more, but does offer some benefits of higher learning.

Lets look below to determine what gear is best for you!

We’ll start with School #1.

So what HT do I buy?   Well,  after owning and/or using almost every current Chinese HT on the market, I have some opinions.

1.  My #1  and ONLY recommended Low-Cost, Chinese HT is now the Baofeng/Pofung UV82.  *in times past I would only recommend the UVB5, but it appears to be discontinued.  Yet, even at that, the 82 is a FAR Better radio than the ubiquitous UV5R.  Your Mileage May Vary.


Click Here to Buy the UV82 and all Necessary Accessories in One Kit!


If you would like to skip the bottom rung and climb a little higher there are other options available.  I have owned and operated the Wouxun Brand HT’s since day one of my Ham experience.   They are much more rugged than the above choices, yet are slightly hampered in part with a not-so-user-friendly programming interface. *Early Wouxun units fared well in the yearly testing.  As the years have progressed-not so much*

I’m still rocking the UV-2D and it’s sister (1D and 6D) models.  They work every time I ask them to.


Click Here To Buy The Wouxun and all Necessities in One Kit!


Those are nice, but maybe you’re really wanting to go Stupid Simple, Solid and Proven!  Want the ‘Industry Standard’ Dual-Band HT?  Well, it’s the Yaesu FT-60.  One can’t really say enough about this rig.  It’s Ultra easy to program and operate!  It has a metal case and can take abuse.  It’s simply the best HT on the market today for a new ham.  Don ‘t let it’s diminutive looks fool you; This radio is a Real Performer!

Yaesu ft-60

Click Here to Buy the FT60 and all the add-ons in One Kit!

HT Accessories

Of course there are required accessories, at least my wife says so.  Most importantly is the Antenna.  Most any Hand-held radio you buy will need an antenna upgrade (the Yeasu and Wouxun ship with pretty nice antennae).  What do you do?  Buy the Nagoya!   (beware of clones, and buy from a reputable dealer!)

Yep, it’s about 3x the size of the antenna that ships with the HT, and it outperforms it at least that many times!  Antennas are the Key to ham radio, no matter what band or mode.  So, before you spend more money for extra power, upgrade your antenna!

To further enhance your HT’s performance in the car, you should add an external antenna.  Here’s how I do that:

the Tram 1185: Low Cost, Dual Band Mag Mount.  This is a pretty decent Mobile Radio antenna.  When used with the pigtail listed below, it can also be used with most HT’s!

Tram 1185

to connect that antenna to your HT use a Pigtail, it’ll save some wear and tear on your Handi-Talkie and offer some flexibility.


One of the equally important HT accessories is an External Speaker/Microphone.  There are thousands to choose from, and some are really less than useful!    The quality is really hit or miss here, so buyer beware!

of a dozen or so cheap mics that I own, the one above is pretty good.  This  Wouxun branded mic has performed well for me too.

When it comes to Accessories for your HT’s the Programming Cable is on equal ground as an upgraded antenna!  Don’t skimp here, make sure you get a Genuine Cable, you’re gonna need it to get your rig programmed the first time!

Most all Chinese rigs use the same cable

Spare Batteries and Battery Eliminators are also required for my HT’s.  Due Diligence here; buy what your budget allows and with best reviews!

That Concludes School #1.

School #2 coming soon!

Example of School #2 (Kenwood TM281)