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
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.
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)
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:
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
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.)
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.
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.
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!
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:
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!
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!
In an effort to make up for time lost, I’ll not rehash my School of Thought #2 other than to remind you it begins with a Base Station.
While a 5w Handi-Talkie may seem like the quick/easy answer to all your operating problems-it may be the cause of many of them right from the start! If you live in a Urban/Suburban area there are likely local repeaters you can access while standing on your front lawn with your Handi-Talkie. Others, like me, live out in the sticks and need more than 5 watts and a Rubber Ducky antenna! Here is where the Base Station shines!
The term Base Station may take you back to your Great Uncle George, aka ‘The Gorilla’ and all of his CB buddies chatting around each evening on their wood-grain Console CB Radios with glowing red LED displays, but nowadays a base station is considered any radio you install at your residence for use while inside said structure. That radio (assuming you’re a new ticket holder) will more than likely be a Mobile Rig connected to an external antenna and a 12v Power Supply (spare 12v battery, 120v AC/12v DC converter).
Like the Handi-Talkies listed above, most manufactures build Mobile Rigs in a few different flavors and price ranges. I’ll assume the reader understands the terms Single-Band Radio (1 frequency band range) and Dual-Band Radio (2 frequency band range).
As you might imagine, a Single-Band rig is 1/2 the radio of a Dual-Band radio and usually comes in at about 1/2 the price! Most Single-Band Rigs sold today are 2m (144-184 MHz) *VHF* and are used throughout with local repeaters (2m is a Very Popular Band for Local Ham Radio Traffic).
A Dual-Band Radio more than likely, adds the 70cm band (420 to 450 MHz) *UHF* to the above 2m allotment and allows the end user to access both bands from one single radio unit. 70cm aka ‘four forty’ is lesser used in most areas, but still a popular band for hams and repeaters in the States.
These Mobile/Base radios require a 12v power source, as mentioned above, to operate away from a vehicular installation. Additionally, they will require some sort of External Antenna. What follows are a few examples of suggestions I have. I’d encourage you to scroll up and give our Shopping Shows a listen to get a much deeper explanation about the ‘What and Whys’ regarding gear we’d purchase for use and what we’d steer clear of.
My favorite 2m (Single-band) current production rig is the Kenwood TM-281.
Usually coming in about $150 or less the TM-281 offers easy to use controls and a front firing speaker that works great in any environment! I’ve created a ‘Kit’ with all things needed to get your TM-281 up and running on 2m!
If you’re interested in more flexibility and have the funds to apply to your purchase, the Dual-Band Rig may be what you’re looking for!
Without question, I always recommend the Kenwood TMv-71a as my personal favorite Dual-Band Ham Radio. Period. I have one and use it every day-it’s virtually flawless!
For less than $375 you can get one of the best Ham Radio’s on the market! It will operate on 2m and 70cm with full power and offers a detachable faceplate for remote mounting!
You’ll need a few accessories to make your Mobile Radio a Base Station.
- 12v Power Supply: a power source is a must. For either of the rigs shown above make sure to purchase a supply that is rated for no less than 20 amps.
2. Antenna: an external antenna is needed to connect with the outside world!
3. Coax Cable: buy the best you can afford! It’ll make a big difference in the end!
In the end, you may or may not agree with the above material, but it’s here to help further the hobby by pointing the reader in a direction known to accomplish certain goals. Thank you for reading and listening to the HamRadio 360 family of Podcast! It’s our passion to get you on the air!
If I can be of further help, don’t hesitate or ask or post your questions in our forum!