Handbook or no handbook, that is the question...

Discussion in 'Discussions, Opinions & Editorials' started by WA3PRR, Aug 28, 2012.

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  1. WA3PRR

    WA3PRR XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    Hey all,

    Ever since getting my general license in July, I've heard a lot of opinions on a lot of topics from a lot of amateur radio operators. One that always seems to come up is the ARRL Handbook for Radio Communications, and it also seems to be among the most contentious. Some hams I've talked to regard it as a holy book, while others regard it as little more than kindling, with very few opinions in between. I'm thinking of buying a copy, so I figured I'd solicit a few opinions here. What do you think of it as far as being useful for someone new? Is it something I'd actually use and refer to, or would it become another dust collector on the bookshelf? Is it a good learning tool, or just a rehash of stuff easily found online? And if I should get a copy, do I buy one now, or wait a couple months for the 2013 version?

    Thanks for your help and opinions!
  2. KA5ROW

    KA5ROW Ham Member QRZ Page

    Save some money and get the 2012 the ARRL some times offer them late in the year at a discount. If you decide on a 2013 I would get the hardback edition. I have the 1956 my birth year, 1970, 1980, 1990, 2000, and 2010 all hard back except the 2000.
  3. KY5U

    KY5U Subscriber QRZ Page

    One thing hams have is lots of opinions. Some stumble-bum ham gets something in his head and he'll argue his hair brained notions till the cows come home. And while one of our strong suits is the diversity of opinions, it really hurts where radio theory is concerned.

    The handbook has always printed the latest wisdom on subjects. It can change over the years, but most of radio theory as it applies to AR is pretty much wrung out. Just remember some stank ham can look important by bucking something like the handbook with his voo doo logic. It's fun,it's comical, and it should be mostly ignored. You'll make friends and learn who to trust and who is full of pinto beans and beer.
  4. NA0AA

    NA0AA Ham Member QRZ Page

    To me, there are several books in the need to own category, at least from the ARRL, and the Handbook is one of them:

    Handbook. I know, but it's a very useful all around reference, particularly for the beginner. Older versions available for a few bucks at hamfests are still useful, and often have interesting homebrew projects in them if you ever want to build your own tube gear, for example. You don't need a new one every year, that is true.

    Antenna Book: Again, a good useful book with theory and practice, and almost something for everyone. Note that there are a bunch of smaller, more specialized antenna books and they can be useful as well, I bought some of them before I bought the big book. Again, you don't need every version. I have not seen as many used copies around but no reason and older one won't be equally useful. One thing I found great about this book is the huge variety of designs portrayed - It helped me to figure out how I might layout antennas of various designs in my yards. Designs also that I'd never even heard of when newly licensed.

    Low Band DXing by ON4UN: Perhaps not the last word on the subject but it's pretty exhausting. Not everything in it is made of $50 bills taped end to end. Again, this also shows so MANY designs to give you food for thought as you plan your antenna farm.

    Those are the three that I recommend you start with and then once you have gotten enough out of them, you can move on to more specialized works.

    And of course, there are many, many other worthy books, I just picked three commonly available league publications. I've got a small book by the RSGB, and the only complaint I have about them is they are expensive here in the states, I thought.

    If you stumble on a copy of anything by Jerry Sevick, it's worth looking at - used particularly, he wrote a couple of good books on Baluns/Transmission Line Tranformers, one on theory and one on practical construction. Others will be along to suggest their favorites.
  5. AE1PT

    AE1PT Ham Member QRZ Page

    The answer to this question is variable. We have a contingent of "OOBies" that are not interested in anything except getting a rig out of the box, assembling the antenna and once the wires are connected talking to someone. Personally, I think that EVERYONE should have at the least a relatively recent copy of the Handbook, and for those just coming into the hobby the ARRL Operating Manual.

    Having a printed ham reference library is a good thing--regardless of its size. The difference between the established printed matter and the internet is that chances are the printed material is peer reviewed and vetted by years of practical experience. While some really great internet stuff exists--including forums--the trouble is that one question can lead to five divergent answers of varying quality from three different sources... :rolleyes:

    Like KA5ROW, I too have the handbook from my birth year (1957), 1968-69 which I nearly wore out learning electronic and radio theory and circuits, several 70s, 90s, and the latest is the 2010 handbook. Add to this several antenna books, electrical theory (a choice one from the 1950s on power distribution), tube and semiconductor manuals, so on and so forth. One can also create specialized 3 ring binders for information garnered from the web which is not sheer voo-doo-doo...

    Good reference works--regardless of how basic--are the foundation to knowledge building and study. Surprising how a quick look for something can lead to a hour or more of reading and comprehension capacity about something completely different--or perhaps just a better understanding of something one thought they already had a grasp on!
  6. K7MH

    K7MH Ham Member QRZ Page

    I have about a dozen or more handbooks mostly from the 70's as I got my novice license in 1970 or 71. I have several other ham related books as well.
    What I have is a drop in the bucket compared to many other hams! I never regretted buying any book that was about some aspect of ham radio or electronics. I sure regret having given several out on inadvertent permanent loan though!!
    I don't think you need a new ARRL Handbook every year but a fairly recent one is sure handy as are some older ones as well. They do cover a lot of territory!!
    I used to have a 1970 ARRL Handbook that was like a worn out RAG from use. I replaced it with one I found pretty cheap at a hamfest.
    Last edited: Aug 28, 2012
  7. WA4BRL

    WA4BRL Ham Member QRZ Page

    They only change slightly from year to year, and not all too much from decade to decade. The theory sections change nary a bit. It's the constructions projects that change year to year , and perhaps info on new digital modes as they come out.

    But the ARRL Handbooks are all excellent sources on communications information whether you're a newby or old-timer in the hobby. I find those printed in the 1960's and earlier written better -- easier for me to understand when trying to learn on my own -- but that may be just me.

    And the ARRL Handbooks are not necessarily the last word in communication theory. The Bill Orr W6SAI (now deceased) handbooks and the RSBG (Radio Society of Great Britain) handbooks are excellent in their own rights. Each, including ARRL, has their strong and weak points.

    The only series I do not like are the A. Frederick Collins Handbooks, sold throughout the decades just like the ARRL book. Collins even used the exact same title as the ARRL: "The Radio Amateur's Handbook" over all those years, at least until ARRL started changing their title every few years starting in 1985.

    The ARRL started publishing their's in 1926.
    1926 - 1984 "The Radio Amateur's Handbook" (59 years)
    1985 - 1990 "The ARRL Handbook for the Radio Amateur" (6 years)
    1991 - 2003 "The ARRL Handbook for Radio Amateurs" (13 years)
    2004 - 2012 "The ARRL Handbook for Radio Communications" (9 years)

    You can find any of the many handbooks at used book stores throughout the country by searching and purchasing through Abebooks.com, Amazon.com, or at private auction sites like Ebay.com, as well as at hamfest flea markets. I started out buying the 1971 edition ARRL handbook when I got my Novice license and then bought a new one every now and then. Later I set out to get one from each decade. After that I got the collector bug and am working on getting one of each edition. I'm only missing four of them now. Indeed, I continue to improve the collection with better quality books when I find them. I sell those that are excess to my needs at local hamfests.

    Here's a photo of my display at the Winston-Salem hamfest.

    My advice: pick up a current or recent copy for now. The year of the issue is not too important when it comes to learning the theory. You might also want to find one from the year you were born just for grins. Then one from the sixties or earlier. Be careful of the collector bug though, it bit me hard! :) No matter though, they all fit on five standard shelves on a six-foot bookcase. And that includes several Orr and RSGB handbooks too. One great thing about the ARRL Radio Amateur Handbooks published 1971 and earlier is the advertizing section. They're a great source of photos and info on boat-anchor era rigs and accessories. Geez I miss those Handbook ads. ARRL, why did you have to stop that?
    Last edited: Aug 28, 2012
  8. K9STH

    K9STH Ham Member QRZ Page

    For antenna theory, the older, smaller, editions are definitely better than the later ones. The newer editions just don't have anywhere near as much.

    Glen, K9STH
  9. KL7AJ

    KL7AJ Ham Member QRZ Page

    I have around 40 editions. The only way I can see it be a dust collector is if you're a total appliance operator. If you have any interest in experimentation or technical competence, I can't see not having a copy...or two...or three....or four.

  10. KA5ROW

    KA5ROW Ham Member QRZ Page

    Another good handbook to have is the Radio Handbook 23 edition printed in 1987 by the late Bill Orr. Has a lot of good information. On how to build amps, antennas, and other things for the hobby.
  11. W8ZNX

    W8ZNX Subscriber QRZ Page

    Gee Whizz

    thought every real ham had at least one copy of The Radio Amateur's Handbook
    even a 25 or 40 year old handbook is full of great info

    what to know what really happens
    read chapter two electrical laws and circuits
    its all right there

    Had a League handbook for a year before i took my Novice test

    guess have a few dozen ARRL Radio Amateur's Handbook dating back to 1929
    fifteen (west coast ) Radio Handbooks back to Frank C. Jones 1935 handbook

    have build transmitters and receivers out of the 1929, 1938, 1948 League handbook
    and from the 1936 and 1948 west coast Radio Handbook

    helm down grab your beer

  12. K2NCC

    K2NCC Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    I bought a 2005 handbook when I got my license... haven't opened since then. The Internet has lessened the need for printed material. (do they still print newspapers?)

    If you must have it on paper, save 20 bucks or more and get an older one. As others have pointed out, the theory doesn't change, just the tools to use it.
  13. N0AZZ

    N0AZZ Ham Member QRZ Page

    I buy a new Hardbound Handbook and the Antenna Book every 5 years and search out older ones when they are cheap I buy them. Books are like other things if you read them it gives you something no one can ever take away from you "Knowledge" on that subject or at least a prespective. Since joining the hobby just a few short years ago they do fly by to quickly I usually spend at least 4-5 hrs a day studying about things relating to the hobby. In what time I have left here I can not come close to but covering a very small percentage of it because it's so far reaching a subject, but so intresting that it pulls me in even futher day by day. This is one of the things that make this hobby so great over others I have done in my life all the knowledge that you need to grasp to basics of so many different things I know of no other way than books and to use the internet to your advantage also but be careful there of the pitfalls.

    Another vote for another handbook and thats John's "ON4UN's book Low Band DXing as well as a web site w8ji.com Tom is quite advanced hisself I use both myself often.

    I also bought a Handbook when I was licensed a paperback edition and in 2 1/2 yrs the covers were coming off and pages were coming loose. I used my license manuals (ARRL) for reference after I passed the tests and the remember some of the math from the Extra manual when needed.
  14. KB3LAZ

    KB3LAZ Ham Member QRZ Page

    I have a little over three decades worth of handbooks. If you do not wish to shell out the cash for a new one, as others have said, much of the information has not changed. Of course technology has advanced and therefore a slight bit of information has been added. However, if you want something pretty much current, you can grab a handbook from the mid 2000s at a hamfest for about 5$. From the 90s and back you can often find them for 1-3$. In fact I got 23 of them for 1$.

    Mind you, if you were to collect, some years do cost more than others and sometimes more so than a new edition.

    Again, for a semi recent copy of the handbook and antenna book you can probably get away with spending under 10$ at a hamfest for hardback editions.

    Personally, I like to collect them but that is another story. The ads are a nice addition in the older editions. None of mine collect dust as I use them to reference different things.
  15. K8ERV

    K8ERV Ham Member QRZ Page

    While not a ham book, the ITT (Sams) "Reference Data for Radio Engineers" is a gold mine. Don't know if it is still available.
    (At the end of the book--the butler did it--)

    TOM K8ERV Montrose Colo
  16. KY5U

    KY5U Subscriber QRZ Page

    No shortage of skidmark infested hams with opinions. Something about AR that draws the "sweeping pronouncement" turkeys from "other" services. Buy the handbook and believe what's there. If you were ill, you'd believe your doctor or doctors and not the old biddy next door who had every ailment under the sun, mostly imaginary, and who smelled like a cat's litter box. I'm just saying...
  17. AJ4CU

    AJ4CU Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    I have been collecting them since the 60's you cannot go wrong with any issue , (as pointed out by others), I also have many copies of the Antenna book and the Hints & Kinks books, I had a heck of a time finding a pristine copy of my birth year (1961) but I did a couple years ago!
    The ARRL operators guide is very handy to have around, there are so many publications one would spend a lifetime absorbing the material.
    I also enjoy reading the Audels Radioman's Handbook among others from that great era...

    GL ES 73 DE AJ4CU
  18. KB3LAZ

    KB3LAZ Ham Member QRZ Page

    Maybe those hams with skid marks should invest in baby wipes.
  19. WA9SVD

    WA9SVD Ham Member QRZ Page

    Whether or not you believe in or agree with the ARRL, the "Handbook" is an excellent reference that should be in every ham's possession. The laws of Physics, and most electrical and radio concepts don't change over time. I'd recommend at least a new HB every 10 years minimum; I have a 1949 HB that covers material in detail that's glossed over in many HB's post Y2K.
    For a new Amateur, I'd recommend a recent (2010 or so) HB, and at least one from the 70's or 80's. Those can be easily found for not too much money at mant hamfests or swapmeets. I personally do not have the funds nor space to obtain a new handbook every year, and quite frankly, they don't change all that much from year to year. At intervals of 5-10 years, the construction projects change enough to justify a new book.
  20. KY5U

    KY5U Subscriber QRZ Page

    Exactly! That's why my ham radio advice for the ages is: "Never buy a used desk chair from a ham".
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