Interested in getting into the hobby - so many choices to be made...

Discussion in 'Becoming an Amateur Radio Operator/Upgrading Privi' started by DHERRON, Apr 5, 2012.

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    DHERRON QRZ Member

    Ive played with scanners and CBs over the years and have always wanted to 'play' with a HAM radio. A friend and I ordered CBs for our UTVs so we can communicate with each other while riding - which re-sparked my interest in HAM. Ive spent the last few days studying up on the license and taking the practice tests. I have also spent many hours researching the many different brands and models for use with the different bands.

    I am more interested in listening/scanning for signals and then trying to tune into them. Id like to try to reach far away signals possibly on another continent. I have no problem spending $700-$1000 on a nice unit. I started looking for a cheaper unit but realized they limited me to only a few local bands so I figure it would be worth it to me to get a unit that can support more bands and HF. I was looking for a base unit but then realized that most if not all are DC powered which require an external AC/DC converter or DC power supply. For some reason, I just assumed a base unit would be AC powered. Then I started looking at the mobile units figuring that if they are DC, I may as well get a portable unit I can power with my truck if I ever decide to venture out to higher places or travel around...

    Then, I started to realize what should have been the most obvious - what do I do for an antenna? Ive looked at the many homebrew guides and the ones you can buy premade. Im still not really sure what my best options are here - Ive seen a lot of smaller/portable deals that can pickup from great distances. I need to research more but I have a few questions that may provide me with a better answer.

    1. For my $700-$1000 price range, is there a better option than the Yaesu FT-897D? I really like the larger base of the FT-950 but it doesnt allow me to use the 2M band. Im not sure how important that is to me or if Im better suited to get the 950 and then a 2nd cheaper portable unit for 2M. I understand the 2M band to be pretty short range which can still be fun but Im really curious about long range signals. I have looked at the FLEX-1500 and I really like the software. I have 15+ years in IT - I know my computers can handle the software and Id feel right at home using the interface. I deal with communications and audio signals / waveforms at work. My problem with the FLEX-1500 is the low power transmit. Im not too interested right now in transmitting but I know once I get my license Im going to want to transmit to see how far I can go.

    2. I live in WV and Im pretty near the top of my local area. Im not really limited by space or tall outdoor antennas but I would really prefer something that isnt in my way and not really too tall. I dont know if thats even a possibility if Im aiming for another continent. Im still researching the antenna part but I though Id ask this question. Am I out of my mind to think that I can use a not so tall - not so space consuming - not so expensive antenna to receive signals from abroad?

    I realize Ill have added expense in the antenna, power supply, etc. Im really wanting to spend the money first on what I would prefer to be my one and only do-it-all transceiver and then work out the antenna. I know Ive read lots of posts that say spend money on antenna first but my thoughts are that while Im learning to use the transceiver and understanding more about how each type of antenna works and why for each band, I can still use the transceiver on the more local bands and work up the antenna part. My thought is that i can use one of those cheaper homebrews or even spend $150 on a store bought while I hone my skills on receiving. Maybe Im out of my mind in several places - but Im still learning / researching.

    Thanks for any input. This seems like its going to be a really fun hobby to get into. It will be fun to learn and understand more about the frequencies, how the atmosphere and environment can affect the signals as well as just seeing/hearing what is being transmitted all around me.
  2. K0RGR

    K0RGR Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    Sorry for the delay in replying - somehow missed your post for a few days.

    You don't say what part of WV you are in. I've been to several parts of that state, and can't say I remember hearing a soul on 2 meters. There was another fellow from WV who posted here a lot who claimed that 2 meters was a snakepit in his part of the state, though that's been some time ago.
    Unless you happen to be someplace that's unusually active for 2 meters, I think you should skip VHF/UHF, go straight for the General, and get on HF.

    Indeed, I think the FT-950 would be a better home station than the FT-897. But you really must consider antennas. The antenna is much more important than the radio. A good antenna will make a mediocre radio shine.

    For the lower bands, a vertical is a good choice. I do like my 43 foot vertical, particularly on 40 meters. If you can roof mount a trap vertical like one of the 'BTV' series from Hustler, and get at least three 'tuned' radials for each band, it can be a very effective antenna for 40 meters and higher in frequency. The 4BTV is cheap, too. You'll need a way to tune it, and I recommend borrowing or stealing an SWR analyzer to make the job easier, particularly if it's on the roof. If you can get a dipole high enough in the air, it will work well and you'll work some DX with it. For the higher frequency HF bands, a beam is really a good idea. It does not need to be a monstrosity. Consider a two element tribander like those from Mosely, a Hexbeam or Spiderbeam. I have the spreaders for a Moxon's Rectangle I'm building sitting on the front porch. These antennas can be supported by a heavy duty TV mast and turned with a TV antenna rotator, or better yet, use a roof tower with the feet reinforced inside the roof.

    You can score a better radio for less money by going the 'used' route. There are good deals out there if you are patient and look around. Several reputable dealers resell used gear, and most of them have some kind of warranty so it's hard to get burned that way. I generally have faith in the people who advertise on QRZ and, too. I avoid EBay for the most part. There are a lot of good HF and HF+6 meter rigs of fairly recent vintage that should fill your wish list. The Ham Station has an IC-718 for a little over $500 - definitely a decent little rig. If you want to start with a much higher end rig, they have a used TS-480 HX (200 watt) for under $1,000. They have an IC-7200 at AES for under $800. You should be able to buy any of these rigs with confidence that they will work. The 480 HX will require one huge power supply or two 20-something Amp units.

    If this is for a home station, invest in a good power supply. I picked up a used Astron RS-35 for about $100 recently, and I expect it to last me forever. It almost matches the RM-35 I've been running for about 40 years now.
  3. KC5AKB

    KC5AKB XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    Feel free to pm me or call me 817. 298. 7937
  4. K9ASE

    K9ASE XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    Another good Idea would be to look for a local Radio club. You can find one here Field day is coming soon. Field day is like a camp out and contest combined that many clubs participate in. This will give you an opportunity to see ham radio and it's various modes in action. It would also give you a chance to meet some local hams that could mentor you along the way to getting your license.
  5. KJ6VCN

    KJ6VCN Ham Member QRZ Page


    Here's just some things I've learned so far...

    Picking a rig is really a matter of opinion, but that doesn't mean you can't narrow it down. You said you want a DC to daylight (HF+VHF+UHF) rig that is within a 700-1000$ price range. That narrows it down. The FT-897D is a great radio, you can get a matching internal PS for it, or power it from your car, or use special batteries! It's super rugged and great if you want a 'portable base station.' Note that I have heard it described as a "jack of all trades, yet master of none." This statement is somewhat true, and yes, it may not be the right radio for you. Make sure you go to a ham store (if there's one in your area) and play with it first. If you really don't see yourself operating mobile/portable, you might consider that FT-950. It is an amazing starter radio for HF. Those smaller mobile rigs have some drawbacks (convoluted menus instead of simple knobs) that can make operation slightly complicated. The same could even be said for the FT-897D, but that's nothing reading the manual won't solve. And as for the FLEX-1500, well, I've never used one before. And I wouldn't buy a QRP (low-power) rig right off the bat, especially if you want to (eventually) work DX (long-range) contacts.

    If you do opt to go for a HF rig instead of a DC to daylight rig, and you still want UHF/VHF, a 5 watt HT (handheld) could be a good thought. You can link them with repeaters in your area, which will allow you to talk over a wide area without having to be super close to the other user. I'm not that into that kind of operation (HF is my thing), so I'm sure someone else might be more knowledgeable on that topic.

    As for antennas... that's a topic that can get very complicated very fast. I'd recommend (for simplicity's sake) you start off with a simple dipole (buy it from a store or have an Elmer (ham-friend) assist you in making one), and string it between the trees. Take some RG-8X coax and run it to your rig. You're on the air! Just don't, not even for a second, think that a tiny little piece of wire isn't worth anything. That's all I've got right now, a tiny piece of wire that's only good on 20-meters, and it has taken me around the world with only 100 watts.

    And as for buying used, like some others have said, that's up to you. You can definitely save some money, but for a 1st radio, filling out that warranty card couldn't hurt... Again, that's obviously just my opinion.

    Everything up to this point has been highly opinionated. Here's something everyone might agree on; I've only been in the hobby (licensed) a little over a month now, and much of this knowledge has come from the Elmer (mentor) that helped me get started. Find someone you know who knows a lot about ham radio, or join a club. That's the best piece of advice I can give.

    Enjoy your new hobby, it's a lot of fun!
    Best wishes,
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