Where to begin?

Discussion in 'Becoming an Amateur Radio Operator/Upgrading Privi' started by KC3GQX, May 17, 2010.

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  1. KC3GQX

    KC3GQX Ham Member QRZ Page

    Hello, I am new to ham radio, so new in fact that I haven't even gotten my license yet but I plan to when I return home from college for the summer. I was wondering what kind of equipment to buy. I am interested in the HF bands so I was considering going right for my general class. Is this allowed? Also the reason I am interested in the HF bands is that I am worried I will end up buying a 2m radio and there wont be anyone to talk to. However, there is a repeater / radio club about 20-30 miles away from where I live. What kind of range could I have using the repeater and could I even reach the repeater with a 5 watt handheld? In case you were wondering I was thinking about getting either a handheld or an HF base unit. Any suggestions would be appreciated. Thank-you!
  2. N9YB

    N9YB QRZ Administrator QRZ Page

  3. W6ONV

    W6ONV Ham Member QRZ Page

    Don't jump at a 5w HT, especially if you want to get involved in HF. Even as a Technician, you have access to the HF bands, not the entire frequency allocation, but portions of some of them.

    Aside from studying for your exams, I would do some research, as there is a wealth of information available on the Internet. In my experience I did not have a good time when I joined a local club here. For me, it was nothing for than a clique and there seemed to be a real push for emergency communications, which was not was I was interested in.

    More recently I joined a contest club, which was much more in line with interests and in less than a year I have learned a considerable amount with regards to bands, propagation, working DX and all the fun that goes along with HF. Even learned CW!

    Knowing very little I research a rig and antenna and made a purchase after I upgraded to General. It was a real learning process, but I found a niche in ham radio (and there are MANY niches) that excited me and I was able to start working HF.

    Set a budget before you start looking at equipment, aside from a radio you will need a power supply, antenna (or build a dipole, simple and cheap) and possible a antenna tuner. Use the resources on QRZ.com and eHam.net, both have many topics on what rigs to buy, many questions answered for new and budding hams. You might also check out the reviews section on eHam, if you get serious in a rig or antenna or any hardware for that matter.

    Best of luck!
  4. KC7DRI

    KC7DRI Ham Member QRZ Page

    Since it doesn't appear to have been answered yet, once you pass a test, you can take the next test without paying additional money, so you could go all the way to Extra at the same test session if you wish. Another thing to keep in mind is the Technician exam changes as of July 1, so you need to be careful which pool you study in regards to when you plan on testing.
  5. K0CMH

    K0CMH Ham Member QRZ Page

    I think you will be quickly dissatisified with an HT. They are very neat radios but serve somewhat of a nitch in the entire world of Ham radio.

    The HT will work on VHF or UHF or both (depending on what you get). These frequencies are very, very dependent on line of sight. If the closest repater is 10 - 20 miles away, you would have to have a pretty much unobstructed path to the repeater antenna. If you are willing to purchase an adaptor that allows you to connect an external antenna to your HT, and a decent antenna for a "base", your HT most likely (but not guaranteed) will be able to work the repeater. But then, many repeaters are very inactive.

    A little more detail on testing and licensing, you can take the test for all three levels (tech, general and extra) at the same time, but they must be passed in order, i.e., you take the tech test. If you pass that you immediately take the general test. If you pass that you immediately take the extra test. However, some testing groups may not allow enought time to take all three, and you may have to go back another time.

    HF frequencies are not dependent on line of sight. Their signals are designed to bounce off the upper atmosphere. Different frequencies allowed to Hams are better for day time or for night time. But on HF you can usually find a contact 24/7, somewhere in the country or the world.

    Depending on how much money you have to spend, an "all mode, all band" radio is a pretty good investment. They start at around $700.00 -$900.00 for radios like the FT857D and the IC706MKIIG. The sky is the limit above that, up to $15,000.00 if you like.

    The good thing about the FT857D and IC705mkIIG is that if you only pass the Tech test, you can use almost all the frequencies and modes available to a tech with one of these. Then when you pass the higher tests, you are ready to go -- don't have to buy another radio. However, that would be just the radio. Then you would need a 20 to 25 amp power supply (the cheapest about $110.00), some coax cable, and some kind of antenna. If you are handy, you can make very effective wire antennas out of scrap wire and plastic pipe parts. Coax would run about $20.00, and about the same to make a wire antenna. A "tuner" is also usually needed, and the "entry level" ones start at about $100.00. This is for HF. All these prices are for new. Used equipment is cheaper, plentyful but is always a gamble.

    Many of us start out cheap and gradually build up our equipment. Many start with a $150.00 vhf (2 meter) mobile unit and a power $100.00 power supply. Then save up and get something like an IC-718 or a better but used rig for around $500.00. A good mores code key can be had (used) for about $30.00. Slowly purchase better antennas and build up the supplies of Coax cable and other assessories.

    The best advice is to locate a Ham club and start visiting. Hams fall over eachother trying to help new people (well, usually. There are some clubs that are a "private click"). Club members often will let you check out their equipment so that you can get a hands-on feel for what you like and don't like.

    Good luck and I look forward to visiting with you on the frequencies.
    Last edited: May 22, 2010
  6. KE5FRF

    KE5FRF Ham Member QRZ Page

    Since you haven't even taken the test, and you are a college guy so I'm sure the written test will come easy, I suggest you dive into learning Morse Code and hit the ground running with your tech privileges on HF. Yes, you can test all the way up to Extra in one sitting, but ham radio is a learning process and if you try to "cram" for it all you really won't learn so much and you'll forget most everything without the practical experience to back it up.

    I think half the fun in the hobby is operating, but the other half is developing knowledge about the theory of radio and how it all works.

    CW (continuous wave, Morse code) will get you on the bands with just the Tech license. It will permit you to buy or build just about any HF radio imaginable...EVEN VERY INEXPENSIVE KITS. I'm sure as a college student you aren't oozing with greenbacks and would like to save a few bucks for beer and girls :) (just kidding on the beer but certainly the girls! I hope anyway)

    You can put together an effective HF QRP (low power) station, and the bands are just now picking up in the solar cycle to make QRP fun again.

    Now, I'll never knock 2 meters. It is a lot of fun too. VHF is awesome, especially for weak signal operating on CW and SSB. Lots of things to accomplish on 2 meters and good folks to talk to on repeaters. It can be a hang-up though if you invest all your money in it. And no, an HT isn't a great first radio choice. You'll bore of that real quick and wish you hadn't. DON'T GET ME WRONG THOUGH. My first radio was a RShack brand HT. An older used one practically given to me. It kept me interested for about a month before I got a 2 meter FM mobile rig and a power supply. That lasted about a month before I started working on learning code so that I could get my General and Extra tickets.

    The good thing though is that I quickly became familiar with and brushed up on a lot of important stuff before diving in and investing a TON of money. I made sure I really wanted to do it. Now, 5 years later, I've spent my fair share but I've also maintained an interest and enjoyment.
  7. K0RGR

    K0RGR Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    A lot depends on where you live.

    I'm visiting the Silicon Valley right now, and there is a repeater on every possible repeater pair on 144, 222, and 440 Mhz. bands, with other repeaters on 50, 902, 1200, and even 2300 Mhz.. You can get into most of them with a handheld from just about anywhere, and there are tens of thousands of hams in the area, so there is a lot of activity.

    I live in a corner of Minnesota, where there are 5 local repeaters, 2 or 3 of which you can access most of the time with an HT. There are a few hundred hams in the county, and only a handful of them are on the local repeaters on a daily basis. Compared to most of the rural/suburban areas in the Midwest, this is a pretty busy place! It's very easy for a newcomer to get frustrated here on VHF FM.

    Before you get too far down the road, you should get acquainted with the local hams, and find out what they know. Two meters might be a good place to start, or not. You can find local clubs on the ARRL web site. If you live in a more rural place, you probably want to aim for HF, and spend as little as you can on VHF stuff - HF should be the main station.

    Technicians can do Morse code on 4 HF bands, and can use voice and digital modes on one band. Unfortunately, that voice band is not real useful a lot of the time. So, unless you want to take the time to learn the code, a General license is a good idea. There is really a lot of overlap between the two exams, and a little more studying in addition to the Tech should net you a General license. You have to take both the Tech and General written tests to get the General.
  8. NS8N

    NS8N Ham Member QRZ Page

    Just get a license, get a radio and get on the air. Determine if its for you FIRST, then worry about fancy rigs. I started out on CB. Had a blast on it. It was a natural progression for me to get an amateur radio license because I enjoyed chatting whether it was with a mic or key.
  9. KB3LAZ

    KB3LAZ Ham Member QRZ Page

    What a specific radio does is not as important as what it does for you, remember that. I could recommend you the sun, the moon, and the stars, sell you a box of lucky charms or I could lend you a telescope and you could view things from your own perspective.

    The truth is that man of the low to mid range radios are the same flavor in a different package. Most of which will keep the moderate ham happy and do more than he or she could ever ask. But the same amount of happiness can be achieved from a 20$ hamfest find or a homebrew rig if not more.

    As has already been stated you have to see if amateur radio is something that truly suits you. This claim has validity however depending on why you are drawn to the wonderful world of amateur radio you should already know deep inside if the hobby is for you. A radio on the other hand is a very personal choice and trial and error is likely to occur. No worries there as amateur radio is an interesting market. You can normally get 90% of what you put in back out of your gear withing a few year time line if not more.So if you outgrow your rig or decide that it just is not to your satisfaction then you can always sell it off and buy something else that is more to your liking or trade it for that matter.

    What you will need to do is pinpoint exactly what it is about the hobby that directly draws your attention and build from there. Exploit all forms of learning material to your advantages. A good library will help you with this and will also create a vast wealth of knowledge within your mental library.

    As far as gear is concerned as was already stated there is a vast amount of equipment at your disposal ranging from a few dollars to thousands of dollars if not hundreds of thousands of dollars. The key part is that the setup makes you happy.

    Okay, so you stated that you are primarily interested in HF. Now assuming that you are inquisitive and looking to experiment within all aspects of HF you will want a Multi Mode transceiver. This will allow you to explore AM, FM, SSB, CW, Digi, etc. Something like a 857 (insert Swiss Army knife radio) will allow you to do all of this plus much more and as I stated before if you outgrow it you can always sell it off relatively easy without much loss.

    If you go new figure to spend about 1000$ if you go the cheap route. This will get you a radio, PS, coax, and an antenna. If you go used you could probably cut that number in half as long as you are willing to purchase something a bit "outdated". If you go too far back in time you will end up paying out the nose.

    You could always go with something such as an 817nd which is HF/VHF/UHF and can be used as a base, mobile, and portable (darn near hand held) however this will limit you to 5w and in some cases even less. This has its downfalls and advantages. Kind of a give and take as with many aspects of life.

    If you wanted to go strictly HF you could get something like an 718. Small, cheap, and simple.

    I could go on with suggestions for different applications but I think we need to hear a bit more from you first. What are you looking/willing to spend? Do you want new, used, or vintage? Etc...tell us a little more if you are sure as of yet.
  10. KI6ZIF

    KI6ZIF Ham Member QRZ Page

    Your post is probably one of the most well written and clearly thought out post's I've seen to date on this subject.

    Also, my advice is to parrot what someone said above, but in a slightly different context.

    Get your License. Go as high as you feel comfortable. Do NOT rush out and buy a radio. Do however, find out what radio clubs are around you. Head to their meetings (or most appropriatly..) Find out if they have a club radio room (most do). And find out what exactly YOU like.

    It could be HF, it could be VHF, it could be UHF, or even Microwave and up.

    Wouldn't it be a shame to drop a ton of money on a VHF/UHF rig, to find out you like CW on HF?

    Most ham clubs are absolutely delighted to have visitors. And matter of factly, I was pleasently surprised when I joined the club I am in. I wasn't treated as a new guy. I was treated as if I was already there, and had been for a while! No parading around the new guy, no speaking to me like I was a newbie, nothing like that.

    I was spoken to as if I was already a long standing member of the club. That to me meant quite a bit.

    You'd be surprised how fellow hams treat one another, when your with the right crowd. Now granted you do NOT have to join a club. But doing so can be valuable and rewarding.

    ps: Field day is coming up soon. :D
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