Tips for Chosing your First Radio for Your Ham
and getting on the AIR!
This is a long article but contains lots of important
information for you to help with choosing your first ham radio so be
prepared to do some reading.
I often get emails from new
Technician class hams asking what should they buy for their first ham
radio station. Questions such as "What is the best 2 meter radio?" "Should
I start out with an ht or get a mobile for use in the house with a DC
power supply?" "There are so many brands and models out there, I am so
confused that I don't know what to buy and don't know where to start, can
you help me?" "I also want to get on HF but just don't know where to
start." "What is the best antenna I should buy or should I build one?" And
on and on with similar questions asking me to help them decide on what is
"best" for them to get on the air.
Well the simple answer is I don't know!
Only you know what your goals and operating conditions are and the
number of dollar bills in your wallet and many other
here are some of the more popular questions I get with answers
and tips that hopefully with help you decide on that first ham radio
station to get you started on the air.
Let us get started, I
know you are in a hurry! I was back in 1988.
You must ask yourself
some or all of these questions:
How much money do I want to spend? Do I
want only the higher frequency bands like 2 meters and 440? Both?
What bands on HF do I want to use? What do I want my ham station to
Answers to these question after much thought
by you will be some of the main limiting factors for all of the questions
Should I buy New or used?
Both have disadvantages and advantages! Do your research and pick the
choice that is "best" for your particular situation, wants and
Should I operate only from inside the house OR the car,
portable with an HT, OR all of these choices?
So what is
your decision? What is best for you?
I decide to operate only from inside my house, do I have room for an
outside antenna if needed for increased range and if so are there HOA or
deed restrictions, or limits on outside antennas that will have to be
overcome? Do I have room
for hf antennas
which usually are large or long? Have you done
your research? Have you measured your space?
Where do I live in relation to the nearest repeater/s as far
as distance is involved? (I have actually
received this question from a ham who did not send his call sign....so I
had no way of knowing where he lived!)
There are many handy
repeater listing sites on the web to get answers. Here are a
couple of good ones:
http://rptr.amateur-radio.net/arn/rptr/index.html Just follow the
Are there 2 meter or 440 band repeaters near
me? Where do you live?
above, see the links!
I buy an ht, will it "hit" my local repeater from inside my
You have to remember that your ht is very low power and mostly line of sight which is about 3
miles to the horizion at the 6 foot level of the antenna above the
ground over flat terrain. There are many variables depending on how high
and where the repeater antenna is relative to your location. Are
there hills, mountains and other large metalic objects or buildings, etc
in the way? Height is everything for your antenna and the repeater station
antenna! Get with some other local hams and see what they think. Remember
that the short "rubber duck" antenna on your ht is not very
Why would I want to use local repeaters or should I just
Using one or more of your local repeaters will
increase your range drastically compared to operating simplex! Remember
that as a good rule of thumb, simplex (station to station) is very
limited in range compared to using repeaters due to the frequencies
and power levels used on the vhf/uhf ham bands. However, many hams
well endowed with lots of money and very tall towers with
stacked Yagis on top operate only simplex and in a big
Now back down to earth....Most 2 meter repeaters are
"free" to use and are what are called "open" as long as you have a minimum
of a Technician license! If you limit yourself to simplex only, then you
limit your range on 2 meters and the 70cm band. Even with a more powerful
mobile radio used in your home with a DC power supply and efficient
external antenna, your range may still be limited using simplex. Many
variables include the type of antenna you use, your power output, how far
the simplex or repeater station is from you, how high your antenna is and
the other stations equipment, location and antenna height and type of
"What antenna should I buy or build to put up on the house,
apartment, condo, etc?" Am I going to operate only VHF/UHF bands?
These decisions have to be made. Don't forget
that you will want to get on HF later
This is just like asking
what car should you buy! The antenna is the
station, not the radio! It and your feed line are the MOST
important parts of your station. Skimp on either and you will have a
poor signal. Depending on whether you operate on the hf bands, or the
higher frequency bands like 2 meters or the 440 band, will determine the
size and type of antenna you will need. If you are interested in maximum
range and DX, then a high gain Yagi is the way to go.
coaxial cable that has the least loss per foot at 2 meters that you
can afford. On the hf bands, you can get away with the higher loss type
coax but on the higher 10 meter band, your signal will start to
suffer. The choice of building or buying an antenna can get
complicated and it all depends on it's type, location, your
abilities, budget, the proper equipment, tools, swr meter, time,
do you need help installing it, etc.
I operate mobile only, what is the best antenna for mobile
Here again, there is that word
"best"....only you can decide by comparing what is available and can it be
mounted on your vehicle in the highest location near
or on the center of it's roof which is the "best" location for a
mobile antenna. You also want an antenna with a bit of gain if possible.
Never mount an antenna next to the side of a metal vehicle where the
radiator is within inches of metal. Top center of the highest main metal
"mass" is the best location. A fiber glass roof directly under the
antenna just will not work if it requires a good ground plane under it.
Next best location is trunk mounted. Check the antenna reviews on the web
and see what is out there and what you can mount on your particular
What type of coax is needed for 2 meters if I have an
Always get the lowest loss 50 ohm coaxial cable
you can afford. Check the
specifications before you buy! Stay away from
the cheap rg58 types unless you have only a very few feet to use it. Few
feet means less than 15 or 20...less is better due to lower your signal
loss per foot! It does not matter as much for the HF
What brand of ht or mobile radio should I buy?
the best brand radio to buy among all of the companies that make 2
I will answer these questions with some more
questions. What car should you buy? Who makes the best fast food sandwich?
It's a matter of opinion and research and your preferences! As far as
radios it is totally your choice between the top 3 or 4 makers like Yaesu,
Icom, Kenwood, Alinco and others not in any particular order or
preference. Buy what you can afford and only what you will need given your
operating goals and budget.
Here are some very good choices among
the top makers of 2 Meter Radios:
Alinco 2 Meter
Full Featured 144-148Mhz 2 Meter
Full power output 50 watts, (H 50 watt/ M 20 watt/ L 5
watt) power settings
Wideband Receive - 118-135.995 (AM) and
(Note that this radio receives the aircraft AM
it out here!
Dual Bander 2 Meter/440 Band
Mobile/Base VHF+UHF Transceiver
with Expanded Range
Full Featured Dual Band
H/M/L Power out- VHF: 50/25/5W UHF: 35/20/5W
TX: USA VHF 144-147.995Mhz
108-173.995 (Includeds full AM Air Craft Band an Public
335-479.995Mhz (this range contains the 440 (70cm ham
87.5-107.995 FM Broadcast band)
it out here!
Recommended 2 Meter and
70cm (440) HT'S (Handi Talkies)
There is a wide range of choices on
the market for new and used hts. So you have loads of research to do to
find out which is the best for your needs.
The top mfg's like Alinco, Icom,
Kenwood, and Yaesu have plenty of models to choose
from but other imports like the Wouxon, as a general rule of thumb, have more for the money and
at less cost but you have to compare their features and options.
Here are a couple of VHF/UHFdual band model
examples from Alinco and Wouxun:
DJ-V57T Dual Band on left ---- the Wouxun
KG-UVD1P on right.
(Not actual size and resized for
many of the same features and are highly recommended and reviewed by
others BUT..YOU must compare them to see which features and price range is
right for you!
others offered by Amateur Radio Supplies here and compare
What is the best brand
radio to buy among all of the companies that make 2 meter or
dual band radios?
See above! Why do I drive a different
car than you? It fits my needs.
Should I buy a "dual bander"....you know a radio that has
both the 2 meter and the 440 band?
Yes and no! Strictly your
choice...if you have a need for the addition of the 440 band and there are
operators or repeaters that you desire to communicate with near you,
and if you can afford the additional cost and complexities involved, then,
yes. You might also want to consider using a dual bander for ham satellite
communications which can be loads of fun...this will require a special
dual band antenna along with a dual band radio like those mentioned above!
And don't forget, even if you are not interested in satellite
communications, a dual band radio will require a dual band antenna or one
for each band!
What is the most simple 2 meter radio to
operate? You asked so read
Any electronic device is "simple" to operate if you have
learned how to use it. You can not expect a plug and play situation with
ham radio equipment in most cases, especially when it come to simplicity
of operation with modern "rigs". You were not born with the knowledge of
how to turn on a microwave oven! The more bands, functions or "bells and
whistles" a radio has, the more complicated it becomes. Modern day menu driven radios can be very complicated as most
new radios are. Can you imagine wanting to simply program in a
repeater into memory in your radio and having to take a week studying the
operator's manual just to find the section that tells you
So your new dual band or mono
band ht should be easy to program. Some are programmable using
software and your computer, so check that out. This can be a very valuable
time saver to have, even if it costs you a bit more for the software and
programming cable. You actually can save hours by
using the software and just toss the manual aside for the time being. Many
of the imports are very difficult to understand even though they have been
"translated" to English!
Here is an example. After
searching the manual and finding the instructions on page 78...It
says....to program a new repeater....Push button C 2 times "quickly",
wait for 1 second, then push and hold buttons A + B for 3 seconds then
turn VFO A or B to desired frequency, press button A again while
pressing button C to bring up the pl menu. Press button D until you
see the correct pl tone on the display. Then press the set
button. Change pl tone by pressing button B until the pl
tone is displayed, then press and hold set button while pressing
button "Ent" for 2 seconds. Turn power off and wait 1 second then turn
power back on...... then your new repeater should be set in
memory...and on and on and on until the display blinks twice, etc,
etc, etc. If this process fails, turn power off and push and hold buttons
A and B while turning power back on to reset to default...then start over!
Yuk! Add your own curse words here!
Also keep in mind that
while doing the programming, your using fingers 3 times the size of the
buttons and by the time you get the programming done, the radio will
be out of warrenty! Only joking but this is something you have to consider
when doing research on what to buy...ease of operating and programming!
Try to find the operators manual online and take a look long BEFORE you
buy the radio! If you have a new ham friend, take a look at his radio and
see how it operates. Pick his brain.
I really need an swr meter if I don't plan on building my
Simple answer is yes...an swr meter can be invaluable
in troubeshooting coax or antenna problems that may and most likely
will happen. Even most new out of the box antennas need adjusting for
maximum performance when first installed for lowest swr and for
periodic testing! If you plan on building your antennas, then an swr
meter is a MUST!
If you can afford it, a good antenna analyzer can be
And there are hundreds of
other questions that go on and on! Each ham radio and the station is
different in one way or another..no 2 ham stations will be
You will notice that I have
answered most of the questions above with questions so you have lots of
thought and planning to do in advance.
Now What About
Getting on the HF Bands? That's where I want to be!
Your new "Tech" priveleges will allow you limited
operation on the 80, 40, 15 and 10 meter bands. 80, 40, and 15 meters
are CW only for you if you are a Technician class ham.
Learning CW (Morse Code) and using it on the air is
not for everyone but when you hear your call sign come back to you in your
speaker from a station far away in Morse Code, you will get a thrill that
may last a lifetime!
forget that you have voice privileges using the SSB mode on a
portion of 10 meters! You can operate from 28.300Mhz to 28.500Mhz using
Operating on the HF bands will allow your range to
increase drastically and you will find that one or more of
the HF bands are "open" to somewhere all the time unless
mother nature steps in to limit your fun! Be
As with choosing VHF and UHF
radios and antennas to get on the air, choosing and operating a "rig"
for HF requires a lot of thinking on your part and lots of
major thing you need to think about is NOT the radio but the
antenna/s required. If you don't remember anything you have read so far,
remember that the ANTENNA is the most important
part of a ham station other than yourself!
require much more space and their physical size is much longer or
higher than VHF/UHF antennas by many feet. We are
talking into the hundred plus feet or more for an 80 meter full size
dipole. So if you wanted to put up a multiband antenna that would allow
you to operate on ALL of your allowed bands on HF, then a good full length
dipole would need to be about 133 feet long! Do you have that much room
outside where you live? Many hams don't. Have you though about
You can use HF vertical type
antennas that have a small footprint, but most require a good radial
field below them to operate efficiently and this take loads of room and
lots of work to get them down.
Other antenna options on HF
are available but are compromises in one way or another. Many are half
size, random wires, spiral, 1/4 wave, end fed and other options and most
require the use of a good matching deviced called a
tuner but nothing is
perfect! Why? No antenna is perfect in every respect.
how much does a good HF radio cost?
this is a general question with broad ranging answers. Do you want new or
used? How much money do you have to spend? Do you want a whiz bang, lots
of whistles type, top of the line transceiver, or just a good all around
simple to operate multiband HF radio that will get you on the air at
a very reasonable cost and has all of the needed functions to make you
If the last question above
fits your "style" then you might consider buying a used transceiver.
However, remember that many of the older models available now are not
supported by the mfg of it and parts may be very difficult to find when it
"breaks". Repair costs may be very high depending on what you find. If you
do find a used transceiver that fits the bill, try to make sure that it
comes with some sort of warrenty from a reputable ham radio dealer or that
the seller of it will stand behind it. Buying from a ham radio dealer is
the best way to go and to be assured that if it breaks within a certain
period of time, they will stand behind it and make you
Buying New HF
Ham Radio Transceivers! You can spend Thousands!
don't go away yet.
Yes, you can spend thousands and
you read that that correctly!. But don't get discouraged yet!
Some of the very top of the line HF transceivers and the SDR's (Software
Defined Radios) that have ALL of the super duper bells and
whistles and just about any option you can think of can run into the
thousands of dollars. They usually come with a "book", rather than an
operator's manual, so your leaning curve will be very very steep and will
take loads of time just to know how to get all of their features to
work properly on the air for you. All are menu controlled using
microprocessors that could run the space shuttle or the International
Space station in my opinion.
They can be very complicated
for the new ham, who just wants to get on the air, and they
have many multi multi function buttons and controls and sub menu after sub
menu using the same button. You will spend loads of time attempting to
tweak and peak all of the controls so it will "sound" better and better
and better and there is no end to it.
If that's the way you want to go
and you have the money, then I say go for it, but don't plan on getting on
the air quickly if you don't have a good understanding of the radio
and the experience to use it! You will spend loads of time
learning how to operate it rather than being on the air.
Choice for Most Hams! You can spend only a few hundred
All-mode All Hf Bands Desktop
General Shortwave Coverage Receiver
9.5 inches wide, 4 inches high and 11.5 deep)
Price range a
little over $500.00 depending on dealer as of
Alinco DX-SR8T/E would make an
excellent inexpensive "starter" transceiver for most hams wanting to
get on the air inexpensivly with an all band hf rig that covers from 160
meters to 10 meters including the new 60 meter band in the U.S.
In addition, the general coverage receiver
covers 135KHz to 30MHz in all modes!
Output power is 100W SSB/CW and
FM, 40W in AM with low and super-low power settings for QRP
operation....and many other features to numerous to mention here. Get
all the details here!
This radio is a newer release by Alinco and can be found at
many ham radio dealers..however a word of WARNING. You may find it cheaper by $20 or $30
dollars at some dealers than others but here is the warning...it is
so popular that most of the "cheaper" priced dealers DO NOT HAVE THEM IN
STOCK! Would you want to wait one, two or even 3 months to save a bit of
money and not be on the air? I personally would not! So my advice to you
would be to shop around and find a dealer
that has them IN STOCK when you
that I recommend that will give you your dollars worth is Amateurradiosupplies.com!
I can't promise that they will always
have them in stock but give them a try and see. They also sell many other
ham radio related products like power supplies at good prices that
you will need now or in the future! Check them out! You will be happy you
did! While we are on this topic, check out a good
DC power supply that is a must for powering the 2 or 440 band radio or
any other HF radio for that matter.
It won't work without
I have attempted to answer the more simple
questions above but you can see by some of the questions that many hams
ask when starting out that you have to do lots of research BEFORE you
start buying a radio, antennas, etc and you have to set your goals
and limits for your first ham radio station. Much of the answers in
the questions above should have already been learned by you in preparing
for your Technician exam. Refer back to your study guide and you might
find the answer. Search Hamuniverse.com, and you may find the answer here! If not email me and
I will attempt to answer your question given enough details by you. I need
details, not broad ranging questions like "What is the best 2 meter
ham station?", that make me guess what you are
One last question that may be asked
"If I am at the point that I am so frustrated with tuning my
antenna or getting my radio on the air, where can I turn to for really
good local help?"
One really good tip for you is to check
out local ham radio clubs for experienced hams in or near your home town
that may be willing to help you get started. One thing
you will learn about ham radio is that most hams will be happy to help you
when they can! Join and support your
local ham radio club if you have one. You can do a
search for ARRL affiliated clubs here!
many local ham friends as possible and pick their brains! You will soon
learn much more from those who have more experience than you. They
can be invaluable to you with good local repeater and station setup
information with hints and tips that will certainly get you
started on the air easier.
So where can I find a list of
hams in my home town?
Go to this
link on www.qrz.com
and follow the simple instructions. You can search by zip code which is
very helpful! Don't be surprised at the number of listings! You will see a
list of the hams nearby you with addresses. Then just click on the call
signs of each nearest you, and find email addresses and give them an
email. Tell them that you are a new ham and give them your name and call
sign...you may find a new friend for life!
If you think all of this
is overwhelming at first, just wait until something goes wrong with your
station...then your learning experience within the world of ham radio will
truely have begun! You have lots to learn so keep at it and have
reading, study and info for the new ham!
Getting Ready To
Setup and Operate Your
First Ham Radio Station A Must
for Chosing your First Radio for Your Ham Station and getting on the
Prices on Handheld Ham Radio Transceivers! from Amazon.com
to use ham radio repeaters for beginners!
Ham Radio Topics
for New Technicians!
NEW HAM ON HF!
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