Here are some brief notes on ham radios. For some background information and what to do once you have your radio, see Getting Started With Amateur Radio.
Your First Equipment
It’s pretty easy to get your first equipment. The easiest device you could get is a handheld radio, also called a HT. It’s a self-contained unit, can often run off battery power, and has an integrated “rubber duckie” antenna. These can be found for under $300 on sites like gigaparts.com.
The HT is portable, small, and useful for getting started. However, it has a number of disadvantages. They put out no more than 5W of power, which is rather low as far as these things go. They are sometimes used indoors or in cars, where radio signals don’t penetrate well (usually people have antennas outside and run an antenna feedline into the house/car). If you have repeaters nearby, expect this to be useful when you’re outside. If the repeaters are some distance away, you live in a valley, or you want to use it indoors or in a car, look for something else.
Despite all these, HT’s can have surprising range and even work well indoors for some. Almost every amateur has one, because they’re so small, portable, and handy. I always take mine with me when I travel because I enjoy talking to locals, and it’s so portable. Bottom line: it’s a worthwhile investment for most, but don’t be surprised if it doesn’t pull in many signals.
A VHF/UHF “mobile” radio is one designed to be mounted in a car, but can also be used indoors. There are often called “dual-band” or “2m/440” radios, since they work on the 2m and 70cm (440 MHz) bands. These also can be found for under $300 on sites like gigaparts. However, in addition to the radio, you will need:
- A “mag mount” (magnetic) base to attach to the roof or trunk of your car. These usually come with a length of feed line.
- An antenna to screw on to it
- A way to get power to the radio (cigarette lighters are usually not adequate, and this may involve some basic wiring work)
You can often run the antenna feedline into the car by simply shutting it in a door. This generally won’t hurt either the car or the cable (but don’t try shutting it in a window!)
If you want to use it in the house, you would instead add these things to a radio:
- An external dual-band vertical antenna, which you would attach to something vertical, such as a fencepost, pipe driven into the ground, etc.
- A length of RG-8/PL-259 coax cable
- SO-239 ends for the cable, which you will solder on; or spend a bit more money and buy a cable with factory-installed ends
- A DC power supply (most radios operate on 13.8VDC and don’t have built-in AC power support)
Some Specific Ideas
Based on recommendations from experienced hams, I bought this equipment for these reasons:
- I got a Yaesu VX-7R handheld. It supports 2m and 440MHz and is rugged and waterproof. It has a pretty good feature set and decent price.
- My first HF radio was a Yaesu FT-857D. That’s actually a mobile radio but the price is hundreds less than many base station HF radios. It also supports VHF and UHF in a single radio, which saved me having to buy a separate radio for that. I will be moving this to a car before too long.
- I got a Kenwood TS-2000 to replace the FT-857D in the house when it goes to the car. It has a strong feature set and also supports VHF/UHF.
- My tuner is an LDG Z-11ProII
- My power supply is an Astrom SS-30M
Links to this note
So, you may have read the material on the Why Get Involved With Amateur Radio? and are wondering how to get started. This has two main components: licensing and equipment.
Amateur radio is a radio service in which people are allowed and encouraged to build their own radios, antennas, and so forth. It can be used to communicate all around the globe without any intervening infrastructure such as satellites or cables.
The TH-D72A is a very nice handheld Amateur Radio Transceiver. Among other things, it has an integrated GPS, built-in APRS functionality, full AX.25 Packet Radio TNC, and a USB port (which shows up as a serial device) to a computer – all built in.