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Choosing Your First Radio

Chris Levin (KB7YOU) on December 18, 2004
View comments about this article!

Choosing Your First Radio


1          Introduction

Ham radio is an exciting hobby – and there is a lot more to it than just talking on the radio.


Amateur radio provides a framework that supports a wide variety of interests. With amateur radio as a resource and guide you can experiment with digital communications and RF/Internet gateways, you can design and build electronic devices and talk to stations in outer space.


You can study propagation and atmospheric conditions or listen to interstellar signals created by the explosion of stars and much more.


Of course, communications is an important part of the amateur radio world. Meeting new people around town and around the world is tremendous fun.


Whatever your interests and goals, amateur radio can provide value to your endeavors.


The very versatility that makes ham radio so interesting can also cause problems. As a new ham or even as an experienced operator trying out a new aspect of the hobby, the huge amount of information available can be difficult to sort through. The Internet can be a valuable tool but with so many people giving conflicting advice, how do you know what’s right? That’s where this paper comes in. My goal is to give the new ham some basic, general information on radio types, their pros and cons and the ways that they can be used.


The information in these pages is based on my first hand experience. I don’t write about things I have no skill or experience with. By following these rules I can ensure good accuracy in the information I present.


I hope that you enjoy reading this document and that it helps you with your radio purchase. If you have questions, comments or corrections I would enjoy hearing from you. You can visit my web site at to see more information or to send me an email.

2         Radio Types

2.1        Terms you need to know:

  • DC to Daylight – Refers to the new breed of radios that cover the HF (1.8MHz – 30MHz + 50MHz to 54MHz), VHF (144 MHz – 148 MHz) and UHF (420 MHz – 450 MHz) amateur bands. These are all mode radios and are available in a variety of form factors and feature sets.


  • All Mode – A term used to describe radios that support CW, SSB, AM, FM and various digital communication modes. Most modern HF radios and some VHF/UHF radios are all mode.


  • Dual Band – Generally refers to a radio that covers the 2 meter and 70 centimeter amateur bands.
  • HF - The 160 meter to 6 meter amateur bands.
  • VHF –The 2 meter amateur band.


  • UHF – The 70 centimeter amateur band.


Choosing a first radio is one of the most important decisions you will make – and one of the toughest. The right radio for you will depend on what you want to do now and in the future. It can be hard sorting through all the advice. To get you started I have listed each of the common radio types and some reasons to consider each.

2.2        Mobile 2 Meter and Dual Band Radios

The mobile 2m or dual band radio is the workhorse of local communications. These radios are most commonly used for communications via local repeaters and for short haul simplex communications. Most of these radios will also let you do PACKET or APRS communication with the addition of software and hardware. Some dual band mobile radios are also suitable for basic satellite communications. The majority of mobile radios are FM only and the most common bands they support are 2m and 70cm.


There are many radios available in this category. Prices range from under $200 for a basic 2m mobile up to $500 for models with built in PACKET modems and APRS software.


Things to consider:

  • If you live in an area with an active ham community chances are good that there is a lot of activity on the 2m and 70cm FM bands. One of these radios will give you lots of opportunities to communicate.
  • If you have a Technician license and plan on waiting a while to upgrade then your HF choices are very limited. A 2m, 70cm or dual band radio is an excellent choice for day to day communications.
  • If you are interested in PACKET or APRS then you need a 2m FM radio. A basic mobile rig or one of the more sophisticated rigs with a built-in PACKET modem is a must for these modes.
  • If you drive a lot or like to take road trips the mobile dual band radio is an excellent choice. In remote areas, the relatively high power output of these radios (usually 25 to 75 watts) will allow you to make contacts over distances of 20 to 50 miles.



  • High output power – These radios have power outputs ranging from a low of 20 watts up to 100 watts for some models.
  • Flexible – You can use these mobile radios in your car or your house (with the addition of a deep cycle battery and/or power supply). They also work with a wide variety of antennas allowing you to choose an antenna that suits your needs.
  • Feature rich – The larger form factor of these radios makes it simple for manufacturers to add extra features. The larger size also means that buttons and displays are larger and easier to use. You can purchase mobile radios with built in TNC’s (PACKET modems), cross band repeaters, general purpose scanners and other features.



  • Power requirements are higher than for handhelds. Most mobile radios are not going to be suitable for QRP or camping applications because of the large batteries required.
  • Limited modes and bands – These radios only work on the 2m and 70cm bands (some also cover 220MHz, 6m and 10m). Most of these radios only support FM communications.
  • External power supplies or batteries are needed for home use.

2.3        The DC to Daylight Radio

The "do it all" HF/6m/2m/70cm (and even higher!) radios are relatively new to the market. Often referred to as "shack in a box" radios they can be a great way to explore all of the common modes and bands available to the curious ham.


So why should you consider one of these radios? There are several reasons. First, they give you a little bit of everything - HF, 2m SSB, local repeaters and more. They are also great space savers if you don't have room for multiple radios. If and when you decide to add a specialized radio to your setup or if you decide to buy a better performing "built to task" rig, your DC to Daylight radio will make a fine secondary rig. In many cases you can use it in conjunction with your other radio (especially if they are from the same manufacturer) to facilitate things like full duplex satellite operations. These radios will serve your needs as your license privileges grow and as your interests change.



  • Ready to go as you upgrade your license.
  • Space saving.
  • Many DC to Daylight rigs have rich feature sets and support things like satellite communications, packet cluster tuning and other digital modes and computer control.
  • Good features per dollar. These rigs give you a lot of "bang" for the buck.
  • Available in mobile and base station sizes and recently in portable/backpack sizes.



  • Can be complex to operate with many menus and options.
  • Price premium over a similar quality HF only or VHF only all mode radio.
  • Generally they do not perform as well as dedicated built to task radios.

2.4        HF Base Station

The traditional 160 meter to 10 meter HF base station rig provides more features, more capable components and a larger form factor than mobile or portable rigs. Most HF base stations provide 100 watts of output power and many have built-in antenna tuners. There are a huge number of new and used rigs available in every price range.


With its larger form factor, the HF base station generally has a better receiver, more features, easier to use controls and will generally perform better than a similarly priced portable or mobile unit. Some HF base stations give you all mode capabilities on 6m and 2m in addition to their HF capabilities. Since there are so many HF base station radios to choose from you should spend some time on the ham radio web sites (eHam, ARRL, QSL.NET) reading reviews and examining features.

2.5        Handheld Radios

Handheld radios are nice, some are full of bells and whistles and many are less expensive than mobile or base radios. But I think you should consider a handheld as a second radio. Why? Modern handhelds are marvels but they have limited features, power and antennas. Yes you can add an amplifier and an external antenna but the amplifier + handheld will cost you as much as a mobile rig. Handhelds have limited frequency coverage and sensitivity. You are not going to get the most out of radio with just a handheld. If you absolutely must have one (I did!) then start with something simple while you save for one of the rigs described above. The ICOM Q7A is an excellent choice. Its $99, uses 2 AA batteries, puts out 300mW and does 2m and 70cm as well as having an excellent general coverage VHF/UHF scanner built in.

3         The KB7YOU Station Setup

I like to explore all aspects of amateur radio. I don't have a favorite mode and I like to try out lots of different things from CW to meteor scatter to digital modes to portable operations while camping. Here is the equipment that I have collected over the last 2 years. It might give you an idea of what a typical but modest station looks like.


  • Antennas - I have several permanent antennas and I'm always experimenting with them and building new ones. Since I like to check out all the bands and because I do a lot of portable operation my antennas are pretty simple. Here is what I have:

·         Inverted L - Up 35 feet and 220 feet long. This antenna is connected to my radios via an AH-4 antenna tuner, the internal tuner in my rig or a QPAK antenna tuner. The antenna runs east/west and, with my tuner, gives me all or partial coverage of all bands from 80 meters to 6 meters. I experimented with this antenna for several months, adding station grounds, radials and adjusting its length and height to get it working well. I made the antenna from a scrap length of CAT-5 networking cable.

·         40 meter dipole - I had an old G5RV floating around and I strung it up about 25 feet between a few trees in my yard. I connect this antenna to my AH-4 tuner or directly to the internal tuner in my radio. It works well on 40 meters through 6 meters.  Since it runs north/south it complements my "L".

·         Force 12 40 meter vertical dipole - This is a really neat antenna. It is car portable (breaks down into 4 foot sections) and can be setup in about 30 minutes. It comes with great instructions, a series of matching coils and all the hardware you need to get it up and running. I've learned a lot about dipoles and antenna matching methods playing with my Force 12. I plan on setting it up permanently at my home so I can use it more frequently. It performs very well and if you set it up for 40 meters and leave off the matching coils an antenna tuner makes it useable on 80 meters through 6 meters.

·         Backpack portable vertical whips - Last summer I spent some time designing, building and experimenting with vertical antennas. I now have a collection of verticals that I can strap to a pack or setup in 5 minutes or less. I use these for QRP and occasionally set one up at my house. If you are interested in experimenting with and building your own antennas this is a great place to start. Some hardware, wire, PVC tubing and a selection of whips and ham sticks are all you need. I built 5 antennas for less than $50.00.

·         2m/70cm collinear antenna - A basic omni directional base antenna for 2m & 70cm FM contacts. I've also had good luck using this antenna for 2m and 70cm SSB contacts even though most SSB folks use horizontally polarized antennas.


  • My handheld: Icom W32A dual band radio. Nice radio. You can receive on 2m & 70cm at the same time or receive 2 2m or 2 70cm stations at the same time. Not as small as a lot of handhelds but a good size AND you can use a $20 battery pack that takes 6 NiCad's. Much cheaper than the $80 to $100 battery packs most radios need.  This radio costs about $250.00.


  • My first "real" radio: Icom IC706mkIIg. This is a really great rig. I use it as a mobile and as a base. It lets me use 2m and 70cm repeaters during my commute plus it gives me 2m & 70cm SSB, digital and CW for DX'ing, satellites and other stuff. It's got HF coverage from 160m to 6m and you can get the AH4 antenna tuner which is a very handy device. All around a very solid radio will 100w output on HF, 50w on 2M and 30w on 70cm. You can get one new for about $700.00


  • My base station HF rig: My base station radio is a DC to Daylight Kenwood TSB-2000. This is an all mode radio that covers HF, 6 meters, 2 meters, 70 centimeters and 1296 MHz. The B version is a 100% computer controlled radio. The front panel has a power switch and nothing else! I've really been enjoying this radio. The receiver seems excellent, the transmit audio is great and I have received many good reports from other hams. This has become my workhorse rig. With a built in TNC, satellite capabilities, computer control and excellent DSP IF filtering, the TS-2000 is meeting all of my needs. It is a good "bang for the buck" rig at about $1,300. The TS-2000 (has the normal front panel displays and buttons) runs about $1,500 as of November 2004.


  • My 2m/70cm FM mobile: I have a Kenwood TMD700A which I got because it has a built in TNC and APRS. Plus it's a very good, computer controlled dual band rig with some extra features like cross band repeating and the built in TNC. This is an expensive radio at $500.00 and probably not a good first choice. If you are interested in packet or APRS you can use a program on your PC and any 2m rig (like the 706 or a handheld) to explore this mode.


4         Radio Purchasing Tips

My first piece of advice is: Do not spend too much money on your first radio!

Why? Well, you are also going to need an antenna, wire, coax, grounding rods, dummy loads, test meters, books and all kinds of other things to get on the air at home or in your car. It's sort of like buying a new car or computer. You need more than just a radio to get on the air. Also, since you are new, you don't yet know what your tastes and preferences are going to be. So, be careful and go slow.



1. Do lots of research. Talk to other hams and read reviews. But be careful of advice. We hams are a passionate lot and can be blinded by loyalty to a brand or a mode. Figure out what you like.


2. eHam and ARRL are very good resources for information. Use them!


3. Don't forget accessories: Coax, antenna, ground rods, power supply, desk (for base) or mounting equipment (for mobile) and other miscellaneous startup equipment. These initial purchases can use half your budget but are well worth it. If you skimp here to get a super duper rig you will probably be disappointed or operate in an unsafe manner.


4. A couple of reference books are a good idea: My choices: ARRL Handbook, ARRL Antenna Handbook, ARRL Operating Guide.


5. Used is OK but get help from an experienced ham. eBay has lots of deals but lots of junk as well. A local ham store (if you have one near you) is a good place to buy your first radio even if it costs a little more.


6. Join a radio club. Even if this is not your thing, a membership for a year can give you access to lots of other hams. And, you might like it.



I hope all of this helps you to pick a good first radio. You should check out some of the ham radio web sites. One site, eHam, has thousands of equipment reviews (note: These need to be taken with a grain of salt!). Go to If you are not an ARRL member you should consider joining. Members can access comprehensive and impartial reviews at the website. There is also a technical information section (TIS) that has all kinds of documents on antennas, modes, electronics and other stuff that is good to have. I use these sites weekly.



Have fun and good luck.


Member Comments:
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Choosing Your First Radio  
by PA7WWO on December 18, 2004 Mail this to a friend!
Nice artical and for e it looks very complete best 73 and good luck
Choosing Your First Radio  
by W4MY on December 18, 2004 Mail this to a friend!
Thanks Chris. Very well layed out and written. I was curious to learn how those 100% computer controlled rigs worked out. FB 73 and Merry Christmas!

Marty / W4MY
RE: Choosing Your First Radio  
by K4JF on December 18, 2004 Mail this to a friend!
Excellent article. Consider yourself an Elmer to many you will never meet. Suggestion to readers: print this out to give to friends when they show an interest in ham radio.
RE: Choosing Your First Radio  
by K0BG on December 18, 2004 Mail this to a friend!
Except for to much white space, it's not a bad article.

While I'll readily tell someone which radio I use for each purpose, I do my best not to recommend one over another. Each (potential) user will have an unique set of circumstances that might not be satisfied by the same equipment that satisfied mine. If this weren't the case, there wouldn't be some many manufacturers of amateur radio equipment.

Alan, KØBG
Choosing Your First Radio  
by N4ZOU on December 18, 2004 Mail this to a friend!
Sometimes, eham is at fault with the white space. It got something to do with the way the software run on eham and Microsoft Word interact.
RE: Choosing Your First Radio  
by AB8TM on December 18, 2004 Mail this to a friend!
I like the article, I hope that new hams are able to take it seriously and use it well. Wish I had something like this!
Choosing Your First Radio  
by K6LCS on December 18, 2004 Mail this to a friend!
Great article! Best advice of all: Join your local club (or two)! It is there where you will quickly learn what is happening for YOU in YOUR REGION. Go to...

...and click on CLUBS to find out what's happening in your neck o' the woods.

I am asked all the time, "What's the BEST HT..." And, of course, NO ONE can intelligently answer that question without knowing what's happening in your area. For example, MY first HT was a Standard C288a - a 220-only handheld. It was PERFECT for ME for what I needed for the hobby back then...But I certainly would not suggest such a unit blindly to anyone asking.

Clint Bradford, K6LCS
Choosing Your First Radio  
by WA2JJH on December 18, 2004 Mail this to a friend!
Good artical. IMHO Swiss Army Knief radios(DC-daylight mobiles) do all of ham radio, just OK. The multiple menu's still drive me nuts on my FT-100D!!!!!

However a Shack in the box for around $800 can be OK.
It is ideal for tech pluses that will upgrade.
Do the VHF/UHF thing. Earn your general, and see if HF is for you.

If your rig is a 100W, make sure your 12V supply is 25A+ regulated. Use a good front mounted speaker to really judge the radio.

Some, if the see you are NEW, they will unload their GRADE A POS!!!!

Try to try before you buy! See if you can buy locally.

FWIW that cheap new ICOM for around $600 looks like a lot of radio for the money.

ENJOY your XMAS present!!!!!
RE: Choosing Your First Radio  
by AA4PB on December 18, 2004 Mail this to a friend!
Good article. One nit-pick. VHF is 30 Mhz to 300 Mhz so 6M is a VHF band rather than an HF band (although it is include in a number of HF rigs).
RE: Choosing Your First Radio  
by KB7YOU on December 18, 2004 Mail this to a friend!
Thanks to everyone for the positive feedback on the article.

The extra tips like joining a club and remembering a power supply are right on the money. You can never learn too much in this hobby.

Merry Christmas to everyone.

RE: Choosing Your First Radio  
by KB7YOU on December 18, 2004 Mail this to a friend!
Hi Marty (W4MY),

So far the computer control has been working great. I still miss the knobs and displays but I have to say that using software really gives great flexibility. It also helps ergonomically.

The only conflict I’ve run into is when I want to do APRS I can’t run the radio control software and my APRS software at the same time since the radio only has 1 serial port. 2 serial ports on the radio would be nice. My workarounds are to either use AGWPE instead of the internal TNC or to use the remote head unit for the Kenwood when I use the internal TNC.

I’ve also really been enjoying the Packet Cluster Tune feature. It’s a great way to find open bands and interesting stations. Never thought I’d use it but turns out to be an OK feature.

I also had my first mobile experience using the Kenwood and the remote head. It was great to have nothing but the small head unit and microphone up front. Having the TS-2000 in the car makes me really regret selling my Icom 706 because now I want to have HF in the car all the time. Oh well, I’ll just have to pick up a mobile rig next year after saving my pennies again.

Brings me to another piece of advice: Don’t be so quick to sell a radio you like just to buy a new one. Sometimes it’s just better to wait and save 

Merry Christmas to all!
RE: Choosing Your First Radio  
by N3QT on December 18, 2004 Mail this to a friend!
Thanks for taking the time to write this article. One often hears the question, "what radio do I buy?". You provided solid advice.

If asked, I often point out that like cars a test drive helps. Each car does the speed limit as each radio will "transmit". IMHO, there is no perfact car as there is no perfact radio. There will be one that fits. This is very abstract as well as very subjective within the users perspective.

I suggest a better question(s)for new HAMS, "what do you use and what do you like or dislike about it?".

Also, field day events sponsored by clubs present a more social aspect of HAM radio. It's the perfact time to talk and try. However, if a HAM has found "the golden" radio it is suspect that it will never leave the shack. ha ha.

73, John de N3QT
RE: Choosing Your First Radio  
by KE6I on December 18, 2004 Mail this to a friend!
My thinking. For beginner, but for station with lots to do....

1. HF radio. Buy used, stick to Icom/Yaesu/Kenwood. Buy it from a proper ham dealer, not off Ebay.

2. VHF/UHF dual band HT. Get this new.

3. Wire antenna on TV mast. (Higher = better)

4. 2m/440 Dual band vertical -- put it on the mast.

5 Antenna tuner. MFJ ones with 3 knobs okay. Buy this new.

6. Coax, 8-foot Ground rods, (from Home Depot) copper wire, connectors.

7. Bencher paddle.

8. Big no-name brand 12V power supply.
RE: Choosing Your First Radio  
by N3JBH on December 18, 2004 Mail this to a friend!
seem's to me that 6 meters is a vhf band. not a hf band.
30 Mhz to 300 Mhz is vhf. and that should include the 6 meter 1 1/4 meter and the 2 meter bands. if i am correct here.

also consider the yaesu ft 847 with the fc-20 tuner another really great dc to daylight rig.
Choosing Your First Radio  
by N5IVZ on December 18, 2004 Mail this to a friend!
well written article chris.. i learned something reading it!!


fred mann n5ivz, mcallen, texas
RE: Choosing Your First Radio  
by LNXAUTHOR on December 18, 2004 Mail this to a friend!
- OK, where were you when i needed this advice 18 months ago?


- good advice ... guess i lucked out and did every you said with the exception of buying a QRP rig for my first HF transceiver! (bought as a self-incentive to work on getting HF privileges)...

- after upgrading, little did i know what fun i would have not having a 100W rig!

- tks for the article and happy holidays!
RE: Choosing Your First Radio  
by KI7YY on December 18, 2004 Mail this to a friend!
Bravo! Well written.
Merry Christmas to all. 73, Kirk
RE: Choosing Your First Radio  
by N6AJR on December 18, 2004 Mail this to a friend!
good article

and well written

but the large spaces

between sections

were a bit


Now about Fan Dipoles :)

RE: Choosing Your First Radio  
by WA6BFH on December 18, 2004 Mail this to a friend!
Just a thought concept here, and I hope it does not appear to be nit-picking a point to death,,,, because thats not how I mean it!

The thought comes from the area of definition of terms. Where "HF" is listed,,,, the definition follows .... 160 Meters through .....

160 Meters is in the MF, not HF portion of our frequencies. I don't care if you personally lump them together, I tend to do that too! My idea is, to remember that these WAVELENGTH band segments were thusly defined so as to yield a basic 'measuring stick' in the conceptual methodology of thinking about the RF spectrum at large.

With a total spectrum of better than 23,000 MHz, it is interesting that ANYONE would consider the portion between 300 KHz to 3 MHz as "MEDIUM Frequency"!

If 30 KHz to 300 KHz is VLF, and 300 KHz to 3 MHz is MF (Medium Frequency), and 3 MHz to 30 MHz id HIGH Frequency.... how should we look at the spectrum?

I could list the VHF, UHF, and SHF definitions but, think about it. Should not "MF" be in the middle? If I devide 23,471 MHz by 2, the middle is 11,735.5 MHz.

Once again, I'm not nit-picking. Call or describe the spectrum to yourself in any terms or personal methodology that seems to work for you BUT, think about the MAGNITUDE of RF sectrum that we pretty much OWN. Its a good thought, a good concept, and something to cherish and protect!

Just a thought! de John WA6BFH
This is the first time that I have ever posted a comment, without first reading the entire article, and all posted reply's at the time as from my first reading. If I have detracted, or deminished the authors idea, that was not my intent!
RE: Choosing Your First Radio  
by AE6IP on December 18, 2004 Mail this to a friend!
nice article. the only thing i would add is a recommendation that in setting up a station remember to pay attention to antenna selection and installation. A beginner might not realize how much antenna setup matters, and how much bang-per-buck even a small investment in a good install will provide.
No Flames!! Choosing Your First Radio  
by WO8USA on December 19, 2004 Mail this to a friend!
Great article---wish I had this when I started, and I can learn from it now too.

It'll be hard for people to flame this one (I am sure someone will try though)
Chris WO8USA
RE: No Flames!! Choosing Your First Radio  
by WIRELESS on December 19, 2004 Mail this to a friend!
This article attempts to analize everything to death as usual on eham. Whats the best radio for new people? It has to be an IC 706GMII. Why? It covers everything for someone new to try. Its an excellent radio. It makes a good mobile as well as shack radio. Its priced right. It has excellent resale value if someone decides this hobby isn't for them. What else do you want from a radio?
Choosing Your First Radio  
by KD7VFS on December 19, 2004 Mail this to a friend!
I sure enjoyed your article; since so many of the newer, more expensive radios also feature increasingly more "bells and whistles," I'd look for simplicity and user-friendliness in a first time transceiver(that is what I'm looking for, now); you can always upgrade to something more complex. On the other hand, if you can afford one of the fancy, "all in one" setups, and are comfortable with complexity, that's ok. The experienced operators out there might disagree, but I'd lean towards the former, keeping in mind that a good antenna and power supply are also desirable.
I guess it all depends on what you hope to accomplish(and how much money you have!).
Choosing Your First Radio  
by KB7LYM on December 19, 2004 Mail this to a friend!
I don't like to pick lint from my navel but ....... reading the message ( lots of typing done here ) I came upon spaces so big that I thought I was snowblind.
Then when I was half way I needed a nap. I then realized after waking up that it looked like a Fullerbrush salesman peddling everything
marked from A- Z.
Information is good up to a point.

Like a tax form. 2 lines are enough
HOW MUCH DID YOU MAKE ? File here $ --------

However the IRS got 178 volumes containing
898 pages each and 67 differen forms

Happy Holidays !!

No HTs!  
by W2IRT on December 19, 2004 Mail this to a friend!
I find myself in the position of Elmering now and then, and the strongest suggestion I make with respect to a first rig is to avoid the temptation of HTs for one very simple won't be heard cleanly and clearly a good percentage of the time. Repeaters are a wonderful invention, but they can't work miracles.

When you're new to the bands, you want to make as many Q's as possible. If you're perpetually noisy into every repeater in town people just won't come back to you, you'll soon become frustrated and (gasp) may even just tuck the radio away and move on to spelunking as a hobby.

Consider the cell phone on almost everyone's belt nowadays...they generally work satisfactorily inside buildings, cars, walking along the street, etc. In many regions without great big mountains around, ham repeater coverage won't be as good and what may work splendidly on your phone won't necessarily work all that well on your HT. Don't get me wrong, HTs are great second or third radios, but not first.

I usually suggest a modest dual-band mobile radio, brand new from a dealer, a Samlex 1223 switching power supply (great for future expansion into HF) and a mag-mount mobile antenna. My own radio is an ICOM 208H, but the Kenwood G707, TM-D700 and others are also good choices. I now stay away from Yaesu products on VHF and UHF after many disasters with real POS radios like the FT-90R(otten) and others.

My personal preference for HTs is commercial Motorola equipment (Jedi, Saber or similar -- no Radius or Waris junk, thanks). While keypad programmability is nice, I'd rather have something simple to use, durable as all get-out and extremly reliable (not to mention looks pretty cool too).

For a first HF rig, my usual suggestion is to look for a good-condition used hybrid rig like the TS-820, TS-830 or similar vintage. Not much invested at startup but definitely a good piece of radio. I earned my first DXCC in just a few months on a TS-820 and a low-slung multi-band dipole.

I generally disagree with rigs like the 706 MkII-G as first rigs for the reason that not only are they compromises performance-wise (they do everything OK but nothing spectacularly well), they're more expensive than a dual-band mobile and a used vintage HF rig combined and they're not user-friendly to new hams.

Here in NYC -- a city with a TV Channel 2 and zillions of old rooftop TV antennae -- I don't suggest 6M to newbies. I also don't usually suggest QRP for new hams who are anxious to get on the air and start making lots and lots of Q's. While both may be fun (in a masochistic sort of way, IMHO, hi hi), they're best left as new worlds to explore later in ones Ham career, and not as the introduction to the hobby.

Choosing Your First Radio  
by K8NQC on December 19, 2004 Mail this to a friend!
Good Information and good article.

One small common error creeped in. "Base stations" are rarely used in amateur radio. I do hear an occasional station using a "remote base." The correct term for most stations in the amateur service are "fixed" and "mobile." Several other services utilize a base station and mobiles in the field. Most amateurs do not. Those larger radios being marketed as base radios are really for fixed station application.

I want to add one item about equipment for the new ham. Amateur radio does not have to be expensive. Many hams today have excess equipment. You can often purchase a used radio from someone you trust for less than half the cost of a new radio. If you are interested in the benchwork type aspects of the hobby, it is good to start out with an inexpensive solid state used radio. Buying the service manual and getting inside to see how it works can provide much learning and pleasure.

It is so good to see articles like this on eHam.

Choosing Your First Radio  
by PE1NPG on December 19, 2004 Mail this to a friend!
for HF :

Icom IC-718, great set, all you need, nice price!
Great for digimode.
I love it!!!
73 de Jean-Pierre, PE1NPG
DC to Daylight  
by K7PEH on December 19, 2004 Mail this to a friend!
Great Article. I should have read it earlier this year when I renewed my interest in ham radio and got licensed to the hilt.

However, I think this is as good a place as any to ask a question. Why do amateur radio operators refer to some receivers (or, transceivers) as DC to Light?

I mean, the span of frequencies gets no where close to light. The longest span that I have seen on the market is reception capability for 30 KHz to 2 GHz (e.g. ICOM R-5000). But, in order to get to daylight, you have another 39,998 GHz to go. Yes, a span of GHz -- almost 40,000 of them.

So, tons of spectrum are not included in these so-called DC to Light devices. I mean, it is not even DC to "Heat" (i.e. infrared).

Of course, on the low end we are not at DC either. Most of these receivers get as low as 30 KHz (30,000 Hz) and no less. I suppose you might consider that a poor receiver that has a 60 cycle hum in from something leaky in the power supply might be considered to handle 60 Hz. But, even 60 Hz is infinitely far away from DC. I mean, a 60 Hz wavelength is on the order of 3000 miles but DC is infinite wavelength.

So, where does this "DC to Light" phrase come from anyway?

And, a frustrated physicist
Medium Frequency  
by K7PEH on December 19, 2004 Mail this to a friend!
WA6BFH says:

With a total spectrum of better than 23,000 MHz, it is interesting that ANYONE would consider the portion between 300 KHz to 3 MHz as "MEDIUM Frequency"!

If 30 KHz to 300 KHz is VLF, and 300 KHz to 3 MHz is MF (Medium Frequency), and 3 MHz to 30 MHz id HIGH Frequency.... how should we look at the spectrum?

I could list the VHF, UHF, and SHF definitions but, think about it. Should not "MF" be in the middle? If I devide 23,471 MHz by 2, the middle is 11,735.5 MHz.

The term Medium does not refer to any relationship to the amateur radio bands. It is merely a name given to the segment of the electromagnetic spectrum. This spectrum is divided into segments based on wavelength. For example, 300 KHz is 1000 meters, 3 MHz is 100 meters, 30 MHz is 10 meters, 300 MHz is 1 meter, and so on.

Each of these segments is given a name such as VLF, MF, HF, VHF, UHF, and so on.

I think it is interesting that history has allowed us to think of portions of the spectrum differently based on the key measure being used. For example, in the HF region we often think both in terms of frequency (14.2 MHz) and wavelength (i.e. 20 meter band). But, as the frequency increases, the wavelength becomes the more common measure. But, as frequency increases even more, until light, color becomes a measure frequently used, and then after light, energy is the principle measure (so many electron-volts for example).

I guess we don't use color for the HF frequencies because we don't see HF (or, most of us don't). But, why not use electron volts of energy. Instead of saying that the net meets on 3970 KHz, we could say that we are meeting at 16.44 nano-eV (if I did my arithmetic correctly).

Choosing Your First Radio  
by KC0SHZ on December 19, 2004 Mail this to a friend!
A section should be added to this otherwise well done article.

"How to get into HAM radio for less than $100 (US)"

Seriously, the new dual band HT recommended by other posters would blow a lot of budgets for hobbies for many people. To go up to a dual band mobile will rack up $500 if bought new.

We need to start thinking cheap and easy. Anyone care to describe how a new participant should go about getting a start for <100 or <200 dollars?
RE: Choosing Your First Radio  
by KQ6Q on December 19, 2004 Mail this to a friend!
Good article! my suggestions or the beginner on a budget - dual-band mobile radio - Icom 208H for barely over $200. Or a HT with cigarette lighter cord and magmount - IF you're out here in the west with no trees. Used is OK, buy locally. For forested areas, serious power needed on 2m!
For HF on a budget - TenTec Century 21 (CW only, decent power, self-contained, no tuner needed) for not much over $100. Or an old Eico 753 or National NCX-3 - we're at a sunspot minimum, and they're out there fairly cheap, and are repairable by humans without magnifying glass!
RE: Choosing Your First Radio  
by WA6BFH on December 19, 2004 Mail this to a friend!
For PEH, I think I made a valid point. I'm just trying to get guys to think about how much spectrum we have AT LARGE (think about modes too).

The range is from about 160 Meters to 1.2 millimeters. Thats if you don't count everything above 300 GHz, which anyone can use.

Thats another thing though. Why do they call 160 Meters the "Top Band"? Its the "Bottom Band" (and I'm not denegrating it, I like 160 too, it's just at the low end of the spectrum)!

73! de John
I did like your expression, "DC to heat". I may steal that one!
RE: Choosing Your First Radio  
by N0TONE on December 19, 2004 Mail this to a friend!
My "nit" isn't a nit, it's BIG. I know it's a fundamental philosophical disagreement, but bear with me - I have some statistics that are worth noting.

For the first radio, I FORBID those I've elmered to purchase an FM radio. PERIOD. Most of them are led to purchase an HF rig (for the one who asked: Heathkit HW-101 with power supply, 80-10 meters, SSB/CW only, under $100. Not a very good rig. Kenwood TS-520S, with built-in power supply, 80-10 meters, SSB/AM/CW, very good radio, under $200). Some, if they convince me "just right" I let them purchase an all-mode two meter radio, but I make darned sure the antenna that they put up is horizontal.

Why? I operate all over the country, and FM/repeaters has the highest percentage of ham ops who have "gone political" and it's also, frankly, dying.

The new ham needs to have some capability to make a QSO any time, night or day. HF is the only way!

What about the no-code tech? They get some of ten meters, so they can get that on an HF rig, although I acknowledge that the sunspots ain't too good right now.

Now, the promised statistics.

Sample set: 80 hams I knew who got into the hobby between 10 and 15 years ago.

Those who got on FM and did only FM: 50%.
Of that group, percentage who are active (make a QSO at least once a month): ZERO
Of that group, percentage who renewed when the ten years came up: 7.5 (3 out of 40)

Those who got on FM, tired of it, and then got on HF: 10%
Of that group, percentage who are active (make a QSO at least once a month): 87% (7 out of 8)
Of that group, percentage who renewed when the ten years came up: 100 (all of them)

Those who started out with an HF rig as their first: 40%
Of those, percentage who are active (make a QSO at least once a month): 100 (all of them)
Of those, percentage who renewed when the ten eyars came up: 100 (all of them).

A shorter summary is this: Forty percent of the hams I knew that got licensed 10-15 years ago started with an HF rig as their first radio and ALL of them are active and have renewed. Of the 60% who started with an FM rig as their first rig, only those who later acquired an HF rig tended to remain active and renew.

If we want to make active hams who stay in the hobby, we need to focus very, very, strongly on HF.

I have a smaller disagreement with this statement:

"The mobile 2m or dual band radio is the workhorse of local communications".

This isn't really true. The mobile 2m or dual band radio is the workhorse of communications only with others who use 2m or 440. There's an entirely different, and MUCH LARGER, local crowd that hangs out on 75 meter SSB. At least, in the half dozen cities where I either have a home, have children or grandchildren, or spend extended time because of work. In California, there's even a regular, on-going "local" (500 mile radius) group on 40 meters. 75 meters has great advantages, most notably the distance you can cover is greater, and also because you're not stuck using someone's "machine".

I'm also a bit concerned about the article's seeming excess focus on mobile. Mobile operations are interesting, but most people (hams and non-hams) as they mature, realize that vehicular time is generally wasted time. When they can afford to do so, they select a home or job that reduces the commute time. If you develop your ham radio hobby as something you do only during your otherwise wasted commute time, then what will you do when you have enough money to reduce that commute time?

If we want ham radio to "stick", we need to view it as a regular part of our lives, not just "what I do when stuck in the car". How many hours of TV do you watch? Divide that by two, and spend what you just gained on ham radio. Not on the internet, but on the air.


RE: Choosing Your First Radio  
by KB3KAQ on December 20, 2004 Mail this to a friend!
with the entry into amateur radio being the Technician License, an HF rig is not very useful to them. An HT will only expose them to FM simplex and repeaters (for the most part).

i quickly started to lose interest only being able to work the repeaters or the occassional station on 146.520. 3 months after getting my first license, i decided to buy a base radio and decided on the Icom 746PRO.

i could work various modes on 2 and 6m with my current license and once i upgraded to my General, i did not need to invest in another rig. it had the added bonus of letting me put up a wire and listen to the HF bands.

being able to hear the HF qso's really motivated me to upgrade. if i had just stuck with the repeater radios, i would have lost interest.

the 746PRO can be picked up for around $1100.00 used and while a tad pricey, it offers enough possibilities to find your niche in the hobby. the Yaesu 847 is another radio of this type, albeit it does not have a built in tuner (which is easy to remedy). The 847 adds 70cm to the mix so satellite operation can be explored as well.

Steve, KB3KAQ
Choosing Your First Radio  
by WA2JJH on December 20, 2004 Mail this to a friend!
If you got a radio that is a dog, make sure it can be returned. NO QUESTIONS ASKED
RE: Choosing Your First Radio  
by W5ESE on December 20, 2004 Mail this to a friend!

> We need to start thinking cheap and easy. Anyone
> care to describe how a new participant should
> go about getting a start for <100 or <200 dollars?

i'll take a stab at it. those were my circumstances.
i had to build my first transmitter to scrounge a
station to fit my budget.

a really nice receiver you can build for $32 is:

i built mine for 40 meters, which is a great
band for starting out on. for an enclosure, you
can scrounge something from a dollar store or a
swapfest, where i have seen enclosures sometimes
sell for a couple dollars.

a transmitter board is available from
search for the "little joe transmitter kit" for
$19.95. you will need to get some crystals to
go with the transmitter.

also, the small wonder labs sw+ transceiver is
great, and is available as a board kit for $55.
this is a great little transceiver and alot of
fun. i used it exclusively to operate in the 2003
texas qso party, and made sixty-something contacts.
this one uses a vfo, and covers about 32-35 khz.

my experience getting on the air and making qsos
with gear that i put together myself was wonderful;
i would recommend it to anyone. too few hams do
this anymore.

73 es have fun
scott w5ese
cw luddite
RE: Choosing Your First Radio  
by KD6TVH on December 20, 2004 Mail this to a friend!
You got it right!

I'm one of those Tech-Pluses that was licensed over 10 years ago during high school. I desperately wanted to get on HF, but didn't have the money or space, and my parents put the kibosh on putting up any sort of antenna. I listened to the local FM repeater and DX Spot repeater religiously in the morning during high school. Talk those days was usually technical and about HF activities.

Fast forward to junior year in college. I had the money so I went out and bought an HT. Guess what? I did not make one QSO in over 3 years of owning it! Why? Every time I tuned in the local repeaters, they were filled with nonsense, foul language, politics and power scooters. I CQed once or twice and was ignored. So much fun!

Last year my renewal came up and I got excited about ham radio. I was married, owned a house, and had a good job. Was HF within my reach? Sadly, the CC&Rs were so bad I gave up and built a telescope instead.

HF is what will keep ham radio going. There is nothing like listening to watery CW coming over the pole or hearing your first DX.
RE: Choosing Your First Radio  
by WB2WIK on December 20, 2004 Mail this to a friend!
Nice work.

I'd place more emphasis on "antennas" as being a serious part of the station, not an accessory or an afterthought. The people I've "Elmered" locally who spent most of their budget on antennas and then bought used gear inexpensively with what was left over have been more active, more enthusiastic and generally happier with their ham radio experience than those who focused on buying equipment and then spending what little of their budget remained for antennas.

Even more so lately, with Cycle 23 down in its deep doldrums (the worst is yet to come, probably in 2006) and propagation being very unreliable for all those except the ones having excellent antennas.

I agree with some of the comments made regarding VHF-UHF-FM work: An interesting sideline to amateur radio, but when this is the only radio experience new hams have, they mostly aren't hams ten years later.

RE: Choosing Your First Radio  
by KC8VWM on December 20, 2004 Mail this to a friend!
An article worthy of placement in a brochure alongside the radio equipment for sale at amateur radio retail outlets.

Well done!

73 & Happy Holidays

Charles - KC8VWM

RE: Choosing Your First Radio  
by N3ZKP on December 20, 2004 Mail this to a friend!
<< What about the no-code tech? They get some of ten meters, so they can get that on an HF rig, although I acknowledge that the sunspots ain't too good right now. >>

I suggest you go back and take a look at the frequency allocations for the Tech class - 6m and UP. There is no 10m allocation unless one has passed Element 1.

RE: Choosing Your First Radio  
by WA6BFH on December 20, 2004 Mail this to a friend!
Say TVH, was that telescope you built a radio telescope? I'm poking a bit of fun at you but, I think your mistake was in getting an FM VHF radio.

You would find a much better class of Ham on 222 MHz SSB, even on 2 Meters or 70 centimeters! There are actually some good folks on FM also. Most of them I have found though were not on 2 Meters.

Another thing, an "HT" is not a serious radio. It will not fully quiet any receiver unless you are within rock throwing distance of it, and its receiver has NO selectivity. Mult-mode radios are built for good sensitivity, selectivity, and frequency stability. Pretty much the opposite condition comapared to an FM only radio!

73! de John
RE: Choosing Your First Radio  
by EXWA2SWA on December 21, 2004 Mail this to a friend!
A while back, someone posted that question in Strays. I answered via email. Here's the edited version (just changed a few terms, not ideas):

It really depends on where your interests lie, what your operating environment will be and how much money you want to spend (or, more accurately, how much money you have available to spend!). And, of course, what license level you attain. If you are truly brand-new to the hobby, without any special knowledge, then I'd suggest pursuing a Tech-with-Code license, just to get your feet wet.

My suggestions would be that you first define your area of interest (HF, VHF, UHF; CW or Phone; Low power, etc.). Talk with local hams about their experiences with those interests; they'll be able and glad to give you both advice and cautions. Then study (not just read) the eHam and other reviews for equipment that fits that interest.

Look at your operating circumstances: can you put up a tower? is the roof or yard of your home available to you? any problems with zoning, neighbors, etc?

That will give you an idea of what you'll need in order to satisfy that interest. Then you can start the fun of accumulating stuff!

Most will caution you, with good reason, against buying used gear, especially off eBay or from someone you don't know. Some have good luck doing that, others do not. Buying new gear has its own ups and downs, not the least of which is price. Your personal circumstances and resources will dictate how much, how soon and how varied your equipment will be.

To my mind, the basic ham-shack should be able to operate at reasonable power (100W or so) on HF and have some VHF or UHF (2m or 70cm - or both) capability. Most HF rigs will accommodate both SSB and CW; if you want AM or FM, that's another story. For VHF & UHF, you'll need to decide on a single or dual-band setup with probably both a fixed station at home and either a mobile or HT in the same band.

So: you've asked about a good rig to grow into, but now you have to answer some questions for yourself first!

I'm just back into the hobby after a 40 year absence, so I may not be your best source. But, I do know which questions I had to ask myself in order to get started.

A final word is a repeat: do your homework! Don't buy the first rig that catches your eye unless it does exactly what you want it to do. Compare reviews and opinions, and have a ball!

Welcome to a lot of fun,

Added: I really think that One Dollar into your antenna gives much the same results as Five (or even Ten) Dollars into your transceiver.

I settled on TS830S for HF (IC730 backup/mobile) into Alpha-Delta DX4020; Yaesu F2600M (into Arrow 146/440GP)and Vertex VX-150 for VHF. Antennas are in the attic.
RE: Choosing Your First Radio  
by WA6BFH on December 21, 2004 Mail this to a friend!
Hey CXX, where can I find an SSB capable 2 Meter and 70 centimeter Handheld? Also, will this be effective for space satelite work, and can I ad tranverters to it for other bands?
RE: No Code Tech  
by N0TONE on December 21, 2004 Mail this to a friend!
Ooops - I got licensed more than 50 years ago. I confess I'm not up on the regs. NCT's can't do ten meters.

But I'm puzzled - why do people assume this is the first license? I was very active in the whole licensing arena in the late 1960s to late 1970s. We had novice, tech, general, advanced and extra (and conditional, but that was a "special" general for those who could not make it to an FCC office). Nobody assumed that you had to come in as a novice and upgrade to tech. In fact, the "tech" was considered a death knell! Very few went past it.

There's no reason why a person MUST start as a Technician. The ham classes in my present area certainly offer code classes as an option, and some 80-90 percent of the students voluntarily learn code and more than half the new licensees are General or Extra, at least from our classes (four consecutive four-hour sessions on Saturdays). I'm a technology instructor in the classes, not a VE, so that's how I've managed to be so unaware of the rules, yet know about the teaching end of it.

Anyway, the point is that the NCT, IMO is a dreadful way to start someone on the hobby. When you look at the statistics of who renews their license and is activer, it is HF that keeps the interest and enthusiasm alive. So, don't let the newcomer start with the NCT license - make SURE they have an HF-capable licesne right up front. Or at least, don't end the class when they get the NCT.

RE: Choosing Your First Radio  
by N0TONE on December 21, 2004 Mail this to a friend!
WB2WIK zeros in on antennas again, and for good reason.

I shrug my shoulders at the comment, not because he's wrong. He's right. But many of us, myself included, are so dagnabbit space-restricted that there's only so much wwe can do with antennas, and it doesn't take much money to get there. There is NO WAY to put up a tower on the lot in my primary QTH. Not CC&R restricted, but land-size restricted. I did the engineering calculations. In order to dig a deep enough hole to support a self-supporting tower that's 50 feet high, I'd be tunelling UNDER the house - and then would have tens of thousands of dollars in foundation to re-work and who knows how much to put into the house. You see, the back yard is but 15 feet dep and the front only 10 feet deep - any reasonable tower hole will impact the foundation of the house. Due to the size of the lot, there's no place to run guy wires for a guyed tower, either. So I make do with a 50 foot collapsible mast, which is just sturdy enough for homebrew beams with fiberglass spreaders. The present beam is two elements on four bands, and when I rotate it, it clobbers the trees. Also have a multiband vertical with 400 pounds' worth of radials, and have snuck a Beverage in the vines that run along the sidewalk that passes in front of four neighbor's houses.

So, I've maxed my antenans, and it only cost me $200. How do I get a useful station for $200?

RE: DC to Daylight  
by AE6IP on December 22, 2004 Mail this to a friend!
> So, where does this "DC to Light" phrase come from
> anyway?

"DC to Daylight" is no more than market-speak. It's not valid at either end, but it's catchy.
RE: Choosing Your First Radio  
by EXWA2SWA on December 22, 2004 Mail this to a friend!
"Hey CXX, where can I find an SSB capable 2 Meter and 70 centimeter Handheld? Also, will this be effective for space satelite work, and can I ad tranverters to it for other bands?"

With enough money, and a big enough belt to carry it, I'm sure you could find one with all that and a mini-fridge/microwave oven combo add-on. You'll also need a Radio Flyer to haul your batteries.

Just do your homework and bring lots of money.

RE: Choosing Your First Radio  
by WB2WIK on December 22, 2004 Mail this to a friend!
Space/lot restricted antennas are fun for me!

I can spend a lot more than $200 solving this problem. For example:

G-M makes a wonderful ~20' tall all aluminum four-legged roof tower than can support a ton (literally) of antennas provided it's mounted on a strong roof. It costs more than $500, but it's worth it. Easy to build, easy to install, hinges over for installation and service and incredibly strong. Rotor mounts inside, thrust bearing mounts on top, will handle a 20' long 2" diameter mast and lots of antennas.

Trees hanging over the house preventing beams from turning up there? That's why God made chain saws.

If the house is single-story, its roof peak should be about eleven feet high. The top of the mast over the roof tower would then be about 45' above ground, and would have ten times the strength and rigidity of the 50' guyed, telescoping mast. I have all kinds of ideas about what could go up there...

If the house is 2-story, the antennas will be about 8-9' higher still. Perfect.

With about a $3000 budget, I can make a DX station on a small, single-story home having no lot at all. But that would all be for antenna related stuff, not station equipment.


Choosing Your First Radio  
by WA2JJH on December 26, 2004 Mail this to a friend!
Use electron-volts for frequency,some one asked?
How well do you know Planks constant?

dc-daylight? daylight is a huge spectrum of colors.
at the bottom band you have IR. On the high end, 100ghz? 300ghz is the highest ever generated by an Rf device. They consider that quasi-optical.

Will new rigs have high power IR laser links?
a co2 laser is long IR about 10,000 gigahertz
laser diodes run up tp 1600nanometers .
700nm visable red. 532nm is green Yag lasers.
bove 200nm is Uv.

How about renaming DC- daylight, 30kc-1gig RX
1.6(8)-30MHZ hf.
30mhz-300mhz vhf
The science community has UHf from 300mhz-3000mhz(3 gig)

That is where it can confusing TO MANY.
Is not 900mhz a microwave band, not uhf?


The other meaning iz the way scientist look frequency.

this can be from transmitting audio to gamma and cosmics rays.

Our so called dc-daylight radio's cover a very

Choosing Your First Radio  
by KA8YKT on December 30, 2004 Mail this to a friend!
Nice article over all but 6 meters is not HF.The VHF range runs from 30mhz to 300mhz.
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