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Author Topic: Technician-In-Training Seeking Advice  (Read 3667 times)
TPELLE
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Posts: 18




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« on: July 22, 2012, 04:29:12 PM »

I have been interested in Amateur Radio since the days when the ARRL Handbook was chock-full of articles featuring vacuum tube transceivers. Due to the constraints of holding down two jobs, building an keeping up a house, and raising two kids, I just never found the time to persue the license. Now, with the house paid for and the kids all grown up, and staring retirement in the eyes, maybe now I can chase that dream.

I'm back into studying the ARRL Technician course (The technical part looks pretty easy). After I run through it a couple of more times I'll take the exam.

Now, I'm posting here because my main interest is CW QRP. I intend to buy a receiver soon, but obviously I will be in the market for a transceiver. I am attracted to a dedicated CW single-band radio, but I can't decide which band is best. The rig I am zeroing in on is available in 15, 17, 20, 30, and 40 meters (one of the MFJ CW stations). Which band would be best for a new Technician - I'm not so much interested in talking the world, but I would like to hear enough traffic to keep my interest up.

By the way, I live in Kentucky about 10 miles southeast of Cincinnati Ohio, and have no particular restrictions regarding antennas, etc.
« Last Edit: July 22, 2012, 04:36:58 PM by TPELLE » Logged
W7ASA
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Posts: 204




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« Reply #1 on: July 22, 2012, 05:05:20 PM »

Based upon your questino's constraints, I'd recommend 40 and/or 20 meters.  These two bands have a lot of CW activity, both domestic and "DX".
---
As for listening, by the time that you buy a receiver good for CW and then a single band transceiver, you have invested quite a bit of money compared to going straight for a fine, very reasonably priced Ten Tec QRP 4 band transceiver that also has a built-in general coverage shortwave receiver.  Before you buy anything, have a look at this and weigh your cost/benefit options:

Ten Tec HB1B Four Band CW QRP Transceiver - 80-40-30-20 Meters   $299

Purchase yours from Ten Tec and nobody else!, because Ten Tec are your quality assurance which has been occasionally missing form the direct supplier of this rig in China. This QRP rig will give you a VERY good receiver for ham CW - far better than an inexpensive general coverage receiver- and also serve as a general coverage receiver for short-wave listening.  The shortwave will have narrower band audio, but that's because it's optimized for ham use, but it's more than enjoyable.  When you ARE ready to transmit, you already own and know how to use a fine 5 Watt QRP transceiver. I have talked on the air with many hams who were using them and love them.


73 de Ray
W7ASA ..._ ._
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AA4N
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Posts: 108




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« Reply #2 on: July 22, 2012, 06:52:49 PM »

I would argue against starting with a single band QRP rig.  It may seem like a good way to simplify the equation.  But, IMHO, it's more like a handicap.  You would be deliberately limiting your options.

HF comms move around quite a bit.  A band that is working great at 6pm will likely be dead at 10pm.  Even moment to moment, signal fading can turn strong signals into weak ones.

The band that you want to be on changes continually.  If your radio can only do one of them.  You have automatically limited the times that you can use it.

The same holds true with power.  If you've only got 5 watts available, you have reduced the number of available workable stations by at least half.

I don't know what your experience level with Morse code is, but if you plan on learning CW with a single-band 5 watt radio, I think you are setting up stumbling blocks for yourself for no good reason.  The frustration factor will likely be pretty high.  When you are learning the code, it's important to use it a lot.  If you are spending 90% of your time calling CQ and getting no answer, your progress will likely be pretty slow.

Do yourself a favor.  Start with a proper 100W multi-band HF rig.  Learn how to do HF comms.  Once you are a grizzled veteran of the airwaves, and you are looking for a new challenge, that's a good time to build yourself a 5W backpack rig with solar panels and batteries and get some goats to pack them to the mountain top for you.  Between then and now, get a good used HF rig, build a decent wire antenna, and get on the bands.  Technicians have access to some of the best parts of the HF bands as long as you stay on CW.

Sorry about jumping in there with all that negativity.  I just have a feeling that the route you are comtemplating is a long and difficult one.  I thought I'd point out the other roadsign that says "shorter easier route, this way".

73,  mike  AA4N
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LB3KB
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« Reply #3 on: July 22, 2012, 07:38:40 PM »

I agree with mike.  Don't put too many restraints on yourself.

Also, consider going for more than just the Technician license.  You can test your skills here.  Most likely, you'll find that you can easily pass that test, so why not study a little bit more and go for General at least.

The question pools are out there, and there is nothing wrong with getting used to them.


73
LB3KB Sigurd
justlearnmorsecode.com
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K8AXW
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Posts: 3651




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« Reply #4 on: July 22, 2012, 08:03:18 PM »

I'm in agreement with 4N.  QRP might sound exciting in the beginning, until you actually try it. Then, chances are you will fall into the frustration tar pit. 

QRP is mostly (IMHO) for experienced operators.  And these people fall into basically two categories.  The first have a 100w rig to have fun with on a daily basis and tries QRP as a lark or because they want a challenge.  The second are the dedicated QRP operators and operating with more than 5w is totally out of the question. I'd venture to say most, if not all, started out QRO.

When starting out it's best to get involved with equipment that will let you have fun from the start, not create a handicap for you. 

Getting started is difficult enough as it is without deliberately handicapping yourself.

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W7ASA
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« Reply #5 on: July 22, 2012, 09:14:08 PM »

Though I love QRP and answered you with the sugestion for the Ten Tec QRP rig based upon your stated goal of starting out in QRP, I do have to agree with the other fellows a little bit , in that ,if you can start with a 100 Watt rig it may give you an easier start. I say MAY because really, you antenna is the key to any ham station. With my open wire fed, flat top dipole, high and in the clear I work anything that I can hear and with good reports with my 2-5 Watts QRP rigs.

5 Watts =  a bit over 2 S-units weaker on the receive end from the suggested 100 Watts, but you can't always get a good antenna, high and in the clear in every location.  The 100 Watts gives you a bit over two S units of extra signal for the station on the receive side.   OTOH, I've had kiloWatt stations with VERY poor antennas who -though their receivers pulled out me from the antenna with a good received signal report, they were not radiating well and so were actually not great copy, despite the hot and selective receiver in my Wilderness Sierra.  Your mileage may vary.

I congratulate ouy on wnating to to it in Morse!  I love Morse and though I can operate any of the usual modes, I absolutely LOVE to chat in Morse.  I've have to dig to find the microphone for the big rig...    Grin


73 de Ray
W7ASA ..._ ._

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N2EY
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Posts: 3835




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« Reply #6 on: July 23, 2012, 02:31:56 AM »

1) There are a LOT of good QRP rigs out there, new and used. I am not impressed with the MFJ units.

2) The antenna is the second-most important part of the station. The rig is less important than the skywire you hook it to.

So you really need to think about what you're going to put up. QRP with a good antenna is wonderful; QRP with a poor antenna is frustrating. For a band like 40, a dipole at 40 feet or more is about the minimum I would consider as "a good antenna".

3) Better to get a transceiver right off IMHO. Might as well concentrate resources rather than spread them out. (IOW, if you have a certain amount of money to spend and divide it between a receiver and transceiver, you'll get a lot less performance than if you spend it all on a transceiver.

73 es GL de Jim, N2EY
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VA7CPC
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« Reply #7 on: July 23, 2012, 07:21:28 AM »

I agree with the guys who say that 100 watts is a lot easier to start with, than 5 watts.

_If_ you can put up a full-size antenna, QRP might make sense.  If you go that route, I'd suggest a Yaesu FT-817 (unless you're determined to go backpacking with your radio).  Used FT-817's come on the market occasionally, at reasonable prices.

The freedom of working digital modes (and SSB phone) as well as CW, and having 2m and 70cm available, are worth the extra cost and weight and power consumption.


PA0BLAH over-states the difficulty of learning CW.  You won't master it in a week.  But practice _every day_ for two months, and you will probably be able to copy at 12 wpm or more.  I speak from experience -- I learned when I was 58.  At high speeds, I fall back on computer-based code readers.  That may be contrary to your philosophy, but I like to work contests.

         Charles

PS -- I wrote an article on QRP operating.  That, along with the huge number of "comments", will give you a sense of what you're getting into:

http://www.eham.net/articles/23600    (recent re-publication)

and

http://www.eham.net/articles/14925   (original)(different comments)
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AA5TB
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« Reply #8 on: July 23, 2012, 09:26:43 AM »

I have a MFJ-9020 rig that I've had for about 19 years or so I think.  Over the years I've done a few mods and minor repairs to it but it still sees a lot of use.  It's a tough and simple little rig and a joy to operate.  It has been through many Field Days and contests and I've literally worked the world with it with nothing more than a dipole. 

The key to success with these little rigs is CW proficiency. If you can cruise at 25 or 30 WPM and act like a high power station (don't answer DX at 5 WPM with /QRP on your call) then most people won't even suspect that you are QRP.  Since you are just starting it will be a lot tougher QRP although a lot of the SKCC folks around 14.050 MHz and 7.050 MHz are very patient with slow CW even with weak signals.

If you choose to go with the MFJ rig, I recommend either 40 or 20 meters to start with.  If you operate mostly at night then 40 m is your best bet although during the day most of the QRP activities are on 20 m.  The other recommendations are good too but there is something to be said of starting out with a simple rig.  Many of the big rigs are very complicated if you have no previous radio experience.  Also a dedicated QRP rig is much easier on batteries if you go that route.

I started out with a Johnson Viking II transmitter (100+ Watt rig) that had a defective resistor in the plate circuit unbeknown to me.  I was QRP for the first 100 contacts or so and didn't know it until I built a light bulb dummy load and it wouldn't light!

Good luck and 73,
Steve - AA5TB
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AE4RV
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« Reply #9 on: July 23, 2012, 12:04:37 PM »

I think there MAY be a budgetary reason for aiming for a single band QRP rig, at least that's the only reason I can think of for wanting one. If that's the case, then let's stay on topic. My first HF transceiver was a borrowed MFJ 20M CW QRP rig that was putting out about two watts and I had a lot of fun with it. It can be done. I'd rather see you get a four band Elecraft K1 but they are kinda pricey.

20M and 40M both contend for the "best single band" award in my opinion. A 20M dipole was my main antenna for years and that almost entirely limited me to that one band for a long time. But, today I'm glad that I can go anywhere (except 160).

Definitely aim for General class (or better) if you want to work HF.

Are you practicing code on the computer? That's what I did and managed to pass the 20WPM test before my first QSO (no such test is required today).

I'm not primarily a QRP op but I understand the culture. It is good to know that less than five watts and a modest antenna can be so rewarding. Over the years I've drawn much inspiration from K3WWP's website: http://home.windstream.net/johnshan/

John's philosophy is CW, QRP, simple wire antennas. He has made at least one QSO a day under these conditions since 1996 and is also very competent contester.


Good luck,
Geoff
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WA8IUR
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Posts: 16




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« Reply #10 on: July 25, 2012, 01:02:13 PM »

A multitude of good advice here. Make a list of what you think are pros and cons from each one , then look each list over.
   As for me I agree you should probably go with a multi-band, multi-powr transceiver.You may find you have more than one interest.

          Good luck   Tim  WA8IUR
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W5DQ
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« Reply #11 on: July 25, 2012, 01:49:08 PM »

Like many have said, don't restrict yourself from the get go. QRP CW might be fun but once you get your feet good and wet, you may want to chase a some DX and I bet you'll find having ONLY 5W is a severe disability .... regardless of what the QRP afficinadoes will tell you. I would recommend to get yourself a good used modern 100W transceiver and have both worlds. It is much easier to turn DOWN the RF output to 5 to 10 watts and play QRP than it is to get a QRP only rig up to 100W. Also, unless you have a strong need for it, I would never get a single band radio. Why manufacturers put these things out is beyond me with the prices they want for single band rig way overpriced compared to what you can get an all-band HF rig for. There are lots of good quality used rigs available on the market if you look around. Just make sure it is guarenteed to be fully functional. I would not recommend buying your first used HF rig from any source sight unseen unless you can ascertain it is a safe buy. Also if you're not up to it, get an experienced ham friend or fellow club member to help check out the radio before you buy. If the seller is honest with nothing to hide, they will not take offense to you doing so. If they refuse, don't pass on it .... RUN from it cause it will bite you later.

QRP is fun but like many will tell you, it's not a starting point for the average new ham. Regardless of the "It's easy, I worked DXCC with a milliwatt" crowd, being successful with QRP requires experience and operating skills, usually beyond what the average beginner has. Also antennas capabilities play a BIG part of a successful QRP operation.

Good Luck,

Gene W5DQ
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Gene W5DQ
Ridgecrest, CA - DM15dp
www.radioroom.org
W5DQ
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« Reply #12 on: July 25, 2012, 02:14:23 PM »

1) There are a LOT of good QRP rigs out there, new and used. I am not impressed with the MFJ units.

2) The antenna is the second-most important part of the station. The rig is less important than the skywire you hook it to.
So you really need to think about what you're going to put up. QRP with a good antenna is wonderful; QRP with a poor antenna is frustrating. For a band like 40, a dipole at 40 feet or more is about the minimum I would consider as "a good antenna".

3) Better to get a transceiver right off IMHO. Might as well concentrate resources rather than spread them out. (IOW, if you have a certain amount of money to spend and divide it between a receiver and transceiver, you'll get a lot less performance than if you spend it all on a transceiver.

73 es GL de Jim, N2EY


While I basically agree with Jim's posting here, I respectfully submit that the antenna is a MUCH MORE important part of the TRANSCEIVE SYSTEM than either the transmitter or receiver (or transceiver) is WITH REGARD TO the ability to send and receive a signal. WRT the QUALITY of the signal (beyond strength in the distant rcvr), the TRANSMITTER is much more important for once the signal is formed and sent to the 'skywire', the quality of the signal is set. WRT to the ability to filter the received signal from amoung all the other signals (and crap) in the distant receiver's passband, the RECEIVER becomes the most important piece in the system. In my opinion, to make a statement that the antenna is 2nd most important part of the system is basically incorrect from the overall viewpoint of the ENTIRE system.

Give a fixed budget, it is much more sensible to invest heavily in the better antenna system and a less capable transciever than do the reverse. Operationally, the results should be much more successful with the better antenna system.

Just my 2 cents worth.

Gene W5DQ
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Gene W5DQ
Ridgecrest, CA - DM15dp
www.radioroom.org
KE7WAV
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Posts: 126




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« Reply #13 on: July 25, 2012, 08:34:30 PM »

Well, first off welcome to ham radio.  I hope your testing goes well.  I hope you see a callsign by your name soon and to see you in my log book as another great contact.  As your getting started in CW if you ever want to chat either slowly or at a more medium speed please feel free to drop me an email. 

So you are looking for that first rig---that is a challenge and a joy!  My question for you is why a monoband QRP kit?  Is it price? Is it just the radio you thought would be cool to throw in a backpack and take off with?

I am not going to try to convince to get a 100W rig, though it may be good advice.  I have been a ham for several years and I have still never owned a modern 100W rig, though I have used several friends rigs and they are sure fancy.  I have mainly QRP equipment and I love it.  Most of my time is on 40M though I get some other bands in the log book too.  I mainly get to hop on the radio in the evenings after the kids go to bed and I have a blast on 40M.

I wholly agree that you need a good antenna a full-size dipole, a loop,  or a wire beam is where I would start.  Then experiment. 

As to power 5W is just fine, 20W is enough to chat with almost anyone.  I regularly amaze other ops when I tell them I am running on 15-20W and they are so determined I must be running 100-1000W!

If you can afford an older used rig for $200-300 there are some great rigs available, like the Ten Tec 525, the Ten Tec Century 21, some older Kenwoods, etc.  I have been extremely impressed with the Elecraft rigs I have gotten to play with as well.

If money is tight and the little MFJ kits are more to your liking you might also checkout Small Wonder Labs. 

Whatever you choose I'll warn you now that you'll always find yourself staring into the catalogs drooling over some new rig, or new toy, so just start somwhere that you can play for a while and have fun until you can afford the next toy comfortably.

Have fun and I look forward to a contact!
KE7WAV  ..
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