My comment is coming to you as a 5-month ham. I didn’t have a clue my Great Uncle was a ham for 55 years, and I found out about 6 months ago that he was having to move into a nursing home. I met him and my cousins at his shack and looked over a pretty cool treasure trove full of items that I had NO idea whatsoever then what they were, but I figured with a quick check on the Internet what they were worth.
I bought his Kenwood TS-820 with external VFO, external speaker and MC-50 mic, plus he had a Yaesu FT-757GX Mark I with matching tuner and power supply. I also got some older meters, and MFJ-949 tuner and an Astron 35-watt power supply along with some other assorted gear and older QST magazines. He also had a 20+ year old ARRL Antenna Book and Radio Guide that I figured would come in handy. I carefully put all of them with their original boxes and manuals in my car (packed into the trunk and backseat) and excitedly headed home to learn how in the world to work all this stuff.
Within a month I passed my Technician’s license, and then in July I got my General. When I got the Tech license I primarily used my Baofeng HT just to get on the air since there wasn’t much going on the HF frequencies given to Techs. That got my feet wet with getting acquainted with everything, and I got info here on how to banana plug into the TS-820 to listen with a copper wire out to a tree in my front yard. I’d sit up nights just listening to what I could hear without even really knowing what I was doing with the knobs on that TS-820.
Since getting my General I have learned a LOT about wire antennas, and I have taken down and put up lots of them in my yard to the curiosity of my neighbors. Several of them have asked what in the world those wires are! I’ve had fun explaining that just with those wires I’ve talked all over the world, especially in Europe and other countries.
I had always wanted to get into the hobby, and at 51 I finally have been able to learn a tremendous amount in those 5 to 6 months. I have ticked people off with simple questions here and on some of the Yahoo groups just because I am very inquisitive and impatient in trying to find out as much as I can as quickly as possible.
I’m as easy to get along with as anybody, but I’m sure you will find that there are some hams that aren’t really happy about letting new people in to the hobby without paying their dues. I’m going to be as honest as I can be here in saying there are some very territorial people in this hobby that don’t feel like we new hams should find out anything without learning what they have over the years. True, the licensing is much easier than what they went through back in the day, but that’s not our fault - we have come along at a time where things are pretty relaxed and easier than it was just a few years ago. These guys are brilliant and I doubt I will ever learn what they know, so I certainly give them their due and I appreciate the insight I’ve picked up just from some of their posts here and on different forums. Some of them aren’t very happy that I sound ignorant on some topics - but they have to realize we have to learn somehow!
Don’t feel bad if you ask questions and you get answers back that are pointed or even rude. Don’t let that deter you from asking questions. Keep asking and keep getting answers, but be wise in how you ask them and in how you gather your answers. Take the information from the guys to heart because they know what they’re talking about.
I say all of the above to let you know that I’ve made a lot of mistakes but I’ve learned a lot. You may not have a lot of time, but do try to find a local ham group that you can be a part of. I am very involved at my church and can’t find a lot of time to be at every meeting, but there are 2 groups I’ve gone to locally. I’m probably going to narrow it down to 1 and stick with them. You can find some great help in these groups. One fellow that has forgotten more than I will ever learn helped me get my TS-820 to work when he offered to work with me on it if I could come over to his house. We took it apart, shot some DeOxit in strategic places and worked it out to where it’s working really well now. That’s my all the time rig now - I sold the Yaesu set to a Pastor who contacts missionaries to stay up with their needs and their prayer requests.
I’ve had a great time with the old school TS-820, but to buy something older like that, you need to have somebody local that can help you with it. If not, get a newer rig. I’m wanting a Kenwood TS-480SAT now to do some digital work with and some mobile work as well, but I don’t want to buy it on credit. The cheapest I see it going for is $900 on HamCity.com, and Gigaparts says they will pricematch it (plus their shipping cost), so I’m saving a little more money to try to get one of them sometime soon.
Sorry to get so long winded, but as a newer ham I want you to know it’s worth it to go through what you can to learn whatever you can. Just be patient - you can’t learn it all in a day, and it’s more fun to learn with others instead of trying to do it by yourself. I’ve got pages of logs where I’ve made contacts all over the US and the world, and that’s with no amplifier. It’s mainly on an 88’ end fed antenna that I bought at first from Bruce on ebay (I can highly recommend his products, and here’s his store page: http://stores.ebay.com/mapleleafstudioantennas/
) - I bought this before I did any experimenting myself.
After buying the end fed from Bruce I researched some more into homebrew antennas, and I used the 300 ohm Radio Shack leadline (it’s gone down in price to only $11.99 since I bought some a month ago: http://www.radioshack.com/product/index.jsp?productId=2049618#
) to connect into dipole wire legs. If there’s any way you can do a little experimenting outside your apartment with some homemade dipoles, do it. Get the 300 ohm wire and buy some cheap speaker wire at Walmart (16 gauge is around $13 for 50 feed, and it’s dual wires). You can start by cutting the speaker wire into 33’ or 16.5’ lengths, then split those to make dipole legs, and just electrical tape them to the 300 ohm feed line. Connect the 300 ohm line to a tuner that has wire lugs on the back of it, and you are good to go.
Like I said - just get in and go! Have fun, ask questions, soak up everything you can, be as nice as you can (and as patient with rude answers as you can be), and you will enjoy the hobby tremendously!