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Author Topic: Recommend first Ham Station  (Read 1251 times)
KC2OYE
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« on: February 24, 2006, 06:38:12 AM »

Hey everyone. Just received my Technician no-code license in December. Saved up about $350. Since December I've been looking at used and new equipment online (Ebay, Universal, hamradio.com..). I didn't realize the equipment was so expensive. Especially when you add in the powersupply, antennae, cables, any special hookups for the radio, etc...

What I'd like to get is a good station that offers digital modes, so I can hookup to an extra computer I have (it's a Pentium III with high speed internet). Baring in mind I don't have any ham equipment yet, what would be a good first system to shoot for?
As I said, I'd like to experiment with some sort of computer hookup, but I don't know if I would really need a system that has, or can have, a TNC. I hear you can just hook into the sound ports on your computer. Also, would a handheld unit offer enough power, or should I be looking at a mobile rig?
Just a little over-whelmed!

- Kirk
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K7VO
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« Reply #1 on: February 24, 2006, 11:03:28 AM »

Hi, Kirk,

The power output of the handheld may be adequate but I still don't ever recommend them for anything but handheld/portable use.  Most HTs, in order to make them wideband, have very broad receivers.  When you hook them up to a bigger antenna the little receiver overloads and all you get is noise.

My one BIG, MAJOR, ABSOLUTELY MOST IMPORTANT piece of advice is not to buy any FM-only radio even if it means saving up a bit longer.  Packet on VHF/UHF FM is almost dead.  Most of the digital activity is on HF anyway nowadays which means you'll need a General class license.  FM and repeaters on VHF and UHF are a utility but if that's all you have it gets very old and very boring very quickly.  I think this accounts for the over 50% drop out rate from the hobby among new Technician class licensees.  It's a horrible introduction to ham radio.

You really, truly want a multiband, multimode radio.  On your budget that is somewhere between difficult and totally impossible.  Sorry, that's reality.  You can start with one band and a used multimode radio, plus the power supply and the necessary antenna.  Depending on where you live that would mean choosing between 6m and 2m.

6m has the advantage of having the most band openings and, in many parts of the country, a fair amount of local SSB activity.  There is also a small (as in minimal) amount of PSK31 activity.  Digital modes are also used by hams on 6m to bounce signals off meteor trails and make contacts that way.  Local on 6m, BTW, is defined as within 400 miles or so if you have a decent antenna.  

In some parts of the country 2m SSB is quite active.  Again, there are some seasonal band openings (mostly spring and summer months) that can allow you to work people up to 2,500 miles away.  2m FM is where the most active repeaters are.  It's also where you are most likely to run into someone obnoxious who is rude at best to newcomers.  The good news is those people are a minority.  A 2m radio is useful in many places more of the time than 6m simply because of FM and repeater activity.

The key to success on any of these bands is the antennas you put up.  For SSB/CW/digital you need one that is horizontally polarized.  A small beam, a small TV rotor, and a mast will get you started on the band of your choice for not much money.  Try to get the antenna up at least 30' in the air.  Higher is better but 30' or so is where you can start really finding people on SSB/CW consistently.  The best radio in the world is useless without a good antenna. In a pinch you can skip the rotor and get by with a horizontal loop.  KU4AB makes a 2m antenna (and possibly a 6m one as well) that has both the horizontal loop and a vertical for FM operation in a single package with one feedline for a very miniscule price.  It's a great way to start on a budget.  See:  http://www.ku4ab.com

Also, you need coax to feed your antenna.  This is another place you can't go cheap at VHF/UHF due to losses.  You want your signal to go out the antenna and you want to hear what the antenna can pull in.  If your feedline is 50' long or less you can get by with mini RG-8/U (a/k/a RG-8X) up to 2m.  If it's longer than that you need something better, like RG-213, Belden 9913, or Times LMR-400.  If you can put the mast near the shack and use a short run that will definitely save you money on coax and connectors.  Whatever you do don't use RG-58 or RG-59 and don't buy your coax at Radio Shack.

A good older used 2m all mode rig that pits out either 10W or 25W can be had for $150-$200 but you may have to add an aftermarket PL encoder (roughly $30) if one isn't already installed.  You probably want to make friends in the local ham club so that someone can help you with that.  If you choose 6m figure on spending $200-$250 for a good used radio that performs well.  Either way you have enough left over for a small power supply, feedline, antenna, and mast in your $350 budget.  In your position that's how I'd start.

Oh, and plan to learn CW (Morse code) whether you're going to upgrade or not.  There are times when you simply can't make a contact on SSB where CW will get you through.  I would never have worked Japan on 6m without CW.  I would never have worked a 2,500 mile path on 2m without CW.

Good luck and welcome to the hobby!

73,
Caity
K7VO/9
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KC2OYE
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« Reply #2 on: February 24, 2006, 03:07:15 PM »

Thanks for the information and the reply! Though I understand what you said about the handheld radios, there are a couple handhelds (new) that are triband, offering 6 meters, 2, and 70cm. Isn't there something that can be done about that overload problem that may be experienced on a handheld with an external antennae?

Kirk
KC2OYE
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K6LCS
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« Reply #3 on: February 24, 2006, 04:47:06 PM »

Just a few observations...

>>...ABSOLUTELY MOST IMPORTANT piece of advice is not to buy any FM-only radio...

Since the original poster didn't tell us where he lived nor what he expected from the hobby, this is really an irresponsible bit of advice.

In MY region, there's an awful lot that can be accomplished with "FM-only" rigs...

>>...Packet on VHF/UHF FM is almost dead...

Another inappropriate comment. APRS and packet are VERY popular - again, in MY neck o' the woods. Might be dead for some...might be wildly popular for others.

>>...FM and repeaters on VHF and UHF...gets very old and very boring very quickly...

Again, this is a comment from someone whose region might not be as active/inactive as others'.

>>...I think this accounts for the over 50% drop out rate from the hobby among new Technician class licensees...

This is a statement that isn't proven by actual licensee numbers from the FCC.

Clint Bradford, K6LCS
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Clint Bradford, K6LCS
http://www.work-sat.com
K7VO
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Posts: 1010




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« Reply #4 on: February 24, 2006, 10:00:58 PM »

No, there is no way around the limitations of the receivers in handhelds.  They are also all, at least among current models, FM-only.  That's more of the same no matter how many bands you add.

FWIW, I stand by every statement I made.  The ARRL estimates the 50% drop out rate.  From what I've seen it's true.  APRS isn't packet radio or digital communications in the traditional sense although it uses packet.  It's ham GPS.

I currently live in Wisconsin but I have lived (as a ham) in Florida, California, North Carolina, and Ohio.   I've traveled extensively all over the country in my work.  FM and repeaters limit you to local communications or perhaps the occasional internet connected QSO via IRLP/Echolink.  Again, in my experience people lose interest in this very quickly.

There is nothing irresponsible in recommending an all mode rig.  The reason that I didn't recommend 6m or 2m specifically is because which area you're in DOES effect which band makes the most sense to start on.  However I have yet to travel to anywhere where neither makes sense.  I've only visited 49 states so far as a ham.  Maybe in Hawaii things are different but anywhere else an all mode rig makes sense.

You know what's great about a 6m SSB rig in particular?  You're not dependent on local activity.  Even at the bottom of the cycle (where we are now) you can work all over the place, including some opportunities at genuine DX, for at least 50-60 days a year.  I'd bet in most anyplace in the USA there are people you can work with a 400 mile radius if you have a good antenna.  Indeed, 6m SSB/CW is the only real opportunity for DX (other than satellite operation) a Technician class operator has.  IME once you've experienced a DX opening on 6m the DX bug bits and most folks upgrade.

Having said that there is more local activity here in Wisconsin on 2m SSB.  This is the fist place I've lived  where that's true.

You know what's irresponsible?  Pushing someone into the dead end of 2m and repeaters as you're doing, Clint.  You know where you really ticked me off:  when you referred to me as "he".  That's a very sexist assumption to make.  Oh, and did you read my name at the bottom of the post.  Do you know many men named Caity (same as Katie, but short for Caitlyn)?

Just my .02...

73,
Caity
K7VO/9
(21 years on the air and counting)
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K6LCS
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« Reply #5 on: February 25, 2006, 12:08:09 AM »

>>...No, there is no way around the limitations of the receivers in handhelds...

I didn't limit myself to just HTs...although we're workin' the world with measley ole HTs...

The point I was trying to make - apparently poorly - is that one doesn't need a "base station setup" in the traditional sense to get a lot of satisfaction from this marvelous hobby.

I handle inquiries about working the amateur satellites. Many believe you need 100W+ and extensive antenna systems to work 'em - when, in fact, we're working a couple amateur sats with mere handheld radios.

>>...FM and repeaters limit you to local communications or perhaps the occasional internet connected QSO via IRLP/Echolink. Again, in my experience people lose interest in this very quickly.

That just isn't the case for all. I thought I was too old to get excited about aspects of this hobby. But I talk to New Zealand and Lima, Peru using a handheld radio, and the interest is not waning.

>>...the dead end of 2m and repeaters as you're doing, Clint...

Hmmm...I can talk across town or across the globe on measley little old 2M and/or 440 low-power units: I don't feel I am in any sort of a rut by doing so.

>>...you referred to me as "he". That's a very sexist assumption to make...

You are correct: I didn't notice your name. If you knew me, you'd realize that I am probably the least sexist person you've met.

Just goes to show that both sexes can be as opinionated as the other...and hold inherent biases when it comes to amateur radio!

Clint Bradford, K6LCS
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Clint Bradford, K6LCS
http://www.work-sat.com
K6LCS
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« Reply #6 on: February 25, 2006, 12:12:11 AM »

>>...you really ticked me off: when you referred to me as "he". That's a very sexist assumption to make.

You're a little too touchy - I just re-read my post, and NEVER referred to your sex. I made a reference to "the original poster" whose name, apparently, is "Kirk."

Glad to set the record straight....

Clint Bradford, K6LCS
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Clint Bradford, K6LCS
http://www.work-sat.com
K7VO
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Posts: 1010




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« Reply #7 on: February 25, 2006, 08:46:41 PM »

First, Curt, I apologize for misreading your post and accusing you of a sexist comment.  My mistake and I am sorry.

I am not the only one to conclude the 2m/FM and repeaters is a poor entry into ham radio.  That conclusion was the basis of the ARRL's petition to the FCC for a new Novice license.  It's a pity the FCC didn't choose to act on it.

73,
Caity
K7VO/9
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KI4ENS
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Posts: 80




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« Reply #8 on: February 26, 2006, 09:23:01 AM »

One can get filters for the HTs.  Of course this kills the concept of a wideband receiver.

Nevertheless, you might want to buy a sub $100 used FM rig so you can get on the air.  Don't spend much.  I got my radioshack HTX-202 for about $40. It works. I can get in on the local nets.  Save for a better all-mode rig.
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KC2OYE
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« Reply #9 on: February 26, 2006, 07:57:57 PM »

Hey, thanks for the input everyone. BTW, I'm in Central Square, NY (upstate NY). Live 25 miles from Syracuse. We have a ranch style on 10 acres in the country area. Lots of space to put up antennae(s) later on, and lots of trees to string them to, though I'd be hesitant. We never know which ones will come crashing down from the next storm!
I'll keep looking on Ebay for used stuff, and also believe I'll continue studying morse code, then go on to study for the General class. That way, will have more options open.

- Kirk
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K7PEH
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« Reply #10 on: February 27, 2006, 09:06:12 PM »

>>>We have a ranch style on 10 acres in the country area. Lots of space to put up antennae(s) later on, and lots of trees to string them to, though I'd be hesitant.<<<


Kirk -- with your 10 acres and trees, I would say that you need to do nothing else but study and practice CW, take your General, and get on HF.

I have nothing against VHF/UHF at all, in fact, I am very interested in that region of the spectrum.  But, there is this law of ham radio that says "If you have the property, use it for antennas".  I am not sure where this law originated, I mean, I could have made it up all by myself.

As for the advice above, I think they are both right.  If you get into this hobby with FM and repeaters and find it exciting and fun -- just remember there is a lot more to the hobby.  If you get into FM and repeaters and find it boring after awhile (and, some have unfortunately), just remember that there is a lot more to the hobby.

There are two dumb things I have done in my lifetime.  One, I turned down a job offer at Microsoft in 1984** (they did not want to pay me enough).  And, the other is that I left this hobby in 1966 only to return in 2004 -- a 38 year separation.  [OK, so I have done more dumb things, I just don't have the time to write them all out].

** -- a friend of mine who arranged the interview started at Microsoft a few months prior.  He was employee number 98.  In 1991, he retired with a net worth of over $40 million!
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KA2JIZ
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« Reply #11 on: February 28, 2006, 07:38:48 PM »

Nice web site, Phil. Is the xyl a pro photographer? If not, she aught to be. Great ornithologie work deserving of publication. My congratulations.
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K7PEH
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« Reply #12 on: February 28, 2006, 08:33:42 PM »

ka2jiz -- thanks for your nice comments about the xyl's bird photography.  It is a hobby she started about two years ago.  No, she is not professional but she does make little boxes of greeting cards from her photos.  And, she reserves her best photos for those cards.  They are not on the web site.  These boxes of cards have become very popular gifts among siblings and friends.  She has been published once, on a web site that highlighted the birds of a given region.
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N2IK
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« Reply #13 on: March 01, 2006, 08:03:30 PM »

Hi Kirk, welcome to ham radio.

My bit of advise, is if your budget is $350.00 save at least $100-150 for antennas, coax and installation goodies. It is the antenna that does the heavy lifting in radio. A good antenna installation is going to make all the difference. The radio is not the most important thing. Get a good antenna up high and in the clear and you will be astounded at what you can work.

If you want help or advise check out the two clubs in Syracuse RAGS and LARC.

73 de Walt N2IK
Syracuse NY
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KC9HVN
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« Reply #14 on: March 07, 2006, 12:41:34 PM »

My first rig was a TS 520 from E-bay, at $145 it was beat... but worth every dollar. Bought it before I got my ticket, used it to listen in on slow code QSO's, ...helped a bunch to pass the code test.
I then used my sons wristrocket to send a 40m inverted v into the nearest oak tree, figured the swr would be within 1:3 hooked the 520 to it (with no tuner... tube finals are great!) and made my first QSO on 7113, about 1000 miles away! I was so excited I could barely copy the guys name much less his call.

Total outlay for that first setup, about $185. That was 9 long months ago, I've since spent another $1000, mostly on other "e-bay specials", the best being a Kenwood TS 830.

The absolute best piece of gear is that wristrocket.

Have fun!

73's
Mark
AB9LZ
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