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Author Topic: Modest Station Setup Advice  (Read 2278 times)
NP2EP
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Posts: 17




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« on: May 18, 2008, 10:44:52 PM »

Now here's something you've never heard before. I'm looking for some advice on what types of stuff I should look into getting for a "shack" setup.

First, a bit of background. I've been licensed since 1991, but I'm sorely out of practice on almost anything to do with radio (I am a computer geek by trade, though, so I've got some "techie" in me). I'm lately feeling a twinge of longing to get back into the hobby, and I am now at a point in life (i.e. an adult home-owner) that I can look at setting up some kind of station.

I don't have a ton of money to spend... so I'm not looking for an "everything all at once" type of deal. Rather, as I find some cash here and there, what types of stuff should I be looking for? Here's some specifics:

What I already have:
- Radio Shack HTX-202 2m HT
- Radio Shack HTX-404 70cm HT
- Kenwood 2m mobile/base rig (I forget the model number just now)... no power supply
- a 2m/440 magmount antenna (nothing fancy)
- a couple old Uniden Bearcat BC-100XLT scanners (both need new batteries)
- a Grundig S350 shortwave receiver
- various Windows and Linux workstations available, as required

Heh. Smiley

I am interested in the various digital operating modes on HF/VHF/UHF, as well as interfacing/controlling the radio(s) with my computer. Not overly interested in contesting/DX-ing/SSB rag-chewing, though I wouldn't discount voice operation altogether, either. Potentially interested in CW and QRP as well, though I'd have to brush up on my skills a bit first.

I don't have a lot of room on my property for a huge antenna farm; I'm thinking maybe a J-pole for 2m/440, and some kind of HF antenna.

Would appreciate any and all suggestions for what types of stuff I should be keeping an eye out for as I check ebay, hamfests, swapmeet nets, etc.... Rigs, antennas, other hardware (computer interfacing), software, antenna tuners, that kind of thing.

And don't be afraid to talk down to me; like I said, I've probably forgotten most of what I learned in ham radio school, so small words are okay. Smiley

Thanks to all in advance.
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K7PEH
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Posts: 1141




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« Reply #1 on: May 19, 2008, 02:36:15 PM »

>>>
What I already have:
- Radio Shack HTX-202 2m HT
- Radio Shack HTX-404 70cm HT
- Kenwood 2m mobile/base rig (I forget the model number just now)... no power supply
- a 2m/440 magmount antenna (nothing fancy)
- a couple old Uniden Bearcat BC-100XLT scanners (both need new batteries)
- a Grundig S350 shortwave receiver
- various Windows and Linux workstations available, as required
<<<

I know nothing about the Radio Shack HTX devices but if I owned them I would probably sell them.  Not that there is anything wrong with them but they are probably old and may not compare to what is available today.  And, today, very good HTs do not cost a ton of money.  I have a Yaesu VX6R that I bought for $229 at the SeaPac ham fest three years ago and I think it is a pretty good HT though I hardly ever use it.

If that Kenwood 2 meter mobile/base still works it is probably fine for today's operations although that is a guess since I know nothing about Kenwood stuff and it probably depends on how old it is.  But, you should be able to pickup a good power supply for not too much money.  Or, you might get by cheaper with a 12-volt battery and a charger on the battery.  Your pick.  Assuming that the rig might be 50 or 60 watts, you would want a 13.8 volt power supply that can deliver maybe around 10 amps per your duty cycle.

You might want to make a J-pole for 2-meter operation.  Easy and cheap to make and you will have a home brew antenna to begin your home brewing part of this hobby.  But, I am not sure if the mag mount would be suitable for a roof top antenna at home -- use on your car.

No comments on the other stuff in your list above.

>>>
I am interested in the various digital operating modes on HF/VHF/UHF, as well as interfacing/controlling the radio(s) with my computer. Not overly interested in contesting/DX-ing/SSB rag-chewing, though I wouldn't discount voice operation altogether, either. Potentially interested in CW and QRP as well, though I'd have to brush up on my skills a bit first.
<<<

The only digital I have done is CW via iambic paddle and keyer so I am not the one to answer your digital stuff above.  However, I am guessing that you will want to buy some new equipment.  And, that opens a real big door of choices that only you can narrow down along with any advice you might pick up here and there.

CW and QRP is a good mix and an excellent way to get into HF.  If I were you and in your situation.  I would push in that direction.  Put up a 40 meter dipole (not too big of an antenna) and buy yourself one of those little QRP kits for 40 meter operation and you are on the air.  Just the other day I picked up a station on 40 meters running 500 milliwatts CW with a homebrew transmitter (his receiver was a separate rig).  He was in the next state (Idaho).  He was weak but copiable which is the great thing about CW.
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NP2EP
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Posts: 17




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« Reply #2 on: May 19, 2008, 09:03:54 PM »

Thank you for your reply!

"I know nothing about the Radio Shack HTX devices but if I owned them I would probably sell them. Not that there is anything wrong with them but they are probably old and may not compare to what is available today."

Ah... no way in the world. If you've not seen/used one of these old bricks, you're missing out on a classic. Smiley

The HTX-202 was actually my dad's, bought new in the early 1990s. I hunted down the 404 on ebay. Both very solid, capable HTs that show no signs of slowing down. Not a lot of bells and whistles, but anyone I've ever met who has had one has sworn by it. (I've even gotten random compliments by strangers at hamfests in response to it on my belt.)


"You might want to make a J-pole for 2-meter operation. Easy and cheap to make and you will have a home brew antenna to begin your home brewing part of this hobby."

I've considered homebrewing an antenna... but I'm not sure I have the time and patience for that kind of thing. (Three kids under age 4 means I've got little enough "play time" on my own already!) I wouldn't necessarily be opposed to putting together a kit for a rig... but, I'm not sure about an antenna. Other than something quick like a 1/2 wave dipole, of course.


"CW and QRP is a good mix and an excellent way to get into HF. If I were you and in your situation. I would push in that direction. Put up a 40 meter dipole (not too big of an antenna) and buy yourself one of those little QRP kits for 40 meter operation and you are on the air."

Hm... may consider something along those lines. I'm a bit rusty with CW (i.e. I've forgotten it all), but I've been wanting a reason to practice it up again.

I'm not near a brick & mortar ham shop... any good leads for online purchases?


An addendum to my original post... 2m base/mobile rig is a Kenwood TM-261A.
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K7PEH
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Posts: 1141




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« Reply #3 on: May 19, 2008, 09:28:19 PM »

>>>Hm... may consider something along those lines. I'm a bit rusty with CW (i.e. I've forgotten it all), but I've been wanting a reason to practice it up again.

My CW story...

Back in the mid-1960s I was a Novice and as Novices do in those days, everything was CW.  I got my speed up to about 20 wpm before my Novice one-year license expired.  I was in college at the time and did not have the time or interest to pursue my General class license so I gave up the hobby.

In 2004 I got interested again and got licensed to the hilt with Amateur Extra class.  Operated SSB on HF for a few years.  Then, in January 2007 I got this kind  of bug for CW.  I thought I forgot everything.  If you asked me at the time, I could not tell you most of the letters let alone copy them.  But, I started listening to CW stations on the air.  I never did practice with any programs or tapes or anything -- just listened to CW operators.  I was surprised by how fast it came back to me.  Within one week of starting that listening, I had my first CW QSO.  However, I did so badly on the sending that I had to abort the QSO.  I sent the other guy an e-mail apologizing for bad "fist".  I guess I forgot that I had to practice my sending as well as copying.

Now, I am comfortable at about 18 to 20 wpm and I can do some contests at 30 wpm if the exchange is simple.  I use a paddle and keyer and CW is about 80 to 90 percent of all my QSOs.

So, give CW a try -- hopefully you will be surprised like I was.  After all, I went 40 years without even hearing CW at all and within one week of listening I could copy at about 10 wpm.
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N4KZ
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Posts: 696




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« Reply #4 on: May 21, 2008, 06:51:44 AM »

You sound like a good candidate for one of the all-in-one do everything rigs; e.g. Yaesu FT-857D, Yaesu FT-897D or Icom IC-706MK2G. They're also called DC to daylight rigs since they cover 160 meters up to 70 cm and tune general coverage shortwave and some of the VHF and UHF frequencies outside the ham bands too.

They can be used mobile or at home. I have two of the three mentioned above and they work quite well and don't cost a fortune either. One of these rigs, plus a digital interface and a computer will allow you do work HF/VHF/UHF, digital modes, CW, SSB and do rig control by computer software, etc.

And don't think you can't build an HF wire antenna. You can. They're easy and you will save a ton of money because, in my opinion, the commercially made HF wire antennas are way overpriced. Lots of antenna books and Interset sites exist on HF antennas. Build, don't buy. Save money and learn antenna theory along the way!

73, Dave, N4KZ
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KD8CGF
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Posts: 40




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« Reply #5 on: May 21, 2008, 09:50:31 AM »

You have not mentioned the size of your lot & what is available there to suspend antennas from: these are two of the commonest limiting factors for HF antennas.   Once I figured out my lot was 60' by 100' with trees 60' high at the most, the selection of HF antennas became much simpler.
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K7PEH
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Posts: 1141




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« Reply #6 on: May 21, 2008, 11:17:59 AM »

>>>
"They're also called DC to daylight rigs since they cover 160 meters up to 70 cm"

160 meters isn't DC and 70cm is well below the visible spectrum.
<<<

And, here I always thought they were "DC to daylight" because you gave them DC (13.8 volts DC input) and got daylight (or, light) out in the various LEDs, lights, LCDs, and whatever on the front panel.  The mere fact that RF was somewhere in between was just a bonus.  Of course, you also get Infrared radiation (heat) and audio frequency radiation (sound) in between the DC and Daylight.
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AB1HH
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Posts: 1




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« Reply #7 on: May 21, 2008, 01:26:02 PM »

It sounds like you might like digital modes, like PSK-31.  
For that, you might have a lot of fun with on 20 meters,
and 40 meters when 20 meters isn't available.  

So, you might consider this for an HF setup:
1) ICOM 718 (you can get them for around $500 on ebay)

2) Signalink USB interface (just be willing to wait a month for delivery.  The key thing is, it has it's own sound card and the USB interface simplifies cabling).

3) A CAT-V interface for rig control.  You could use ICOM's but if you use google there are cheaper alternatives that work off USB

4) a decent computer.  My Dell desktop works great, I've had problems with laptops with noise.

5) Ham Radio Deluxe + Digital Master 780 software for rig control and digital modes.  This is unspeakably cool.  You can download it for free.

6) A rudimentry wire antenna.  I use an automatic tuner  
feeding 300 ohm twinlead into a 44 foot long dipole. (you could google "44 foot doublet" to find out more.  Also, google "Norcal doublet" while you're at it). One more note:  My tuner is connected by coax to a 1:1 balun which then connects to the 300 ohm feed line. If you have space, you could build a 88 foot doublet which would work better at 40 meters and give some 80 meter coverage. This may sound complicated, but it really isn't.  If you want to go simple, just build a dedicated 20 meter dipole fed with coax, and you won't need a tuner.  You could also build a dipole to cover 40 meters.  Beyond that, there are so many variations:  
order "Simple and Fun Antennas for Hams". The ARRL antenna book is good too, but it has a lot that isn't simple.

I must admit, this is pretty much the setup I have except that I have the ICOM-7000 (with the PS-125 power supply and and LDG AT-7000) tuner.  The ICOM-7000 is nice because it also gives you uhf and vhf, but it sounds like you have those bands covered with the HT's.  
The 7000 can be complicated to use, in that there's a menu system to wade through.  There's an article in the  
May QST magazine about entry level (and higher) radios.

I am in the process of adding CW capability to my setup; if you want to go that route, you'll need a few other things I haven't covered here.  

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NP2EP
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Posts: 17




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« Reply #8 on: May 21, 2008, 02:21:20 PM »

Thank you all for the replies so far, in particular the specific rig model numbers.

As far as an antenna goes, I think I'm somewhat limited. My yard is neither huge nor miniscule... but I don't really have anything there to hang an antenna on. Outside chance I could use one tree, but the distance between the tree and the house seems a bit short. Also have 3 little kids, so I can't do much that would involve the ground in any way (they do like to get their grubby hands on anything in "their territory").

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