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Author Topic: HF or VHF, that is the question  (Read 5151 times)
KB1PDK
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« on: April 21, 2011, 01:17:47 AM »

Hello,

I am new to Ham radio.  I have approached the sport as a home brewer, because of having an electronics background, I thought I would get into it by building my own HF superhet transceiver and have a great time making contacts all over the bands that it was desinged for.  I wouldn't settle for using a previously designed circuit.  I had to design and build it myself.  Well, I tried for 7 years and built 6 of them, three of which almost worked, but never made a contact.  Per request (more like demand) of wife and freinds and other relatives, due to the amount of time I was spending on it, I gave it up and now I am looking for a used rig.  It comes as somewhat of a relief.  But what I am faced with now, is that with limited funds, most used HF rigs are out of my reach.  How much less in demand are VHF rigs and how much more difficult is it to find activity in the VHF ranges than HF?  I have gotten the impression (perhaps erroneously), that some VHF prices are lower for used equipment.  Is that correct?  Maybe I should set my sights on VHF instaed of HF.  I'm interested in hearing other opinions.

George
KB1PDK
« Last Edit: April 21, 2011, 05:50:19 AM by KB1PDK » Logged
AC4RD
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« Reply #1 on: April 21, 2011, 04:26:35 AM »

Which type of operating seems like it will be more fun, to you?   That might be a more important consideration, really.  I don't think I've used VHF in years; just doesn't appeal to me, but I find HF lots of fun.  You might feel the same way, or you might feel exactly the opposite.   What you WANT to do is more important than saving a hundred bucks buying gear, IMO. 
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KB1PDK
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« Reply #2 on: April 21, 2011, 04:39:57 AM »

I've never used either one.  I've never used a ham radio, so I don't know which one I would like better.  Is there more activity on HF?  Is the advantage of HF that you get more distance?
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AG6WT
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Posts: 477




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« Reply #3 on: April 21, 2011, 07:24:01 AM »

If all you want to do is talk on VHF repeaters, you can do that with a $100 HT. But if there isn't a large population of interesting hams in your area that frequent the repeaters, you may find that extremely boring. You might want to give SSB or CW a try on VHF but it's not cheap. Good condition all-mode VHF rigs are somewhat rare and go for a premium price. Plus to make enough contacts to keep you entertained you'll need an amp and gain antenna mounted really high.

Alternatively you can try FM satellites with a full-duplex HT like an ICOM W32A. You can find these for around $150. You don't need a separate antenna to get started but you'll find a hand held gain antenna like an Arrow II satellite yagi (about $140) will make it much easier. You can also homebrew a gain antenna; you can find plans via Google.

I'm partial to HF and in my opinion you'll find more home brewer opportunities there. A good used starter rig like a Kenwood TS-440 will cost you around $400 or so. Add another $100 for a quiet PS. Antennas are almost free because as a home brewer you'll build your own. Start with resonant dipoles cut for 20 and 40 meters and start making contacts. If you want to experiment and build, you can try different antenna designs. There a books and books on antennas that you can try, and antenna simulation software if you want to experiment with a novel design of your own. Build a radio/computer sound card interface and give the digital modes a try. Build a remote tuner. Build an amp. Build a rock bound CW receiver. etc....
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K8GU
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« Reply #4 on: April 21, 2011, 07:29:42 AM »

On the East Coast, there is plenty of activity on VHF, both FM and weak-signal (SSB and CW, which will be more expensive, but can be done for $100-$200 if you're resourceful).  If you are interested in just chatting, VHF FM would be fine.  But, I sense that you might be interested in pushing the limit a bit if you've been attempting homebrewing.  Once you master the code at some level, HF CW contacts on 40/30/20 meters are still the cheapest, easiest contacts to make.  If you have a decent computer and are so inclined, digital contacts on those bands are probably next.

What kind of radios were you trying to build?  It takes a good bit of time to get your first completely homebrew rig working, especially on any mode other than CW.  In fact, there is a strong economic disincentive to start homebrewing---once you have a few working projects under your belt it gets better, though.  

One option to consider since the solar cycle is picking up a bit and sporadic-E season is starting would be one of the "10-meter all-mode" radios like the RadioShack HTX-100 and HTX-10.  (Be careful though since this type of radio is mostly a glorified CB and some are better than others.)  10 meters is a bit like a VHF band most of the time---sporadic-E openings are pretty common during the summer months.  I don't know if this solar cycle is going to get strong enough to support daily F2 openings to Europe accessible to small stations like the previous cycle.  But, I've worked a few Caribbean, Oceanian, South American, and African DX stations in casual operating (few hours total, 100 watts to a dipole at 30 feet) over the past few months.  The band has been open to "somewhere" for at least a few hours every day lately.

If I were in your shoes and know what I know now, I would do whatever I could to save away for a Kenwood "hybrid" (TS-520/530/820/830), or perhaps a solid-state rig like the IC-735 or FT-890/-840.  These fall into the "dollar-a-day-for-a-year" class of radios.  In the mean time, visit a local club (perhaps the one that gave you your exam) and get to know some folks.  Some of them may have extra gear laying around that you can try out.
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KB1PDK
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« Reply #5 on: April 21, 2011, 09:54:07 AM »

Thank you for the information.  I was trying to build a 10M and then several 40M SSB transceivers for phone use.  I was hoping to make a purchase in the next few months.  Maybe VHF wouldn't be so bad of a choice.
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K8AXW
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« Reply #6 on: April 21, 2011, 10:28:53 AM »

PDK: George, I'm afraid I'm really confused by your post.  You mention "electronics background" but not what kind of electronics background or what field.  You jumped into the hobby by wanting to "design and build" your own gear.  I find this backwards.  You're admitted failure here also indicates that you REALLY didn't have a specific goal and why you wanted to reach that goal.

Then you turn around and ask which is better to get into, VHF or HF and you don't seem to know what each provides.  Some very basic research will provide this information.  Not that anyone here doesn't want to help but the help on eHam.com is very specific and space limited.  Whereas a hour with a book will provide a great deal more information than you can get here in a week....or month!

Very basically, VHF is normally line of site communications.  In other words if you can normally communicate as far as you can see.  Then you have communications through repeaters which extends the contact area out to a hundred miles or so.  Unless you find  hams on the repeaters that have many interests you will find most of the contacts quite confining....limited subject matter, not unlike CB.  Of course you can get into the satellites and even moonbounce but there you get into spending big bucks.

HF communications on the other hand is almost limitless.  Contacts can be anywhere from a few miles to around the world.  You have voice, using SSB, AM, and even FM.  You can use CW after you learn the code.  You have radio spectrum available that will blow your mind!

You can operate using low power, from milliwatts to high power using up to 1500W output!  You can build your own gear from published circuits, which believe it or not George, is great fun and will provide you with every challenge you desire and then modify it to whatever you think it should do.

Although the antennas on HF are much larger, for the most part they are cheap, using ordinary wire and even homemade insulators.  HF gear and antenna experimenting is almost limitless.

As for the expense, some research here will provide you sources for gear that you probably can afford.  Like the vendors in QST magazine.  (You do belong to ARRL, don't you?) Another source is a local ham club, where you might find someone who wants to sell excess gear.  Quote often, gear can be obtained at a hamfest, but you should have some experience first.

If you learn the code, you can buy very inexpensive low-power CW transceiver kits that are a blast to assemble and use.  On HF you can work the world with them.

So George, as you can see, your question isn't all that simple to answer.  I think you need to do some research before you make any hasty decisions.
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KJ4FUU
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« Reply #7 on: April 21, 2011, 11:15:08 AM »

As far as prices go, yes, it may be hard to find a low-priced HF rig if you are looking on eBay or the various classified ads sites. However, check into a local radio club. You may find help there. At my club, I picked up a RadioShack HTX-10 real cheap ($5), and at an auction to dispose of radio equipment for a silent key's family, I got a Kenwood R-1000 receiver ($100), a Yaesu FT212RH ($50) and a Yaesu FT690RIII (no battery pack, but the 10w amp) ($100). I think I got a 14 amp power supply for $10 or $20 also.

Keep in mind that a club will probably expect you to help out, and not just get help. Field Day is coming up, check around and see who needs volunteers...

-- Tom
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KB1PDK
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« Reply #8 on: April 21, 2011, 11:17:00 AM »

I won't use up any more unecessary space.  I'll just try to answer your questions.  It was an engineering background.  Not in communications, more in controls.  I just wanted to see if I could get a superheterodyne transceiver to work and whether I understood them enough to design one.  The more I learned about the subject the more the hobby as a whole appealed to me and although it's not easy to explain why I ceased my efforts at home brew, I can say that the idea of making contacts over a wide area does still appeal to me as well.  Therefore I am trying to find a rig that I can afford.  The VHF range would be a compromise, but it's a question of whether I have the patience to wait a year to afford a HF rig.  Thank you for the info.  I will use it wisely and I will do more research as you suggested.

George
KB1PDK
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AE4RV
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« Reply #9 on: April 21, 2011, 11:33:53 AM »

I think K8AXW really nailed it. HF is so much more interesting and rewarding.

But, there are good reasons to start with VHF:

Entry level licenses give full privileges
Basic VHF radios tend to be inexpensive (HTs and mobile rigs especially)
You can meet local people who can help you get on HF in various ways
Gives you something to play with while saving up for HF gear
You can make some good friends

Good luck.
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AG6WT
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« Reply #10 on: April 21, 2011, 11:56:52 AM »

George,

If I may ask, what is your budget anyway?

BTW, study and upgrade your license so you'll have more HF privileges. Even if you stick with VHF, you sound they kind of guy that would enjoy learning the more technical aspects of the hobby so you might as well take the tests associated with the advanced knowledge.

Ray KJ6AMF
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KB1PDK
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« Reply #11 on: April 21, 2011, 12:27:32 PM »

I am between jobs and I really shouldn't spend any money on it right now.  I might pick up a few bucks from tutoring math, so depending on how things go I might be able to afford something just to get my feet wet so to speak.  I am currently studying for the General license test.  I don't think I am going to home brew a superhet transceiver for a while, but maybe some simpler stuff.
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AG6WT
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« Reply #12 on: April 21, 2011, 01:20:19 PM »

Sorry to hear about the job...

In that case I'd just get an HT. You can get a new Wouxon for a little over $100 and that will let you work VHF/UHF FM repeaters and FM simplex close in. You can experiment with home made j-poles and ground plane antennas.

You can also take the time to learn CW. Get a cheap straight key and home brew an oscillator.  There are several free software training packages that you can try like G4FON. Also look for Chuck Adams K7QO's free CW training course.

Take a look at SWL too. For $50-80 you can get a basic SW radio that has SSB, such as a Grundig G6 or Kaito 1103. You can listen to the ham bands, both SSB and CW, and get an idea of what people are doing on the air and how propagation varies during the day and during the year.  The SW radio will also let you experiment with receiving antennas. Random wire, dipoles, full wave loops, magnetic loops, etc. Figure out what lets you hear DX at your QTH. Remember, you can't work 'em if you can't hear 'em.
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K8AXW
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« Reply #13 on: April 21, 2011, 02:06:02 PM »

George, I can relate to your budget problems.... and not being able to 'justify' spending money for a rig.  I made good money for 40 years but couldn't afford to buy a nice transceiver because I couldn't 'justify' taking money from the household finances to do it.  Especially with two kids in college.  Fortunately, at that time I did manage to scarf up enough money to buy a Heath SB-102 transceiver which I used for years.

Later, an old friend passed on and left me his TS-830S.  I've been using it for about 30 years.  Now that I'm retired I can't even think about buying a new rig.  I just have to make due.

If you look at my photo on QRZ.com, you will see a desk full of junk.  Almost everything you see there is either Heathkits or homebrew, including the 1500W amplifier to the right.  (black)

That homebrew job took me 5 years to accumulate the parts, about a year to assemble and another 3 years to get operational.  I can sympathize with your "waiting a year." 

During this wait period you can spend some quality time upgrading your license and even learning the code.  Both are cheap and very rewarding.... especially if you eventually go for an inexpensive low power CW transceiver.  Guaranteed!

There's a lot of good advice for you here George.  Feel free to ask questions anytime.  We want to help.  And good luck with finding a job.  Bad scene, man!
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W7ETA
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« Reply #14 on: April 21, 2011, 04:56:24 PM »

For me, it has always been HF.

My only foray into VHF was 2 meters, mobile.  I quickly got board.

But, I never was interested in Moon bounce, and ducting.

With the advent of digital communications and home computers you might have a lot of FUN on VHF and UHF.

However you might also have a lot of FUN on HF with digital communications.

Whenever I turn my Drake C-kine on, I smile and have FUN.

A few years ago I decided to see what state of the art was when I was born, 1948.  I got an ARRL Hand Book, found a simple xmitter based on a 6L6 and tubed power supply.  I had a lot of FUN building it/.  And, it worked!!!  It took a while to find the parts on eBay, which was also fun for me.

If you are interested in simple circuits, try scanning on Glow Bugs.

Best from Tucson
Bob
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