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Author Topic: New(ish) ham getting into 10 meters and down  (Read 21841 times)

Posts: 14

« on: November 21, 2012, 08:57:15 PM »

Hi all - Got licensed a few years ago, and have been having fun putting around 2m/70cm on FM and packet. But I did the November Sweepstakes last weekend and had a blast. I was activating my university's radio club, which hasn't really existed for about 15 years, so it consisted of a really nice vertical (don't know the details) on the roof about 60 feet up, and an IC-706MKIIG running barefoot into it in a conference room with the feedline coming out of the ceiling. We (a local alumnus came by as a mentor/operator for licensing reasons) got 52 sections and 111 contacts, for about 11.5k points, with this setup in about 6 hours, which was fine with me as a first-time contester. Had we used more of the time, or been more competitive, we would've done very nicely indeed. I was pretty impressed with the 706, and I'm definitely not far enough along to feel where it's lacking (though I can see where some filters would be nice!)

But it was a painful realization that my little VHF/UHF world is very small. My current setup is a TM-V71A as a base and TH-D72A, so I'm fine for VHF/UHF, but I'd love to expand "down". I'm working on the licensing, but I need a rig to be able to use any of it. Antennas are a concern, but I figure I'll deal with that after I graduate in a few months (and I'll try running a wire out my 7th-floor window now to see what happens!).

But I'm a college student and I'm on a budget. I'd love to go buy a brand-new TS-590S or something, but that seems like buying a Lamborghini as a first car. Plus, while I can technically afford it (that is, $2000 + planned_expenses < bank_balance), it seems like it makes poor fiscal sense.

Here's what I'm looking for:
1) A HF rig, ideally 10-160 meters but a subset might be alright
2) Relatively inexpensive*
3) Able to "grow" (works well with ATUs, amps, etc) but works fine on its own (puts out 100 watts or so - no QRP to start!)
4) Can do SSB voice and will interface with a PC to do things like PSK31, RTTY, and maybe WINMOR/PACTOR for Winlink. A keyer and CW would be gravy as I'm learning the Morse code, and it seems like most rigs have that anyway.
5) 2m/70cm is a plus, but not a requirement. It helps to justify the cost because then I can move my v71a into my car, which was the original intent (upgrade but use the old stuff)

(*I don't know what "inexpensive" means in terms of "decent, reasonable starter HF rigs" - that is, what's a reasonable ballpark to start with?)

Honestly I think the IC-706MKIIG that I used meets these criteria. I was seriously considering it as my first rig, since it seems like a "classic" radio, but couldn't justify spending almost a thousand dollars just to get on the air for the first time (between rig, PSU, etc) so I went with the v71a instead since I couldn't really use HF anyway to start.

So here's my question to the people out there who know better than I - Does the 706MKIIG meet the criteria above? eBay suggests $700-$1000 for one (I'm keeping an eye out). Is $700ish a fair price for a used but good condition unit? Or is that a steal, or a ripoff? Most importantly, can I do better on cost with another unit without sacrificing quality/features too much? $700+ is a lot harder to justify than something in the $500ish range. I'm still doing my research, but I don't know of an easy way to compare all the rigs out there across all the manufacturers and sort by price (if such a thing exists, I'd love a link!). It seems like a mobile rig will best meet my needs, but only because they seem to be cheaper. Portability isn't really an issue, but if it runs off 13.8v anyway I'd probably try it at a Field Day.

Thanks in advance! I hope this question hasn't been asked a thousand times already, but feel free to post links instead of repeating advice.

Posts: 100


« Reply #1 on: November 22, 2012, 04:41:28 PM »

You can buy Icom 7000's for $1000 or less. That is the rig that replaced the IC 706. I have seen several for sale lately at $1000 or slightly less here in Canada so I am sure you can find them where you live.

Personally I would not buy any radio off Ebay. I know others have and have lived to tell the tale. But I just would not do it myself. There are enough ham radio swaps listed on the net to shop on.

Put your want on here, QRZ, or ask around locally.

If you want to get a decent HF rig minus the VHF/UHF bands you can find lots of those around for $500 or less. Icom 735's etc are for sale at reasonable prices.

Good Luck
73 Rick VE3FMC

Posts: 1485

« Reply #2 on: November 22, 2012, 04:49:47 PM »

I've been using a 706mk2g for 9+ years now, mobile, and it's been a great little workhorse.  But it seems to me that the 706 sells used for a little more than I'd want to pay.  Since you already have your VHF/UHF covered, I'd suggest looking for a used HF or HF+6m rig near you.  You'll find it a LOT easier if you talk to local hams and get to know them, do some talking--make sure the rig works before you decide on a purchase.

There are LOTS of rigs you can buy for $500 or less, used, that will get you on HF easily.  I won't even try to name them, but I see FT-840s and ICC-718s and several of the Kenwoods selling used for less than that.  Any of those fairly recent, "entry-level" rigs, can be had inexpensively and still make very good rigs for all-around HF use.  I've seen the Alinco (70?) for $350 locally, and I sold my old FT-840 (a great little radio!) for less than that a half-dozen years ago.

You MAY well find that you want a better rig in a year or three--but by then you'll have a MUCH better idea about what you want in an HF rig, and your "starter radio" can be resold at not much loss, or you can keep it as a backup/mobile/whatever.

The best starting place, IMO, is to talk to the locals, on the repeaters and at club meetings, get to know some, and ask about finding a used HF rig.  Don't worry too much about brand/model; anything that gets you on the air reliably will be a great start, and you CAN do it very inexpensively if you look around!

73 and GL!  Feel free to email off the site if I can help with anything.  --ken ac4rd

Posts: 14

« Reply #3 on: November 23, 2012, 07:39:54 PM »

OK thanks everybody for the advice. I've been doing more research and it looks like the suggestion to stick to HF-only rigs makes sense - it looks like there's certainly a lot more used gear out there that isn't also a 2m/70cm transceiver, and I've got that well covered.

It also looks like eBay is a good thing to avoid, if possible. Lots of horror stories with stolen gear, etc. More on that later.

I checked out the above-mentioned FT-840 and IC-718 and the IC-735. They all seem like they fit my needs and budget well, but that also means there must be a hundred other ones that do as well.

But it seems like there's more good starter rigs for me than not, which is starting to make me suspect that a better option is to show up at a hamfest and find one that looks good (maybe check the eHam reviews first!), make sure it works, and buy it. Assuming it's hard to get an entry HF rig wrong... but is there anything I shouldn't get? Models, makes, etc? What should I ask before I make a purchase?

I don't know how I'll be able to do on the hamfest front, though... I can only find one nearby in the next 2 months and I don't know if I'll be able to get there. I'm going to check out a local store and see what they have, but if it comes to it - what's a reputable place to buy used ham radio gear online? I may not be able to avoid needing something shipped.

Thanks again everyone... there's too many rigs in current production to keep track of, and adding in all the older ones on top of that just makes it an impossible task, so the recommendations have been very helpful!

Posts: 203

« Reply #4 on: November 23, 2012, 09:17:36 PM »

You might want to try your local Craigslist too.

Usual caveats apply.  YMMV.


Posts: 442

« Reply #5 on: November 24, 2012, 11:14:43 AM »

Plan on spending at least twice as much as you budget.  It won't stop with a radio.  I think the FT857D or FT897D are just great little radios.  I own one and got one through an ARRL grant for our school club.  Works great!

Posts: 1485

« Reply #6 on: November 27, 2012, 09:08:50 AM »

KC2YWE, I'm sorry not to have replied earlier.  It's actually a really big topic.  It's very true that almost any decent relatively modern radio will be a fine first HF rig for you. And it's also true that some rigs have better reputations than others--for reliability, or usefulness for a particular mode, or whatever.   There are actually so many possibilities that it's hard to be very specific here.

A hamfest might be a good place to look--but make sure you talk to the seller, and that he answers you honestly about whether it works (if he says "it was working fine the last time I used it," run away!  It often implies: "... right before it caught on fire and I beat the flames out with a softball bat.")   :-)   There are sometimes bargains on craigslist, as K3ANG suggested--but again, you want to make sure you're getting a radio in good working condition, and that can be hard if you don't know the seller.

That's why I suggested finding your local ham club(s) and getting to know some other hams nearby.  (You may already know them from the local repeaters.)  Someone you know personally (IMO) is more likely to be honest about a radio's condition in a sale.

By the way, AE5QB mentioned the 857/897; I got a used 897 from one of the big ham stores a couple of years ago; 30-day warranty if anything was wrong with it, which made it a pretty safe purchase.  And it's a great little radio--I really like it.   If your budget will go that far, most of the big ham shops (AES, HRO, The Ham Station in Evansville, etc) sell used gear with some kind of guarantee that it works. 

Hope this helps a bit; feel free to email if I can help with anything specific.  73 GL!  --ken ac4rd

Posts: 14

« Reply #7 on: November 29, 2012, 11:06:26 AM »

Check out the Kenwood 480 or 480HX. I LOVE mine & will work great in your mobile too! I've seen these used for $650-$800.


Charlie  K6CS

Posts: 7718

« Reply #8 on: November 29, 2012, 12:25:21 PM »

If you want to save money yet have a perfectly serviceable radio check out the Alinco DX-SR8T/E. At Ham Radio Outlet it is $530 with free shipping. It even comes with a CW filter. The one thing it does not have is a PC interface. For PSK, etc. you would use a TNC box. The power can be set to 10 or 100 watts, which is awkward for running an amp (many require about 50 watts). However, there is jumper in the radio that sets the maximum power to 50 watts.

You will need a power supply and the Astron RS-20 at $110 is a good, solid power supply.

An antenna tuner would be nice and I recommend the MFJ-901B at $100.
« Last Edit: November 29, 2012, 12:32:40 PM by WX7G » Logged

Posts: 1156

« Reply #9 on: November 30, 2012, 04:32:25 AM »

A nice clean Kenwood TS-570 is a great starter radio if you can find one. Used around 600 bucks. I haven't seen many used ones recently. I think people are hanging on to them because they are so reliable. I have owned mine for 13 years now and really like. Never any problems with it at all. A real work horse. Good luck and Merry Christmas.
73 Jim. W5JJG

Posts: 21764

« Reply #10 on: November 30, 2012, 09:27:44 AM »

I think the rig suggestions are great, but more important is the antenna system any of them will connect to.

The operator and the antenna(s) do all the work, the rig is just an interface between the operator and the ether. Wink  Seriously.

Like most experienced hams (I've been active 47 years), I'd much rather have a 30 year-old junky rig connected to some great antennas than a brand-new $5000 rig connected to a low dipole or other compromised antenna.  The difference in "what you can work" is astonishing.

You're in northeastern NJ based on your mailing address, and if that's the case there are plenty of ham clubs nearby with experienced hams willing to help you out with the antenna stuff.  Use those resources!  Much better than getting advice from afar via the internet.

Good luck and have fun!

Posts: 2280

« Reply #11 on: November 30, 2012, 11:10:04 AM »

If I was a dirt poor college student looking to get the most bang for the buck, looking for a transceiver with tight filtering that would do all the modes you mentioned, and do it on the cheap, I'd be looking for something like a Yaesu FT-101ZD or better yet, an FT-901 of '902DM, or a Kenwood TS-520, or TS-830.  These are workhorse HF rigs from the 80's with tube finals, and built in power supplies.  They have switchable filters and will handle high VSWR without folding back power, and can be had for a few hundred dollars today.

Just a comment regarding your Subject title:
"....10 meters and down" would indicate to me that you're talking shorter wavelengths and consequently higher frequencies.  I knew what you meant, but "10 meters and up" (i.e. 28Mhz and down) is actually what you're looking for.

Posts: 1042

« Reply #12 on: December 02, 2012, 02:47:47 PM »

Nearly any of the "modern" - meaning all solid state with digital readout radios will serve you well.

I do suggest for fixed station use that you buy a larger rig physically - knobs not menus.  There's lots of good rigs out there by Icom, Yaesu, Kenwood that will cover all HF bands, many also cover 6 meters as well.  I would go more by price and rig condition, plus any included accessories like optional filters that come with the radio. A radio that the local ham demonstrates on air for you before the sale is a lot better bang for the buck than the same money gambled on e-Bay, IMHO.

Anywhere from $350 to $1000 would give you a fine starter HF radio meeting your criteria except maybe a computer interface.

Don't forget to budget for the needed accessories like antenna materials, feedline, tuner if needed, antenna switches, power supply, etc.  If you don't have a high-current power supply, I would suggest at least a 35 amp supply, as that will allow you to run your HF rig plus a pack of accessory gear with capacity to spare.


Posts: 14

« Reply #13 on: December 04, 2012, 07:34:43 AM »

Hi all - thanks for the suggestions. A nearby ham actually read this post and contacted by email. He had a IC-718 that he was trying to sell (to finance a TS-590s he'd bought) and he gave me the rig, the SM-6 desk mic, and a G5RV Jr for $500. We checked it out at his shack, and it worked fine - put out the rated power, etc. I also got a good recommendation from Gene, K2KJI, of KJI Electronics, who sold him the rig in the first place! So I'm definitely happy I went local, because that stuff is certainly impossible to do over eBay.

I managed to pass my General, but then I took the Extra test and passed that too. Which is great, except that I didn't study it, so I still have to learn what I "know". But I don't have to re-test.

I had an Astron RS-20a for my other rig, and it seems to power this one fine. When I get into digital modes, I may need a bigger PSU that can deliver 20 amps (or more) continuous, instead of peak, but it seems to do alright now. I also picked up an autotuner - the IT-100, new - and it works a treat (but what a racket!).

I had my first contact this morning, using what could generously be called a "lackluster antenna system". I had the G5RV Jr out the window in an inverted-V configuration, hanging a few inches below my gutter (so the center was at about ~12 feet, which is too low - the ladder line was about 5 feet longer, so I looped it up to my porch railing). I wasn't expecting much, but I worked Phil KM4OP in East Central Florida on 20 meters. I heard him 599+20, he heard me 58 - I'm just happy he could hear me at all! I would have put up a more permanent(= higher up) antenna, but I was only home from college for the weekend and I didn't want to start shooting lines through trees. So I set it up to be able to tear it down quickly.

I've currently got the rig in my suitcase, since I'm taking it on the train (carefully) so I can work the 10 meter contest from the school club next weekend. I'll be using the club callsign W3KZ if any of you guys hear it. We've got quite an antenna, but the 718 is nicer for contesting (with the DSP) than the 706 the club owns, so I wanted to bring it. I figure it'll get out really nice, especially with the desk mic.

So thanks everybody for your suggestions. Hopefully I'll see you on the air!

(p.s. I know it's 10 meters and up, not down, but I figured this would be less ambiguous!)

Posts: 1485

« Reply #14 on: December 04, 2012, 09:18:53 AM »

Hi all - thanks for the suggestions. A nearby ham actually read this post and contacted by email. He had a IC-718 that he was trying to sell (to finance a TS-590s he'd bought) and he gave me the rig, the SM-6 desk mic, and a G5RV Jr for $500.
I had my first contact this morning, using what could generously be called a "lackluster antenna system". I had the G5RV Jr out the window in an inverted-V configuration, hanging a few inches below my gutter (so the center was at about ~12 feet, which is too low - the ladder line was about 5 feet longer, so I looped it up to my porch railing). I wasn't expecting much, but I worked Phil KM4OP in East Central Florida on 20 meters. I heard him 599+20, he heard me 58 - I'm just happy he could

Hey, that's GREAT!  Congratulations!  You're in for a world of fun.  And experimenting with wire antennas is inexpensive and fun, so there's LOTS you can do to improve that.

73 GL!  Hope to work you on the air soon!
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