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Author Topic: Dazed & Confused Newbie  (Read 6710 times)

Posts: 2

« Reply #15 on: January 24, 2013, 12:22:24 PM »

You're going to get a lot of advice on what radio and antenna may be best for you. I've been playing with this stuff since I was a teenager and I can honestly say that you will never find a perfect rig or antenna for every application.

Here is some advice that you should put in the back of your mind.

Put your family and bills ahead of your hobby. You never want to neglect anything else for amateur radio. It can be rewarding, but not as much as having someone to cuddle up with after that great rag chew to tell about your adventure.

You have your whole life to buy gear. Bands come and go and the equipment is going to change to meet those needs. Satisfy your immediate needs with a 10 year plan. Ask yourself, "What will I be doing in 10 years from today?". Then shop around relentlessly for the best available gear you can afford without blowing your budget.

$2500 is a huge budget for amateur radio. Some of the nicest radios out there barely make the $1500 mark. I know Icom, Kenwood, and Yaesu offer $10-20K radios. Do they really sound any better or get out any further than the base models? Probably not. As others have said here already your money is better spent on an antenna system.

There is a bit of exaggeration involved in antenna systems too. Does a piece of engineered aluminum need to cost $400+ dollars? Not hardly. A roll of electric fence doggy wire is $7 at most hardware stores and I can say that for the last 15 years I've made better contacts with it than I have on my R5 vertical from Cushcraft. Your experience will certainly be different from mine.

Propagation is going to determine who you talk to despite all the hardware in the world. Even the biggest amplifier and most expensive radio in the world isn't going to replace a good operator who knows where, when, and how to work the bands.

If someday you find yourself with a surplus of money for new equipment, you can always buy whatever is on the market at the time. Nothing lasts forever, even with good care. Lightning could wipe it all out without even hitting your place (unless your all tube type). It is my opinion that the real fun in radio isn't just working another station. It is more about all the things that lead up to that contact and knowing you used your brain to put all that stuff together.

Back in 2001 I bought a Yaesu FT-847. It was a dream radio for me then although it cost only about $1500. All bands and all mode. It even shifts frequency to track the Doppler Effect from a satellite once you lock it in.  I've had just as much fun working with five watts from my TenTec 30 meter QRP rig or my MFJ-4020. I've even had a great time using my 1970's Tentec Argonaut 509, also a 5 watt radio.

Sure there are times when you will certainly need that 100 watts. You will likely even need much more than that as the band shifts before a path goes away completely. Cranking up the power to finish a contact isn't the same a running QRO to make a contact. Most of the time if you can't get there with 100 watts, 1000 probably isn't going to do it for you either. I can't tell you how many times I've heard booming signals from stations running less than 1 watt on their end. Then again I have shared the frustration of not being heard with QRP and getting a 599 report with 100w to the same station.

Don't get in a hurry to buy a station to beat the band with. Start off simple and expandable. There are a lot of tuner myths out there, but I can say from experience that a resonant antenna beats a tuner and a tuner beats an antenna that isn't resonant any day of the week. I use mine every time even on my resonant antennas. My radio, and all modern radios, love a 1:1 at the back of the radio. It will keep your station happy and that is half of the battle.

Plan on fixing things. Wire, feed line, and yes even equipment will break. It is a part of life.

A good analogy about your hobby to remember is it is just like Golf, racing, or owning a boat. You wouldn't go out in a boat that wasn't ready for the water, golf with bent clubs, or take your wife's car out on the track. If you were going to spend 15K on a boat and trailer with all the safety gear remember to divide that amount on how many people the boat will hold and that would be a good target for your hobby costs. That boat you would use 3 months out of the year. You will likely use your radio 300+ days a year.

You change the oil in your boat, likewise check your connections often on antennas and accessories. If you have a dog, keep a close eye out for chewed up wire.

Posts: 200

« Reply #16 on: January 24, 2013, 07:16:36 PM »

First, welcome to the hobby.  Both you personally and those that are reading this because they are new hams and are confused as you are. 
I have seen alot of good advice on this post already, but a couple points are worth repeating as they are important.

First point is antenna systems.  A great antenna on a so-so radio will run circles around a great radio and a so-so antenna.
Antenna tuners are ONLY a crutch.  You will no doubt hear of, it not already some ham that hooked his antenna tuner to his bed springs and talked all over the place.  It's the truth, to a point.  If it was on a second floor, and he was on 10 meters I have no doubt that it's true.  But the atmospheric conditions have alot to do with that being the truth.  You will find that 10 meters is great when its great and sucks the rest of the time.  It's just the way that band is.  It's also has an antenna quarter wavelength of about 8 foot.  So a bed spring is actually about resonant there.  If you were to try that with 160 meters, and had enough tuner to get the radio to run at full power it would most likely catch fire because the RF voltage with be very high.  An antenna tuner is no more then a good lie.  It lies to the radio and convinces it that the antenna is resonant when it's not.  It does nothing for the efficiency of the antenna system. 
Now, a good antenna doesn't necessarily mean an expensive antenna.  If you start looking at basic wire dipoles you are going down a good path.  They ARE band specific, meaning that if it's cut for 20 meters it's going to work at 20 but not 10 or 12 or anywhere else but 20.  There are some off center fed dipoles that I personally have had good luck with that are multi-band without a tuner.  But even they are a bit of a crutch, and give up a bit of efficiency. 
Point is that 5 watts and a good dipole cut for the band you are working will get you more contacts than 100 watts running through a tuner with an antenna that is cut for 3 bands away.

This hobby and money. 
The wonderful thing with the hobby is there is something for everyone and every price range.  There are the guys that go buy a $50 VHF HT and are perfectly content with never buying another piece of equipment and  simply talk on the local repeater.  And then there are the guys that buy houses for the land size and location for their antenna farm that they water with tens of thousands of dollars and up pops towers and antennas.  They have huge rooms of radios.  Is all that required, absolutely not.  And spending your kids college funds on getting a tower is never a good idea. 
And beyond the money, the multitude of different things that you can do in ham radio is almost limitless as long as it at least loosely involves radio.  Everything form simply talking on a repeater to model aircraft, boats and cars.  They all use radio.  There is satellite communication and of course amateur television.  Lots of things to try. 

My personal ideas for HF antennas on the cheap. 
While you can of course go down to the local ham radio store and buy wire for antennas and special insulators and such, I walk a different path.  I do buy my antenna baluns from the radio place, but I buy my wire at the farm store.  TSC and most other farm places will have both fence wire and plastic insulators for electric fence wire that work great and are cheap.  It's very strong, it's rust resistant and if something happens to it, or you want to try something else, it's 20 bucks for a half mile of the stuff.  buy an antenna book or research wire antenna's on the web and build your own.  It's very satisfying to talk on an antenna that you make.  If it don't work (it's hard to screw it up) you save the insulators and the balun for another project and scrap the rest. 

Posts: 208

« Reply #17 on: January 24, 2013, 07:34:35 PM »

KG4KGW WOW, you are wise beyond your years.  That is one of the best posts I have read on eHam.  73, Brian K8BMW

Posts: 2100

« Reply #18 on: January 25, 2013, 04:02:51 AM »

             Ditto your post and I would also include KB8VUL.I believe there used to be an old term for the contents of their of post,it was called COMMON SENSE.

Posts: 16

« Reply #19 on: January 25, 2013, 10:45:40 AM »

Many thanks to you all, for not only your words of wisdom, but your inclination to share it with a "greenhorn" as myself. Having developed some interest in skip back in the 70's and acquiring several antennas & rigs back then the hobby did bite me quite hard.

Now that the kids are on their own, and the business has slowed way down, out from storage came a bunch of stuff & memories. Finally got LEGAL and been bit again ! LOL
Always knew the difference a good antenna will make. Funny how a little knowledge will make things seem new again.

I am looking forward toward making a few dipoles and experimenting.
I will take all these suggestions to heart and make use of them.
Thanks again for sharing.  Smiley
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