New Hams (Amateur Radio)

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I come across and get asked about what to do next. You have studied hard and passed the Amateur Radio test for technician. What do I do next? This was a question I had about 30 years ago. When I passed my test and became a licensed tech in amateur radio. After the test, no one gave me any answers on what do I do. It is like they expected me to know. Also, they did not tell me that radios for this awesome hobby was real expensive to boot. At the time, I was only making around $4.25 an hour part time during high school. So I had to save money for about a month or two to get my first 2 meter radio. It was a Radio Shack HTX-202.

With this new radio, I was hooked up to the 2 meter band. I was so excited but I found out that I did not know how to get onto a repeater. No one told me that I needed to buy a book that had all the repeater information. Ok, this would be another expense added to my radio purchase. Where do I get this book? No one told me anything about this. Hmm thinking back, all they showed me was how to talk on the radio. The search began, and I was in need of a repeater book. Luckily there was a Ham down the road. So I asked him about this mysterious book of repeaters, and he gave me a copy he had laying around. Woohoo, I had the information that I needed to get onto a repeater.

Ok, this is how it played out. I looked up a local repeater and plugged it in to my 2 meter handheld. Then I keyed up and identified myself. I was thinking that someone would start talking to me. Well that did not happen quite the way I expected. In the 90’s and maybe still to this day, there are repeaters that are closed. In the book, it had symbols stating which repeaters were open or closed. I did not remember seeing anything of the sort in the book that I used to study for the test nor did anyone tell me about it. The conversation on the repeater was quite harsh and short. I spent $100 dollars on a radio that I thought I could not use.

After a few months, I went to the Ham down the road and asked him some questions. He informed me that there was a 2 meter simplex net every Saturday night. Huh, this was intriguing. He gave me the frequency and time. After the first net, I was hooked. I found a new purpose for my radio. This opened my eyes up to a new way of communicating. I was in search of finding more nets on the band. I did find a few.

Years later, I decided to take the test for general. I listened on a shortwave radio to hams talking all hours of the day and night, and I was wanting in on the action. After the test, I found that a HF radio would cost me a kidney. Man are these radios expensive! I thought to myself that I wasted my time on something that I could not afford. Well I was wrong, there are cheaper ways to get onto the HF bands, and it did not cost me a kidney. I found kits that I could put together and wallah I was on HF. The first kit of many only cast around $100 for a single band single side band transceiver. Also I was hooked on doing kits. To this day, I have a 20 meter and 40 meter kit transceivers that I have made hundreds of contacts on with only 5 watts. Other hams get impressed that I am making all these contacts with a fraction of power that they are using.

So you passed the test and wondering on how to get on the bands with little money. There are many options today that I did not have when i first became a ham. If you like to tinker. When there are kits like Bitx40 and ubitx ranging from $60-199. I do have a Bitx40 and a kit transceiver from MFJ. These kits will get you onto the HF bands. The HF bands are fun to work but you will need a general class license to get on them. There are options for the vhf/uhf bands that will not cost you a fortune like Yaesu FT-4XR. This HT is priced around $75 dollars. There is DMR as an option if you are not close to a repeater. Then you can setup a micro repeater in your house to get on DMR. My DMR setup consist of MD-380 ($80) and a DVMega hotspot ($200).

What I am trying to say is that there are cheaper ways to get onto the bands. Despite what others may suggest. Many will tell you that you need to spend $1000-2000 on a ham shack to get started. I have made hundreds of contracts using a kit for around $100, and people think that I am using a Yaesu or Icom til I tell them what I am using. Some say “Wow” and some say that I need to spend money on a real rig. Really people? You do not have to spend tons of money to have fun on the bands. However, there is one piece of equipment, and that is an antenna. You can have the most expensive rig but if it is paired with a cheap antenna. Then you are shooting yourself in the foot. I use 5 watts and talk all over the place. I use a dipole on the HF bands and a diamond duel band antenna for vhf/uhf. Also, keep in mind to use the right coax for the band you are using. For example, you can use RG8X with the HF bands but not on the vhf/uhf bands. If you use the same coax that you use on HF on the vhf/uhf bands, you can lose half of your output to the antenna. This will limit your range on said band. My rule of thumb is to use RG8X on HF and LMR 400 on vhf/uhf bands. There is alot of different kinds of coax on the market but I stick to my rule of thumb, and I do quite well on the bands.

So get out there and find an affordable way to get on the bands and have fun. 73 de N5UTG

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