New operator seeking advice

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KD9AQX

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I just got my technician ticket a few weeks ago, and I intend to upgrade to general soon. I've ordered a Yaesu FT-60R and MFJ-1717S antenna, so that I can hit a couple local repeaters and get on the air. I've got a lot to learn, and this will allow me to "get my feet wet" and become more comfortable with radio protocol, while researching what I should get for my first capable radio for my home office (I hesitate to call it a "shack" at this point).

My problem is twofold. On one hand, I'm still getting familiar with all of the various ways the amateur radio can be enjoyed. DX, QRP, CW, APRS...the list goes on and each one seems really interesting. I haven't settled on which aspects I most want to concentrate on at first. The second part of my dilemma is that I'm still unfamiliar with many of the features packed into radios today and how they might affect my ability to explore the hobby. Things like DSP, notch filters, roofing filters, etc. all make sense as I read up on them, but I have no perspective on just how much they would affect/improve my experience as a new ham. I've begun attending meetings with a local ham radio club. They seem like nice folks and will likely be my lone source of info locally, as there are no ham radio shops anywhere within 250-miles or so.

If I had $10-grand to drop on a radio, this probably wouldn't be a concern. All the bases would probably be covered, and I could learn as I go, but I probably still wouldn't have a grasp on how all those modern features were helping me. I'm sure a lot of the people who have been in the hobby for many years had the "benefit" of experiencing something in their TX or RX that was somehow deficient and then seeing some new bit of technology released in newer radios that addressed it - learning as they went. I would like to avoid (as much as possible) spending a small mint (to me) on a radio, only to find that I really should have bought a different one that has [insert feature here].

All that said, I fully expect having to make some compromises. My budget simply dictates that. As a new ham, I just really don't have much perspective on which compromises I should be willing to make. I've read what sounded like good advice - start slow. I'm perfectly willing to do so. My new HT will hopefully satisfy most of my local VHF/UHF operation for now, and I will likely purchase a mobile VHF/UHF radio as well some time in the future. First though, I would like to save up and get started on building my HF station.

I'm hoping I can get some advice on a good HF radio for a new ham that isn't quite sure what his particular area(s) of interest are going to be. My budget for the radio, itself, is somewhere in the neighborhood of $1000 (give or take). I know there is more to it than just the radio, and I'll be picking up a power supply and building a beginner-level HF antenna along the way. I'm particularly looking forward to the learning process of the latter.

I would appreciate suggestions on new radios that are affordable options for a new ham in my shoes or reliable and proven used options. I should be about ready to make a purchase in time for this year's Ham Fest in Dayton, and I would like to have a better idea of which radios I should be hoping to find.

Additionally, I would appreciate suggestions on any additional equipment I should be planning to pick up. I assume I will find some sort of SWR meter helpful (if not included in the radio?). How about things like antenna tuners, amplifiers (linear?) or other components that can provide additional information about signals being transmitted or received during operation? Band scopes/spectrum analyzers look really interesting.

For what it's worth my initial interests include making contacts and optimizing the performance of my station (probably a lot of antenna building and tweaking). After getting my general, voice and CW DX sounds interesting as well as being able to operate in the event of power loss. However, I am certain my interests will be significantly broadened as I progress in the hobby.

Thanks for taking the time to read. Any advice or insight would be appreciated.
 

elk2370bruce

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Welcome to the worldwide fellowship that is amateur radio. While it is true that this can be a very expensive hobby, we all makle compromises based on available cash to plow into our stations. There is an old adage, "You can't work em if you can't hear em." Money is best invested in getting a good antenna up and running. I started with a homebrew dipole and then expanded it into a true fan dipole that does a nice job on 40m through 10m for a total outlay of under $ 100.00. There are several inexpensive 144/440 j-pole antennas that do the job for me.

First, get on the air (GOTA) and get comfortable with operations and QSO's. Become friends with local amateur radio club membes and have an Elmer. You can also cut costs by purchasing a used (but not abused) rig with the help from one of the experienced ops. I saved up for a year and was able to obtain a nice Icom 756 Pro II for a decent price that came from a KNOWN source. You'd be surprised what you can do with minimal money and a hudred watts. Unless you "gotta have" a monster linear amplifier, you can work the world with minimal, often QRP, power. Once you're on the air a while, you can choose some specialties of interest and then begin budgeting for a decent cw bug or keyer, a PSK capability, or anything you think would be fun. Its too easy to put your life savings out in enthusiastic abandon. See ya on the air soon.
 

N8IAA

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Welcome to ham radio. The best and easiest way to learn about radios and all that goes with them, is to find a club in your area and make some acquaintances. Hams love to show off their shacks and radios:) You'll see a variety of setups that will boggle your mind.

There are many HF radios that include 6m, 2m, and 73cm, for around $1000.

Antennas are the most important part of getting on the radio and making contacts. They can be commercial, or homemade.

Don't forget all the new digital modes for ham radio.

The best is to start small and work your way into your favorite operating modes.

HTH,
Larry
 

W9BU

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I see your address is Fishers, Indiana. Welcome to amateur radio in Central Indiana.

If your interests include public service activities, there are two coming up near you. The Carmel Marathon is April 12 and the Geist Marathon is May 17. For either event, check with the amateur radio coordinator for the event and ask to be paired with an experienced ham as a learning opportunity.

For a picture of amateur radio activity in the area, check the www.IndyHams.org web site.
 

WB4CS

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Welcome to the hobby! (And the Radio Reference Forum!)

I'll probably reiterate some of the same things that will be said...

Your antenna is the most important factor in your station. It doesn't matter if you have a $10K radio, if you don't have a good antenna you simply won't hear as much as a ham with a $200 radio and a nice set of monoband beams.

The key is your budget. Plan at bare minimum 50% of your budget on antenna, maybe 60% if you've got a higher budget. VHF/UHF doesn't need much room to grow an antenna farm, but on the HF bands you'll really need to figure out how to work with the space you have. If you are lucky enough to not have HOA restrictions for antennas, you'll need to look at how much space you have. Wire antennas can take up some room and need good supports (masts, trees, etc.) Or there are ground mounted vertical antennas that don't take up much room, but you'll need enough room to run ground radials. Or you could go with a tower and a set of beam antennas. Literally the sky is the limit. You can build your own antennas and save a lot of money! Any money saved from your antenna budget could be used for things like a Morse Code key, headphones, or added to your radio budget.

As for antennas, here's what I did many years ago... I constructed a set of monoband dipoles for a few HF bands: 40, 20, and 10 meters (the 40 meter dipole should work okay on 15 meters too.) I got a feel for how each band worked, what type of propagation to expect, and the type of operations going on in those bands. That way I got my feet wet and could decide on what bands I wanted to focus getting more efficient antennas for.

Now for the radio: Get the best thing that your budget will allow. I'd stay away from very old used radios (20+ years) as they can sometimes have issues that will require immediate fixes - unless of course you're ready to jump into radio repair, in that case go for it. Buying used can sometimes save you a few dollars, but most used HF equipment tends to sell for not much cheaper than a brand new radio, and sometimes (in my opinion) it's worth paying an extra $200 for a new radio with a warranty. As with all used things, buyer beware.

Having things like DSP, build in antenna tuners, and other extras are nice but not necessary to begin with. If your budget will allow it, I'd go for a mid-grade radio such as the Kenwood TS-590S. It has a great receiver with DSP, built in tuner, and lots of other goodies, and is under $1500. If that's too expensive to start with, the Yaesu FT-450D is around $800 and still includes DSP. There's also the Icom IC-718 for around $600. It doesn't have many bells and whistles but it will get you on the air.

If the above radios are still a little out of your budget, start shopping around for a good used radio. Some can be found for as low as $300 if you're lucky. They may be old and not full of features, but they will get you on the air and allow you to get started while you save up for a newer radio.

It can be an expensive hobby, but with time and patience anyone can build a great HF station on a modest budget. The important thing is getting on the air and experiencing the bands for yourself, so you can decide where to best maximize your budget.
 

rapidcharger

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Why not try out HF at one of the activities mentioned in reply #4 or at un upcoming field day before buying an HF radio?
I got my first ham radio 22 years ago and I've owned many since... not a single HF rig to date. I'm very active in the hobby, spend an average of 90 minutes a day on the air but HF never did it for me. That's not to say I don't like making distant contacts though.
 

KD9AQX

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Why not try out HF at one of the activities mentioned in reply #4 or at un upcoming field day before buying an HF radio?
I got my first ham radio 22 years ago and I've owned many since... not a single HF rig to date. I'm very active in the hobby, spend an average of 90 minutes a day on the air but HF never did it for me. That's not to say I don't like making distant contacts though.
A perfectly valid suggestion. However, the prospect of making radio contact with someone from a different culture halfway around the globe just fascinates me. It's definitely something I would really like to build up to.

I've been watching a lot of videos and reading up on protocol. (Anyone know the Q-code for "I'm a total greenhorn so please be gentle"?) I plan to at the very least attend field day with the local radio club and perhaps other events as well. Jumping in and participating is pretty terrifying right now, but just jumping in may be the best way to learn to swim.
 

elk2370bruce

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While there are rigs out there that cover hf vhf and uhf, there are compromises that are made in the sensitivity and quality of use. My personal view is to start with a good vhf/uhf transceiver tied to its own dedicated antenna and have a separate rig/antenna for hf. As a tech, remember that you have some hf cw privileges along with a segment of 10 meter phone.
 

teufler

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You asking for Q codes, thats something that the newer hams, without CW (morse code) have never gotten immersed into. I didn't notice if you drive yet, but an HT, is like a laptop computer. They are nice to have but as a primary radio they are lacking. A mobile vhf, with a power supply, and a good base antenna would be a good start. You have mentioned your budget, I'm sure you will find the hobby interesting and lasting. Remember , no matter what you think you know, someones knows more, or no matter how stupid you think you are , someone is dumber. A local ham club, has several "Elmers" who like Karnack the Magnificent, know all details for ham operators. You will never have the time to master everything the hobby offers. Several have given advice about public service events. Those are always interesting. If you get into weak signal work, DFing or hunting for weak transmissions is fun and a practical skill that will be employed alot in you radio experience. In a mobile radio for the house, or car, you eventually get ones that does vhf/.uhf ,cross band repeat, possibly ssb and cw on vhf/uhf. What I'm saying is that over 40+ years, I could have saved alot of money if I had just bought what I have now rather than the radios I tried and sold before. I had a vhf only, then a few others, finally went to a Kenwood D700. It does everything I want and need. A dual band unit, that does cross band, so it is sort of like a mobile repeater. It allows me to use a HT, around the house or away from the car, and stay in touch. The big investment comes in going to HF. I went with Ten Tec years ago and have stayed with Ten Tec. They were are still big in CW as they are full break in radios. Meaning you can hear while you send cw. Many HF radios used a vox like circuit that when you keyed, the radio stayed in transmit until you quit sending. Full break in is important when you are trying to work a pileup on cw. You can hear the station start sending while you are sending. It really is like conversational speech as we talk while someone else talks and our brain collects what we say and what they say at the same time. I guess its human multi-tasking.

So the hobby starts, you will crawl, walk, run and stumble many times. Have fun. Welcome to the hobby .
 

KC8ESL

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Mar 8, 2008
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Filters....

I own a 30 year old Kenwood TS-130S HF radio, love it. Nothing but the stock filter in it!

One thing that everyone has neglected to tell you about the "older" radios. They accept WAYYYYY more abuse than the new stuff on the market today. One time (when I was a newer ham, about 15 years ago) I forgot to flip the knife switch on my ladder line going to the dipole. I must have tried to tune that open circuit for 15 - 20 minutes. Rig got warm but never blew out the PA.

Fast forward 10 years ago. Original IC-706 is the radio, I have a lot more experience. Try to tune my dipole (which I've used countless times) on 80m. *POP* and the transmitter goes silent after 3 or 4 seconds of tuning at low power. After installing the TS-130S back into operation, tuned the antenna at 90w PEP CW and went on with life.

Take out of the new vs old debate what you will, but for me older always wins.
 

K8CPA

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Lincoln Park, Michigan
One piece of advice. LISTEN LISTEN LISTEN LISTEN LISTEN!!!!!

One of the biggest mistakes I made as a new ham was blab-blab-blab-blab-blab... I talked too much and after awhile; people began to dislike me.

Listen! Learn the service, don't listen to the idiots with the calls similar to yours. Look up the calls on QRZ.com and if they're older and been around a while, listen to how they operate.

If you are a former CB'er; leave the friggin' "CB Radio Head" mentality at the door, please. It will get you nowhere on Amateur Radio! Believe me, I know. I've been there and did that --- as they say.

Take it from ol' fogie; listening makes you smarter.

73 and GL OM,

-Chuck K8CPA
23 years in the hobby
 

KD9AQX

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Mar 17, 2014
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Thanks for all the advice. I think I've acquired a bit of focus. I'm an IT professional by trade, and since I work at the computer all day every day, I didn't think digital modes or computer-assisted operation would be that big a draw for me. However, the more I learn about all the things that can be done by interfacing with a computer, the more fascinating I find it.

The trouble is, what information I can find makes me think I need either a $3000+ radio with a wideband IF Out or a mass of cables and intermediate devices to accomplish what I'd like, which is simply a radio that facilitates full(ish) computer control, including an interactive band scope (click on a signal in the band scope to tune the transceiver to that frequency). I'd also like a waterfall display.

My budget for the radio is about $1000. I'm hoping someone here may have some experience with the following radios and can help me understand what would be involved in setting each up the way I'm wanting (or whether it's even possible). My preference would be to use Linux, but I'm open to Windows if necessary (no Mac). At this point I am primarily interested in CAT control functions. I better understand the difference between CAT and digital mode operation now, and while digital modes will likely also be something I will delve into down the road, CAT control is where I'd like to start.

Alinco DX-SR9T - the Alinco software looks great, but I don't know if I'm sold on Alinco as a brand. Also, it's advertised as an HF SDR, by which I was a bit misled before I read more about the difference between CAT and SDR. I'm concerned that, being designed as an "SDR", it may compromise too much from a hardware transceiver standpoint.
Icom IC-7200 - "ruggedized", so that might help with field days and such. Not sure if it's as CAT-friendly as the Alinco, but it appears to be the better radio.
Icom IC-715 - as good as the 7200?
Yaesu FT-450D - appears to be a very capable radio and also seems to be designed for some mobility.
Kenwood TS-480 SAT - I don't know much about this radio. I've kind of ignored it up to this point, as I don't think I would like "mushy" design of the buttons.

I'm open to other suggestions as well. I realize I've pretty much listed every viable option in my price range, but I'm hoping to get a better feel on how well each may be equipped for CAT control/apps.

Thanks.
 

ve3fnd

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Apr 6, 2007
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Windsor, ON CANADA
There is two ways to go. 1 is go out and get a brand new all in one radio like the Yaesu FT-897D very nice radio I have had one for 7 years. It will get you on HF, VHF, and UHF. it has a very good SWR meter built in and is not to hard to operate. You don't need to worry about an amp you can make tons and tons of good contacts on HF with only 100watts. For antennas you can build a simple copper J-pole for VHF/UHF and on HF a long wire is cheep and easy and works very good. I started out with a FT-897 and a FT-60 HT and used a J-Pole and a long wire for years. To start out listening on HF you don't need a tuner just the radio and Longwire, when your ready to get on the air get a cheep MFJ Versa Tuner and your good to go.

2 you can get a used HF rig for 250-300$ I have a Kenwood TS-430 that I got for 300$ and I use it all the time and make contacts all over the world on it with nothing more then an antron 99 and longwire. After a few years I moved up from the MFJ versa tuner to a LDG AT-100 Auto tuner its no better at tuning just faster with its memories.

Its all up to you on how you want to start out, don't rush in to buying a ton of stuff right away you can start out small and build piece by piece. Do lots of research on what your buying, I use Eham reviews for info on anything ham radio.

Welcome to the hobby and get ready to have a great time and meet tons of people on the radio from all over the world.
 

teufler

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You do have a Ham store, R and L or Randl Radio, in Hamilton, Ohio, about 125 miles se of you. So new to the hobby. Thats great, it is something that grow on you, There are clubs in the Indianapolis area that you can get alot of info from. Equipment, everyone has their preference. Most important to you is that wnat ever you get \, it will do everything you want it to. From the amounty of time, you would be around a radio, I would look at getting a vhf or a vhf\uhf radio. You will learn alot by listening to others talk. When I first got my ticket, I listened for 30 days until I finally talked..I had a novice for 30 days then upgraded to general. I never had a tech license. I started with Ten Tec gear and CW. CW was great because qrm (interference) to tv's (early 70's before cable) appeared as electrical interference from storms. With filters, I reduced this problem. I eventually, after years of saving, got a tower, th-6 beam, 2kw amp and talked to anywhere I wanted. Mostly cw though. CW was an early like computer generated communications system. There are newer, more energy efficent modes that you can use so an hf radio hooked to a computer is something you may like. For mobiles , I have used Alinco dr135 units, 4 or 5 yaesu mobiles both vhf and hf, still have several yaesu portables, but now its kenwood for the mobile. All the units and brands worked but after a while, each was lacking something. The Alinco dr135 is rock solid. Good screen, alfa text readout or frequency readout. Buttons all light up. TheYaesu 8900 buttons didn't light up, something that was hazardous at night driving. Hit many a wrong button. The Kenwood d-700 is a big screen, buttons light up and you have alfa text AND frequency display at the same time. Its a split design, meaning the radio can go under the seat, in the trunk, out of sight, while the control head can mount anywhere. Important with the newer smaller cars, with a center console. Get into a club , and see what the others have to say. In about a month, the Dayton Hamfest will be held. Its only 120 miles due east. Lots of radios, lots of bargins so you can look at them all. A used HF radio, is not bad. $300-$400 can get a good radio. From your $100 budget, you would have money enough for a vhf/uhf mobile, antenna, and a few other odds and ends.
 

KC8ESL

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I'm not sure what mobile radio you're going to find at a hamfest for under $100 with room to spare for other pieces/parts. if you're going to do the mobile route I'd budget $200 for an alright used radio (something along the lines of the IC-2410H), NMO mount/coax, and a basic 1/4 wave antenna.
 

KD9AQX

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I'm not sure what mobile radio you're going to find at a hamfest for under $100 with room to spare for other pieces/parts. if you're going to do the mobile route I'd budget $200 for an alright used radio (something along the lines of the IC-2410H), NMO mount/coax, and a basic 1/4 wave antenna.
Pretty sure he meant $1000, as referenced in my original post.

I'm very open to used radios. The problem is that it's more difficult to compare older radios side-by-side from a cost/performance/feature set standpoint. Looking at what's being sold new is somewhat straightforward - except I'm still not sure what aspects of the hobby are going to interest me most or even what features I should look for in *any* radio.

I have a rough idea of what I should be looking for in the newer models (DSP, adjustable notch filters, effective noise filtering/blanking, etc.), but walking around Ham Fest browsing used equipment, I'd basically be easy pickings for an unscrupulous vendor.

I would much appreciate suggestions on other older models I should consider.
 

KD9AQX

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Mar 17, 2014
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Well, after watching various radio classifieds sites for a couple of weeks and swinging and missing on a few deals, I decided to go with a "like new" used Yaesu FT-950 from HRO. I should have it early next week. Now to decide how I want to go about stringing my antenna and deciding on a power supply.

Thanks for all the suggestions.
 

dksac2

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Apr 18, 2012
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The part about the antenna is 100% correct, get a good one or make several. As far as a HF radio, the Yaesu FT-450-AT or the same newer model D can be had for about $600.00 used, has all the bells and whistles you'll need for a long time including DSP.
Great radio and at their used price, you won't do any better unless you get really lucky and someone gives away a better radio.
Want to spend about $1500.00, get the Yaesu DX-1200. The kenwood 590s is getting dated, the new Yaesu is the best radio now in that price range. I do like Yaesu, but that's not why I made the recommendation I did. The one's mentioned are the best for the money.
Above all, study all you can. Buy and read books, forums (But beware, not everything you read is right) and go to your club and find a good elmer to help you.
Knowledge is king. If you can afford it, buy quality accessories made to run full legal power (1500 PEP). Someday you will upgrade and besides the cheaper stuff not being as accurate, if you get an amp, all of the low power stuff will do you no good at all. Buy the best you can afford the first time or you will be buying a lot of things twice. A good elmer can guide you.

There are better power supplies and you should get one some day, but to get you going, get a Mega Watt 33 or 36 amp power supply from EBAY. They are about $75.00 and work great. They have a 2 year warranty and the guy who sells them is great and will fix or return a supply without a problem with no questions asked. I have a couple of these power supplies as well as a couple Astrons (about the best) and they put no noise into you signal and have plenty of power to run your radio and accessories. You can always use a few power supplies. A quality one is the way to go if you can afford one, but if money is an issue, the Mega-Watt power supplies work great. This is an exception to my buy the best rule. Due to their size, they are great for "GO Bags".

P.S. The Yaesu 950 is a decent radio and will give you good service for some time to come. It will work great until you get to the point when a better radio makes sence depending on what you want to do with the hobby. If your like most, you'll upgrade your license and equipment which is why I said get the best you can afford.

73's John KF7VXA
 
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