1      What radio should I buy

If you stick with a major brand you should do well, however they are more expensive.  There are other less expensive radios from Japan and China but the manual generally is slightly more difficult to understand and programming can be more difficult (this improves every year).  Programming most brands is simplified with an RTSystems cable and software bundle on your computer.  A free alternative to RTSystems software is CHIRP.  So – when you’re deciding what to buy, look at the manufacturers manuals online first then check RTSystems for a programming cables and software (and check CHIRP)!  Some of the US importers re-write the manuals and even provide free software. 

The radio you buy should be specific to the forte of the hobby that interests you.  If you want to operate with a battery in a backpack you want an HF radio with the lowest current draw when monitoring.  If you want a radio that you can use as a base station and mobile station then you likely want a mobile radio.  There is a radio for almost any desire.  The IC7100 is a good multi-purpose mobile/base radio but it’s current draw while on battery needs to be considered.

Also, a radio may advertise it can operate as tri-band such as 6m/2m/70cm however if you look in the details it may be 6m AM only – good luck finding anyone operating 6m AM.  Some radios also state they can transmit an emergency beacon – but they neglect to say it’s a proprietary beacon and another same-brand radio is required.. read the online PDF manual before purchasing!

Major brands in alphabetical order:  ICOM, Kenwood, Yaesu (these mfg make base stations, mobile and handheld radios).  Three other HF only major brands are Elecraft, FlexRadio and Ten-Tec.

Secondary brands: Alinco (Japanese), Anytone, Baofeng (Chinese), Wouxun (Chinese). Alincos are great radios, they just don’t have the market that ICOM, Kenwood and Yaesu have. Anytone radios are also very good.

For handhelds you want a radio that at least allows you to program memory channels with the repeater’s CTCSS tone.  The EARS club repeater (K5EOK) does not require tones but most other repeaters do require a tone to be encoded or it won’t repeat your signal.  A dual band radio is nice.

That covers the traditional Analog radio world where I think you should start.  At the time of this writing the most popular digital mode for handheld radios is DMR like these AnyTone and CSI radios by Connect Systems.  DMR is an inexpensive and open system unlike the ICOM DSTAR and Yaesu Fusion.  DMR repeaters are appearing all over Oklahoma and the world while DSTAR is loosing ground and Fusion really never took off in Oklahoma.

2      What antenna should I buy

This question can only be answered by knowing the frequencies and purpose of your communication.  Be advised however that many manufacturers claim some interesting dB gain numbers and charge an amazing amount of money for something that may not be much better than a wire dipole or a rubber duck.  Also remember antennas work better based upon height.  Horizontal dipoles want to be an odd multiple of wavelengths above the ground, but you will likely start with VHF and Vertical.  For VHF mobile a 5/8 wave is hard to beat at range (also hard to find with an NMO mount). 

You may want to try and build your first antenna.  For 2m and 70 cm they are extremely simple.  You will need an SO-239 panel mount connector, 3/32 or 1/16 inch diameter brass rod, measuring tape and an SWR meter and something non-conductive to mount it on (PVC pipe or hang it with nylon rope).  Or, make a copper pipe J-Pole!  They work great!

For HF, an 40m/20m/10m Off-Center Fed horizontal with a 4:1 balun and Wireman #532 wire (18 AWG copper-clad steel) is really hard to beat for the cost and with 100 watts at 30 ~ 40 feet it works amazingly well (66 ft wire at 0.25 = $17 and $45 for the balun).  A tree or other off-center support and UV Resistant Black Dacron Rope (paracord) and a center support may be helpful.  You will also need low-loss coax such as Wireman CQ Super 8 (great for HF, VHF, and UHF but also great in HF with mismatched loads since it’s super low loss).  Most commercial HF antennas cost a lot of money because they have to withstand wind, ice, painfully hot summer days and made foolproof (capable of over 1500 watts).

3      What Antenna Tuner should I buy

Keep in mind if your antenna is resonant then you don’t need a tuner.  I’ve never seen a tuner for VHF or UHF, only for HF.  You will notice that the lower the frequency the more the antenna length changes.  On 40 meters for the antenna to be resonant at the top, middle and bottom of the band the antenna length varies by a few feet so a tuner is very handy.  80 meters varies by a few yards in length!  20 meters doesn’t very much and usually a wire antenna can be resonant for the entire phone band.  Same with 17 and 15 meters.  At 12 and 10 meters the antenna length changes are very small.  Many tuners will operate 160 meters to 10 meters.  Keep in mind with a wire antenna the bandwidth is usually wide.  Other antennas with parasitic elements have lower bandwidth and tuning does become more frequent as you dial up and down a band.

4      What coax or twin-lean wire should I buy?

That depends on the length it will be run, what frequency, and the environment.  It also depends on the type of antenna and the impedance of the antenna.  Speak with an elmer!  Twin-lead is low loss however it’s impedance is effected by adjacent conductive materials and it’s impedance is around 400 ohms.  But it is also balanced line.  Coax has high loss (and different types have different losses as frequency goes up) but coax isn’t effected by adjacent wires but it’s also unbalanced line.  Coax however has roughly a 50 ohm impedance.  Antenna impedance and transmission media impedance should match as best as possible (that’s why they make tuners).  Frequently with twin-lead you will need a 4 to 1 balun at the antenna to accommodate impedance mismatches.  With coax however you will likely need a 1:1 balun to match an unbalanced line to a balanced antenna.  With coax, you want to buy the lowest loss you can afford.  LMR-400 is amazing and wireman makes an equivalent coax (Super 8) that you can buy here in town!

5      US Radio Band privileges

Start with a Band Chart: http://www.arrl.org/graphical-frequency-allocations

The Technician has HF USB Phone on a portion of 10 meters (the magic band) from 28.300 to 28.500 MHz.  You also have full privileges (RTTY, Phone, CW, and image) on 6 meters (50.1 to 54.0 MHz). 

You also have CW privileges on 80, 40, 15 and 10 meters.

Then in VHF and UHF you have full privileges (2 meters, 1.25m, 70 cm, 33 cm and up) with 2 meters the most popular, most active, and with the most available equipment. 

Whatever radio you buy, the 2m band will be the most popular in your license class within our community and even for long-range “Worked All States” awards.  70 cm may be the next most popular band.

6      How much power do I need

In the VHF spectrum your generally line-of-site and a lot of power just isn’t necessary.  Height is necessary! You can communicate via Low Earth Orbit Satellite with just a couple watts using FM voice mode.  Power is an issue when your reflecting signals off of materials that absorb some of the signal in the process such as the moon – or when your going great distances and the signal strength is reduced as the signal is dispersed.  For example, the moon is a very poor radio wave reflective surface therefore to operate in EME mode people often use a lot of VHF power (600 watts or more).  Also, the moon is so far away that the signal is very dispersed and thus weaker when it arrives there, then what reflects back is again dispersed and weakened again.  If you throw a stone into a pond, at impact the water the ripples are large but by the time they arrive at the shore they are very small.  Now think what they are like after reflecting off the shore and going back to the original impact point!  You would need to throw a very large brick!

In the HF spectrum you will encounter QRO (power output at the full legal limit of 1500 W) and QRP (5 W or less) enthusiasts.  Most HAMS on HF have 100 Watts and 20 to 50 Watts on VHF.  Most modern radios have a power level so you can turn down your 100 Watt radio to 5 Watts if you want to try QRP.  Also, having more power only ensures someone will hear you but it does nothing to help you hear them so spend your money on the antenna and coax!

For HF, VHF and UHF be mindful on the Signal Strength Meter of the receiver.  To increase from an S2 (unintelligible) to an S3 (marginally intelligible) requires a gain of 6 dB.  If your transmitting at 100 watts you have to double (+3dB) to 200 watt, double (+3 dB) to 400 watts for a total of 6 dB gain or 1 S unit.  To increase from S2 to S4 you need to increase from 100 watt to 1600 watt (100 above legal limit).  100 → 200 → 400 → 800 → 1600, or
3db + 3db + 3db + 3db = 12 dB which is 2 S units.  Why manufacturers even sell 500 Watt HF amps is confusing to me except where someone is at S5 and they want to get to S6 to overcome a noise level of S4 for example for a friend they talk to or for NVIS and again just needing 1 more dB.

A 1500W HF amplifier would cost you about $3,500.  The remote tuner you would need is another $1,000.  Then you need to make sure your coax, lightning arrestor, connectors and antenna are capable of that kind of RF power.

7      Analog Voice (Phone or USB Phone mode) and Digital Voice

There is Single Side Band (SSB or more specifically Upper Side Band USB), FM, CW, RTTY, and other modes you can work, even in 2 m.  If you’re working Simplex (no repeater) you may use SSB or FM, especially if you’re attempting “Worked All States” on 2m or participating in a VHF/UHF contest.  If you try Earth-Moon-Earth, EME, you will use WSJT software on 2m or 70cm in SSB.  If you try satellite communications you might use SSB or FM on 2m and 70 cm.

Digital voice mode previously implied D-STAR, developed by ICOM.  You don’t need an ICOM radio – instead you can simply buy a USB dongle for your computer to digitize your voice and then transmit it using your FM radio.  Digital modes usually work very well for clarity since they have some error correction however when the signal strength is very low then the 2 way communication is completely lost.  Another interesting use of DSTAR is that it allows HAM-to-HAM regardless of location as long as both are in the reach of a D-STAR repeater that has an Internet gateway.  D-STAR allows a ham in Oklahoma City to use the internet connected D-STAR repeater to link across the world to another D-STAR ham on another repeater that has an Internet gateway.  This is extremely similar in operation to EchoLink however Echolink is usually computer to computer digital voice but you can even get an Echolink app for your apple or droid phone!

Today, D-STAR is losing in popularity very fast due to DMR.  DMR does not have a few of the really cool features of D-STAR but it’s $100 radios drive demand.  ICOM radios with D-STAR cost several times more and in D-STAR mode you can only talk to other D-STAR users.  Recently Yaesu released their proprietary version named Fusion with the same cost entry problem and most hams and clubs have ignored it for the same reason.  DMR was developed by Motorola but other companies are free to make DMR repeaters and DMR radios as long as they are Tier I and Tier II compatible.  DMR was developed for commercial radios (as was D-STAR and Fusion) and adapted to ham radio use but DMR is about the same price as an inexpensive analog radio.  DMR however does not yet support an APRS type of location broadcast system and you can’t call a specific person through the DMR network directly like you can with D-STAR.  In time we will see if everyone has an analog radio and a DMR or if the majority stay on analog.

8      Emergency Communications

Most emergency operations will require you to be mobile to handheld and on simplex (without a repeater).  One side would likely have a 5/8 wave 2m antenna/radio and the other side would have a handheld.  The handheld won’t reach far with only 5 watts so don’t expect to hear it across town unless it can get up high or replace the duck antenna with a directional antenna.  The mobile radio with 50 watts will have a decent range on simplex with a 5/8 wave antenna and obviously more if a directional antenna is used.  Historically we encounter problems when people expect too much range from a handheld radio with an omnidirectional 1/8th wave antenna and frequently they don’t know how to switch from memory mode to VFO mode to use a simplex frequency.  This is where volunteering assist with a marathon or parade is helpful – these things come up and you get to test yourself.

9      DXing

To most hams the lure of DX (long distance) is to see how far away we can establish a QSO.  DXers also compete by trying to break through a pileup of people calling a rare DX station.  This takes skill, a great ear, and persistence.  Others like the thrill to be on the other end of the pileup and travel to distant and exotic places to setup a station and make contacts possibly from a different host country with a different call sign.

10  Contesting & awards

If there is ever a way to test the skills and stamina of an operator and their antenna-radio-power supply, contesting is it!    It’s also a great way to cram a lot of contacts in a single weekend.  Some contests are 48 hours.  Other contests named sprints are usually just a few hours!

There are also awards such as Worked All States (WAS), Worked All Continents (WAC), DX Century Club (DXCC for working at least 100 foreign entities) and many more.  There are VHF contests and awards as well!  You think your prepared for a disaster – try a contest and see how well you really do!

11  Digital Communications

There are different modes of digital communication but basically it’s keyboard-to-keyboard or message store & forward.  Frequently the radio is on SSB and instead of morse code or voice modulating the signal it’s an audible computer-generated tone.  Digital mode can be used across the globe or up to a satellite or to the moon and back (EME).  Digital mode computer software is frequently free and several people make their own radio interface or buy a device from West Mountain Radio.  Many radios support digital modes and have a USB connector for them, removing the need for a intermediate device.  Several folks in our club use digital modes and can help you get started.

There is also Packet Radio which is an older computer to computer store and forward type of technology.  It was extremely popular before the Internet and e-mail.

12  What is APRS

APRS is now in its 20th year! APRS is a digital data mode that uses an Analog FM radio. As a single national channel, it gives the mobile ham a place to monitor for 10 to 30 minutes in any area, at any time to capture what is happening in ham radio in the surrounding area. Announcements, Bulletins, Messages, Alerts, Weather, and of course a map of all this activity including objects, satellites, nets, meetings, Hamfests, etc.  http://www.aprs.org/  APRS is really neat stuff for the 2m user!  They can also be used for foxhunts (hidden transmitter that sends a message every few minutes).  To use APRS you can simply use your Analog HT and a device such as Mobilinkd APRS TNC2 with Bluetooth (requires a smartphone or tablet for the map software and GPS).  Or you can buy a more expensive radio with APRS built-in.  You can also use the Mobilinkd with a mobile radio that has a data interface like Kenwood TM-V71A. 

13  Image Communications

Still image or possibly video with fast-scan television.  Slow-scan Television and facsimile are simple still images. 

14  Satellite Communications

Satellite requires a dual-band radio or two single band radios.  Many satellites are simply cross-band repeaters however they are in orbit and flying by every few hours with about a 15 minute window of availability.  They are dual-band because they listen on say 2 meters and retransmit back to earth in this example on 70 cm.  Some satellites can be worked with an analog voice FM handheld radio.  Some birds use USB on 2m/70cm.  Many of the newer models are actually PacSats (data packet) and APRS satellites!  AMSAT is the place to start for satellite info, however we also have several club members with satellite experience.  Satellite can be a lot of fun and AMSAT is ensuring that new satellites are scheduled to enter orbit as others succumb to battery failures.

15  Earth-Moon-Earth Communications (477,800 mile DXing)

Earth-Moon-Earth is the ultimate DX.  In digital mode you transmit for 30 seconds then listen for 30 seconds.  Most digital modes are performed using WSJT software in JT65 mode.  The difficulty with EME is the power needed.  The minimum is a 12 element yagi on 2m SSB, 350 watts, and a pre-amp.  For Morse code or phone however it’s not so modest – approximately 1 kw and stacked yagi antennas. 

16  What power supply should I buy

There are a couple types of 12v power supplies.  There are Linear and Switching.  A switching power supply from a reputable company should work well and they are much lighter weight than linear supplies.  Be mindful however that a 32 Amp switching power supply will most likely have a Duty Cycle or “continuous” rating that is below 30 Amps.  Furthermore, if your radio uses 20 amps then you should consider a 30 amp power supply so you’re not stressing the electronics. 

Switching Power Supplies on HF will cause that sweeps up the band like a ‘vvvwwwWWWEEEEPP’.  Most people tolerate it however if you’re constantly having to resend digital data this may be your problem.  I’ve personally used an Alinco switching power supply on my HF radio but didn’t realize this interference I kept seeing was from the power supply until I had a IC-7610 with a band scope and I could watch it run all the way up the band, on every band and I realized it didn’t happen at Field Day where I was using a Linear power supply.  So now I have an Astron RS-70M AP.

17  How do I know what repeaters there are or what bands are open

The ARRL makes a repeater directory however recently there are phone apps that use the phone’s GPS to tell you what repeaters are nearby!  Search your apps catalog for repeater book or repeater directory!  Many are free!

As for seeing what bands are open, see www.dxwatch.com and www.dxmaps.com

For HF you also may want to watch the Lowest Usable Frequency (LUF) and the maximum usable frequency (MUF). The MUF along a path is the highest frequency that will reflect back to earth. The MUF plotted on a globe looks like ripples in a pond with the center located where the sunlight is most intense (thus it moves as the earth rotates and as the earth tilts between the seasons). The foF2 is somewhat of a ‘lowest usable frequency’, meaning that if the foF2 in your skip zone is above the frequency you plan to use, it will not be refracted back to Earth (e.g. if you want to operate at 3.5 MHz but the foF2 is 6, keep waiting). This map will show you the MUF and foF2. Most of the time this is also obvious by simply monitoring, however you may hear someone that cannot hear you, it all depends on who is skipping off the atmosphere from where (who has a very low antenna take-off angle). https://prop.kc2g.com/fof2/

18  More help getting started

The Edmond Amateur Radio society has several opportunities for you to gain hands on experience with someone there to help you.    If you are a new ham, or perhaps a not-so-new ham who needs assistance with setting up equipment/antennas, or who has operational questions, contact the club at hamradioassistance@k5eok.org and we will do whatever we can to assist.

June:  ARRL Field Day.  We operate thee stations in the contest however we also have a “GOTA” station where we earn extra contest points for persons that use the “Get On The Air” station if they are not yet licensed or if they received their first license within the last year.

November:  Oklahoma Statehood Celebration.  We operate a station on a Saturday usually in Guthrie for the fun of getting on the air as a club event and to celebrate Oklahoma statehood.

Monday night nets:  Frequently on Monday nights someone will be at the club station and can help you get on the air.  Just ask and we will likely have someone who will be very happy to help you.

Monday night 10-10 Net:  After the Monday night Info net there is another net that Technicians and above can check into on 10 meters at 28.390 USB.


Created Oct 2013.
Revised Oct 2020.