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Ham Radio On A Budget
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Ham Radio on A Budget

Looking around the internet you can find all sorts of great ham radio gear, with more features than you will ever use in your lifetime and at least a thousand more that you will probably never use. With all these features and high price tags to match, how does one get started in ham radio without taking out a small bank loan to purchase all this gear.

Ham radio has been a big part of my life for many years now. I started out chasing distant radio stations on the Am broadcast band as a child and then the Citizens Band (CB) for many years before I had ever heard of amateur radio. When I finally did get my ham radio license I would look through all the catalogs that were available dreaming of the day I could afford that bright shiny Icom or Kenwood radio, all of which were way beyond my income.

I was finally able to trade my way into an inexpensive 2M handheld radio, which wasn't very much but it got me on the VHF airwaves and I was able to talk to friends while making new ones.

So how does one afford cheap ham radio gear when you live on a fixed income and can barely afford living costs. One way is to ask around the local club for used radio gear. Most ham radio operators are pretty reasonable and if you are an honest guy and ask around, there is always at least one radio op that has an old HF radio sitting in their basement that is not being used. You can also offer to make payments or exchange work for the radio gear.

If your not afraid to try new things then tube gear may be the way to go. Tube radio gear is a little bit harder to use than modern gear since you can't just turn a tube radio on and start transmitting. You have to give a tube radio at least 20 to 30 minutes just to warm up, and then you decide what frequency you want to be on and load the grid voltage and dip the plate.

With the older transmitters you have to use a seperate receiver and make sure to match them up to your transmit frequency. The trade off is that you are now actually learning something and are no longer considered an appliance operator. I decided to go this route a few years ago and have found it very rewarding. My main radio here in the shack is an old Johnson Valiant transmitter with a Hammarlund HQ-150 receiver, both from the mid to late 50's.

Another fun aspect of ham radio are the digital modes. If you are on a low budget you can always pick up a low power transceiver and connect it to your computer to try out some of the digital modes that are gaining in popularity. Using these modes you can get by with a QRP (Low Power) radio. Some of the different modes are WSPR, PSK31 and RTTY. You can even build your own radio to use if you want.

Speaking of QRP radio, another low cost way to get into Ham radio is to build your own radio gear. You can find tons of information online as well as buy kits at a really low price to build your own radio gear. These types of radios put out 5 watts or less, so they are not as powerful as a full blown 100 watt HF (High Frequency) radio, but you will be able to make contacts and work distant (DX) stations with a decent antenna.

Another way to get your hands on radio gear is to watch online for sales and bargains on new and used equipment. One radio that has been gaining in popularity very quickly is the inexpensive radio gear coming out of China. The Baofeng UV-5re can be purchased online for under fifty dollars making it a great first radio. Sure, it doesn't have all the features that a full blown 300 dollar radio would have, but it is a dual band 2M/440 radio that will get you on the local repeater and making new friends. The biggest issue with these radios seems to be in programming them. Most people seem to have an easier time using a computer connection to program the Baofeng UV-5RE than trying to do it directly from the front keypad.

If you enjoy shortwave listening then there are some great radios coming from China like the Kaito KA321 that is priced under 20 dollars. It isn't the best shortwave radio out there, but for that price it is great for carrying in your grab N go bag or in your glove box to listen to when your stuck in traffic.

OK, I hope this has gotten your little hamster wheel spinning and given you some great ideas on how to get started with ham radio.

Take care, and see you on the air.

Street Talk

Yeah, I am looking for a cheap aircraft radio... Might as well have some fun :)

  about 9 years ago
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