For those of you that have recently been bit by the survival comms bug, what follows is my story, with some suggestions you can take or not. YMMV as always. First, a bit of how I came to the point of deciding to finally become a ham. A long time ago, let's call it 50 or 60 years, something attracted me toward radio operations, and I looked into it, started trying to learn Morse Code (no longer a requirement for licensing) that was needed then for an entry level license (Novice class.) Whether it was girls, cars, or Little League baseball that took me off that track, well, I don't know. That is all lost in the fog of time; but I did not finish. The idea did not die, but sure went on the back burner. Fast forward to the '70s and the CB craze. I jumped into that early enough that licenses for stations were still required. I still remember my call sign, was into it rather heavily to the extent of, shall we say, “upgraded” equipment and many hours of yakking and listening at home and on the road. In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, life’s circumstances conspired to take me out of the hobby, and dispose of all the gear. Thus things remained until around ’05 when a little time became available to pursue the idea. These threads expose some of the development of the thinking from then until now. If you really do get bit by the bug, you will want to read the threads for info on ham operations, not for seeing any particular personal history. Recommended threads: basic gear Long range comms Help an ignorant soul out here, please. Schults question...i.e. I know nothing Getting into amateur radio | Page 2 Becoming a ham is easy. Not as easy as going down to the nearest truck stop and buying a CB rig and sticking it on your Prius and go active on the air, you do have to get a license (to transmit, but not to listen.) The license is also not a major chore these days, and it really is a license to learn, not all in the books will prepare you for operations. First things first, you need to affirm your interest. I skipped this step because I was already committed, but you should give very serious consideration to getting a good short wave receiver and listen, really listen, to the ham bands. A 100 dollar emergency radio will not do, you need something of a bit more capability. I imagine that some of the Monkeys will have good advice on a radio that will serve you well. (My Kaito does NOT have the ability to do it, in spite of the ads. But it does the weather service work quite well.) So now you’ve concluded that you are interested enough to pursue the hobby. The next thing is a license that will let you participate. Recommendations by me: -Find a local club and sit in a couple meetings, and maybe join. There are brains to be picked. -Find a class for the Technician’s ticket. I say class, because while it is possible to get thru the lessons on your own rather easily, there’s exposure to other interested people and an endless source of information from the instructors. -Start thinking about what you want to do with your ticket in hand. It may not be possible to tie down a specific purpose, since you don’t yet know what can be done on the air. The Tech study guide has some hints, but by no means provides a complete menu of activities. Or do like I did, and simply aim for enough equipment versatility to taste all the cake, then specialize later. You can also start browsing for equipment, since the prices may influence you. -Check your wallet, you will need some frns to get on the air. How many, well, that’s a variable depending, as always with such things. There are LOTS of folks that think it’s a good idea to study for and take the Technician class and General class tests at the same sitting, very doable if you can be diligent on studying. I didn’t, I’m not. General opens up a whole ‘nuther world of allowed operating bands, but starting on the Tech bands isn’t too bad for initial tasting of the hobby. Gear is also less expensive for starter units since they don’t have a lot of bells and whistles in comparison to full boat stations. As the Tech class progressed, I had a lot of looking at what was necessary to wet my toes in the ham pond. Immediately after the test, I bought a hand held xceiver that covered the VHF and UHF bands. You can get them for under a C note, but I opted for a higher quality unit. Yep, it hit the local repeaters just fine, and I made numerous 2 meter contacts along the way while working on the General ticket. (Self-study for that, was well established by then among the local club members and got answers to questions where I was light.) Hand held units do not commonly cover all the available tech allowed bands, but for my purposes, it didn’t matter. (YMMV, of course.) With your General ticket in hand (or slightly before then) shopping starts. It’s decision time, and the first one is how deep the pool do you want to jump into? If you are (relatively) young and poor, you might want to sneak your toes into the pool with low cost and limited capability, then grow the hobby (or not) later. If you are on the upper end of age groups, you might (as I did) opt to jump in and get as versatile a rig as can be found that will do what you might want to try, even if you never use some features. I’ve always wanted my tools and toys to contain mysteries to master; to be able to do more than I can. Shopping, then: Rule #1: The ads don’t lie, but they do exaggerate, sometimes dramatically. (Find a copy of QST, the ARRL member’s mag. Elmer has one. Snoop the ads, you’ll see what I mean.) Rule #2: I don’t care how diligent you are, there will always be a hidden cost, i.e., something you need to make the item in question work. (This is one, of many, places where an Elmer will be priceless. Do your dead level best to find one with a beard that has been hamming for years and knows a lot about what all you can do with the hobby. He will know what you’ll need for any particular diving board.) It’ll take you all of half an hour to find capable equipment from a few hundred frns to near 6 figures. Let your wallet guide you, but be prepared to alter your ideas about what you want to do with the hobby due to expense. You will find Elmers that advocate buying used gear. May not be a bad idea, but I chose to go the new gear route because I don’t know enough about any particular bit of gear to be able to sort it out if there’s a hidden flaw. (Plus, if there is a flaw, it will delay the learning curve. I don’t have that much time to spend, too damn old for that, not to mention a problem with patience. YMMV) If you have the time and inclination, go used, there IS money to be saved. Whatever else you do or don’t do, read all the reviews you can find on the gear you think you want. Hams are pretty objective types, they tend to tell it like it is, but you must sometimes read between the lines. It is of paramount importance to check the reviewer’s creds. Often, the reviewer has a vested interest in the product especially in the necessary auxiliary gear like antennas. Ok, you are about to smoke test your plastic, you have your list of wants. Absolute minimum, gotta have a transceiver (these days, separate receivers and transmitters are not available new that I’ve found) power supply (transceivers typically want 12V DC supply rather than plug into the wall) and some kind of antenna along with some coax cable. What is NOT obvious is the various stuff you must have to make it all work, depending on your intended starter use. All the research you did while shopping should have pointed you in the right direction for most of that. One key word is “safety” for you, your family, guests, and house. RF safety is discussed thoroughly in the classes and manuals. The fact that antennas are lightning magnets is less obvious, but must be considered if your antenna is outdoors (along with wind loading.) Things to think about when you shop for a transceiver, after you decide whether base, portable, or mobile, and the features and modes (you do remember modes from class, don’t you?) you think you want and need. Cover every frequency from DC to daylight, or can you be happy starting with two or three bands?. (You can get them that will do all those, b, p, or m, with of course, some trade-offs.) Do you prize compactness and light weight? Are the buttons and knobs user friendly (i.e., how big are your fingers)? How readable is the meter? How deep are the menus? (For us olde phartes, meter size and menus can be a critical concern.) Some of those things you can ferret out from reviews. Others, you just have to find one to fondle. Color yourself lucky if there is a ham outlet near you for fondling and over the counter knowledge. Radio Shack is NOT the place these days. All three of my more or less local RS shops don’t know a band from dancing. In fact, the nearest place that would suit for me is a LONG way off, so I had to do it the hard way with Elmers and reading all sorts of articles and overzealous advertising. Power supply thoughts: These, too, come in various flavors, shopping will reveal the options. You need at least enough oomph to drive your transceiver at its full output power, or you are going to have to remember to dial the xceiver power back to avoid making smoke with the power supply. Don’t make smoke with your power supply. Look at the input requirements, can your house power feed it without tripping a breaker? Antenna thoughts: ZOWIE!! This will take more time and effort to zero in on a “good” choice than all the time you spend studying for the tests and picking an xceiver. As near as I can tell, there is no such thing as a single antenna that will cover every possible mode of operation on all the bands open for amateur use. You WILL suffer from analysis paralysis before the starter antenna is picked out, bought (or as many hams will recommend, scratch built) and erected. You WILL want more than one, if not right away, then eventually, even for base station use, not counting portable and mobile which you are apt to want anyway. Recognize right off the bat that multi band antennas have limitations that may not suit you all that well. In my case, I bought a multi band skyhook that supposedly covers 6 bands, and did so knowing that it will NOT be too awful efficient on any of them. And, my xceiver will work on bands the antenna will not. Trade-offs will rear their ugly heads at every turn in the analysis, believe it. If you are young, full of P&V, don’t mind climbing trees and towers, then home brewed skyhooks might be for you. Not me, I outgrew interest in that years ago, before I even got olde. I like working from ground level and don’t mind raising and lowering a mast during the tuning process. Lastly, make sure the antenna you pick can handle the full power your xceiver can put out. Supposedly? What chu mean, Willis? Well, antennas need to be tuned and tweaked for best operations. With a single band, it’s pretty easy, trimming the length of the wire or whisker to resonance. With multiband antennas, the problem looms larger, much larger. They will NOT be resonant at all possible operating frequencies, and even within a band they won’t necessarily resonate across the entire band. In the old days of tube transmitters, you could fry the amplifier tubes if you got too far off resonance and took no action to limit the power going up the feedline. These days, as near as I can tell, most if not all new xceivers have limiting circuits that won’t let you over heat the final stage solid state devices. Some simply dial back the output, some will just stop transmitting, and some will do both or either. They do this by sensing reflected power. (Did the class cover Standing Wave Ratio? Should have, it’s in the study guide.) You need to know, and digging thru the reviews and owner’s manuals might tell you. Which segues neatly into another discussion. Antenna tuners. A lot of the current crop of xceivers have on board auto tuning circuits that will handle various ranges of non-resonant conditions. How they work is well beyond my understanding, but I firmly believe that using them will result in reduced efficiency of getting your signal out beyond your property lines. I’ll leave it for more knowledgeable folks to sort us out on that. My xceiver dials back on power at an SWR of 3 and shuts off entirely at an SWR of 10, or so it appears. That all said, there are also external tuners of both manual and automatic flavors that will keep your xceiver cool, even if your property line is all you can reach at full output power measured at the input to the tuner. Get one, it’s cheap insurance. What they don’t tell you is that the tuners simply fool the xceiver into thinking it is merrily transmitting your signal into the ether, it ain’t necessarily so. Took me too long to figure that out, but now YOU know. There is NO substitute for actually tuning the antenna itself as close to resonance at your selected frequency or band. What I did and why. Firstly, note that there is a real trade-off between money and time. Time, in my case, is measured somewhat by age. You younger folks can start cheaper and adjust as you go. Us olde phartes will live with the limitations by burning plastic rather than climbing trees. Hence, my choices, without naming names; I do not have enough experience to do even a half accurate review of what’s in my shack, about all I can say is that so far, things work to expectations. Here’s what I have acquired for a first station: A 100 watt transceiver, all mode, all band except VHF and UHF with auto tuner on board. A switching power supply capable of running the transceiver flat out with a tad of amperage left over. A manual tuner. A rotatable multiband mini-dipole. And some RG 213 coax to get from the tuner to the antenna. Two 10 foot lengths of EMT conduit to support the antenna, just above my roof line. (I should not need guy wires by using my deck for lateral support. That way, nothing to drive the mower around.) The transceiver can go portable and mobile when I get around to rigging the pickup. (That will open up a whole ‘nuther go ‘round with antenna selection.) Questions yet to be answered and things to do: A) – How to arrange for a permanent way to pass the coax thru the wall or window instead of thru the slider to the deck. There needs to be at least 2 coax pass through, rf ground pass through to start. I think I can make one for the window using bulkhead fittings, remembering that insertion losses add up to reduced signal strength. Also will have to provide a way to stop drafts in the winter. B) – How to arrange for lightning protection for the station short of disconnecting the coax entirely. The mast will be properly grounded after installation. C) – Complete the property layout to determine which trees (or future masts) will be used for a fan dipole or OCF wire as the next antenna, and figure out the “best” bands to use for it. D) – Figure out what other gadgetry I might want or “need.” There you have it, one ham’s path to hammism. I’ll edit/update this specific post as time goes on, and flag the thread to alert anyone interested in coming back to see the edits.