Are you a new Amateur Radio operator? Just received received your callsign and are now excited to get on the air. Congratulations and welcome to the Amateur Radio Service! Amateur Radio is a great hobby that will offer years and years of exploration, fun, and variety. By now you’ve probably received your first catalog from one of the big ham radio retailers and are being inundated with information and options on how to set up your first ham shack.
Fortunately, your investment in starting out in ham radio doesn’t have to be expensive. You can get ‘off the ground’ and start having fun for a small amount of money.
The first radio most new ham radio operators purchase is a 2 meter or dual band handheld radio. These radios are inexpensive, full featured, and make it easy to start communicating on the local repeaters. The only downside is that handhelds are usually low powered at 5 watts. So they are great for portability, but unless you can get into the repeaters, they won’t give you much range. Attaching an external antenna like the KB9VBR 2 meter J-Pole antenna will increase your range and make the handheld radio a more effective tool for fixed position use. Here’s some advice on using a handheld radio with an external antenna.
Many new hams are starting out with the inexpensive Chinese handhelds found on eBay and other sources. These are great starter radios, but are not without limitations. The biggest limitation is that they can be difficult to program; make sure that you invest in the PC programming cable to make that job easier. The other problem with the Chinese handhelds is that they have a non-standard antenna connector. Read my post on how to connect the popular Wouxun and Baofang handhelds to an external antenna.
Getting a mobile radio is the second step in building your amateur radio station. I’ve seen hams use their handhelds in the car or move their mobile radio between the car and the home to stay on the air. Using a handheld in the car can be problematic, the car’s metal body will attenuate the atenna’s signal and it’s harder to hold and use an handheld radio while driving. Get yourself a budget two meter radio for the car, and mount it permanently.
Don’t spend a lot of money starting out with ham radio. Get a few budget line or used pieces of equipment so that you have a chance to get a feel for the hobby and build a bit of experience. Join a ham radio club or ARES/RACES group and start asking the local hams what equipment they prefer. Then as you grow in knowledge, you will be able to start investing in quality pieces of radio equipment to do the job that want them to do.
The same applies to your antenna systems. The 2 meter KB9VBR J-Pole antenna makes a great first antennas as it is affordable and versatile. It will get you on the air and provide you years of service as you grow in the hobby. Plus when you replace it with a bigger antenna, the J-Pole will still make a great second or backup antenna.
Amateur Radio is a great hobby full of opportunity. I’ve been licensed since 1999 and still am learning and doing new things. Have fun, get on the air with a great antenna, and use the hobby to learn and meet new people.