The Road Home

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Sunday, December 8, 2013

Radio - Entry Level Equipment

Hello, Frank here.

Hi Everyone, hope everybody is well and happy. It's still cold and slippery here, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Okay. So you want to get started. If you've read the other posts, then you know that there is no perfect radio. So, what I'm going to try to give you here are some options to ponder and some items to look for in whatever piece of equipment you choose. I'm going to start off with HF radios. And very similar to my other posts about chickens or goats, I can only share with you the experiences that I have had. Some folks want to jump in with both feet, buy some high dollar equipment, and if that's your cup of tea, please do so. I still learn something new on a regular basis about ham radio. And I am very happy with the equipment that I use. Please don't take this wrong, this is just for teaching purposes, but if I wanted a more expensive radio, I would buy it. Yes, finances are important to everyone, and I am by no means rich, wealthy or well off. But, as a general rule, I'm in a position in life where if I want or need something, then I will get it. 

We have a local man that I listen to on the VHF channels via a repeater. He appears to be intelligent, financially successful, well educated, articulate, he passed his Technician, General and Extra in a very short period of time with no problems. His first HF piece of equipment was what I would call a moderate, nice radio. Shortly thereafter, he bought a nicer radio, and now he's talking about getting a top-of-the-line HF rig. He has also gone through the same sequence with antennas. He apparently has the financial means, and I am very happy for him. But I think he could have made better choices along the way, because he talks on the radio about the stuff that he has. And, again, this is fine. But this is not where I personally am coming from. So, if you want to buy a piece of equipment and tell everybody how much you spent, and this is your general forte, then I may not be able to help you out. If you want something that works, then I might be able to help you out.

So, let's go. Please go to the Universal Radio website. Click on the left hand side on the online catalog button. We are now at catalog contents. Let me make a statement here. I have bought from Universal Radio and I probably will again in the future. They are not the most expensive or the least expensive, but I really like their site layout and they provide lots of data about the equipment they sell.

Now the top right hand column, click on amateur HF transceivers. You will see Alinco, ICOM, Kenwood and Yaesu. Since the ICOM column is the largest, let's start there. As a general rule, but not always, their radios are listed from least expensive, going down, to most expensive. But this is not always the case.

First on the list, ICOM 718. This radio looks very familiar to me. Is is perfect? No. Under features, on the left hand side, it has AM/SSB/CW modes. What you don't see is FM. You also don't see an automatic tuner. So, if you want to operate 10 meter FM, you can't do it with this radio. If you want to look at a screen in front of you that tells you another radio's signal strength, you can't do it. This is an entry level radio that will do what most HF operators require. That is, basic requirements. 

Okay, scroll down to the accessories. Second one on the list is AH-4. That is an automatic antenna tuner. Great. But you can buy one from another company for half the price that works better. LDG Electronics makes a fine quality antenna tuner for about half the price and it should be sold right here by Universal. We'll get to that in a minute. They have other things going up and down there for other accessories. For the most part you will not need any of these accessories.

Okay, I'm going to hit the back button. Next on the ICOM list is the IC-7000. Okay, let's take a look at some of the features. This is a nice radio, relatively inexpensive. So, play around in here. See if it has what
you want. You'll notice under features on the right hand side it says, 100 watts HF plus 
6 meter. Underneath that it says, 50 watts 2 meter,            35 watts 440. 2 meter is VHF, 440 is UHF, but you know that, don't you? Okay, so this radio will do VHF, UHF, and HF. It has AM and FM and you know that because VHF and UHF are FM and most HF is AM. It doesn't say SSB? Well, scroll down a little bit and you will see it in the written print a couple of lines above accessories. This is a nice radio and if you're one of those that's wants to buy one radio, take a look. But something you can't do with this is listen to HF and VHF at the same time. Most of the time that would take two separate radios.

Okay, click back to the HF page. So, let's pick out another ICOM, the IC-7800. It only costs $10,500. This is not an entry level radio. If this is your cup of tea and this is what you want to do, then go for it. This will do more than most people will ever use in a lifetime. And if you want to tell your friends, looky what I've got, this will do the job. This radio is well, well out of my league. But it is pretty.

Okay, why don't you scan through them, play with them, look at the rest of the ICOM's. A lot of people like Kenwoods. Let's look at the TS480. This is also a nice radio. Many people like Kenwood, I guess it's like anything in
life. If your daddy drove a Ford pickup, there's a good chance you will drive a Ford pickup. Remember that some people will argue to the end of the world that one brand is better than the other. I would recommend you find another crowd. These are all good radios. Just because somebody's grandpa had another brand doesn't make it any better. But if that's what you want, go for it. Please check out the Kenwoods.

Next on this little list are the Yaesu's. First is the FT-450D. If I were not using my ICOM-718, this would be my second choice. Fairly easy to use, has a built in antenna tuning system. It is a nice solid entry level radio. If you read through the features, it offers what most people need. I would give this radio a solid look. Yaesu offers some interesting radios that most companies don't. Check out the 817, 857 and 897. These are in some way, a portable type radio. But also make sure they have the desired power levels you want. Yaesu has other good solid radios. 

Please peruse through these radios. Visit with your Elmer. If your Elmer is of the nature that only one type brand of radio will work, get you a different Elmer with a little bit more of an open mind.

Okay, let's go back up to the top of this HF list and check out the Alincos. The DX-SR8T is your true entry level radio. But it will cover the entire HF bands in all modes, has good power, does require an antenna tuner, and
overall gets pretty good reviews. Let me stress here that there are old salts out there using entry level radios and have been for years and years. The radio that they have meets their needs. I happen to be one of those. I am relatively new to amateur radio, but I have found a radio that meets my needs. I have no intention of switching. I can talk to people anywhere, and I can listen to people anywhere. This is all I need.

Okay. Antennas. The proper antenna is unquestionably the most important piece of equipment you can own. You can have a top-of-the-line HF radio, but if you have a poor antenna, or a poor connection, or any part of the delivery system is inadequate, then your top-of-the-line HF radio will only function as well as the weakest link. Something to think about.

Okay, I went back to the online catalog page, I'm in the right hand column, about halfway down you will see amateur base antennas. Click there. You will see that the vast majority of these are vertical antennas. If this is what you want, go for it. Go down to the brand name Gap. The Challenger DX, please click there. This antenna is advertised from 80 meters to 2 meters. Good luck. Remember, an 80 meter antenna, okay 80 meters is about 240 feet. 2 meters is about 6 feet. I seriously have my doubts about this antenna. But, go ahead and read the rest of them and take a look at them. When you get finished let's go back to the catalog page.

Go down one more to amateur wire antennas. There are multiple different types of antennas on this page. But they are all considered wire antennas. This is one of those cases where you need to get together with your Elmer and try to pick out something that will work for you. If you do not have a large lot, or you live with housing restrictions, then one of the earlier mentioned verticals may be your best bet. If you have a little bit more space, some older Elmers can teach you some tricks about wire antennas. Just for information purposes, I use the Alpha Delta wire antennas. Remember there is no perfect antenna either. 

Next on the list are beam antennas. For entry level, this may not be your best choice, but if you want to start out with one, then please investigate these. They are probably the best working antenna of all. Being a beam means that they are directional. So, find you a comfortable Elmer and
talk this over with them. A man down the road from me has an Alpha Delta DX-LB+ and he talks all over the world all of the time. Another man I know, that lives about 50 miles away, also talks all over the world and he uses a beam. Both of these guys are heavy into contesting and CW. So, one person will tell you you've got to have a beam and another person will tell you you have to have a dipole. 

Okay, let's go back to the catalog contents page on the right hand side, go down four or five spaces to amateur antenna tuners. Please click. There are manual tuners and automatic tuners. There are tuners that are built specifically for a specific radio. Some are after market tuners, like LDG, or you see ICOM makes tuners. Check out the prices. I cannot address MFJ tuners, I have bought other MFJ equipment, but as for tuners, I only use LDG. If you're interested go into the LDG site and they will have a flow chart for which antenna tuner works with which radio.

Coax cable. Coax cable depends on where you live, how long a cable you will need, what frequencies you use and how much power you run. There is no perfect cable. But things to consider. If you live in Washington state
near the coast where it rains a lot, then you will have a different need than someone living in the desert of Arizona. But use a good, new coax. I recommend flexible. Use quality connectors and a proven sealant for your area. And in radio, bigger is better. Yes, you pay more for higher quality cable, and conversely speaking, you get more. This is one of those cases where you don't try to save a couple of bucks. Don't use or buy pre-owned cable. Use the best cable you can afford. And the best connectors you can afford. A five dollar connector works a whole lot better than a two dollar connector. And sealant is critical. Arizona and Washington have sharply different climates for the most part. Don't buy a $2,000 dollar radio, a $1,000 antenna system, and go cheap on coax. It's just not worth it.

You're going to need a power supply. If you want to use that same catalog contents page, scroll down a little over half way and it says power supplies and power strips. You've learned there are two types of power supplies, regulated and unregulated. Some people need a power supply with more bells and whistles than others, and some people don't. I would recommend a larger power supply than what you think you're going to use. Remember, P = E x I. Never use
more than 80% of the equipment's capability. So, you have a 100 watt radio. 100 divided by 13.8 will give you about 7. Which will be about 7 amps. At the minimum, get a 10 amp power supply. But human nature dictates that you're going to buy more pieces of equipment. So I would recommend somewhere around a 30 amp power supply. Can't have too much power. So, take a look around through these power supplies. Find something that will fit your need. Some of these power supplies are made specifically for specific radios. Like I said, look at them. Some of them will have cigar plug connectors, most will have standard binding posts, newer models will have power pole connectors (some, not all). So, take a look at the Jet Stream JTPS28. This might meet your needs. 

While you're on the power supply page, scroll all the way to the bottom. You'll see power strips here. Look at these and see if they interest you. It makes hooking up multiple pieces of equipment a whole lot easier. For instance look at the MJF1129. This power strip has binding posts and power pole connectors. You ask, "What is a power pole connector?" Go back to where you just were and right above MFJ or power pole connectors, click on that site. These are real handy little gizmos. 

Okay, I'm going to ask you to do something a little different here now. Open a new window and go to PowerWerx. On the left hand side you will see
Anderson Power Poles. Please click here. Now click on the left hand side, Anderson Power Pole and look at this page a great deal. Look at the right hand side. It says frequently asked questions. You just use these to connect your power cables. These are standard connectors in the emergency rescue fields. This is something a little bit new to you, but take a look at it.

While you're on the page with Anderson Power Poles, you'll see 15 amp and 30 amp. Let's pick the first one, 15 amp, unassembled. Let's click on it.
Scroll down, it will give you a tremendous amount of information. The 15, 30, and 40 amp connectors all use the same size housing. A little farther down is a cutaway view. These connectors are really, really handy. When you talk to your Elmer ask to visit somebody's shack that uses these and you will see what I mean. 

Okay, there are a few other little things you will need to set up your HF radio. You'll need some way to get your antenna up in the air. You might be interested in some type of lightening arrestor. But be advised, nothing will stop lightening from coming into your shack. You need to unplug your antennas.

We're not going to get to VHF today. But coax requirements, power supplies, power strips, power pole connectors and all of the data mentioned today will apply to those also. This information is for entry level. It is not for advanced amateur radio communications. There are a gazillion other terms, satellite programs, RTTY, just many, many, many things. These things will come with time. So, do you know what a 'lid' is? Ask your Elmer. 

Last thing. Safety. It is one thing to experiment, it is another thing to do something dangerous and stupid. If you don't know what you're doing, DON'T DO IT. It's one thing to have a one watt radio, and another thing to have a 5000 watt radio. If you don't know what you're doing, 

We'll talk about VHF next time, and sorry about the weather delay. But I would check out the power pole connectors. They are really cool.

We'll talk more later. 73, Frank


  1. This is a very helpful post. I recently passed my General license exam and now want to purchase my first radio, so lots of good information for me. Please keep the ham posts coming!

    1. Thank you for reading and I'm very glad you enjoy the posts. Please go back and read the CB, shortwave and the other posts besides ham. Especially read the MURS/GMRS post. Besides the ham world, there are other frequencies out there to play with. So, you might want to familiarize yourself with VHF/UHF because it covers not just ham, 144-148 MHz, but also MURS and GMRS frequencies.

      Some old hams don't like for new operators to use these frequencies, but if you start off with a commercial radio, you can cover these frequencies plus ham bands comfortably. You can also modify a VHF radio to cover the MURS/GMRS. On our farm here, we use handhelds that function legally on MURS and FRS and ham 144-148 MHz. Remember, if you want to put one of these in your home, the antenna is critical.

      Read the old posts. You'll find lots of information there. Read them slowly with an open mind. It's a new world we live in and communication in the future may be critical.

      Thanks again. 73, Frank

    2. Thanks, I will read the older posts again. Good information, really useful.

  2. I wanted to thank you for posting your radio communications series. I'm glad I found your blog as I start this new endeavor.
    I came for the radio posts but I've found much more to stick around for.
    Thanks again,

    1. Thank you, Will. Hope you're comfortable here. Read the above reply. There is a big world of communication out there and with the proper equipment up front you can enjoy the ham hobby and also experience the other benefits of radio.

      Thanks again and take care.