Club logo.  A red circle containing a green map of the state of Virginia, the ARRL logo, and the text "Richmond Amateur Telecommunications Society, Richmond, Virginia U.S.A."

Richmond Amateur
Telecommunications Society

W4RAT · Richmond, Virginia
Serving Central Virginia Since 1972



Get on the Air

Trying to figure out what equipment to buy for your first station?

There is no one-size-fits-all newbie ham shack setup.  Ask a room of ten hams "what radio should I buy" and you'll get at least twelve different answers.  We're not going to recommend any specific radios, but we can give you a few things to consider before you sink your hard-earned money into the wrong gear.

Selecting a Radio

Do you want a large, full-featured transceiver for the HF bands?  Do you prefer the compact portability of a handheld transceiver?  For mobile use, the obvious choice is a mobile radio.  Options range from inexpensive mono-band FM transceivers to multi-band HF/VHF/UHF combination rigs.

Starting out with a Technician class license, the bulk of your license privileges are on the VHF and UHF bands.  This page will focus on that type of equipment.

There are a small number of mono-band radios on the market today.  They are handy for niche applications but for general use most hams are going to be happiest with at least a dual-band radio covering the 2-meter (146 MHz) and 70-centimeter (440 MHz) bands.  The 6-meter (50 MHz) and 1.25-meter (220 MHz) bands are popular third or fourth band choices.  There are two repeaters in the Richmond area on the 220 MHz band.  One of these repeaters is linked to four other repeaters across Virginia.

Consider purchasing radios from one of these established, reputable amateur radio equipment manufacturers.  The "big four" are Yaesu, Kenwood, Icom, and Alinco.  They sell through a network of authorized dealers and support their products long-term with both in- and out-of-warranty repair services.  The equipment is built to meet high engineering standards which includes consistent, reliable performance, unit to unit, year after year.  Documentation is thorough and accurate.  Detailed service manuals and schematics are often available.

Branching out a bit from the big four, Bridgecom and Connect Systems are two more vendors that offer well-supported, high quality equipment for the amateur market, built to commercial standards.  Bridgecom sells a series of conventional mono-band analog radios while Connect Systems primarily focuses on digital equipment.  Radios from the four major brands will all be front-panel programmable, meaning you can program them on the fly using the radio's knobs, buttons, and microphone keypad.  Bridgecom and Connect Systems mobile gear is designed to emulate commercial equipment and these radios require a PC programming cable and software for the bulk of the programming.

Here is a helpful article from the ARRL, "Choosing a Ham Radio."  The article is a bit dated (2014) so some of the specific radios featured are no longer available, but this article still does a great job explaining the components of an amateur station and some of the equipment selection and station design considerations you should keep in mind.

The ARRL also has a page dedicated to this topic.  See Buying Your First Radio.

Portable Radios

A handheld transceiver (HT) can be a good inexpensive option to start with if you spend most of your time near repeaters.  If you are on a budget, a Baofeng, Btech, Wouxon, inexpensive Yaesu or similar HT may be a good place to start.  Add an aftermarket antenna, $20-ish, and you have the ability to talk, listen, and learn from other hams. 

A rat tail, or tiger tail as a counterpoise can help improve HT performance indoors or at the fringe of repeater coverage.  Find the sweet spot in room with a window facing the repeater, where your received signal is best.  Indoors, a roll-up J-pole antenna or a magnetic-mount mobile antenna on a cookie sheet with an adapter to match your radio can be used to improve performance.

You can also connect an HT to an outdoor antenna such as on a mast, chimney, or rooftop mount for best performance.

Home Station Equipment

A good home station might consist of a dual-band VHF/UHF mobile radio, regulated power supply, good quality coaxial cable, and an antenna as high as you can get it.

Radios should be powered with a regulated power source capable of handling your radio and any connected accessories.  A power supply with capacity in the neighborhood of 30 amps should be sufficient.  Refer to the owner's manuals for all connected equipment to determine power requirements.  You may have aspirations of a fancy redundant power system with solar charging and huge battery banks, but an inexpensive switching power supply from Astron or MFJ will get you started.

Mobile Equipment

You probably won't have a good experience trying to use an HT inside of your car.  Your vehicle's body blocks much of the signal to and from the repeater.  An external antenna mounted to the roof of your car will give good performance with an HT, but for best results, you'll want a full-power mobile radio.  Typical mobile rigs transmit with between 25 and 50 watts of power, though a few go as high as 75.  Be sure the antenna you select is designed for the bands you want to operate and the amount of power you'll be using.

If you're using a monoband mobile radio, a 5/8-wave antenna is the best choice.  Dual-band and tri-band mobile antennas in quarter-wave and other configurations exist as well.

A mag mount antenna is a suitable choice for a mobile installation, though many hams prefer the cleaner look of an NMO mount, which requires drilling a hole in the body of the vehicle and possibly some disassembly of the car's interior.  A variety of other vehicular mounting options exist, such as luggage rack and trunk mounts, bumper mounts, and through-glass antenna designs.

Lido and Ram are two manufacturers of mounting brackets suitable for mounting handheld and mobile radios in vehicles.  Options include suction cup mounts for windows and dashboards, seat bolt mounts, and more.

If you're using an HT in the car, it's fine to run your radio direct to your vehicle's cigarette lighter socket.  Mobile radios set to low power (10 watts or less) can also be run from the lighter socket in a pinch, but you should aim to pull your power from a dedicated circuit, direct from the battery.  ARRL has compiled some general radio installation recommendations from the major vehicle manufacturers.

Program Your Equipment

We highly recommend a programming cable and software.  CHIRP is free software that you can use to program over 81 different brands of radios.  Some radios nowadays will come with a cable and software, or may have free software available from the manufacturer.

Refer to resources like Repeaterbook.com to find listings of local repeaters.  Don't forget to include simplex frequencies.  146.445, 146.49 are popular choices in this area, in addition to the national calling frequencies.

Overcoming "Mic Fright"

If you're nervous about making your first call, try checking in to one of the local nets.  Nets usually accept several rounds of check-ins, so you can listen for a little while and see how the others are doing it.  Often there's a specific topic of conversation, so you can take your time figuring out what you want to say.  Check in a little later in the net.  New hams often report that the structure of a net makes it a lot easier to overcome mic fright and get comfortable talking on the radio.

Bottom line is GET on the air!  Throw your call sign out.  There are many weekly, biweekly, and monthly nets for everybody to participate in.  Listening to QSO’s and participating is a great way to learn from experienced hams about radios, antennas, and anything ham related.  Read this if you have not participated in a net before:

https://www.rats.net/net-tips

For More Advice

The RATS Elmer Program is available to assist you with resources and the ability to ask questions about any ham related topic directly to an experienced Elmer.  You do not have to be a member to benefit from this resource.

Additional Resources

Antennas

https://www.arrl.org/no-free-lunch

https://www.arrl.org/your-first-antenna

https://www.arrl.org/single-band-dipoles

https://www.arrl.org/trap-dipoles-parallel-poles

https://www.arrl.org/random-length-multiband-dipoles

https://www.arrl.org/verticals

https://www.arrl.org/random-wires

https://www.arrl.org/indoor-antennas

Feedline

https://www.arrl.org/feed-lines

Grounding

One wire of the feedline connects to the base of the antenna, and the other connects to ground. The connection to ground has to have a low RF resistance, or you ... Learn More

Adding the power strip takes care of connecting the ac safety ground to the RF ground plane through the metal of the power strip enclosure. The paint on the ... Learn More

Sep 29, 2020 ... The American Radio Relay League (ARRL) is the national association for amateur radio, connecting hams around the U.S. with news, ... Learn More

The shield and center conductor on this end would be joined with a capacitor. I believe it was designed by N8SA (William Chesney). It is claimed ... Learn More

Apr 11, 2017 ... Grounding and Bonding for the Radio Amateur is available from the ARRL Store or your ARRL Dealer. (ARRL Item no. 0659), ISBN: 978-62595-0659, ... Learn More

The American Radio Relay League (ARRL) is the national association for amateur radio, connecting hams around the U.S. with news, information and resources. Learn More

The American Radio Relay League (ARRL) is the national association for amateur radio, connecting hams around the U.S. with news, information and resources. Learn More

Ron Block, NR2B. The Gloucester County Amateur Radio Club, W2MMD. (www.w2mmd.org), founded in 1959, is fortunate to have a clubhouse on the 4-H grounds in ... Learn More

The shielding ground is grounded through the lightning arrestor since it has an earth ground. The radials attached to the insulator and matching ... Learn More

There are the IEE Wiring Regs. Grounding and Bonding for the Radio Amateur (ARRL) is useful. The Article " The Killing Fields" by the RSGB ... Learn More


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Richmond Amateur Telecommunications Society, Inc. (RATS) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. PO Box 70613, Henrico VA, 23255
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