Buying your first amateur radio #1
Beginner Ham Radio Series #2
Radios, antennas, and tuners
More to come,
Buying your first amateur radio #1
Beginner Ham Radio Series #2
Radios, antennas, and tuners
More to come,
If you look around the internet especially on amateur radio web sites, you will surely stumble across the “new fangled” software defined radios. Looking at them they appear very simple. Usually just a square box of some kind with a few ports on the front and the back… and no buttons or knobs! What’s going on here! A radio with no controls!? The controls are actually there but hidden in software inside a computer that is connected to the radio. Actually there are probably more controls available than on a traditional button and knob radio. There are several models (brands) on the market right now.
Here are a few links to look at: http://www.flex-radio.com/
That should keep you busy for a good long time! In my case my first SDR radio was a $20 special TV tuner from Ebay and some free software. This works quit well if you attach it to an outside antenna at least on the VHF UHF frequencies. To receive HF frequencies you need to buy or make what is called an UP CONVERTER. You can buy these for about $50 on Amazon. Having the up converter and the TV USB dongle permits you to receive HF ham radio bands along with VHF UHF.
After playing around with the $70 receive only SDR radio, I got to use a real Flex SDR radio at field day this year. After using it I was HOOKED on SRD radios. The receive quality of the Flex is simply outstanding. Signals I cannot hear on my Icom 7000 come through “readable” on the Flex radio. The built in Panadapter is also amazing and permits you to SEE signals across a very wide bandwidth. You can instantly tell — visually– if a particular band is open just by looking at the computer screen. Another neat feature of the commercial SDR radios is that they can do digital without any additional hardware. You do not need a Signalink or Rigblaster to communicate in any of the digital modes; just software like FLdigi or Ham Radio Deluxe. Since the signal remains DIGITAL throughout the processing the computer can use its internal latency to clean up the signal (DSP), much better than a normal analog radio. The filters are infinitely adjustable and perfect. Close buy interference can be easily sliced out of the received signal, and the built in 10 band receive and transmit equalizer further improves the quality of the receive signal and also your transmit signal. For old time ham radio operators there is a rather short learning curve, since you use the computer mouse to push buttons on the computer screen and not on the physical radio. But it’s not really that hard to learn. My favorite “character” on YouTube is Burt- K1OIK talking about the Flex 5000 which has been superseded by the Flex 6000.
I really believe that these types of radios are the future of amateur radio. They cost about the same as something like a Kenwood TS2000 or Icom 7100, but perform like radios costing thousands of dollars more.
73 and remember to have fun,
As a follow up to the previous article let’s talk a little about what you need and some operating
procedures for PSK31 and the other digital modes.
• You can start off listening only using a microphone on your computer and one of the free
software packages like Digipan or FLdigi or Ham Radio Deluxe. See the previous article
and the video. PSK31 is undoubtedly the most popular mode, so you should start out
using it before you try making contacts with the other lessor used modes.
• You will need a sound card device to receive and transmit digital. Something like the
digital boxes the club is building or a commercial version like the “Signalink” or the
“Rigblaster” by Mountain Radio. Both of these are reasonably priced and can be found
used for even less money on qth.com or qrz.com classified ad websites. We paid $70 for
a good used Signalink. Of course you will also need a computer and an HF radio. Make
sure the antenna is tuned with the radio before you transmit.
• The sound adjustment in your computer is very important. You can easily splatter you
signal by setting the sound level up to high. Adjust your PC sound to about ¾ full volume
or slightly more; both commercial devices come with instructions for setting the sound
level. Also you should turn off any “Windows” or “MAC” audio event sounds so these
are not inadvertently transmitted. You don’t want the computer to make bings and bongs
while you are using PSK31 or other digital modes.
• You should use no more than about 40 watts to transmit. You can see the folks who
have their sound level too high or are using too much power by watching the waterfall
display. Their signal will be splattered across the screen interfering with other signals in
and around the frequency you have the radio set too. This can be very frustrating to other
hams who are trying to make contacts. Remember that a perfect signal is about 31 Hz
wide! Those 700 Hz wide signals WILL block others from receiving and transmitting.
• Needless to say you do not need an amplifier when doing digital communications due
to the narrow bandwidth. We usually run about 30 watts under most band conditions.
During noisy conditions maybe 40 watts or so.
• Make sure you learn about the MACRO ability of the software. This permits you to
transmit a lengthy message with one click of the mouse. There is no need to type the
same thing over and over again on the keyboard. We usually have a macro setup to
transmit our QTH, or equipment, our antenna and other general information. We also
have a sign-off type macro that thanks the person for the contact and wishes them 73.
• This is an excellent mode to introduce to new “young” General licensed hams who have
spent their life text messaging on the phone. They will be instantly familiar with the
communication methods, as they see the TEXT scroll across the screen just like on their
smart-phone! And the TEXT can come from very distant places.
73 to everyone and remember to GET DIGITAL!
Joe Lalumia W1XWX
What follows is a short article about the “digital” modes in ham radio, or “texting” for amateur radio
If you have never used any of the digital modes I would encourage you to try them. Their advantage
is long distance communication using relatively low power usually not exceeding about 40 watts.
Personally I have contacted Russia using about 40 watts, my Icom 7000, and a device called a SignaLink
which is simply a stand-alone sound card with some radio keying circuits.
You can TEST this mode rather cheaply. Here is how: tune your radio to 14.070 the popular 20 meter
frequency for digital communications. Here are other popular frequencies.
2 Meters = 145.550 and 145.140
10 Meters = 28.120
15 Meters = 21.070
20 Meters = 14.070
30 Meters = 10.142
40 Meters = 7.035
80 Meters = 3.580
Download and install one of the free programs listed below. Plug in any old cheap computer headset
and microphone into the computer. Turn up the volume a little on the radio. You should be hearing
“strange” or “musical” sounds. Put the headset and microphone near the speaker on the radio.
For a neat tutorial in about 15 minutes watch this Youtube video by Randy K7AGE.
There are also several very good web sites that explain the MODES. WB8NUT has one located at this
You can also just Google PSK31 and you will get several good web sites. PSK31 is probably the most
popular digital mode so start with PSK31 selected in the software. You have a VERY good chance of
hearing PSK31 and decoding it on the computer using this simple technique.
You will need some free software. The two most popular are Digipan – http://wb8nut.com/resources/
And FLDigi here: http://www.w1hkj.com/Fldigi.html
I started out using Digipan and then added FLDigi after a few months. The free version of Ham Radio
Deluxe also supports digital modes.
http://www.hrdsoftwarellc.com/setuphrd52438.exe the free version. Version 6 is a paid version.
This simple method will get you starting LISTENING and decoding digital modes. Probably all you will
need to buy if you don’t have one already is a cheap computer headset and microphone. I will not go
into how to setup the software as Randy has a great show and tell on the above video on Youtube.
By the way these modes can be used to send computer files and test documents on both HF and VHFUHF. You need to be familiar with them if you are active in emergency communications, or if you
enjoying communicating by instant messaging as I do! By the way the digital boxes the club is building
right now can do all of these modes.
Joe Lalumia W1XWX
Hello, and 73! I am Joe Lalumia W1XWX and I recently got my General ticket. If you are a newbie like me I want to encourage you to get your Technician’s license and then immediately go for your General license while you are still in the STUDY mode.
In my case, I got my General license about 3 month’s after passing the Technician’s test. As an incentive to succeed I stepped out there and purchased an HF radio and tuner right after I passed the Tech test as an incentive to get the General ticket! I had to look at the equipment all setup and ready to go for about 2 months (and kept thinking about the money I had spent!). I did listen a lot to the various bands and the knowledge I gained by setting up the station and the long wire antenna helped me pass the General test.
What I would like to do now is give you some advice for your upcoming ham radio “adventure”. I made a lot of mistakes along the way until finally after about 1 year the station was up to a good standard of operation.
Do’s and other opinions:
1. Do buy used equipment. You can get good used equipment from the classified section on QTH.COM, local hamfests, and from other amateur radio operators that you know.
2. Do join a local radio club or two or three of them! I belong to 4 radio clubs. Why? First, I feel an obligation to help reimburse the club operating the repeater(s) that I use on a frequent basis. Also you will meet many experienced hams and get to know them. They will help you if you ask with just about anything related to the hobby.
Hams are a pretty vocal group when it comes to equipment reviews and operating techniques. You will hear many “opinion”, just remember that each experienced ham has probably already tried what you are doing right now. Use their experience as a guide with your station setup, equipment purchases, antenna selection, and operating procedures. The club membership fee is a very small price to pay for immediate access to EXPERIENCE.
3. Do think ahead! For example, you may be operating at 100 watts right now. But what if you decide to buy an amplifier somewhere down the road. Plan ahead and setup the station so you will be able to operate “full bore”. This requires a little bit of thought when selecting the antenna, feed lines, and antenna tuner. A legal limit antenna tuner is not much more expensive than one rated for 200-300 watts; especially if you are buying good used equipment.
Also put up the best coax you can afford. My personal opinion is nothing under 213 for HF and LMR 400 for VHF-UHF. That RG8 might be OK for 100 watts HF but what about 1000 watts HF? Usually the total cost difference might be no more .50 cents more per foot between RG58 or RG8 and RG213. (cheaper if you buy on-line from reputable sources like The Wireman or DX Engineering)
4. Do plan out your station for easy comfortable operation. An example would be a desk microphone or suspended boom microphone and a foot-switch. Much more comfortable, no hands, station operation; also put the most used equipment like the antenna tuner and radio(s) where they are very accessible. A shelf over a desk can make your station bigger, to accommodate more equipment, without actually being WIDER.
5. Do buy patch cables of the same quality as the main feed lines. Do not use RG58 patch cables from Ebay or Radio Shack; use the same ones as the main feed line ( LMR400, or RG213) made by yourself or from the same source as your main coax lines; and use good connectors. I did not do this originally and now I am replacing all the patch cables with better quality lines. It would have been cheaper to have done this originally.
6. If you have the room, Do buy the best highly rated antenna(s). In my case after several attempts, I am now using a Comet GP 9, and a commercial end fed long wire called the QSO King. A good J pole or Diamond vertical will also work just fine on VHF-UHF if you are not far away from the repeaters you want to work. Good recommendations can be found on-line at eham.com or from your local radio club members.
The QSO King I use can be installed nearly invisible in restricted HOA areas. The wire has worked very well up to now and has permitted me to make contacts as far away as Russia and New Zealand using 100 watts during band openings. It is also rated for legal limit so I can continue to use it with an amplifier.
I also purchased an Alpha Delta 4 band dipole DXCC, which I intend to put up later this year. I have not decided just yet as it would also make a good portable antenna using my tripod light stand-mast and two trees. Again buy good highly rated equipment and you will be a happy ham. The antenna is just as important as the radio you use and some would say more important. I must say that I have a preference for long wire antenna designs.
7. Do share! with other hams. That’s right you remember your mother told you this! Share your knowledge, loan your equipment, and offer to help, other hams. You will be rewarded with multiple friends and remembered long after you have disappeared from planet Earth.
8. Do use the internet as a resource for knowledge. There are great videos about all aspects of the hobby on YouTube.com. Just search for “ham radio”. Also I can recommend all of the weekly Ham Nation videos on Youtube. Again just search for “ham nation” on Youtube. This is a weekly video podcast AND you can listen in and check-in LIVE on HF radio.
The forums at eham.com are also a good resource along with the forums on qrz.com.
9. Do jump into the 21st century. Use your computer and get setup on qrz.com, and Eqsl.com. Learn how to use the ARRL log book of the world LOTW. All of the contacts you list there can be backed up to your personal logbook on your computer. I have heard some ham’s say that they don’t use them because the logs can be lost if they go out of business. This is just not true. I do answer real QSL cards with a return real QSL card that I designed on my computer and print out as needed. This is the proper thing to do with hams that have sent you a real card. However I have a binder with over 90 Eqsl cards ( 4 of which are real) in only the last 8 months of operating on HF. On a monthly basis I upload my log to LOTW. This keeps me current on the ARRL logbook. Easy to do!
I hope this article has helped you in someway. Wishing you 73, and clear skies on your amateur radio journey.
Radio on the Square – Sponsored by the Fannin County Amateur Radio Club – May 5, 2012
Ham-Com – Plano, Texas at Plano Centre – June 8 – 9, 2012
Hunt County Fair June 8 -16, 2012 – Hunt County Fairgrounds – on Jack Finney Blvd (FM1570)
ARRL Field Day June 23 – 24, 2012
Website has been updated with the current officers. Still working on getting the email for the club officers set up.