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.