So you’ve gotten your Technician License or your General upgrade – how do you get a station on the air? This was the topic of our recent Tech Night. The following are some thoughts to get you started. If you are a new Technician, the first thing to ask is – “What do I really want to do on the air and where will I be doing it?” Here are some common answers to this question:
- I spend a lot of time commuting in my car or truck and I’d like to pass the time talking with other HAMs
- I will mostly be operating from my home and I want to rag chew (chat with other HAMs) and check-in to emergency, ARES and/or other nets
- My plans are mostly be doing parade and other HAM activities in the field and I need something that is portable
Approaches for Tech Operators
In all of these scenarios, you will be using a combination of FM Simplex and Repeater operation on the 2 m and 70 cm bands.
If the first case is you, then you’ll want to install an FM mobile rig and antenna in your car or truck. You’ll also probably want to permanently mount a simple 2 m/70 cm antenna on your vehicle.
If the second case is your prime operating scenario, then your choices in radios probably are along two main paths. A 2 m/70 cm radio or a dual purpose HF and 2 m/70 cm capable “all in one” radio. You might take the second approach if you already have or are planning to get your General Class or Extra Class license. A 2 m/70 cm ground plane style vertical antenna that you can mount outside or perhaps in your attic would be a good choice. You might also want to consider a radio that does D-STAR or another Digital Voice mode. There are some large worldwide nets that use digital plus internet linking to reach a large population of HAMs.
If the third case is you main operating mode, then you probably want a quality HT with a good antenna. The rubber duck antenna that comes with most HTs will provide relatively weak performance. A quality 5/8 wavelength antenna and a spare battery for your HT will be a good way to go.
Approaches for General Operators
If you’ve received your General Class license and want to do HF, your biggest decision will your antenna antenna. This topic is pretty broad and we’ll cover it in more detail at our Tech Night. I usually recommend a simple wire antenna to get started. A 20m dipole mounted either horizontally or vertically is often a good first choice. It’s inexpensive and can be put up at most QTHs in a day or less.
Moving up from here, a 40m delta loop or a multi-band OCF dipole also make great starter antennas depending on your space and what you want to do. If you cannot mount an antenna outside, you may be able to mount a modest dipole in your attic or use a portable antenna system like the Buddipole that you can set up to operate and then take down.
Radio choice is also a broad topic which we will cover at our Tech Night. I would recommend a starter HF radio or a good used one (with help from an experienced HAM to select and check out). Your radio should be a 100W unit and cover all of the HF bands from 80 m – 10 m at a minimum. QRP radios (5 – 10W) are usually not a good choice for a first station. Making contacts at this power level with simple antennas can be challenging. It’s also good to have a radio which can do 6 m if that works out for you.
I highly recommend that you include digital mode capability in your first HF station. Digital modes such as PSK and RTTY provide a great way to learn to make contacts on the HF bands. Also, these modes work very well for making DX contacts with 100W and simple wire antennas.
I hope that this will get you started thinking about how to set your first station. Please come to our next Tech Night session to learn more. You can ask questions and get the benefit of experienced folks in our club. We can help you with these choices. We can also help with installing radios, antennas and getting on the air.