Welcome to NOFARS! This section will help you with such
things as: selecting the right radio, an antenna that is right for your
operating environment, power supply requirements, installation, emergency
power sources and resources for frequencies in the local area as well as nets
you can check into. The intent of this section is to make your initial effort
cost efficient and easy to use.
FIRST THING: Please feel free to call or write me with any
questions no matter how big or small.
email@example.com PHONE: 904-551-5699 9am-9pm any day of the
RADIOS: There are so many to choose from. For the new
Ham, it would be best to stick with a reliable, time proven, name brand:
(Alphabetical Order) Alinco, Icom, Kenwood, Yaesu
Base, Mobile, Mobile used as a base or an HT (Hand Held Transceiver)???
It all depends on your lifestyle and budget. If you are on the go a lot and
on a budget, an HT might be a good choice, if you live in a city. A 2 meter
or 2 meter/440 might be your best choice. If you want to use it in your
vehicle, a 1/4 or 5/8ths wave magnetic mount antenna for the outside of the
vehicle might be the best bet. You can also get a second antenna for home
use. More on the antennas later. The good thing about buying an HT
is that is it portable. The drawbacks are that they have limited power
output, and batteries must be recharged.
Base Station: Most new Hams start out with 2 meter operation. A fancy
base station has a lot of options, but most are not necessary to Hams who use
2 meters. They are also expensive and are rarely used by new Hams.
Mobile radios: An excellent choice for permanent mounting in a vehicle
and what many experienced Hams use on a daily basis while in their vehicle.
There are few drawbacks and many advantages. The Mobile runs off the car
battery (and the cables should run directly to the battery for best
performance), the Hand Microphone is easy to use and, most of all, there is a
lot more power available than with an HT. The only problem one might
encounter is "noise" from the vehicle electronics, which can usually be
resolved with the installation of a commercially made filter.
Mobile used as a Base: This is the rig you see the most for in-home
use. It has the power needed, the features most used, and runs from a 12 Volt
power supply. This is also a good option such as, if the A/C power fails, a
12 Volt backup battery can be used to continue transmitting in emergency
situations, a primary use for Ham Radio. I have used this type of rig for
years and have yet to find a drawback. You will need a 12 Volt power supply:
For 2 meters, a 12 - 20 amp filtered and regulated supply should do very well.
SUMMARY: If you are on the go and will operate some from home in town
on a tight budget, a 5 Watt HT Hand Held is a good starter radio. If you will
operate from your home most of the time, a Mobile used as a Base is the best
choice. New Hams with more resources should buy an HT, a Mobile used as a
Base and a Mobile for each vehicle. This is what most Hams end up doing
during the first year. Remember, you still need a power supply and antennas!
Tip: New Hams with young children should be careful to not let kids play with
the new "toy". Disconnecting the Microphone works well.
Tip: If you use a mobile as a base station, buy 4 rubber feet that will stick
to the bottom for better heat dissipation.
ANTENNAS: Choosing the right antenna is one of the most
important parts of good Amateur Radio operation. As with the selection of a
radio, it is suggested that a well respected brand of antenna be your choice
to get you started. After you learn more about how they perform, under what
conditions, and then using your antenna as a baseline, you can then experiment
with other antennas. Many Hams say this is one of the most enjoyable parts of
Good, time proven antenna brands include: (Alphabetical Order) Comet,
Cushcraft, Diamond, Hustler, Hygain, Larsen, Maxrad, MFJ, Tram, and Workman.
Suggested types of antennas for New Ham would include Verticals, Yagi Beams,
Vertical Antennas: The typical antenna found on vehicles, in homes on a
metal sheet or base verticals mounted outside. These types of antennas have
omni-directional coverage, but usually have lesser range than a Yagi Beam.
Yagi Beam: A long metal boom with perpendicular tines mounted in
descending size along the boom length. This antenna is good for extended
range, but has a narrowed area of coverage.
J-pole, and others: A J-pole is a simple antenna that is fun to
construct. They can be purchased inexpensively, and be used inside or
outside. They can be rigid, flexible or roll-up type. This antenna does not
compete with many Vertical or Beam antennas, but cannot be matched for
flexibility of use. Most experienced Hams have a J-pole antenna close by for
emergency use. Dont forget the right antenna connection adaptors.
One of the biggest challenges for New Hams is the selection of the proper
antenna for the given location of use. Now that we have discussed the basic
antennas available, let's list some possible use scenarios:
RURAL AREAS WITH MOST OTHER HAMS IN A LARGE CITY MILES AWAY:
For the home, the best bet would be a Yagi Beam, mounted on a pole or
tower. The antenna is pointed toward the city. Again, the Yagi has limited
angle of coverage, but better coverage in one general direction.
APARTMENT IN TOWN WITH ANTENNA RESTRICTIONS:
Within the restrictions of your home, mount a vertical antenna as high
up as you can. Not all of us are lucky enough to be on the top floor of a 40
story high rise, but a good setup can get you into the local repeaters and
some simplex frequencies. A 5/8ths wave magnetic mount antenna on top of the
metal refrigerator works well. If you can't do that, find a place where a mag.
mount can sit on a large pizza pan, which acts as a ground plane. If that
won't work, try using a J-pole hung up vertically at the top of a wall,
hopefully away from metal. Move it around to find the best area for
reception. Use caution with power output when close to people.
Later on, if you get an outside antenna, you can use an antenna switch and
still use the inside antenna during storms.
HOME WITH DEED RESTRICTIONS OR RESTRICTIVE COVENANTS:
These are homes that have room, but erecting a pole or a tower
outdoors is prohibited. In addition to the inside antenna listed above, think
about being Patriotic and erecting a flag pole made of non-metallic PVC. A
flag on top and a surprise inside! With restrictions becoming more
prevalent, there are companies who specialize in covert antennas. Check out
the sites on the Internet.
HOME WITH NO RESTRICTIONS:
Inside, as a backup and storm antenna with a switch, use an antenna
listed above. Outside, the choices are open. You can erect a "Push-Up" pole
or a tower, and put up a large Vertical, a Yagi Beam and even a rigid J-pole.
Talk to an experienced Ham about grounding issues when constructing an outside
IN YOUR VEHICLE:
Let's refine our earlier discussion. A "rubber duck" that comes on an
HT does not usually transmit well inside a car. This is because the car acts
as a Faraday Cage. An outside permanent or magnetic mount antenna works well
in 1/4th or 5/8th wave. The mobile unit should have the same type antenna
also. If you mount a mobile or even use an HT with a small amplifier, it is a
good idea to run the cable in an area that is out of the way. Many times,
running the coax under edges of carpet or underneath seats is time well spent.
EXTRA GOOD IDEAS FOR EQUIPMENT: An external speaker of excellent
quality is a good investment. An extra power cord for your Mobile used as a
Base hooked to a large Deep Cycle, or Gel Cell battery for backup is a good
idea. An SWR/Power meter. An extra battery pack and an Alkaline battery pack
for your HT is a needed item. For HTs, a small external plug-in hand
microphone is a good buy.
USING EMERGENCY BACKUP POWER--WHEN THE LIGHTS GO OUT
The New Ham Advisor had gotten many questions about the best way to
operate when the power goes out, which many times comes along with other
ITEMS TO OBTAIN:
Flashlight close at hand and a mounted DC light in your ham
shack. (DC florescent lights are inexpensive and available at most hardware
A second power cable for your radio. Since these cables are becoming
more standardized with "T connectors", they are available at many radio shops.
Large size Deep Cycle Battery or Gel Cell. Usually, the larger, the
better. Deep Cycle and Gel Cell batteries are important as they can be
repeatedly charged. Regular automotive starting batteries are not as good.
They don't hold the consistent power for our application and repeated total
recharging can shorten their life span. They are good for short bursts and,
of course, great if connected to an Alternator.
A combination "Float" and "Trickle" charger. This is a very important
part of the project. The float type chargers maintain a topped off level for
the battery without creating a lot of "out gassing", which could be an
irritant, an possibly, an explosive, inside the home. Gel Cells don't deplete
water the same way a conventional lead acid battery can. Proper use of a
float charger can maintain the life of a battery for years.
What to do: Start with a fully charged battery and keep it in the ham shack
with the battery half of the extra power cable attached to it. Then, wire tie
the half of the power cable right next to the "T" connector on the primary
power cable. This puts the two "T" connectors beside each other. When the AC
power goes out, simply unplug the radio half of the power connector from the
normal power supply "T" connector and plug it into the battery side duplicate
"T" connector and you are now running on backup power!
FREQUENCY DETAILS AND LOCAL CUSTOMS:
The rig is coming together, so now it is time to learn a little more about
the local frequencies and tips for smooth operation. We will start with
Jacksonville, Florida and later try to expand the area.
What follows are frequencies commonly used, Net Meetings where everyone is
welcome to participate, or "check-in" to and a little about what they are all
The frequencies will show the primary frequency, and, if it is a Repeater, a
CTCSS encode sub-tone in parentheses, if needed, that can be programmed to
help get into the repeater and keep out other repeaters with the same basic
frequency. It is also called a "PL" tone, which is a trade name of Motorola
Corporation. Remember that Repeaters have a Transmit frequency that is Offset
from the primary Repeater frequencies listed below. In general, primary
frequencies of 147.000 and below have a -600 Khz Offset and a primary
repeater frequency above 147.000 has a +600 Khz Offset.
146.700 (127.3) NOFARS REPEATER SYSTEM
444.400 (127.3) NOFARS REPEATER SYSTEM
Open, general QSO (conversation) system with large coverage area.
NETS: Monday, 8pm - WWD (Wacky Wing Ding) An informal Net with topics of the
Weds., 7:00pm-Jacksonville Skywarn Net--For those with an
interest in weather and assisting the National Weather Service office by
providing reports during severe weather.
Wed., 7:30pm - Duval ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Service) A
formal Net open to all licensed Amateurs that is usually an
information/practice session for network operation. This Net is subject to
meet on other frequencies at times.
145.450 (West Jacksonville)
NETS: Saturday, 7:30-8:30pm - The Saturday Nite Net. is an informal
Net that actually gives away as much as $105. per session with the lucky spin
of a wheel! The only one like it I have every heard, but a lot of fun. This
Net. is famous for its buy, sell, swap of Ham equipment.
147.000 (Callahan, FL)
NETS: Wed., 6:30pm - Tri-County Emergency Net. A formal Emergency
Services practice Net.
147.285 (118.8) (Kingsland, GA)
NETS: Sunday, 9pm - Camden County, GA - Formal ARES Net.
146.67 (Orange Park, FL)
146.625 (St. Augustine, FL)
147.090 (127.3) (MacClenny, FL)
NETS: Tuesday, 8:00pm- Baker County Net
146.925 (156.7) (Clay County)
NETS: Sunday, 7:30pm - Clay County ARES Net.
Southern St. Johns County. Long distance away from Jax, but a strong system
NETS: Wed, 8:00pm - St. Johns County ARES Net.
145.330 (Brunswick, Georgia)
NETS: Tuesday, 8:30pm Brunswick Area Net
This is the national calling frequency used throughout the USA.
Note: This is not a complete list. Please feel free to provide updated
For the new Ham, it is best to tune into a frequency and just listen for
awhile to get a better understanding of how the Repeater sounds when it resets
after each transmission, and generally what the personality is for that
Repeater. Since some Repeaters are linked and/or have remote receivers, it is
best to key your transmitter for 1/2 to 1 second before you begin talking.
JOINING IN: When the repeater resets, say your call and the word "Listening"
or "Monitoring". You can also just give your callsign and wait for a
response. If there is a QSO in progress, and you want to join in or comment,
just give your call in between other transmissions or say the word "contact",
"comment", or the suffix of your call.
"QUICK KEYING": Something we all try to avoid, but comes naturally from
talking on the telephone. Be patient, and wait for your chance to join in.
Then make sure you let the Repeater reset before transmitting again. Most
Repeaters have some sound pattern that indicates it has reset.
QUICK I.D.: Again, something we all do that comes naturally from repeating
your call many, many times. With repetition comes speed! You can always tell
a Ham has been on the air for a long time because they say their Call so
quickly it is sometimes hard to understand. As a New Ham, keep this in mind
and work on saying your call clearly and slow enough to be understood.
Remember to give your call at the beginning, every 10 minutes thereafter, and
at the end of your QSO.
It is best to stay on point with the conversation at the time. Also, try to
think about how you sound to others and avoid repetitive uses of filler words
such as there, you know, etc.
A SHORT LIST OF RESOURCES USEFUL TO HAM RADIO OPERATORS:
AES - Orlando, FL 1-800-327-1917
A large supplier of Ham Radio equipment. Florida residents must pay sales
HRO - Atlanta, GA 1-800-444-7927
A large supplier of Ham Radio equipment. No sales tax to Florida residents
and free shipping with larger purchases. Manager, Mark Holmes is very helpful
with NOFARS members.
Batteries America aka Yost Battery Co. Extra Batteries and Chargers
R and L Electronics - Hamilton, OH 1-800-221-7735
A large supplier of Ham Radio equipment. No sales tax to Florida residents.
Known for good prices.
Universal Radio - Reynoldsburg, OH 1-800-431-3939
A large supplier of Ham Radio equipment. No sales tax to Florida residents.
Known for hard to find items.
SUNN BATTERY- Jacksonville, FL 904-354-4508 This company has many
replacement batteries, backup batteries and can, in some cases, rebuild your
HT Battery Pack
www.ARRL.org The representative group of Ham Radio and a great source of
www.W5YI.org This is another very helpful and knowledge base for Ham
All of the above large suppliers usually have good used equipment.
Note: This is not a complete list. Please feel free to provide updated
information as it becomes available.
NEW HAM ADVISOR COLUMNS IN THE BALANCED MODULATOR NEWSLETTER
Questions from newcomers are discussed in the NOFARS
Balanced Modulator newsletter, published six times per year. Articles on
other topics of interest to hams are also included in each issue. The
Balanced Modulator is sent via postal mail to all NOFARS members. To get on
the mailing list, you can join NOFARS for only $5 per year. Membership is
affordable for everyone at this low price! A
printable membership form is on this site.
Below are some New Ham Advisor columns from past issues of the Balanced
MORE ON ANTENNAS
A question that has come up several times deserves further
explanation: I saw your information on Yagi Beams and Vertical antennas.
What are the good points and bad points of each type?
The answer I have given:
Yagi Beam: A long metal boom with perpendicular tines mounted in
descending size along the boom length. This antenna is good for extended
range, but has a narrowed area of coverage.
The Pros of the beam is the ability to transmit and receive at a longer
distance than with a Vertical Antenna, which is also great for simplex. There
are also other benefits.
Many repeater systems have other, non-connected, distant repeaters with the
same frequency. The plan is to keep those repeaters a sufficient
distance apart, which usually works. Usually. But in the case of a 'band
opening', where atmospheric conditions cause signals to travel farther than
normal, the other repeater can be heard and sometimes makes it more difficult
to hear the local repeater. Such is the case of the Jacksonville, FL 146.700
repeater and the 146.700 repeater of Savannah, GA., 123 miles away.
A good trick for the Yagi is to understand that each of the perpendicular
tines on the Yagi have a small signal rejection aspect that extends off each
tine. These are called 'Null Points'. In many cases, a beam can be turned
slightly and tune out the distant repeater. This is a little known, but great
feature of the Yagi Beam.
The Cons: Yagi Beams can be harder to construct or assemble. If they
have too much wind loading, they can be damaged in a storm. However, this
generally is not the case with a 2m or dual band beam, which is lighter. It is
also important to have a working antenna rotator with the beam. Without the
rotor, those 'null points' can keep you from receiving other local
frequencies. It is also harder to make contacts by simplex if you dont know
which direction the contact is.
Vertical Antennas: As the name implies, a vertical stick that
sometimes has a ground plane at the bottom.
The Pros of the Vertical lies in its nature to be 'Omni-directional'.
Simplex contacts are easy. No need to worry about which direction the station
or repeater is located because the direction is not an issue. They are easier
to assemble and maintain.
The Cons: Omni-directional antennas have a more limited range than Yagi
Beams. There is also the problem of receiving other repeaters with the same
frequency when there is a band opening. Under the right conditions, tall
mounted Verticals can pick up several repeaters of the same frequency
simultaneously, making it hard to just receive the one you want.
Which one is better? It depends on your need and distance from the local
repeaters. They are both excellent for their intended purpose.
GETTING RESPONSES TO YOUR CALLS
I have received several calls with the same basic question:
' I got all set up and tried some local repeaters, but I am getting
frustrated from the lack of response.'
The answer I have given: Repeaters have their own personalities and
none of them are in use all the time. Some are rarely used. W4IZ is one of the
busiest and friendliest repeaters in North Florida. Here are some
1. Be patient. Listen for awhile for the traffic to get an idea of what
subject matter is being transmitted and decide if you would fit into the
2. In between the repeater transmissions, give your call. In most cases, you
will be invited to join in. At first, keep your comments to the point and
brief. You will soon be a welcome member of the group. Keep expanding your
participation in these informal "rag chews".
3. Check this web site for a list of local nets. They are gatherings, some
formal, and some less formal, of Hams to pass information. Check into the nets
often. If the net is one where comments are solicited, think about your
response and relax when you speak.
4. Think about what you want to say and how it will make you appear on the
net. Repetitive fillerssuch as, there, you know, etc, are not a part of good
And above all, please remember that we all got into Ham radio because we enjoy
communicating with other Hams. We want you to join in!
This question has been asked in many ways and normally by
discrete means, but generally has the same inquiry:
"I came from 11 meters (CB radio), and I passed my Technician License
exam. Please tell what the real differences are and how to best make a good
transition to Amateur Radio. How can I learn more about just how to become a
respected Ham Operator?"
The Answer I have given:
Let me be the first to say that this is a sensitive subject with many Ham
Radio Operators, old and new. When the decision is made to obtain a Amateur
License, an important question has to be answered: "Why do I want to become a
licensed Amateur Radio Operator? Why not just invest my money in a larger
amplifier?" The answer will carry over into your ethical operation of Amateur
Radio for the future.
The Technical Transition:
- CB uses AM, which stands for Amplitude Modulation. That means the louder
you talk into the microphone, the louder you sound. This is not always so with
FM, which stands for Frequency Modulation, used in 2 meter operation, for
example. Talking very loudly simply distorts your voice, and in the case of
many repeaters, your voice is actually clipped to reduce the distortion. So
the answer is to speak solidly, but not loudly. Even with the use of
amplifiers in CB, Ham radio operators can legally produce much more Effective
Radiated Power. With this power comes the added responsibility for proper use.
The Operational Transition:
There are many things a new operator should learn and ponder before
transmitting for the first time, and then continue to remember the operating
practices to retain good habits.
What really happened to CB? Well many experienced Hams I have talked to all
say the same thing. 11 meters used to be a great band for communication and
emergency service work. The professional truck drivers used the radio as such
and CB was well respected.
The 1976, C.W. McCall's diatribe hit, "Convoy", went to the top of the
Billboard Charts. Then, in 1977, the movie, Smokey and the Bandit, was
released and the cult popularization took over. The sale of CB radios exploded
into a nation-wide fad and frenzy. There was very little instruction as to
their use and everyone wanted to emulate the movie with "Interpretive
Language". Then came more spin-off CB movies, and the curse of Interpreted
Interpretive Language means that a person makes up a cute phrase or code, to
be interpreted by the "in-crowd", so as to hide the meaning from others, like
the Police. That became rampant and the problem spread along with foul
language and poor operating habits by those without discipline or
understanding. This problem spread to such a proportion that many professional
drivers moved away from Channel 19 just for a civilized conversation. Many
decided that the more sophisticated Ham Radio band was the way to go. And most
of the CB people transitioning to Ham Radio vowed to never let the trashing
Ham Radio has a "Self Policing" mandate, so straight talk without cute names
and hidden meanings is preferred.
Which leads us right back to the operational ethics discussion of today. Hams
prefer straight forward, plain speaking exchanges. Coded, hidden meaning
transmissions are actually forbidden by law, but it takes the Operators to
enforce it and refuse to return a call to anyone who violates our operational
ethics. The same happens when we hear a new call, check for a valid license on
QRZ.com, and refuse to talk to persons without the proper credentials. We take
care of our own. That's who we are and why we shine in emergency situations.
Q-Codes? What are they? Well, they have been used for decades in CW (Morse
Code) to expedite the transmission of messages by that mode. Many CW Hams use
the Q-Codes on voice transmissions just because their minds actually think
that way in Ham Radio. Is it necessary or really desired in voice (phone)
transmissions? No. Do we respect the CW Operators who have used it most of
their lives? Yes. (And yes, this one is true. A good CW Operator, using
Q-Codes, can transmit more information in one minute that you can by voice in
Many Hams realize that our greatest potential is service to the community in
Emergency Communications. In that form of operation, short, brief
transmissions are desired. It is wise to practice that form even in more
relaxed casual talks. That is why a lot of Operators look at the following
examples, with scorn:
"KB9KIG, for I.D; for License Preservation; for Station Identification; in
accordance with FCC Regulations of the United State of America; this is Tom,
Tango-0scar-Mike", ad nauseum. Redundant-redundant error to say the least. We
all know why we give our calls at the beginning, end, and every 10 minutes of
a session. We all know common names, even on HF.
I suggest that everyone access the W4IZ Repeater link. There you will find
several perspectives on the proper operation of a repeater system. The text is
as well written as you will find anywhere. You will also find a section called,
How to Sound Like a Lid.
A "LID" is defined as a Ham using poor operational procedures. It is
meant to be light in nature, but is in reality a strong nudge to encourage
good operating practices.
So, in the end, what does all this mean and what is the goal? It is
simple. While maintaining the integrity of Amateur Radio, use common sense in
operation and leave a respected legacy for future Amateur Operators.
BUYING HAM GEAR
FAQ: Another question I am asked is, How is
the best way to buy Amateur Radio gear? What do I look for and how do I find
The answer I have given:
With all the equipment available, it can be mind boggling to a new Ham to make
the right selections. My New Ham Advisor section at
www.NOFARS.org on Buying Your First Radio is a good place to
start. With that said, lets go a bit farther with the details.
First, the purchase of equipment can be divided into three sections:
Equipment bought from a Dealer
2. Used equipment bought from Dealers or other Hams
3. Building your own.
BUYING NEW EQUIPMENT FROM A DEALER:
Buying from a reputable Dealer is arguably the safest and most reliable
way to get started. In addition to the Warranties, you can ask the salesperson
for advice. That advice may be self serving, but remember, Dealers invest in
stock that sell the best. Therefore, they tend to recommend good equipment
they have on hand and build good will with their new customer.
Some Dealer tips: Ask for used, but tested equipment, if you are interested.
Don't be afraid to ask for free shipping. Confirm there is no sales tax if you
are buying from an out of state company, and always ask for specials and
rebates. Also, do your homework and ask if they will beat the known price from
When talking with the Dealer, have a list of questions ready. That list should
include things like any other parts needed to complete the rig, recommended
upgrades for your particular project, and any tips or free documentation for a
BUYING FROM ANOTHER HAM OR FROM A HAMFEST TAILGATER(or is that TAILGATOR?):
There is one sure fire way to learn about new equipment, what works and
what doesnt, where to find the good deals, and network with other Hams. Join
and become active in a local Amateur Radio Club, like the North Florida
Amateur Radio Society (NOFARS). My New Ham Advisor colleague, Larry, NI4K, has
lived in various areas of the United States and has been active in Ham Radio
for many years. He has found that joining a radio group provides great
contacts when looking to find a good deal on equipment or needing help with
There are several ways to buy Ham Radio equipment from another Ham:
1. Get on local, weekly Nets. that allow on-air swapping of gear. Make an
announcement of what you are looking for.
2. Tell your group at a meeting what gear you need and someone may have just
what you want, or they will know where.
3. Go to a Hamfest, which is an advertised meeting of Hams who Tailgateand
sell out of the trunk of their car, or at a set up table. These items are
usually sold as-is, but I have found most Hams to be honest. After all, you
know their call sign and where they live in case you have a problem!
There are also major HamFests, like the one in Orlando, FL or Dayton, OH, that
have many large commercial vendors and others selling equipment. Those are
major shows that are worth the trip when you want to see a lot of equipment at
4. You can look on the Internet at places like eHam, QRZ, and eBay for
equipment. With those kind of sources, it is buyer beware.
BUILDING YOUR OWN EQUIPMENT:
It is interesting how Ham Radio has evolved. In the old days, you had to
build most of your own equipment. Today, however, most of the modern radios
are either designed to be replaced and not repaired, or are so complex, with
sandwiched circuit boards, etc, that it is difficult to work on them. This
would be especially true with the new Ham starting out with a 2 meter radio.
Still, there are many things a Ham can build on their own such as antennas. In
reality, running feed line and soldering connectors is something common in
todays Ham shack. Building antennas can be fun and creative. There are many
good sources of information from your local clubs, to the ARRL Antenna
Handbook, to general and specific information on the Internet.
One last piece of advice& Don't spend a lot of money on your first round of
equipment, unless you know specifically what you want. Buy a radio, work with
it and determine what you like and dislike, what additional features you would
like to have, and then look at upgrading the rig when the time is right.
SETTING UP YOUR FIRST HAM SHACK
Question: What all do I need to know, and what do I obtain
to set up my Ham Shack for the first time?
The answer I have given:
First of all, get up and running, then complete your set-up by refining
all the details to make your Ham Shack uniquely your own.
Lets start with the home set-up. Here are some items you will need for
your home Ham Shack:
2 meter or 2 meter/440 dual band radio. You could go big time and
start with a multi-band rig, but for this discussion, we will stay with the
basics as that is what most new Hams do. A good bet is a Mobile used as a
Base. (Don't forget 4 rubber feet on the bottom of the rig) (You can look
into earlier New Ham Advisor information at
www.NOFARS.org to learn more about radio selection.)
You will need an antenna. It can be an inside or outside antenna. It is also
important to get the right feed line (Coax). This will be discussed later.
You will also need a Power Supply. There are some variation and information
needed to make the proper selection. Lets start with that first:
THE POWER SUPPLY
Most all radios, because of their ability to be used
anywhere/anytime, use 12 volts for power. You must use a 12 volt power
supply. As an alternative, you could use a large storage battery and then
keep it charged, but that is usually only used as a backup. Please see my
previous article on Emergency Backup Power. When the lights go out in the New
What kind of Power Supply? Names like Alinco, Astron, Pyramid, Diamond,
Kenwood, MFJ, and Icom are names to look for. There are many others, but when
looking, make absolutely sure it is a filtered and regulated power supply,
suitable for Amateur Radio use. Others could be noisy, and don't work as
well. I have even heard of using a large Computer Power Supply, but those
sorts of things can be iffy.
How much Power Supply do you need? Think ahead and buy according to what you
can afford and what all you will do with it in the future. For example, a 50
Watt Mobile needs a comfortable 12 Amp supply. (Power Supplies are rated as
Peak and Continuous Amperage) Many prefer to move up to a 20 Amp unit in case
they want to run 2 radios or a Scanner, etc. They can also run an HF rig, up
to 100w, if needed. And yes, you can run more than one radio from a Power
Supply. I personally use 35 Amp Power Supplies with meters to watch and make
sure all is powered sufficiently. I have had many smaller units, but found
that I want plenty of power that will last a long time without being pushed to
the limit each time I transmit. I also power more than one radio at a time.
Remember, I only transmit on one radio at a time, so all works well.
In researching this article, I found there are many opposing opinions about
which power supply is best, and why. Here is what I have learned and what
experience I have:
LINEAR POWER SUPPLIES
These are the traditional units that use heavy transformers and can be
determined as such merely by weight. The tend to be stable, lasting a long
time by providing years of stable service. They do contain a Pass Transistor
that can eventually fail, if used to 100% capacity all the time, hence the
aforementioned suggestion of using a supply with power to spare. Linear Power
supplies can hum, and to some quiet shacks, that is a disturbance, but most
are pretty quiet. Some have fans for cooling.
SWITCH MODE POWER SUPPLIES
Many people don't know what these are, but in reality, almost all the new
electronics that have a plug-in power supply use this type.
So, one would assume this would be the obvious answer. Not so fast.
The high amperage needed for Ham Radio, in contrast to your basic weather
radio power supply, can make a difference.
Early Switch Mode supplies were found to be noisy and caused some
interference. What is Noise, anyway? Noise is radiated or conducted wideband
emissions that are received by sensitive radios. There was also talk of models
that went into failure mode and actually directed 120v AC right into your rig,
which could be auto-disaster. I am told that things have improved and the new
ones are safer and less noisy. School is not out on that one yet. It is easy
to tell if you have a Switch Mode supply because of their light weight.
If you want to take your radio out to the field for an event, the Switch Mode
is a lot lighter to carry.
How big to buy? With 2m or 2m/440 now reaching 75w, and the 100w mobile on
the horizon, I do not suggest anything less than 20 Amps. If your budget does
not allow, you can use a 50w mobile used as a base with a 12 Amp supply.
The New Ham Advisor suggests a supply in the 20 -35 - 50 Amp range that is a
name brand, regulated and filtered. If you choose a Switch Mode Supply, buy a
new one, then you should be assured of better RFI filtering.
"Setting up your first Ham Shack"
In Part I, we covered the Power Supply and now it is
time to talk about the basics of Coax Feed Line.
Which Coax is best to use for a particular radio set up has to be determined
by the individual situation and requirements of the radio. The Owner's Manual
sometimes gives good basic information. It sometimes is determined by the
quality desired within the budget of the operator. In general terms, 50 Ohm
Coax is used in Ham Radio. Using anything else may require some compensation
to balance the Feed Line.
The single most important concept to understand about Coax is the type to be
used. The higher the Frequency, the more the Coax must be "Shielded".
For frequencies in the HF Bands (below 30 Mhz), smaller, less Shielded Coax
may be used with no significant problem. However, for VHF/UHF, and for longer
runs, it is vitally important to use heavier, more shielded Coax.
Because of loss factors, any Gain you could get with a great antenna
may be partially or totally lost with poorly shielded Coax. The reality is
the more shielded Coax costs more money.
For 2m/440mhz, in a short run of 25' or under, smaller Coax, such as "Mini-8"
or RG 8x should be sufficient. This smaller diameter Feed Line is common in
short antenna runs for vehicular use, such as Magnetic Mounts. In HF, the
Mini-8 can also be used, as, at lower frequencies, "line Loss" is a lot less
But for runs over 25', for VHF/UHF, RG-8, which is a thicker Coax, should be
used. Mini-8 is about the size of a little finger, while RG-8 is more the
size of a thumb. Of course, the size of hands vary. Names such as Belden,
Jetstream, and Wireman are all good brands to look for.
What is the difference? If you cut into any piece of Coax, you will see a
Center Conductor, then one or more layers of Shielding, such as
wire mesh, aluminum foil, and foam to insulate the layers. These all shield
the center conductor from interference. There are also different qualities
for a given type of Coax. For example, Mini-8 can be bought with 95% or
better shielding, which is good, but can also be found with much less quality
shielding. That is why I will talk about concepts while letting you inspect
and inquire about any selected Coax quality and construction.
So, the question is asked, "How does someone make a long Coax Feed Line run,
for example, up a 200' tower, and not have a lot of line loss?" It's called
Heliax, a solid copper encased tube, also known as "Hard Line". Even
the end connectors are expensive!
“Setting up your first Ham Shack”
Connectors, Soldering, Testing, Sealing
In Part 2,
we talked about Coax. Getting all
the connections installed, tested and finally sealed is the next important
step to getting your first radio station setup properly.
basics.. PL-259 is the “Male” connector, found on many antenna Feed Lines.
SO-239 is the “Female” part of the connector.
This one is found on many of the radios.
The other connector used frequently is the double female, sometimes
known at the SO-243.
other connectors and adapters commonly used, such as the BNC, SMA and Reverse
SMA connectors. Each one has its
Below is an
excerpt on how to Solder the PL-259:
Soldering PL259 connectors is not always easy. Start by stripping back
about 1.5 inches (35mm) of the outer coating or sheath of the cable, taking
care not to cut too deeply and score any of the fibers of the conductive
braid. Leave around 0.5 inch (13mm) of the copper braid or shielding in place
and then remove about 0.5 inch (13mm) of the plastic core.
exposed central copper core. To do this, heat the core with the soldering iron
and apply a thin even coating of solder to it. Take care not to keep the
soldering iron on the conductor for too long otherwise the dielectric spacing
between the outer and inner conductors of the coax will melt. Once the cable
has cooled slide the inner part of the PL259 plug over the cable with a
screwing action until the copper core appears at the end of the center pin.
The trimmed shield will have become trapped between the core and the inside of
the PL259. The outer sheath or covering or covering of the coax cable will
ensure a snug fit and any protruding shielding should be removed with the
some practice, but is an important part of Ham Radio.
I also would suggest that if you are new, buying a cable with the
connectors already mounted might be a good bet.
It is also
important to test all Feed Lines before use and at any time there is a hint of
a problem, such as poor SWR readings or problems with receiving or
transmitting. Use a simple
Multi-meter and set it to OHMS or to the Continuity Buzzer setting.
There should be no continuity between the outer shell and the center
conductor. If there is, you have
a short and it must be cleared.
good suggestion is to purchase a good quality SWR (Standing Wave Ratio) Meter.
This should be the “Cross-Needle” type that shows the outbound or
“Forward” power vs. inbound or “Reflected” power.
The crossing of the two needles is the SWR.
The New Ham Advisor strongly recommends spending the money to buy the
best you can afford. The cheap
ones tend to be inaccurate and problematic.
who want to plan ahead and have an excellent meter, look into the MFJ 259
Antenna Analyzer. This device
costs considerably more, but in addition to SWR, there are many other
measurements that can be made with this device.
The Analyzer feeds a signal that does not require connecting and keying
the radio transmitter to obtain readings.
This device becomes a very handy tool for diagnostics and antenna
building in HF/VHF applications.
At an additional expense is the MFJ 269, which adds UHF to the mix.
is a roll type tar sealant that helps keep out moisture from your outdoor
connections. It can be obtained
from many sources from electronic stores to hardware stores.
A good tip is to wrap your connection in a layer of plastic electrical
tape first, then apply the Coax Seal.
If you have to remove the connection at a future date, the tape keeps
the connection much cleaner.
“Setting up your first Ham Shack”
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
final installment, putting all the finishing touches on the final Ham Shack
setup will be the focus.
place for the Ham Shack is probably something already planned, but operating
in a comfortable position, away from distraction, is certainly a key to the
enjoyment of Ham Radio. I
personally think the best chair in the house belongs in the Ham Shack.
If you have
young children, or visiting grandchildren, disconnecting the microphone when
the equipment is not in use is a good idea.
The same applies in your car with a Mobile rig, and also extends to
leaving the car in a repair facility.
If you have older children, and they become curious as to what you are
doing on the radio, get them involved!
Most people agree that Ham Radio is a family affair that can be a great
learning experience. We all know
that a significant percentage of new Hams are the kids of Ham Radio operators.
Power Supply in a place where you can watch the meters, if so equipped, or at
least have the AC plug in a place that can be reached in case of a storm.
Speaking of storms, please read previous articles on NOFARS.org such
as, ‘What to do when the lights go out’.
Having the ability to disconnect power and the outdoor antenna from the
radio is always a good thing.
about grounding: There are as
many opinions on grounding as there are experienced Hams, therefore, I will
not try to compete with the professionals on this subject.
I will say that common point grounding of all equipment is important in
addition to having an outdoor ground rod that is close to the Shack.
Please refer to information on the Internet and publications about
grounding for details.
your antenna: Again, there are
many resources for selecting the best method for choosing an antenna for your
particular needs. When mounting
an outdoor antenna, there are several choices from erecting a tower, using a
vertical pole, attaching an antenna to the Fascia board of a roof line, to
hanging an antenna from a tree limb.
The best advice would be to try for 20’ elevation or more.
The higher the unobstructed antenna, the better it usually performs.
If you are
not sure about exactly how much antenna gain you need, or which one works best
for your area to make good simplex contacts, and work all the area repeaters,
consult local Hams and compile a list of what works for them.
Correlate their relative position to your Ham Shack to come up with the
Backup: In addition to the ideal goal of having the ability to provide
communications in any situation, maintaining power to your operating position
is also important. Having a
battery powered light in your Ham Shack is a great idea.
The stick-up type fluorescent lights work well and are inexpensive.
Using a back-up battery is also a good idea, and, when you add an
Inverter to it, you can have the necessary power for such things as a small
fan, which can make your operation more comfortable in emergencies.
You can also listen to a monitoring radio, such as a scanner.
Think of what creature comforts you want during a power failure and add
them along the way.
If you want
to use an outside antenna, remember that an inside antenna, with a 2 way
antenna switch, is a good idea and covers you in the event of a storm that
makes the outside antenna unsafe to use.
A two way switch is relatively inexpensive.
Some of the switches, such
as the Daiwa type A/B switch, come with a ground lug that, when attached to
your Common Grounding Point, grounds the unused side of the switch.
To simplify, it is an A/B Coax Switch that grounds side A when side B
is in use.
finally, one of the most important items often overlooked is a pad
of paper and pens.
Writing down calls, local information, etc. greatly helps in the relay
of accurate information. The
practice of writing information gives the operator firm ground if an emergency
If you are
using a Mobile as a Base Station, be sure to put 4 good sized sticky rubber
feet under the Mobile to keep air circulating and allow for bottom loaded
speakers to work well.
your first Ham Shack is a lot of work, but rewarding for years to come.
Make it your own and show it off to everyone!