NEW HAM ADVISOR
Mike Davis, N4FOZ
Jacksonville, Florida
 

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:  n4foz@bellsouth.net        PHONE: 904-551-5699 9am-9pm any day of the week.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++


PART ONE

 

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.
 


+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

 

PART TWO
 

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 Ham Radio.

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, and J-poles.

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 antenna.

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.
 


 

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++


PART THREE

 

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 emergencies.

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 stores)

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!

 

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

 

PART FOUR

 

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 about:


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 week.

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.


146.760

146.880

147.315 (127.3)

145.450 (West Jacksonville)


146.460 (SIMPLEX)
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)


147.195 (118.8)
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.

145.210     

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

146.52 (SIMPLEX)
This is the national calling frequency used throughout the USA.

147.015  (127.3)

147.315  (127.3)

Note: This is not a complete list.  Please feel free to provide updated information.

OPERATIONAL TIPS:

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.


 

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

 

PART FIVE

 

A SHORT LIST OF RESOURCES USEFUL TO HAM RADIO OPERATORS:

NOFARS LINKS
 

 
AES - Orlando, FL   1-800-327-1917
A large supplier of Ham Radio equipment.  Florida residents must pay sales tax.


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 800-305-4805
 
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 information.

www.W5YI.org   This is another very helpful and knowledge base for Ham Radio.

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 Modulator:


 

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 recommendations:

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 conversation.

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 ham etiquette.

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!

 

.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.

GETTING RESPECT

 

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 Language proliferated.

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 happen again.

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 5 minutes.)

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.

In conclusion:

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 it?

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:

1. New 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 another competitor.

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 good installation.

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 solving problems.

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 one time.

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 Ham Advisor.

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"

PART II
 

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 per foot.

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”

Part III

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.

 

CONNECTORS:

Some 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.

There are other connectors and adapters commonly used, such as the BNC, SMA and Reverse SMA connectors.  Each one has its own importance.

Below is an excerpt on how to Solder the PL-259:

(From: Radio Electronics.com)


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.

Tin the 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 sharp knife.

It takes 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.

 

TESTING THE CONNECTIONS:

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. 

Another 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.

For those 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.

COAX SEAL:

Coax Seal 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”

PART IV

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

 

In this final installment, putting all the finishing touches on the final Ham Shack setup will be the focus.

Selecting a 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.

Locate the 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.

A word 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.

Mounting 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 best solution.

Emergency 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.

And 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 arises.

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.

Setting up 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!

 


 

 

 

 

 

 
BALANCED MODULATOR ONLINE NEWSLETTER NEW HAM ADVISOR GETTING STARTED IN HAM RADIO HAMFEST MEETINGS & EVENTS
ROSTER ARES FCC TESTING W4IZ REPEATER SKYWARN
MEMBERSHIP INFO WEATHER REPORTING PHOTOS  LINKS CONSTITUTION
WACKY WINGDING NET HRA WORLD    HOME