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Bilder

Good Starter Rig

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I am studying for the technician exam in two weeks. I tried the practice tests cold turkey and can score 70% with no study. I am sure the "Now You're Talking" book will give me the knowlege I need to pass with ease.

 

I am starting to save up for a radio. I will not have much money for starting out and was wondering what you all would advise for a good starter unit. I am thinking a handheld so I can take it around with me.

 

What brands/models are good for starters? Any that I should avoid?

 

Thanks for the tips.

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What brands/models are good for starters?  Any that I should avoid?

 

Thanks for the tips.

Glad to hear your studying is going so well. You'll have your license in no time.

 

When I first got my ticket in 1995, my first radio was a Radio Shack HTX-212 mobile (non-handheld) unit. It worked fine, but was a bit limiting in that it was only portable if you had a 12-volt supply to use with it.

 

When I got back into ham radio in January of last year, I bought a Yaesu VX-5r handheld tribander. Almost immediately, I was kicking myself for not going the HT route at the outset. Sure you don't get the same kind of power with an HT that you do with a mobile or base unit, but the convenience and portability more than make up for it.

 

The 2 meter and 440 MHz bands are very handy, with the wide-band receive being nice to have for listening to out-of-band signals (I work at a TV station and use mine to listen to the station's audio while on dinner break so I'll know if I need to get back in a hurry). I've only used the 6-meter capability a few times (not much activity here), but from what I've done with it, it works fine.

 

It seems that the most common complaint about the VX-5r is the complexity of programming it. Considering the number of features and the amount of capability that's been built into a pager-sized unit, I'm amazed at how easy it is to use. Yes, the optional Yaesu programming software is a bit less than stellar, but it's about on-par with the rest of the industry's programming software, and there are better programs out there on the Internet.

 

The standard lithium-ion battery provides full-power output for several hours of use, and recharges pretty quickly from the included wall-wart or optional drop-in charger unit.

 

The Icom T-90a is Icom's version of this radio, and both models are about equally represented in our local club. I've heard good things and no real complaints about either one.

 

Hope this helps answer your questions - anything else I can help with, just let me know!

 

-- Seamus

W4TQI

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I agree that an HT is the way to go as you will soon see how much there is to HAM radio, and something will pull your trigger, then you can start saving your pennies for the rig that gets you in that direction (that's where I am now.) Ebay has some deals on used HT's. I found a Yaesu FT51R with some accessories for $200. Works OK. I can hit repeaters with my 1/4 wave all over the city and with my rool-up J-pole, can get way out there. BTW, google the plans for this antenna. I made two, and I suck at electronics. They are a lot of fun and can get 2 dBi increase in gain over a 1/4 wave which will make your HT very nice to take with you on cache trips.

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Check out several HT's from several manufacturers, and get one that is simple and that YOU understand how to use. There is nothing worse than a newly licensed HAM getting a radio way beyond what he understands, getting frustrated, and never getting on the air. At whatever time you get to the point where you need to go beyond the capability of the simple radio, then you can always sell that and upgrade to another.

 

As far as brand, well, they all make good ones, it comes down to a matter of which one feels right to you.

 

73 and welcome to a great hobby,

 

Hank

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It's a little on the pricey side, but the Yaesu VX-7R deserves a good look. Very compact tribander--actually a quadbander--2M, 440, 6M, and 220.

 

Built like a tank--I've actually PURPOSELY dropped mine on the blacktop from shoulder-height on numerous occasions to demonstrate it's durability to friends. Barely a scratch.

 

Audio quality is good. Battery life is also good considering the unit's size, and the little bugger is LOADED with features.

 

IMHO, the best choice for the active Geocacher!

 

73's

Bill

(JettaJurk)

KB3KLQ

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My advice... get something simple - and that can use common batteries. Or pretty soon you will be carrying batteries for your cell phone, your handheld, your GPS, your flachlight, your camera.... on and on....

 

Standardize on one battery. Then carry a few spares, not a ton. Find a handheld that lets you use a AA battery pack. If everything is AA, you can even swap them around as needed. Other than my cell phone, everything else I carry is AA batteries. I carry two spare battery packs for my ICOM IC-W32A. Each holds 4 batteries. The radio runs over 20 hours on one battery pack. I can take one of the spare packs and use the batteries for the GPSr or whatever.

 

Any equipment that has a dead battery, especially if it is some special-size battery, is more useless than a brick. That is because when it isn't needed any more, you can just drop the brick!

 

Check the threads here for the topic "What do you use". It may give you some ideas.

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First, I'd recommend that you hook up with some hams or a club in your area. It can be a bit difficult to recommend a starter rig without knowing something of the local situation.

 

If you're in a hilly area or kinda in the boonies with few repeaters, you'll probably want a mobile as your first rig. An HT just doesn't have the power to reach anything. However if there are many repeaters, or area is relatively flat, then a HT will get out well enough that it's portability improves the usefulness and outweighs it's limited power.

 

The other question is what bands are useful to you? If no one is up on 440MHz in your area then there may not be much point in buying a dual-band unless you want to cross-band from HT to mobile to get out when hiking in remote area.

 

For an inexpensive first rig I've heard the VX-150 is a good one. Simple yet it does it's job very well. Nothing worse then getting a rig that picks up intermod. If you're going to lay out the bucks, I'd recommend a Kenwood TH-F6A.

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Been looking at the local club site and it looks like a good deal of the local nets and repeaters are in the 2 meter band, all but 2 are at 2200 feet or higher. Nearest one is a couple miles away by the looks of it.

 

I am leaning toward getting a used 2 meter handheld for starters. I think I can get one for under 75 bucks. I can hit the repeaters to get some distance for talking to folks farther out. There are packet nodes in the 145.01 and 147.96 freqs to play with too. Not sure what a packet is just yet, but hey, its there.

 

Here is a link with the freqs if you want so see:

 

Local club with net listings

 

Thanks for the tips so far.

 

Can I get some DX out of the 2 meter band? Or is the really long range stuff for the HF units?

Edited by Bilder

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You can occasionally get some DX on 2 Meters due to skip. You can use 2M to connect via Internet linked repeaters. To reliably get long distance Dx, you need at least 6 meters and probably will need to go to HF. This is what has me thinking of getting my General.

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Been looking at the local club site and it looks like a good deal of the local nets and repeaters are in the 2 meter band, all but 2 are at 2200 feet or higher.  Nearest one is a couple miles away by the looks of it.

 

I am leaning toward getting a used 2 meter handheld for starters. I think I can get one for under 75 bucks.  I can hit the repeaters to get some distance for talking to folks farther out.  There are packet nodes in the 145.01 and 147.96 freqs to play with too.  Not sure what a packet is just yet, but hey, its there.

 

Here is a link with the freqs if you want so see:

 

Local club with net listings

 

Thanks for the tips so far.

 

Can I get some DX out of the 2 meter band?  Or is the really long range stuff for the HF units?

Well, you'll find that "DX" is very relative.

On the HF bands, "DX" is referring to other countries, with hops of hundreds to thousands of miles.

On VHF and UHF, "DX" is quite a bit shorter, with ranges that will get you to other counties rather than countries (usually). Now, it is entirely possible to get some really impressive tropospheric ducting when conditions are right, which can allow you to communicate over hundreds of miles on a 2-meter FM transceiver, but these openings are pretty rare.

 

Our repeater here in Tallahassee occasionally comes alive with activity from Panama City further down the panhandle, and I have heard (and participated in) contacts from as far away as Ocala, Jacksonville, Orlando, Tampa Bay, and Baton Rouge, all achieved through ducting. Normal day-to-day operation is a bit less impressive, usually encompassing an area of a few dozen miles radius from your local repeaters. Simplex operation is highly dependent on the antennas and power levels being run by the parties involved, but is generally practical over a span of a few miles between your average mobile units running average antennas. This varies widely, as the "average" antenna can be anything from a ground-plane made out of coathanger wire to a 20-element beam on a 200-foot tower, and the "Average" radio for home and vehicle use is anything from an HT running between 1 and 5 watts to a 50 to 75 watt mobile rig.

 

It looks like you've got a good number of 2-meter repeaters available, as well as some 440 and a 220 machine. The VX-7r should allow you access to the 220 repeater. While the VX-5r will not transmit there, and wants to default to AM in that frequency range, it can be switched to FM mode to allow you to receive in that range, so you can at least listen to what's going on. You might wish to contact someone in your local club to see how much activity that machine sees during normal use. If your area is anything like mine, there are a handful of repeaters that are commonly used, and some that see almost no use at all. 220 is not a very commonly-utilized band in most of the US (hard and expensive to find radios that will work it), so it may or may not be worth the extra expense of a radio that can work the 1.25 meter band.

 

It's really a question of personal preference and budget. I'll second the idea of going to your local club's meetings and playing with as many radios as you can, asking opinions and twiddling the knobs.

 

As to the "packet" question:

Packet radio is a method of communicating between computers using the radio as the transmission medium. In order to make the leap from data to audio and back, you need a Terminal Node Controller (TNC). This can be a piece of hardware that operates a lot like an external modem or a software program that uses the digital signal processing capabilities of your PC's sound card to make the translation. I initially started with the PC sound card route, but have since borrowed a TNC from a local ham, as it frees the card up for other uses, and I never have to worry about accidentally transmitting normal PC sounds over the air.

 

The most common use for packet these days appears to be APRS (Automatic Packet Reporting System - with a lot of variation between "automatic/amateur" and "position/packet" depending on who you ask), on 144.390 MHz. This allows you to track other stations and be tracked using the coordinates provided by a GPS unit. Some limited packet activity still survives on the air, but it's at a far reduced volume as compared to several years ago before the Internet became easily available to virtually everyone.

 

BigRedMed: Get the General. I got one of the biggest thrills of my life when I talked to Russia on a kit-built radio putting 3 watts into an attic-mounted "stealth" antenna.

Edited by Seamus

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Anyone have any experience with Alinco brand radios? There is a ham up here selling his Alinco 190 with a couple spare batteries (AA pack and rechargable), charger, and after market antenna for 70 bucks.

 

Tempted to get it and save the hassle of shipping charges.

 

Was wondering if anyone has used this unit.

 

Made contact with the local club and will be attending a brunch tomorrow to meet some of them. Will have to get them into geocaching while they sell me on ham.

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Understand the Alnico is the lowest (i.e. cheapest) units around. Doesn't mean they aren't good, just you will find TONS of them used. they tend to gravitate toward first buyers, etc.

 

Got back into AR after 5 years..dug my old HT out (2Meter), and every Repeaters (save for a few) are all PL (CTCSS) coded. The Encoder boards run from $75 to $150 (inconceivable...from Princess Bride!!) Anyways, I ended up buying a Hong Kong 2 meter HT for $75 Shipped, with Full PL encode and decode. So, find out in your area (use online repeater gudes) if your Repeaters use PL (most do). Some have wierd offsets (1.025-), and require a HT with Memory, that can hold the wierd offset (usual is 600khz+_).

 

Hope that helps!

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It looks like you've got a good number of 2-meter repeaters available, as well as some 440 and a 220 machine. The VX-7r should allow you access to the 220 repeater.

If you're serious about 222, I don't think the VX-7R is a good choice. It can't even get to FRS power levels on that band.

 

However there are many more things to choose from to let 222MHz be a litmus test.

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Anyone have any experience with Alinco brand radios?

No experience, but I would rank Kenwood, Yeasu, and Icom as "Tier 1" companies. Alinco would be more like a "Tier 2". But that may be good enough. Check eHam.com for details on that radio.

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By the way when you do get an HT, immediately throw away the crap antenna that comes with it and buy a flexible 1/4 wave vertical. They come in SMA and BNC connectors and attach straight on to your radio like the stock antenna did. They are a bit pricey ($30 or so) but they will let you get out much better than that little stub that comes with the radio. With such an antenna on my VX-7, I can go down to 50 mW and still easily hit the local repeaters when I'm hiking around in the hills. From a hilltop I was also able to hit a repeater 100 miles away, full quieting, at 5 watts.

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By the way when you do get an HT, immediately throw away the crap antenna that comes with it and buy a flexible 1/4 wave vertical. They come in SMA and BNC connectors and attach straight on to your radio like the stock antenna did. They are a bit pricey ($30 or so) but they will let you get out much better than that little stub that comes with the radio. With such an antenna on my VX-7, I can go down to 50 mW and still easily hit the local repeaters when I'm hiking around in the hills. From a hilltop I was also able to hit a repeater 100 miles away, full quieting, at 5 watts.

And look up the plans for the roll-up Jpole antenna. Those really let you reach out and touch some one. They are fun to make and not very expensive (<10 bucks).

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I went ahead and bought the Alinco from the local. The price was right and it will get my feet wet.

 

Turns out it is the model 191, not the 190. Has a keypad and built in encoder.

 

Gonna build either a simple dipole or a Jpole for my house to improve signal. I noticed that the radio does not receive very well when the rubber duck is near my computer.

 

www.packetradio.com has some really cheap dual band mag mounts that seem to work well. One of the guys who gave me the test has a few and loves them. Seems like a deal at 12 bucks each.

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