I passed my Technician Exam, now what?
First of all, CONGRATULATIONS and welcome to this fun and rewarding hobby and service! You’re probably trying to decide if you want a mobile radio, or an HT or an HF rig and which one to choose. Then you’ll be wondering what kind of antenna to choose, and whether you will build it or buy it, and where can you buy good coaxial cable? Then you’ll start wanting to explore different operating modes such as APRS, PSK-31, CW using Morse Code, etc. By finding this article, you have taken a step in the right direction and I’ll do what I can to share my advice on the subject. If your questions aren’t answered in this article please feel free to comment, but you’ll have to register at this site first.
Disclaimer: This page is an editorial by me, Chris Seright, KE5ZRT. Everything on this page is solely my opinion (except comments made by others, which are their opinions). I have strong opinions, and the views expressed here are mine, and not necessarily those of the Panhandle Amateur Radio Club (PARC) or the PARC ARES group. Furthermore–I AM NOT AN EXPERT–I still have a lot to learn!
A little about me: My beautiful wife KE5ZRU, my amazing son KE5ZRS, and I passed the Technician Exam on 3/9/2009 so that we could convert from evil storm chasers (those who are self-serving for profit, excitement, or otherwise) to become volunteer storm spotters with the SKYWARN program associated with the National Weather Service–we still get VERY excited about tornadoes though! I did not think that I would enjoy the amateur radio hobby and was only interested in the amateur radio service, but we quickly became involved with the radio club and learned that the hobby is extremely challenging and fun. My wife and I have since upgraded to Extra Class licensed operators. We enjoy contesting, PSK-31, EchoLink, the challenge of building antennas and community service endeavors such as providing communications for the Bike MS ride, the Tour de’ Cotton fundraiser, and working with the scouts. My wife is the Volunteer Examiner Liaison, and I have been the PARC Vice President for two years now. I am now a regular instructor of “Ham Cram” study sessions for the Technician License, we are active volunteers with the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES), and we are working to assist the Texas Militia with developing a communications plan using ham radio and other communications methods. To summarize, we have enjoyed and become much more involved in ham radio than we ever expected and I suspect that you will too.
What should I do first?
Simple answer: Network.
Visit and consider joining a local radio club. A radio club provides contact with local radio amateurs where you can get help building a station. Clubs make ham radio more visible in the community by organizing activities such as hamfests, Field Day, and scout radio merit badges. You can often borrow infrequently used test equipment such as antenna analyzers for building and tuning antennas, etc. Currently in Amarillo there is one club: the Panhandle Amateur Radio Club. I am biased, but I think the PARC serves the Amarillo area fairly well. However, I would not be opposed to seeing couple of more special interest clubs in the area focusing on youth activities, or contesting, etc. Remember from your Technician studies: it only takes 4 hams to start a club!
Social networking is great too. You are welcome to friend me on Facebook by searching for Christopher Seright, or you can follow me on Twitter where my handle is @Chris_Seright. Check my friends and followers lists for access to local, nationwide, and worldwide hams. You might also join the High Plains Amateur Radio Group on Yahoo. HPARG is not directly associated with the PARC, but many PARC members are also members of the Yahoo group.
Consider joining the Amateur Radio Relay League. Founded in 1914, The Amateur Radio Relay League (ARRL) is the national association for amateur radio in the USA. ARRL members enjoy services and benefits for a variety of interests and activities pursued by hams. ARRL publications, news, and educational resources help support individuals and local radio clubs. Additionally, you will receive a monthly subscription to the QST magazine that includes a wide variety of articles of interest to hams.
What are my Technician operating privileges (frequencies)?
- 80 Meters a.k.a. HF
- 3.525-3.600 MHz CW only
- 40 Meters a.k.a. HF
- 7.025-7.125 MHz CW only
- 15 Meters a.k.a. HF
- 21.025-21.200 MHz CW only
- 10 Meters a.k.a. HF
- 28.000-28.300 MHz CW, RTTY/Data, 200 watts PEP max
- 28.300-28.500 MHz Phone, 200 watts PEP max
- 6 Meters a.k.a. “The Magic Band”, VHF
- 50.0-50.1 MHz CW only
- 50.1-54.0 MHz CW, Phone, Image, MCW, RTTY/Data
- 2 Meters a.k.a VHF
- 144.0-144.1 MHz CW only
- 144.1-148.0 MHz CW, Phone, Image, MCW, RTTY/Data
- 1.25 Meters
- 219-220 only for fixed digital message forwarding systems on a secondary basis with some extreme restrictions–do some more research before attempting to transmit on this band!
- 70 Centimeters a.k.a UHF or 440
- 420.0-450.0 MHz CW, Phone, Image, MCW, RTTY/Data
- 33 Centimeters
- 902.0-928.0 MHz CW, Phone, Image, MCW, RTTY/Data
- 23 Centimeters
- 1240-1300 MHz CW, Phone, Image, MCW, RTTY/Data
- Higher Frequencies (All modes)
- 2300-2310 MHz
- 2390-2450 MHz
- 3300-3500 MHz
- 5650-5925 MHz
- 10.0-10.5 GHz
- 24.0-24.5 GHz
- 47.0-47.2 GHz
- 75.5-81.0 GHz *temporarily suspended
- 119.98-120.02 GHz
- 142-149 GHz
- 241-250 GHz
- All above 300 GHz
What type of radio should I buy?
Mobile, HT, or Fixed Station? That answer depends entirely on what you plan to do with the radio and how radio fits best into your life, but here are some things to consider.
Hand Held Transceivers- I believe that the majority of new hams purchase a hand-held transceiver (HT or handy-talkie) as their first radio. An HT is relatively inexpensive as compared to a mobile or fixed station and is very versatile. A new HT can be purchased for as little as $50 for a Chinese dual-band or as much as $500 for a high-end model. With an external antenna you can use an HT in your home or car, and you can carry it with you wherever you go whether you are at work, at a ballgame or shopping.
Most HT’s have similar features for scanning, memory storage and auto repeater offsets. Some are waterproof, and some have alphatag capabilities which allow you to name the frequencies you have stored into memory so you don’t have to memorize what the frequencies are. I personally despise the “micro” HT’s which are typically the size of a pack of cigarettes, and transmit 0.5-2.5 watts, because of the complication in programming them. Many of the buttons have multiple functions and can get confusing. Additionally, the micro radios often do not have a full direct entry keypad for frequency selection which can be frustrating too. I recommend a traditional full-size “brick” radio which will generally transmit 5 watts. Furthermore, I recommend a dual-band that is capable of 70cm AND 2M (UHF/VHF) radio at a minimum. If you purchase a single band UHF or VHF only radio you will be missing half of what is going on and only be able to access half of the local repeaters. There are also tri-band and quad-band radios available which have capabilities on different combinations of 6m, 2m, 1.25m, 70cm, 33cm & 23cm.
If you purchase an HT for your first radio as I did, you will quickly realize that you need a better antenna and more power for reliable contacts. Other than adding an expensive RF amplifier to your HT, there is not much you can do to add power. Upgrading your factory rubber-duck antenna is inexpensive though and you will be glad you did. For $20-$30 you can get a 10″-19″ upgrade HT antenna. You’ll need to determine what kind of connection is on your antenna though. It may be a male or female SMA, BNC (my preference), or other type, so pay attention when ordering your upgrade. If you are using your HT mobile, you will want an external antenna. A mag-mount antenna for your HT is relatively inexpensive, and will be an improvement over the rubber-duck, but mag-mounts are not safe (they can become missiles while traveling at highway speeds) and are not as effective as a permanently mounted NMO type mount. It is also nice to have a mobile power supply for your radio that will plug into the 12v outlet or cigarette lighter. Additionally you will need a hand mic for mobile operation so the HT does not obstruct your field of view while driving and so the antenna coax and charger cable aren’t getting tangled in the steering wheel. After all of these upgrades for mobile use, it is probably just as inexpensive and easier to install a regular full power mobile rig!
Mobile Radios- If you have a family and you work full-time, your operating time at home may be very limited. Therefore you may operate mostly while driving your vehicle to and from work or while traveling. In that case I would recommend purchasing a mobile radio as your first radio. If you chose to buy an HT first, you’ll eventually decide to buy a mobile rig anyway, most likely sooner rather than later. There are tons of mobile radios to choose from and they all have different features to compare. So which mobile rig should you choose?
If you are going to enjoy this hobby as much as I have, then maybe you should go ahead and bite the bullet and buy a top of the line, all mode, all bands mobile rig for the ability to not only talk on UHF/VHF but also HF. If you don’t get a radio like this, you will wish you had later when you realize how restricted you are with your dualband radio. As a technician, you only have HF phone privileges on 10m which is a sporadic band right now, and I don’t recommend attempting Morse Code while driving! But it only takes a little more studying to pick up that General ticket for a lot more HF phone privileges. For ease of operation, installation, and HF tuning while mobile, I strongly suggest the Yaesu FT-857D radio with the ATAS-120 auto-tuning “screwdriver” antenna.
If you are not interested in mobile HF operation, or the price tag on a rig like that is a little out of your range, then at a minimum you should purchase a UHF/VHF dual-band radio rather than a single band rig for the same reasons I mentioned while discussing hand-held radios… more discussion soon on the quad band Yaesu 8900 (the ultimate Technician radio!), Kenwood D-710 (awesome for APRS), Icom 208 (simple to use and cheap), Yaesu FT-7900 (cheaper but a little more complicated to use)
Question: All that APRS, DSTAR, all that kind of stuff, what is it and does everyone use it and should I buy a radio with all that stuff on it? I’ve read about it all on wikipedia and still don’t really know what it is.
APRS stands for Automatic Packet/Position Reporting System. It links a GPS with ham radio to send out your location over ham radio frequencies into a digital repeater which is linked to the internet. With APRS you can see the location of other ham radio operators and they can see your location, either online at www.APRS.fi or on their GPS units as waypoints. It is an invaluable tool for storm spotting so the NWS can see our location in real time. APRS is also good for search and rescue efforts, and in public service efforts such as Bike MS so that the event coordinators can see in real time the location of key positions within the race such as the lead riders or the tail riders or the locations of the bike mechanics or the medic on a google map. I personally run APRS in my vehicle and enjoy it very much. I can also see where my son has been in my car and how fast he was driving! I run a Kenwood D710 that makes APRS very easy but it is an EXPENSIVE radio. There are cheaper ways to get setup in APRS, and if you are interested I can give you a recipe.
Subjects I intend to address in this article:
Fixed Station Radios
Getting on the Air (phone simplex)
Repeater Access and Ettiquete