Many new hams ask what a good cheap radio is to start with after getting their license. People often recommend Handheld radios to start with. That is the worst thing to start with. HT’s aka handheld radios don’t cut it they don’t have the power output. usually no more than 5 watts and have barely anything for an antenna.
A mobile rig us usually a far better choice but the cost usually pushes people back to the HT option. Also, mobile rigs are usually not a complete all in one solution. Added complexity. However, the added cost and complexity is worth it. Often new hams are easily frustrated when they get on the air the first time. and couple that with a weak signal and poor reception and they are left feeling like they wasted their time.
So, what I recommend it the RT98 Mini Mobile Radio kit from Retevis. It is a complete kit for installing in a car or at your desk. Yes, Retevis calls it the farm tractor bundle. they should make another bundle called the NOOB Ham radio bundle. The only thing missing is a power supply if you are installing it at your desk. but you can easily improvise that. Or buy the Alinco DM-330mv
THIS ARTICLE IS IMCOMPLETE. however, i published it as many times i don’t get back to them to for some time.
Getting your ham radio license is easy than you thing. The first thing you need to know is that you need to be licensed before you can transmit on the air. There are exemptions to that. The main exemption is that if you have a licensed ham over seeing your operations nearby and they have agreed to allow you to use their callsign when they are present. Second you really need to know the rules to operate legally. Meaning you will need to know things like proper operating frequencies/bands, power levels, modes (FM, AM, SSB, etc). Other things like basic RF safety related to RF exposure, Who you can and can’t talk to or in rare instance what you can’t talk about.
There are three license levels Technician, General and Extra. Each class grants you increasing frequencies you can operate on. Tech will be enough to get you started but you will want to upgrade quickly as the tech license limiting when it comes to HF communications. But it’s great for those that want to talking locally on 2 meter and 440 repeaters. These are the bands typically use for mobile use in cars and during daily commutes. they are also often the bands that are use to organize emergency operations in local communities.
The General and Extra classes are where the long range communications come it. due to propagation caused by the E and F layers of the ionosphere. Not going to explain that here as the study guides will cover that in detail. But propagation is critical to long range coms. This is the type of communication you often see in movies like Frequency.
If you are looking for resources to help guide you there are many available online for free and others that have a minimal cost. the one i used was Ham Tests Online. I liked them even though they weren’t free as they tracked your progress on individual topics and showed you were you need to study more. They only charge $24 but are well worth it. You can even use there site free for just taking practice test.
Another online practice test site is QRZ they have a section for practice exams but on line Ham Tests Online they just hit you with the question and tell you if you got it correct or not. Ham Tests Online will actually give you and explanation of the the correct answer. Which is the better way to learn it. You don’t just want to to be memorizing the answers you want to understand why they are correct and how they relate to radio operations. After all you probably going to be in this hobby for a long time so building a good foundation based on knowledge not memorization is important. But don’t be afraid to fall back on straight memorization just to past the test if you are having issues. You can always learn what you don’t understand later. It’s a hobby not and exam to see if you are qualified for a job. Make sure you enjoy it.
There are several great books as well. The books I used for each of my exams were the ones published by the Arrl. They have a license manual for each class of license and they have Q&A book for each that completely cover the exam question pools.
Other books i hear often recommended are from the Gordon West series. This series is just as good as what the ARRL puts out.
Additionally the ARRL publishes the question pools on their site. They also provide a whole host of other info to help you get licensed including how to find an examiner either in person or online. (Due to co vid exceptions have been made to the rules for taking your exam which allow taking it remotely say over Zoom). They also have an online course catalog. Arrl is probably the single best place to get info on getting licensed and the hobby in general
Other info you may need before going for your exam. You should have already registered with the FCC for a FRN number. i believe that is the link to register for your FRN. Many exam sites will not let you take an exam without having registered with the fcc first. This is done for your benefit as you social is used as part of the registration. Exam sites don’t need to be worrying about security issues posed by having anyone’s ssn. So preregister they will not let you use one of their PC’s on site to register on site either as that is just as risky an it’s unlikely they will have a pc anyway. I don’t recommend you use your cell phone to do it at the last minute either. The books mentioned above will provide more info on this.
Arrl also has a page where you can search for local clubs. More than likely you will have many local clubs near you that you can start attending meetings, open houses or event to get to know other hams an become familiar with the hobby. Do NOT be afraid to visit them even if you are not sure you are interested in the hobby. You will find that the ham community is very welcoming of outsiders and will be very willing to work with you to get you get licensed or once you are, even help out with station setup. it often happens that there are hams that don’t even operate but just enjoy supporting those who do at clubs and events like fieldday. (that and article all to it’s own.) But field day happens twice a year once in January called winter fieldday and gain in June. these events and others are were hams practice contacting others all around the world to keep their skills up incase of emergency. But no it’s not all that serious. It is however a whole lot of fun. And usually includes great food.
Another great resource is the web and Youtube/Odysee. Some of the bigger channels are:
This article assumes you are already licensed have a rig, antenna and power supply.
Keep it simple
Use a Di-Pole antenna like a G5RV (you can get it here)Avoid wip or mobile antenna’s for now. The reason for the dipole is it is easy to setup and very forgiving. Even if not properly setup you still should be able to make contacts.
Open your squelch completely. You should hear static all the time.
Turn your RF Gain all the way up (later on you will learn when you need to adjust the RF gain and the squelch)
Do not try to operate HF in a mobile. Yes it works but until you know what to expect if just complicates things.
Do some listening for a bit at first. get used to how things sound.
Look up your local ham radio club. see when they are meeting and pay them a visit. Most are very friendly and will be willing to help you get started. But you probably already know this as I’m assuming your have your license and call sign already. Meaning you must have taken you ham test at probably a local club.
Visit the Arrl.org website for a wealth of information about getting started and many advanced topics.
20 and 40 meters are probably the best bands to start with.
Don’t let grumpy people scare you away. But do be polite to them as once you get past the grump they do have a lot to share.