Equipment & getting started suggestions for new folks
I had this conversation about 3x on Saturday at the Ham & Eggs run. So let's have it again on these here forum, inviting others to pipe in with more comments.
The is specific to the entry-level amateur, who has been intrigued by all this talk of a "better than CB" communication solution for use when enjoying their Toyota 4x4. So congratulations, you've crossed the most difficult threshold already, that being awareness of ham radio. :D
Your next essential step needs to be understanding the material. Not only will this prepare you for the test (which you must pass before you can transmit) but the terms and language used in the exam prep will make it easier to understand the different radio options. This has already been well laid out for you... just read this thread http://www.risingsun4x4club.org/foru...ead.php?t=5863 a few times and you're there.
I like the practice exams on www.qrz.com, but as you'll find there are others out there as well. Take a look at when the next test is available in your area by going here and typing in your zip code. http://www.arrl.org/find-an-amateur-...e-exam-session A typical exam path (one that most here have followed) is figure out when/where you want to take the test, then set aside some time to study up beforehand, until confidence with the practice exams is where it needs to be.
But you need to pass the test. You can't transmit without a call sign. you need to pass the test.
So there are two basic types of radios that you should consider, as I see it; HT's and mobile rigs. Here's your layman definition:
HT's are handy-talkies, or hand-held radios. They are battery powered, they can clip to your belt, get tossed in a back pack, and are easily portable. They are the worst at transmitting (very low power, and poor antennas), some of the most difficult things in the world to learn to operate, they require tons of accessories to make them more useful (chargers, hand mics, battery packs, external antenna adapters, etc.) and are easily lost. But they're sweet for having around camp, spotting vehicles, and monitoring traffic. My opinion is everyone should have a cheap one, just because you can. Here's my favorite, the Yaesu VX-3r.
Mobile Rigs are dedicated radios you're going to bolt to your truck. These are superior to HT's in every single way, except that you can't easily rip them out of the vehicle. But they will receive better, transmit better, and are generally easier to learn to operate. Here's a picture of a Yaesu FT-2900, which is a rock solid, good quality mobile radio:
My recommendation/opinion: Spend your money on your mobile rig. Get a solid radio & a good antenna. If you still want to play, then consider an HT. But a cheap HT & a good mobile setup is infinitely superior to an expensive HT and a crappy mobile setup.
We could spend more time on antennas than radios, as there's frankly just as much to learn. My recommendation is get lots of them :D and experiment, you'll probably get 2 or 3 before you decide on the "one."
The first thing you need to decide is what type of mount do you like: PL-259 or NMO. This is important since it dictates what types of antennas you can use, and can you swap them out freely. So when you look at antennas, note how it's one or the other. PL-259 is what your CB probably has, while NMO is a larger diameter, more like 1". Here is an NMO Cable:
Here is a typical PL-259 cable:
Mounting your antenna has lots of options as well- on your bumper, your fender, rear hatch, your roof... each one has its own +'s and -'s, so what to do depends on your situation. THEY ALL WORK. NO MATTER WHAT IT'S GOING TO BE WAY BETTER THAN YOUR CB. So don't sweat this too much. However, you'll come to learn that there are in fact performance differences with antenna locations. Again, you may need to experiment, or better yet post up and start a thread about it... the group here loves these threads.
My setup? Side of the fender, passenger side. It's out of the way pretty much all the time unless I'm changing my air filter. It's the second best ground plane (best is roof). It's fixed to the fender so it doesn't smack the roof or roof rack when I open the hood (unlike a lip mount), a 1/4-wave antenna lets me keep in installed all the time and still get in the garage, and I keep a full-length antenna under the back seat for trips, and I rarely notice it while driving. It's my 4th location and the one I'm sticking with.
Great thread, Nakman, and I look forward to the additions from the experienced ham folks. Thanks.
Great thread, Tim. I hope to learn more as I go. I'm pretty quick to call/PM/text Nakman whenever I have a HAM question. My setup and mounting location are where they are because I copied his. Nakman has offered to help with my setup (and others), lent me antennas to try, and been a steward to those of us new to the hobby.
DaveinDenver, who I've never even met has been helpful in answering my questions as well.
I am a total novice to HAM radio. I've had my license for about a year now. My setup is a Yaesu FT-7900, a Diamond NR72BNMO antenna, a cheap $10 speaker and a Gamiviti antenna mount. I purchased everything brand new from HRO and spent a little under $500. It's more radio than I probably need and I'm still not very familiar with it. It's one of those things that you need to use often to become familiar with. Every once in a while I fire it up and have a conversation, but I mostly use it on club runs.
The main reason I don't use it more is that its pretty confusing to me. I've been through the manual a few times. I even programmed some frequencies but I can't figure out how to pull them back up. I'm no stranger to talking on frequencies and I understand proper phraseology, but there is a lot of HAM radio talk that is way over my head. The more you understand, the more fun you can have.
All of that being said, I've become a HAM snob. I hate using the CB anymore. The sound quality between the two is equivalent to sitting in a quiet room face to face with someone, or a long piece of string and two soup cans.
So I've agreed to host a "ham & chips" session at this year's 100's in the Hills event in Ouray.. which means a dozen 100 series guys will be looking to me for advice in how/why to get into Ham radio. Any suggestions? Any new epiphanies from any of the newer operators here?
My mobile is a Yaesu FTM-350 paired with a Diamond NR73B NMO antenna. Antenna is currently mounted on the driver's side front corner of my roof rack. I'm using the Diamond K550 antenna mount which lets my fold down the antenna if needed. It isn't motorized but I can reach it by sticking my hand out the window. I got the 350 so I could have APRS functionality and it gives my wife some piece of mind knowing she can look up my location on a web site.
I've got the main unit of the 350 mounted under the driver's seat and I hacked up a mount for the faceplate. I put it up on the roof just above the rearview mirror. I don't normally leave the mic plugged in all the time as I don't have anywhere convenient to store it. I need to go see if I can find a clip to clip it the visor or something.
For an HT, I have the Yaesu FT-270. I swapped out the rubber ducky antenna for Diamond's RHF40. There was a significant improvement in range and since the antenna is flexible, I can fold it up and still have it fit in either my ski or mtn bike pack.
Programming a Yaesu on the actual radio is like descending into the 7th circle of hell. Definitely pick up the the programming software and associated cables from RT. HRO carries them. This will make your life much easier until you make a change on the radio, forget and then sync it with the software blowing away the addition you just made and scratching your head as to why the APRS is no longer working. Not that I've ever done that or anything...
I have maybe a dozen or so frequencies and repeaters programmed in. Evergreen and Thorodin can get busy and it's fun for me to just listen. I learn a lot that way. I've tried to program in repeaters that will give me coverage wherever I may take the truck so I also have a few added for the Durango/Telluride area.
Forgot to add. The RT software is Windows specific so if you're a Mac person, like me, you have to wade into the world of virtual machines to make it work. It's not that difficult, you just need a copy of VMWare Fusion or Parallels. Since my day job has me working in multiple VMs pretty much constantly, I'm more than happy to offer help in getting that set up if anyone needs it.
Excited to see this develop.
FWIW, the FTM-350 is handy because it has a mic port on the face and the body, you can use either although it's probably not a good idea to use both simultaneously. You can extend the jack using standard Ethernet cabling and a female-to-female coupler.
I hang my mic in an empty slot on the dash using one of Nakman's nifty dealies, with an Ethernet cable running from the body of the radio under the seat up to the console and the mic plugs in the middle with the cable headed down instead of up to the face. Some people have made a little bulkhead for the coupler so that the mic plugs into the dash like it's a factory option, although I have not gone to that length yet. Maybe on the new truck I will do that. Although I'm waiting to see what the FTM-400 looks like and costs, since the FTM-350 is discontinued.
I have the face mounted above my rearview mirror as well, with the control cable routed down the A pillar and under the door sill.
CHiRP works on the FTM-350 very well and I have converted pretty completely over to it for all my radios. It makes copying and pasting memories even between brands very easy, no conversion to CSV or anything. I still use the RT Systems cables, since I had most of them anyway. This set up also lets me use Mac OS X instead of Windoze. RT uses FTDI USB chips and editing the kext file to support all the cables is super simple.
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