Well, that great day finally came and your license is in your hand. You have a call sign and the desire, now what equipment do you spend your hard earned money on.
You have been to one or the other stores in the area that sell ham gear or looked at the catalogs and seen all the snazzy offerings from Kenwood, Yaesue and Icom. Where do you start and how much to spend??
First take a deep breath and sit down. Make a list of the things you want in your first radio. If your interest is 2 meter, your first thought is a handi talkie, maybe one of new dual banders. OK, lets be honest. If you can get on the local repeater with a basic radio, do you really need all the bells and whistles found on the newer HT's. Is your local repeater carrier or tone access? Do you need autopatch capability? What's the other band for crossband repeating? Are you good with Techno whizbang things like the VCR? Pick that first radio with these things in mind.
One of the things you look over when you are buying that first radio is that you tend to stay in the same area, talk to the same bunch of people on the repeaters, and stay on the same frequencies most of the time. Get a radio that will do the job for now. Its going to take awhile to get over "microphone fright" until you have found a few people from the local repeater crowd that you want to talk to or have common interests with. Don't forget to look at the used equipment that's available before buying that new dual bander. When looking at used equipment ask to see it demonstrated or put on the air. No one will mind and we usually enjoy showing off our proficiency.
Many of the newer radios have to be programmed from the keypad with multi- keystroke commands, having the instruction book open and three hands. If you are not good with these things, seek advice on the model you are considering buying. Some of them are easier to use and program than others. If you have a friend who is a ham, seek his advice before buying that first radio, and don't be afraid to ask for help (for most of us this is easier said than done).
Other things to look for in a HT are items like: will it take an external 12 volt DC voltage? Can you run it from a car battery? How much are the NiCad battery packs, and does the radio have an battery pack that uses Alkaline batteries like "AA's"? If youre on a trip and forget the charger, you can buy the double A cells anywhere.
Other than the radio remember that a good antenna is your best investment. You have to be able to hear the other station before you can talk to them. Although the rubber duck looks impressive, its really not much of an antenna. Remember that you can you can trade antenna gain for power. For every 3 dB of antenna gain you double your effective power. So, a 2 watt radio with an external antenna that has 3 dB of gain is about equivalent to a 6 Watt transmitted signal. If the antenna has 6 dB of gain, that's 2 watts from the radio doubled to 6 watts, and 6 watts doubled again to 12 watts.
Remember to monitor the frequency first prior to calling a "CQ". In most cases, the statement over the air that "This is (CALL SIGN) monitoring" is enough to get several responses. Our radio spectrum is a shared resource. Use it wisely lest it be taken away.
Regardless of your buying decision, most of us soon find that the radio is a welcome and trusted companion whether its used just rag-chewing on the way to work or school and are grateful the first time it brings help in a crisis. Have fun and enjoy your privilege, you earned it.
Copyright 2005 Gerald Crenshaw WD4BIS. All rights are reserved.
Permission in advance is granted to those who use this for non-profit Amateur Radio club newsletters as long as it is used unmodified including this copyright notice and that notice is given to the author via email (email@example.com). In addition, please forward a copy of any newsletter this appears in to: Gerry Crenshaw WD4BIS, c/o GARC, 1027B W. Austin St, Garland, TX, 75040
Web site maintained by Janet Gobeille Crenshaw (WB9ZPH)