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Tips & Articles for new hams!

It's All In The Antenna!


There is a saying in ham radio that the biggest bang for the buck in equipment that could improve your signal is in the ANTENNA! I might add that what you choose to feed the antenna is also extremely important here, especially with VHF and above.

For example, if you are using 75 or 100 feet of RG-58 coax to feed your two meter or 70cm vertical, you are losing a significant part of your transmitted signal in heat dissapation. You are much better off with lower loss cable such as RG-8U or LMR-400. It is more expensive but worth the price. Otherwise you might constantly get reports of scratchy or noisy or weak signal.

Antennas for your base station can be homebrew or purchased commercially. The higher gain design the better, usually. That means your signal will travel further, gaining you access to more repeaters, or achieving a greater simplex range. Many hams start out by making their own 2-meter Jpole or some other type of medium gain antenna. Unless you are just trying to communicate locally around town or a few surrounding towns, avoid scanner-type discone low gain antennas. Go for GAIN!

There are some fairly in-expensive brands available at Home Depot or on-line such as Tram 1477 dual band 148/440MHz vertical medium gain antenna. A better choice would be a Diamond X300A which is 6.5dB gain (2M) and 9.0dB gain (70cm). The higher the gain the more expensive.

Quality Vs Affordabilty


I will not be an absolutist and declare that all cheap radios, such as Baofeng/BTECHs are very inferior and you would be better off with a Kenwood, Icom, or Yaesu. I do believe, however, that you almost always would have a higher quality radio and better receive sensitivity and selectivity, as well as better transmit audio with the latter mentioned manufacturers.

I have several Baofengs and Btechs I use for close communications and other uses, however I do not use them on a daily basis for a base or mobile rig. My Btech UV-5X3, though, is actually a pretty decent little HT. It does not seem that susceptible to intermod as the Baofeng UV5Rs. I have a BTECH UV-25X4 quad band mobile rig that is USELESS as a mobile in the car. The interference from passing wifi signals, security cameras and everything else is horrible. However, it makes for a decent backup for my base. Every now and then the National Weather Service/NOAA station bleeds over into my 2M channels, but otherwise, not bad in my home shack.

Many hams when first starting out with amateur radio will go the inexpensive route with the various Chinese-made rigs, due to affordability. Using an adapter, you can get better range hooking them up to external antennas. Sometimes they have poor audio. Other times, the audio is fine. If you buy one of the cheap rigs so you can quickly get on the air and enjoy the hobby, my advice is to still save up extra cash over time and purchase a better radio. Perhaps for a birthday or other celebration you can purchase a new mobile rig as base, a Yaesu or other brand that supports good old analog FM as well as the newer digital voice modes like System Fusion, DSTAR, and DMR. These models are more expensive, but worth it, in my opinion. There are still some dualband and single band FM rigs out there that are less expensive than the Fusion, DMR, and DSTAR rigs.

My favorite dualband rigs are my Yaesu FTM-300 and my older Yaesu FT-8800. I also have a Yaesu FTM-500 in my vehicle, which is really growing on me the longer I have it.

The Right Coax


"How many times do I have to tell you, the right tool for the right job!" chides Star Trek's Chief Engineer Scotty during Star Trek V movie. This applies to amateur radio as well. The tool I am referring to is your transmission cable.

Coax is a very popular transmission line, but not all coax is the same. There are different types and sizes of screwdrivers and they each have their own specific use. The same is true for coax. For VHF and higher frequencies, for instance, I use RG-8U or LMR-400 or better, and do not use RG-58 or RG8X because of their signal line loss on the higher frequencies. I do not even use them on 10 through 20M becuase I try to optimize my system. However, they are typically fine for 40M and lower frequncy bands. Here is a list of typical coax and their associated signal losses. REMEMBER: a 3dB loss is HALF your signal!

One final note... I will use RG-8X (mini) for portable use on HF and VHF when I am camping or at a park. The cable runs are usually less than 50 feet and the thinner easily manipulated cable works well for portable operations, in my opinion. For a Field Day with longer runs, I would go with RG-8U or better.