Amateur radio information (Colorado Springs-centric)

Some information for those wanting to get into amateur radio

I'm going to do a lot of oversimplification here, so those experienced hams that may be reading this, gimme a break.

Let's start by dispelling some misinformation

The tests are hard

No. Well, they're not easy, but they're not hard, either. If you have an average brain combined with the ability to study, you can pass the Technician level easily. The next two levels, General and Amateur Extra are progressively harder. The latter two having some electronics theory involved.

You can talk all over the world

Yes and no. The longer the wavelength, the further your radio signal will travel. The first amateur license, Technician, can only use shorter wavelengths, the 2m (two meter) and 70cm (70 centimeter) bands and a tiny portion of a longer band, 10m. The 10m band gives you some unreliable worldwide access on a very good day, but only on a very good day.

The 15m, 20m, 40m and 80m (and longer!) bands is where the long range stuff happens. And those frequencies are open to General license operators. So, bottom line, if you want to talk to the world, plan on getting your General license.

But keep in mind that those 2m and 70cm bands are excellent at local communication here in Colorado, especially in an emergency. With the extensive repeater network we have in Colorado, combined with the high mountains those repeaters are located on, you can talk all over Colorado with just a handheld transceiver (walkie-talkie)!

It's expensive to get started

No. Thanks to [gritting my teeth] the Chinese, there's a very popular radio that many people are using for entry into amateur (ham) radio. The Baofeng UV-5R (and its variants and other radios similar to it) covers the 2m and 70cm bands - the most popular Technician bands. The UV-5R and a better antenna will set you back less than $50, including shipping. I kid you not.

Now after that, like any hobby, the sky's the limit. Want a top-of-line Software Defined Radio (SDR)? Be prepared to spend almost $10k. And you still need a nice rotor antenna on top of a tower with several antennas for different wavelengths to go with it for another $10k!

You have to learn morse code

No. That requirement was dropped more than a decade ago. There are still some frequencies that are dedicated to morse code, so if you want to use voice, you just have to avoid those frequencies which isn't a problem - there are huge swaths of frequencies that are available for voice communication.

Getting started

Getting your license

There are two parts to this. You have to study, then you have to take a test given by a team of Volunteer Examiners (VEs).
Studying resources
There are many books and online sites to help you study for the test. For the online resources there are both free and paid sites. The choice is yours. I've used the American Radio Relay League (ARRL's) books to study for both my Technician and General license (I took my two tests 10 years apart, but they can be taken the same day if you want!).

Here are some links to books, sites and resources to help you study, in no particular order:

Me? I ordered the ARRL book, studied it and the questions, then took my test(s). Got 100% on both of them.
Testing
Most counties and cities have one or more amateur radio clubs and most of these clubs have Volunteer Examiners (VEs) associated with them. Even if there isn't a club near you, you can probably find testing within a relatively short drive unless you live in East Sphincter, Alaska.

In the Colorado Springs area, the following clubs have regular testing. Between them all, you can usually find one or two tests a month being given.

Note that like the studying resources, some clubs charge and some don't. I can tell you that as of this writing MARC (where I've taken both of my tests) charges $15 - but you get donuts!

Here are links to the greater Colorado Springs area clubs that offer testing in no particular order (there may be others, too):

Good luck!

First equipment

Already mentioned it. In terms of performance/price, you can't beat the Baofeng UV-5R (with a better antenna) as a starter radio. Here in Colorado it can hit the repeaters and through them you can reach all over the state for less than $50.

Google is your friend as to where to buy the radio at the lowest price, but one place that carries them is Radioddity. Below are the links for the radio and an antenna that will improve the radio's performance without going overboard with a yard-long antenna:

This will get you on the air as well as giving you an excellent emergency radio!

Amateur radio equipment

Not going to give you a lot of info here, I'm just a beginner. If you know anything about photography, you know the heavy hitters with their fanboi armies are Canon and Nikon. IN THAT ORDER! Yhea, I'm a Canon guy.

In amateur radio it's ICOM and Yaseu, with Kenwood making a showing in third. Any of those brands (and many more) are going to give you a great radio.

Always start with 2m and 70cm

But I'm going to start off my recommendations with, yet again, the Baofeng UV-5R+ and a better antenna. I think every ham should have one of these in each of their cars for use in an emergency.

They're cheap enough so if your car gets broken into and the radio stolen you won't lose much money, unlike mobile rigs. Though mobile rigs are pretty cool and pack a lot more power so you can reach out without having to use a repeater in many cases.

And if you go for a hike in the mountains, you grab the radio just in case of emergency and your cell phone doesn't have service. It's huge win for less than $50!

Base station/High frequency/World coverage

So you want to talk to the world and you're getting (or already have) your General license.

You need four things, minimum

You should also find an "Elmer". Elmer is a nickname for an experienced amateur radio operator that can show you the ropes and make recommendations. My Elmer is W1JU, aka "Harvey". He's a Kenwood guy and I'm a bit of a ICOM fanboi so I ended up with an ICOM IC-718 for my first High Frequency radio. It's a very basic, but long lived design (introduced over 20 years ago!). I also chose on my own the Alinco DM-430T power supply. Harvey pointed me to the Hustler 4BTV vertical antenna and I connected everything together with 100' of RG-213U coax suggested by Harvey.

Most everything was purchased at Ham Radio Outlet which is a nationwide mail-order company with some brick-and-mortar stores, including one up in Denver. HRO also had the lowest prices when I went looking at stuff. The coax I purchased from DXengineering. The antenna was a weird purchase, so I'll point to Ham Radio Outlet when I list my purchases.

For the record:

There's other stuff like grounding your base station, etc. that you should do, but you'll discover that as you go through the studying portion for your amateur radio license, so I won't cover it here.

Again, I'm a beginner and this was supposed to be a "once over lightly" introduction that turned into a tome.

If you have questions or suggestions, email o2hen2@nankoweap.com.

Last updated: 2021/03/14 1500