Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Lesson 9- Setting up your First Amateur Station

So, you have your Amateur Radio License, and are looking to buy your first Amateur Radio to get started. What exactly do you need to get? In addition, what are some upgrades you might be able to get to do more with your station than you otherwise could do? In this lesson, I will discuss what an Amateur Station requires at a minimum, what some common upgrades are, and what some of the less common upgrades are that a person can do with an Amateur Station.

So, first of all, what is an Amateur Station? An amateur station is simply the location where all of the gear necessary to talk over Amateur Radio waves exists. The bare minimum things to have an amateur station are a radio, antenna, power supply, and method of connecting those devices together.

The first step really is to get yourself a radio. That will determine the antenna and power requirements for your radio, and is just the first stepping stone. So, what kind of radio might you want to get? Well, there are basically 3 categories, Handy Talkies, Portable, and Base Station. Handy Talkies are basically like Walkie Talkies, but with a removable antenna, and set up to talk over Ham bands. Portable stations have a limited feature set, always can operate over 12 V, and are typically set up for use in CARS. Base stations have a full feature set, and might operate over AC power, but they weight a bunch, and aren't typically aren't moved around substantially. Pick the category that works best for you.

Most Ham radios are set up so they can operate on DC power, typically 12V. This is so they can operate off of a car battery if required. In order to transmit, they require power at as much as 30 Amps of current. Thus, you will need a hefty power supply, if you purchase one. Typically, a variety known as a switching power supply is the best bet for amateur radio. Alternatively, you can purchase a battery, and charge the battery from AC, or even Solar Power. A decent battery, along with the connecting gear, can cost as much as a good power supply, and has the additional benefit of being able to use it without access to AC power.

There is a lot to talk about antennas. There are a lot of different categories, so let me start with some of the most likely ones you'll run across. Rubber Duck antennas are the type found on a walkie talkie. Typically, they are poor performers, but they do usually work okay. An upgrade can be found with a Mag Mount antenna, which require a large base of metal to attach to in order to work properly, such as a Car. These work great for talking on the radio mobile. Omni antennas are ones that tend to focus on the horizon areas, but not in a particular direction. These can be used to talk to anyone in any direction, but have limited beam in those directions. Finally, directional antennas are used to talk in a specific direction, and require pointing the antenna in that direction.The most common type of direction antenna is a Yagi, but there are others.

A few other additional tips. Make sure that your cables match your radio. Use the shortest length of cable that you can. If you connect a Ham Radio to the Car, your best bet is to connect it directly to the battery, to avoid shorting the electrical system in your Car. I have covered most of the topics in this post in other areas as well, feel free to take a look. In particular, look at My First Radio, Optimizing Equipment, Finding a Good Indoor Antenna, and the Quest for Cable.

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