Tips When Building your first ham radio

10 Tips For Building Your First Ham Radio

Building your first ham radio can be pretty confusing for the first time builders. There are many suggestions and tips on the internet which can be overwhelming for the first time builders. I have curated below a detailed guide on how to build your first Ham Radio from Dummies.com. This is the guide that I have also read when I started building my first ham radio so I know that this will be a big help for those who are just starting out. This will also help you save some money from buying the wrong things that you might not need in the end.

Be flexible

Don’t assume that you’ll be doing the same activities on the air forever. Here are a few tips on flexibility:

  • Avoid using specialized gear except where it’s required for a specific type of operating or function.
  • Use a computer and software for things that are likely to change, like operating on the digital modes.
  • Don’t neglect grounding and bonding — build this in as the first step. It’s harder to do later and having it in place makes it easy to change the equipment layout.
  • Try a different layout to see if something works better — you’re allowed to change your mind! You might find a new arrangement to be more comfortable or convenient.
  • Leave some budget for “surprises,” like a special cable or a power distribution box. You never know what a new interest or operating style will bring.

When starting out you do not know yet what you are really doing so leaving room for flexibility and changes will be a good thing to do. There are a lot of things that I changed since I started. Leave some emergency budget just in case there are unforeseen expenses that are necessary but already out of your budget.

Study other stations

Browse the web for articles and videos that show how other stations are put together and operated. Make note of any particularly good ideas. Don’t be intimidated by big stations, because they started out as small stations!

Be friendly to the other stations and don’t be shy to ask them questions. They would be much willing to help you out and answer some questions for you. More people getting interested in the game is better and more fun for everyone.

Learn about those extra functions

You paid for all those nifty features and controls — learn how they work and put them to work for you. Here are some common examples:

  • MON: Short for Monitor, this button is usually close to a handheld transceiver’s PTT switch. It opens the squelch so you can listen for a weak station without changing the usual squelch level.
  • Memory write: You should practice transferring your VFO settings to a memory channel. On VHF/UHF this is good practice for public service operating. On HF, you can use this when chasing a DXpedition or making a schedule. Learn how to do this without referring to the manual.
  • Noise blankers and noise reduction: Turning these on and off is easy but did you know they are adjustable? Controlling the sensitivity and level of these functions customizes them for the noise at your location. You should also be skilled at adjusting the radio’s RF gain and AGC for HF operation. Know where the preamp and attenuator controls are, too.
  • Adjustable filters: Since most new radios use DSP, filters are smoothly adjustable, can be offset above and below your operating frequency, and different settings stored for later use. After you become skilled at using these functions, you’ll wonder how you lived without them!
  • Voice and Morse messages: Many radios can store messages and play them back. If you are operating in a contest or special event, this ability is very handy. Some radios can record audio off the air, too. While you’re at it, learn how to use your radio’s internal Morse keyer.
  • Custom setups: Your radio may be able to save its operating configuration on a memory card or internally. This allows you to create custom setups for casual operating, public service nets, contesting, mobile operating, and so forth. It sure saves a lot of button pressing!

Sometimes we get easily overwhelmed and forget to explore all the functions of the equipment’s and gears that we have. It also happened to me, after buying the equipment I am so excited to use it that I did not explore all the functions and after some time I was surprised to find out the other things that it could do. This is a common mistake for beginners and even for some veterans.

Shop for used-equipment bargains

If you have a knowledgeable friend who can help you avoid worn-out and inadequate gear, buying used equipment is a great way to get started. Purchasing used gear from a dealer who offers a warranty is also a good option. Saving money now leaves you more cash for exploring new modes and bands later.

You can save a lot of money by buying 2nd hand equipment rather than buying a brand new one. The only problem is you might encounter obsolete or poorly performing equipment. The good thing with buying brand new is that you will be spared from all the hassle if in case you have bought a defective equipment.

Build something yourself

Using equipment that you build yourself is a thrill. Start small by building accessory projects such as audio switches, filters, and keyers. Building things yourself can save you some money, too. Don’t be afraid to get out the drill and soldering iron. You can find lots of kits, web articles, magazines, and books of projects to get you started.

This is the most exciting part of the game. I love building things and you will discover a lot of things by trying to build something by yourself. There are a lot of diy guides in the internet and even youtube which will make it easier.

Save cash by building your own cables

You need lots of cables and connectors in your station. At a cost of roughly $5 or more for each premade cable, you can quickly spend as much on connecting your equipment as you can on purchasing a major accessory. Learn how to install your own connectors on cables, and you’ll save many, many dollars over the course of your ham career. Plus, you’ll be better able to troubleshoot and make repairs.

It is very easy to install and connect your equipment rather than by buying those ready-made ones. The good thing about it is that you will be able to make your own troubleshooting and repair simple problems with your station unlike if you bought ready-made ones.

Build step by step

After you have the basics of your station in place, upgrade your equipment in steps so that you can always hear a little farther than you can transmit. Don’t be an alligator (all mouth, no ears). Plan with a goal in mind so that your ham radio dollars and hours all work to further that goal. Remember that the biggest bang for your ham radio buck is often improving the antenna!

Make yourself comfortable

You’re going to spend a lot of hours in front of your radio, so take care of yourself, too. Start with a comfortable chair. Excellent chairs are often available in used-office-furniture stores at substantial discounts. Also, make sure that you have adequate lighting and that the operating desk is at a comfortable height. The dollars you spend will pay dividends every time you go on the air.

It doesn’t matter how much you have spent in building your station. What is the most important is if you are comfortable in your setup. Imagine, you will be spending most of your time sitting in front of your radio and it will not make sense even if you have bought the most expensive equipment if you are not even comfortable in your station.

I hope this is a big help to those who want to start building their first ham radio.

how-to-win-in-ham-radio-contest

How to Win in a Ham Radio Contest

The world of Ham Radio is a fascinating one, year after year new radio aficionados keep getting invested and joining the world of amateur radio broadcasting, there is an undeniably appeal to the old school nature and spirit that the tuning and microphone offer that just isn’t available in other hobbies. However if there’s one facet of it that undeniably puts all longtime and new fans to the test then that definitely is ham radio contesting, to newcomers the idea might sound weird, as radio isn’t necessarily competitive in nature, but those already in the world will know that amateur radio contesting has a long tradition behind it, and started as early as the 1920s.

Ham radio contesting largely consists of a team of radio operators making quick and efficient two-way communication with other stations, and is a great way to meet other people and groups with a similar passion. But if you want to make it big and win, then you have to be more than ready. Experience is always important sure, but there are also many other tips to keep in mind that will help you do your best, and thankfully we have gathered the best ones right here.

The first one might sound silly, but it does matter, remember to be kind and polite, the people participating are all fans like you, and likely doing it out of passion, so don’t let the heat get to you, it’s important to remain calm when contacting new stations and it’s important to remember the basic radio etiquette, make sure your gear provides a clean signal and make sure to confirm their frequency is clear, rushing in might just make you lose the race in the long way.

Search for new signals, when you are amateur radio contesting you will need a lot of signals to check and call, and finding them efficiently will give you a huge advantage against your competitors, there’s a few ways out there to find more signals, but make sure they are allowed in the contest rules, logging software can help you build a map of frequencies, alternatively, you will need to practice your manual search and pounce abilities, sure, it’s manually tuning, but it’s the most reliable way in the end, and being fast at it will grant you many valuable seconds.

Ham Radio Operator
Radio Contesting
Amateur Radio Contest

Be efficient when talking, it’s normal to get nervous in a competition, that’s why it’s important to properly prepare, rehearse what you’ll want to say and to learn the proper nomenclature. The faster you communicate the faster you can move on. Deliver your sentences smoothly and confidently, at a consistent speed. Consistency ultimately matters more than speed, talking fast might just make others confused, what matters is that you don’t get flustered or mumble while talking.

Make sure to check all your equipment, it should come as obvious, but it’s easy to overlook. Competition starts with prior preparation, and any small inconvenience your gear might have that don’t bother you in casual use can prove to be an issue in ham radio contesting. Know your gear, and make sure it’s in top shape, amateur radio contesting can be hard, but it’s a lot of fun to all involved. And as long as you keep your skills and your gear in top shape, you will already be ahead of the competition, so follow our tips and do your best.

What is Ham Radio Contesting?

The best explanation about Ham Radio Contesting was written by by Rick Tavan N6XI. Here is what is his explanation of what radio contesting is:

Amateur radio is licensed use of radio communication for personal satisfaction and public service. It has its own unique form of competition.  Radio contesting, or “radiosport” as it is known by some, offers an opportunity to demonstrate skills in station building, operating tactics, physical endurance and strategy. Although strongly contested by thousands of enthusiasts and casual participants, typical prizes are just plaques, certificates, published score listings and the occasional bottle of wine.  We do it more for personal satisfaction, the excitement of the chase and the admiration of our peers than for any more tangible reward. 

In a radio contest, a sponsoring organization designates a time period ranging from a few hours to a full weekend during which amateurs in various geographic areas will attempt to contact each other.  Each contact is worth one or more points which are multiplied by the number of different places contacted.  The highest scores in each of several entry categories win.

Each contest defines these “multiplier” places differently.  For example, in the ARRL Sweepstakes a place is one of 80 “sections” of the US and Canada, each section being all or part of a state, province or territory.  In most worldwide contests, each country is considered a unique multiplier.  There are fascinating strategies for deciding when to seek new multipliers and when to make more contacts as quickly as possible.

Each contact is very brief, with the communicating stations exchanging only a few prescribed tidbits of information.  Some contests allow multiple contacts between the same pair of stations, provided each contact is on a different frequency “band.”  This makes sense because the different bands often have dramatically different signal propagation characteristics. (Consider, for example, the familiar AM and FM broadcast bands in commercial radio. The FM band is purely local but at night you can hear signals on the AM band from a thousand miles away.)  It is not uncommon for a contestant to make several thousand contacts in the course of a weekend contest.  There is nothing like the thrill of having station after station respond to your calls, pushing your “rate” up to several hundred contacts per hour.  Nothing, that is, except the equal thrill of hearing a rare multiplier come back to you through a “pileup” of a hundred or more stations.

Sponsor

The sponsor also defines different categories of competition.  The sine qua non is Single Operator, All Band, often separated into High Power and Low Power divisions, and these categories usually attract the largest numbers of entrants. Some operate from their own home stations while others operate as guests at other stations.  However, there are usually other categories including various multi-operator team arrangements in which two or more amateurs share operating responsibilities.  In the larger contests (those with the most participants) there also may be Single-Band categories.  Some contest rules stipulate voice contacts only while others are for Morse code or various digital communication modes.  Some involve multiple modes at the same time.  All competitors contact each other during the contest period, regardless of their categories, but the results segregate efforts in different categories and award prizes accordingly.  It is somewhat like age, gender and distance categories in citizen races.  

Most worldwide contest communication is in English. However, the required vocabulary is very small, under 100 words, so most amateurs in the world are quite capable of competing without a significant language barrier. This is even more the case when using Morse code.

Skills To Win in Ham Radio Contest

Skill in radiosport comprises several factors.  Most notable is operating ability – knowing where to tune the radio, when to solicit callers, when to seek out others who are soliciting calls.  This requires a knowledge of radio propagation, “good ears” for separating multiple conflicting signals that are often weak or compromised by atmospheric noise and fading, experience with the dynamics of each contest and excellent hand-eye-ear coordination to move quickly around the frequency spectrum, record contacts in a log, send Morse code or type or speak clearly and rapidly and so on.  Some contests last as long as 48 hours and become endurance sports.  The skills are demanding and hard to maintain over such a long period with little or no rest.  The most serious contesters, like athletes, train diligently between events.  Although physical strength is not a factor, most of the other attributes of athletics come very strongly into play. 

As in car, boat or airplane racing, skills are not the only factors determining a winning effort.  Equipment and location are also  very important.  In a radio contest, it is common for several competitors to call the same station at once.  Although timing is important in determining who gets through first, the most important thing is to have the loudest signal.  This requires a good radio, the maximum power allowed under the rules and, above all else, effective antennas.  Different types of antennas work best in specific locations and some locations, say at the bottom of a deep canyon, are just hopeless for radio work.  A winning station is well equipped, well maintained and endowed with a variety of good antennas in a location that helps them to work well.

Equipments Needed

Modern contest stations include extensive computer automation. Computers maintain the “log” of contacts which is submitted at the end to the sponsoring organization for adjudication. That includes checking accuracy and eliminating contacts recorded in error. Computers also check call signs to help prevent duplicates during the contest, help to control the radios, send contest exchanges without the need for speaking or manual sending and interface with world-wide “spotting” networks that report the frequencies currently in use by various participants. Modern contesting has been described as “the ultimate, highly-distributed, multi-player computer game.” Recent developments now make it possible to follow some participants’ scores in real-time during a contest, potentially turning radio contesting into a spectator sport, albeit of interest mainly to hams.

Most participants in contests, like citizen racers, have no expectation of winning.  They operate from modest stations in unexceptional locations for only a fraction of the contest period.  Yet the thousands of them who get on the air for only a few hours of fun and practice make the sport exciting for the hundreds who operate around the clock seeking a personal best or a victory in their categories and locations. 

The Ugly Truth to Radio Contesting

Finally, I need to confess the deep, dark, secret shame of radio contesting as a “sport.”  There is no “level playing field.”  Because of the physics of radio signal propagation and the demographics of the world, competitors in some locations can have a huge advantage over those elsewhere.  A degree of skill and effort that makes 1000 contacts from California might well result in 4000 contacts from an identically equipped station on a Caribbean island.  Simple rule changes can not “fix” this.  For this reason, most contest sponsors recognize winners in different geographic areas such as the entire world, each continent, each country, state or artificial section or zone.  This helps competitors to compare their results with peers who are on a roughly equal geographic footing, without denying that someone indeed “won the world.”  It is far from perfect but it helps a lot.  It keeps the competition interesting and the inequities have not discouraged thousands of amateurs from participating enthusiastically.  In fact, some enjoy traveling to exotic locations which offer an advantage as much as others enjoy building capable stations and antennas at home.  A “contest expedition” is the highlight of many contesters’ year.  See the sidebar for some of my own international radiosport adventures.