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.
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.