HAM Radio 101

Five Mistakes I Made as a New Ham (Part 3): Skimping on Quality Equipment

There is an old tale that states the origin of stranded copper wire resulted from two hams fighting over a penny found on the ground at a hamfest. I totally get it. We all use “extra” funds from the family budget to support our hobbies. However, this hobby seems to take it to the extreme. The result sometimes is poor performance or non-performance.

When I was first licensed, I looked at various well-respected websites known for selling amateur radio equipment, noting the brands they carried and their prices. Then I went to a discount site and found a pair of 8-watt HTs with accessories for $35. They covered a nice range of frequencies and came with all the accessories I could want. I took the bait and ordered the pair. They came in and sure looked pretty.

So I charged them up and tried to use them. The programming software did not load from the miniature CD that was included. I did not have a computer that would recognize the disc. I tried to download free software that had tons of users online, but it would not recognize the radios (yes, I installed the drivers). I was able to hand-program the radio for a local repeater. When I finally got on the air, or sort of on the air, I was able to open the repeater, but all of my reports said it sounded like I was a little off frequency and the signals I was hearing sounded somewhat distorted.

I tried to contact the phone number on the manual. Even though I pressed “1” for English, the person answering did not speak much of the language. The only thing I could understand was “no return.” I posted the HTs on social media and sold the pair almost immediately. My next visit was to a local ham shop for some hands-on shopping and advice. I purchased a tried-and-true Yaesu FT-60R. The RT Systems software installed without incident and the radio popped right up in the computer after driver installation. I was on the air. I could hear and be heard legibly.

I relay this story of my first radio purchase not to bash any brands or promote one over another, but to say buying quality equipment from time-proven experts is priceless. This not only applies to transceivers but to any other related equipment and accessories. It is common, for example, for hams to look for a bargain when purchasing feedline. I recently had a ham friend try to convince me he found a source for .405 feedline. I asked him for a three-foot jumper so I could try it out.

I used his jumper between my Yaesu FTdx-101MP and the DX Engineering NCC-2 Receive Antenna Phasing System. After all, how much damage could a three-foot jumper do to a signal. I powered it up and my noise floor was about S8. I played with the NCC-2 and got it down to an S5. Then I remembered the jumper. I quickly made a jumper using DX Engineering 400MAX with DX Engineering next-generation PL-259s. I replaced the loaner jumper, made a few adjustments to the NCC-2 and there was no noise floor. Again, quality products produce quality performance.

I could go on and on. Grounding is an area that many hams just skip to save money. I often hear “my home electrical service is grounded, that’s enough!” Please read Grounding and Bonding for the Radio Amateur 2nd Edition by Ward Silver, N0AX, if you want to see how grounding should be done and the effects of not grounding. Also, Tim Duffy, K3LR, DX Engineering CEO, has a great video on grounding and bonding you should check out.

Over the years I have become familiar with the expression, “buy once, cry once.” Too many times early on I would buy cheap hoping for high performance. I only wound up disappointed and wanting more. I would sell the inferior product for a loss and still have to buy the more expensive product to get the desired outcome. I hold to the adage that “you get what you pay for.” As a new ham, it’s definitely something you should consider.

Editor’s Note: Troy Blair, KE8DRR, DX Engineering customer/technical support specialist, enjoys sharing personal stories about his involvement in amateur radio so others can learn from his experiences in the true spirit of being an Elmer. Check out some of Troy’s other articles including, QRP Operation: How Low Can You Go” and Lightening Your Go Kit.” Enter “Five Mistakes” to read parts 1 and 2 of this series.

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