Technical Articles

Five Mistakes New Ham Operators Make (Bonus Article, Part 6): Searching for the Magic Bullet

Our society seems obsessed with the “all-in-one” concept. Last Father’s Day we purchased a pen that had 22 functions. I have a jump box in my Jeep with nine functions. Last week I saw a toaster that toasted English muffins as well as cooked an egg and sausage patty. And to top it all off, my wife looked at a car that had a rice cooker and steamer in the glove box.

As I’ve mentioned in this series, the expression “Jack of all trades, master of none” applies to many disciplines, including ham radio. Many of us are a little bit good at a lot of things. But in learning small pieces of many subjects, we miss the opportunity to become really good at something.

It’s easy to understand why a new ham might enter the hobby with this all-in-one mindset. Case in point: A new licensee may wonder why an experienced ham would opt to own an HF transceiver and a separate VHF/UHF radio when there are “all-in-one” rigs on the market. The thinking likely goes, getting one radio and using it to take advantage of all your band privileges would be awesome.

Now don’t get me wrong. All-in-one radios definitely have their place. I love my Yaesu FT-991A for specific purposes, but it is not my primary unit for every band.

Antennas can be the same way. There are “all band” antennas in almost every configuration. And how cool would it be to work every band with one antenna, especially if you live in an HOA or space-restricted area?

What I have experienced, though, is that while these all-band radios and antennas work a little on each band, they don’t deliver stellar performance across the bands. You may get a little bandwidth on 10m, good coverage on 20m, next to nothing on 80m, and even less on 160m. It is not false advertising or misleading information. They do work on those bands, just not the entire band. It is simple electronic theory.

So my advice is this: Begin by deciding what you really want to do in ham radio. You have heard me say before, this hobby has so many rabbit holes to run down. If you stick with the hobby long enough, you’ll have the opportunity to branch out in many directions throughout your lifetime, but for now, decide what is most important to you.

If rag-chewing on 80m tops your list, then buy as good of an HF rig as you can afford and then purchase or build an antenna specifically for that band. If you enjoy FT8 on 10m, buy a topnotch rig with 10m coverage and buy or build an effective 10m antenna. If you want to become the local SkyWarn guru, then buy a great VHF/UHF radio and a well-tuned, high-gain dual-band antenna for your vehicle.

But buying and building the equipment is just the beginning. Once you have the parts and have them optimally installed, learn how to use them well. Don’t just familiarize yourself with their use. Become an expert. One of the reasons people become frustrated with amateur radio is that they spend all kinds of money and their investment just sits around. Learn how to use your gear and use it often.

The more you use the equipment and the skills you gain, the more fun you’ll have. You will continually learn new tricks, and other operators will start coming to you for advice in your chosen area. Then you can start branching out and trying new things.

Anything worth doing is worth doing well. If you can’t find some facet of this hobby to immerse yourself in, then you’re not looking hard enough.

Hope to see you down the log!

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 earlier parts of this series.

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