Technical Articles

Just Got Your License? Avoid These Mistakes and Get Off on the Right Foot

You just got your Tech license and your call sign. Now what?

The first mistake some new Hams make is not getting on the air as soon as possible. They frame their license, proudly display it on the wall, then drag their feet when it comes to getting actively involved in the Ham experience.

First Steps

Get to know local Hams. You might start with the volunteer examiners who gave your exam. Look online for nearby clubs at the ARRL Affiliated Clubs page or CQ Magazine website. Joining a club can help you learn more about the world of Ham radio. It’s also a great way to connect with an Elmer (mentor) who can answer your questions and point you in the right direction.

Join the ARRL. Their monthly magazine, QST, is a great source for news and information. You’ll also get online access to On the Air, a magazine for new and beginner-to-intermediate-level radio amateurs. Each issue will introduce you to topics that will help you learn more about amateur radio.

Thanks to the Internet, you’ll find information about all aspects of Ham radio, from the very simple to the complex. YouTube has thousands—yes, thousands—of videos of Ham-related topics. Google your topic, or click these links geared toward new Hams.

Choosing Equipment

What radio is best for you? There are an overwhelming number of choices, but stick to new equipment. As a beginning Ham, you shouldn’t waste your time figuring out someone’s quirky old radio.

If you’re just curious and looking to dip your toes into the water, the first step would be to get a VHF/UHF handheld transceiver (HT). It’s your ticket to meeting Hams on the air and participating in public service events, Skywarn, and local nets. I’d suggest radios from established brands like Alinco, Icom, Kenwood, and Yaesu that offer U.S. service facilities and warranties. They start at about $75 and up.

Also, pick up an inexpensive magnet mount antenna and antenna cable adapter for your radio. They will allow you to operate in your vehicle and provide better coverage than the standard “rubber duck” antenna. For home use, place it on a filing cabinet, refrigerator, or even a large steel cookie sheet.

If you get serious about operating on the 144/440 MHz bands, you may want to step up to a higher power transceiver to operate base or mobile. Handhelds top out at about 8 watts, while a mobile/base radio may be capable of 25 to 85 watts. With power comes range—with a decent antenna you can talk 25 miles or more. Again, consider radios made by established brands.

If you want to explore long-distance communications, you’ll want radios capable of reaching the high-frequency (HF) bands. Techs have access to 10 meter single-sideband, 80/40/15/10 meter CW, and digital modes with up to 200 watts of power. Depending on band conditions, you could talk anywhere in the U.S. or even to another country.

Cost is a factor. A new 100 watt HF radio starts at $500 and up, plus you’ll need a 13.8v power supply, coaxial feedline, and an antenna. You don’t need to buy a commercially-made antenna; a simple DIY dipole costs less than $20 to make for any band. As you become more experienced, don’t hesitate to try building your own equipment and accessories. It’s a great learning experience.

Whatever decisions you make about Ham equipment, start small and build your radio collection as your budget allows and your interests expand. 

But Wait, There’s More

Ham radio has many facets. Learn CW or discover digital modes. Try QRP, fox hunting, and contesting. There’s always something new to catch your interest and always more to learn.

Don’t let a lack of knowledge about Ham radio be a limitation. Ask questions, explore, and get involved. Amateur radio is a great activity, and one that’s always on the leading edge of technology. Experienced Hams are usually happy to help—so don’t hesitate to ask them.

Finally, upgrade that license! Don’t miss some of those new operating modes and frequencies you can use when you get your General or Extra.

Check Out These Blogs as Well

Also on OnAllBands, find Sean, KX9X’s blogs, Beyond Your Local Repeater: 15 Things to do with a Technician License and Guide to Contesting for Technicians, and Anthony, K8ZT’s post, Technician Class Licensees: Expand Your Operating Experiences.

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