Ham Radio 101: Ham Shack Set Up

Ham Shack 101 Presentation

At the January 2019 SVRC meeting, Roger K9LJB, Mitch K9ZXO and Todd KD9BNQ presented Ham Shack 101:  Setting up a Ham Shack for Newly Licensed Hams


Deciding on a radio depends on your license class, what you want to do and the amount of money you want to spend.  Get your shopping list ready and visit the internet or, better yet, some hamfests for your equipment.  Visiting during W9DUA open station hours is a good time to discuss your plans and shopping list with an Elmer.

Technician Class License

Technician class hams can get started on the VHF/UHF frequencies (used for local communications) using a hand-held radio or a base station.  Technician class hams have only limited privileges on the HF bands. Roger K9LJB provided a review of some common radios describing the advantages and limitations of each.

Hand-held radios have some limitations but will get you on the air and can prove to be great value for the money, especially if you are just getting started in the hobby.  The hand-held radios are lower power and come with small antennas.  They can be used in place of a base station, as a mobile radio; and can be used to get on the area nets as well as at public service events. The Baofeng UV5R currently lists for $24.99 as of January 2019 but is rumored to be available for as little as $19.99.  This radio is a little tricky to program but plenty of Elmers are available to help with this task.  Roger also described a better quality hand-held radio, the Yaesu FT-70DR, which lists for around $140.  Unlike the Baofeng UV5R, the Yaesu FT-70DR will also do C4FM which is necessary if you are interested in accessing the digital voice mode on the 443.000 club repeater or other C4FM repeaters.

Base station VHF/UHF radios have higher power (50 watts) and have better range with an external antenna.  They can also be used in a permanent mobile set up.  For around $499.95, the Kenwood TM-D710GA is a dual band VHF/UHF rig with GPS to do APRS.  It has a built in terminal node controller (TNC) which can be used with a laptop computer for packet and Winlink. For $304.95, the Yaesu FTM-100DR provides single band receive in FM analog or C4FM digital with firmware upgrades available.

General & Extra Class License

Hams with a general or extra class license can use the high frequency (HF) bands which requires a radio designed for HF use.  HF is used for long distance communication.

The Icom IC-718 is a basic 100 watt rig available for $629.95.  It is digital capable but requires a RigBlaster or other interface to connect with a computer.  It’s a nice radio for the money. The Icom IC-7300, available for around $1,069.95, connects to a computer without an external interface.  The 7300 is a fabulous radio with many hams either loving it or wishing they had one.

The Yaesu FT 857-D covers HF, VHF and UHF bands in a single radio.  The 857-D is available for $839.95 and covers HF, VHF and UHF bands.  The downside is that while this radio does it all, it doesn’t do it all at once.  Many hams prefer to have more than one radio running at any given time and monitor multiple frequencies simultaneously.

Power Supply

Power supplies can run your radio without a 12 volt deep cycle battery and cost anywhere from $40-$200 from various manufacturers.


Headphones are really helpful for HF by reducing the ambient noise while working stations in less than perfect band conditions. Since Roger is an avid and long-time CW’er, he recommends a CW key if you are so inclined to learn CW.


Mitch, K9ZXO, provided some information on antennae and feed lines which are crucial to great performance from your radio.  Some considerations:

  • What band(s) are you planning to use?
  • Available real estate
  • Community rules (home owner associations, etc)
  • Spouse rules (“happy spouse, happy house”)
  • How much dough $$ do you want to spend?
  • What’s in your junk box/spare parts bucket?

Transmission/Feed lines

While open wire ladder line is more efficient, the ham shack location may dictate a more practical solution (coax).  Ham shack location will govern the choice between types of transmission line.  Is the ham shack going to be located against an exterior wall with easy access to outside? Discuss your plans with an Elmer for suggestions.

What kind of antenna do you want? You can have your tower but use pulleys to avoid having to climb the thing.  1/8” steel cable will work fine for raising and lowering your antenna. Mitch recommends leaving a little slack in the antenna to accommodate the icing that occurs in the central IL winters.  Use some ingenuity to create the type of antenna system that works best for you. It doesn’t have to be expensive to build it yourself.  Mitch scored a tower for the sole cost of taking it off someone else’s property and setting up on his own.  The previous owner was grateful to get rid of it, and Mitch was glad to get it for the cost of his time and a little sweat equity.

Keep the neighborhood association and the spouse happy. A little creativity goes a long way for peaceful relations.

Which bands do you plan to use?  A dipole is easy and cheap to make yourself.  Snoop around in your junk box for parts.  For those of you who plan to go “all of the way” and get both an HF rig and a VHF/UHF rig, two separate transmission lines and separate antennas will be part of the plan. If you want to use all or most of the bands, you may need to create some kind of line switching or patch panel to flip between antennas/feedlines from the comfort of your ham shack.

Station Grounding

Protect yourself and your ham shack and radio from RF and from lightening; arrange for an easy way to shunt your transmission lines to ground when not in use. Make sure your tower has a good ground - as well as your ham shack equipment. Surge protection inside the house/garage is also recommended.


This is really important.  Be sure to--

  • Never climb the tower alone.  Someone else needs to know that you are climbing and really needs to be on site during your climb.
  • Never climb in bad weather (not just storms but high winds too).
  • Always carry your cell phone in your (zipped) pocket.  It would be a dangerous predicament, indeed, if you found yourself hanging upside down by an ankle and swinging in the breeze.  It might be easier to discuss the situation with your person on the ground by phone than to try to shout from twenty feet up.
  • Always use a safety harness rated for you and the work you are doing.

Support & Advice

Todd KD9BNQ sagely reminded us that most of the hams at the meeting know what they are talking about, and the rest of us are really good at faking it.  Seriously, we all rely on each other for insight and guidance.  Many of the mistakes that have been made in ham radio have been made by the hams in the meeting.  Experience is a great teacher!  Feel free to ask your questions of any Elmer and/or visit the Elmers at the W9DUA club station during open hours or by appointment.  It is so important to the experienced hams to keep this hobby "going and growing" that we will practically jump through hoops and do tricks to provide the support necessary to help the new hams along the way.  It is not too much to ask for help and we are most happy to provide it.


Ham radio is a very much like a smorgasbord with lot of variety.  You decide what you want to do first and see where it takes you.

It was a great presentation and many thanks go to Roger, Mitch and Todd for pulling this together and presenting it!  

Yaesu FT 857-D
ICOM 718, IC-7300
Kenwood TM-D710GA,Yaesu FTM-100DR
Yaesu FT-70DR, Baofeng UV5R
Operate all of your stuff from the comfort of your shack
Rotate that antenna from your ham shack
Rotate that antenna from your ham shack
A younger Mitch doing the Macarena

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