Getting on the Air
Limited budget? Not sure you want to marry ham radio and live happily ever after with it? Go for a Toe Dunk-just try it out. A Toe Dunk can get you started in ham radio for less than $100 (at 2017 prices) on the 2 meter and 70 centimeter bands (VHF and UHF) where you can talk to other ham operators using simplex frequencies or local repeaters. There are several repeaters in the Sangamon Valley area that the local ham community uses to communicate with individuals as far away as Litchfield, Peoria and Decatur depending on your power, antenna and band conditions.
Ham operators with a Technician's license can also participate in the local nets as well as the local public service events (Fight for Air Stair Climb, Abe's River Race, Lincoln Memorial Garden 8k, etc.).
The equipment listed below is generally at the lowest cost to get started in ham radio. Key words are listed here to aid you in your search if you shop internet retailers. Most of these items can also be purchased at HamFests.
Dual band transceiver VHF UHF 136-174 & 400-480Mhz $28.99-$60.00 5-8 watts power, hand held. Many come with a battery charger and a rubber duckie antenna. Some brands of hand held radios are so inexpensive many ham operators will buy two and use one for a spare.
- Headset for a hand held radio with PTT and Mic $10-$40 Look for a plug that fits the dual band transceiver. The headset is good for noisier environments.
- CHIRP software This free software can be found on the internet and is used to program the PL tones and offsets for local repeater use. Chirp.danplanet.com The PL tones/offsets can also be programmed manually.
- Mag Mount antenna $30-$40 for your mobile operation. It comes with a PL-259 connector, so you may need a cable (pigtail) with an SO-239 SMA female to PL-259 connector ($10-$20) to bridge the antenna to the hand held radio. Attach the antenna to the roof of your vehicle, running the coax out of the window. Shut the door gently. There are plenty of ham operators who would be happy to drill holes in your vehicle for a more permanent installation. Ask around.
- Nagoya SMA female antenna for hand held radio. This is a longer rubber duck style antenna that is somewhat better than the stock antenna that comes with a handheld. Good for ambulatory use (walking around operations).
- Slim Jim antenna $23.99 - $39.99 for dual band radio (2 meter/70 centimeter). Be sure to get the correct connector for your hand held radio. Look for one built by someone from an electronics company, fellow ham operator or build your own. Improves performance from a fixed location.
- Dual band transceiver mobile VHF UHF 144/440 $79 - $369 20-50 watts. A nicer radio for mobile or stationary operations but we're creeping out of the $100 limit here....
The bottom line is to read the reviews before making any purchases online. We also recommend talking to fellow ham operators (Elmers).* Although they will offer differing opinions (a la Ford vs. Chevy), you will get a lot of perspective from folks who have experience with this equipment. You can also visit the W9DUA station open hours for technical advice and an opportunity for some hands-on experience with ham radio.
Please note that for some public service/community events, the event organizer may have a preference for the type of radio being used. Sometimes transmissions from a hand held (hand talkie) radio are not as reliable.
*Hint: a bunch of friendly fellow ham operators attend the monthly SVRC club meetings.