Amateur radios, also known as ham radios, are used by operators to communicate with each other. The name does not refer to their skill level, but rather to the inability to use the radios for commercial use. Ham radios are used as a hobby or during an emergency when people need to communicate with each other. A licence is required to operate the equipment and every country is different with their rules and licence classifications. However, it is the International Telecommunications Union that regulates the overall operations and they are the ones responsible for issuing licences and call signs to the users.
Radio operators can communicate with each other in one of three ways: Frequency modulation, also called FM, has the highest quality of radio signals; single sideband, called SSB, is best for longer distances; and Radiotelegraphy using Morse code is an old fashioned way of communicating that has been in use since the 19th century. People who are just starting out often join a local club with other enthusiasts. Through the clubs, people can learn all about licensing, rules, and how to operate ham radios. One of the most notable clubs is the Radio Society of Great Britain.
Setting up an amateur radio workstation can be overwhelming because of all the technical aspects to consider. There are different types of radios, various accessories to get, and then of course trying to figure out where to shop for the stuff.
History of Amateur Radios
Amateur radio has been traced back to the 19th century. The first stations were set up in 1909 and included 89 locations throughout Canada and the United States. Ham radios started out as experiments between hobbyists. There are several people who contributed to the initial research such as Nikola Tesla and Alexander Popov. In 1895 Tesla was able to send signals between two of his labs that were fifty miles apart. Guglielmo Marconi carried out experiments with Morse Code. He was able to send the code up to six kilometres in 1896, but in 1899 he was able to send the messages across the English Channel. This got people attention and the technology of amateur radios soon took off.
Types of Amateur Radios
Like any electronic equipment, there are many types of amateur radios with different features and capabilities. There is no right or wrong one to get because it all depends on a person's budget and what they want to use the radio for. Some people get licences because they are interested in emergency communication. Others see it as a technical hobby and enjoy building things, and some just like to talk and have conversations with other hobbyists over the radio.
Handheld FM Transceivers
Handheld transceivers are convenient because they are portable and they are also more affordable. They are ideal for lighter emergency communications, public events, or chatting with someone short distance. They also have a variety of aftermarket products such as antennas that can help increase the range.
For the technically minded people, the handheld transceivers won’t offer much of a challenge. They are simple devices that come as they are without much room for modifications. Only the accessories such as the antennas, batteries, and chargers can be changed around.
The downfall with handhelds is their limited battery life, few features, and low transmission range. Because of their range their uses are pretty limited, which doesn’t appeal to a lot of the hobbyists who want to be able to chat long distance or help with major emergency situations.
Mobile FM Transceivers
Mobile FM transceivers are larger than the handhelds but are still a reasonable enough size to transport to different locations. Some people have them installed in their vehicles. Their mobility still makes them work for smaller emergency communication operations and chatting with other people within a reasonable distance. Like the handhelds, they can also be upgraded with better power sources and antennas.
They still are not completely ideal for those technically inclined, but they often serve as a second device for those who already have a fix-station unit at home. It is always fun to have a mobile version of the radio as well.
The transceivers still have a limited battery life and a fairly limited transmission range. However, their battery lasts long enough for those who like to “raw chew”. Rag chewing is a term used by radio hobbyists which indicates a radio conversation that lasts over 30 minutes.
Distance-wise, most models can go reach up to 100 miles but this is from a top of a hill with no obstructions. In town the range is far less than that.
Base Station Amateur Radios
Base station radios are larger and meant to be stationary. They are ideal for those who want more power and distance to play around with. They operate off household power and can use as much as 1500 watts of power. The radios are very customizable and can transmit over several thousand miles. Base stations can be standard mono or dual band, but for those who want more, high frequency and very high frequency models are available.
Mono Band and Dual Band Amateur Radios
In radio transmissions there are different bands. Each band has a range of channels that operators use to talk to each other. Some people only operate on certain bands, while others use multiple ones. The mono band systems are much more affordable than the dual band ones but they are more limited. Some emergency communication operations use specific bands and if the people in the surrounding areas all use a specific band, it would be really boring for new hobbyists if they buy the wrong band.
Dual band systems are also much more entertaining for technical people because there are more bands to play with. Experimenting with antennas can bring in more channels and access more people.
High Frequency or Very High Frequency Amateur Radios
Using HF and VHF transceivers requires an additional licence on top of the basic one. Testing usually involves demonstrating a proficiency in Morse Code. The differences between HF and VHF are vast. High frequency radios operate between 3 and 30 megahertz and operate on short radio waves. Their distance range is less than VHF radios, but their signals follow the contours of the earth, and therefore can target specific regions. HF frequencies are used by commercial radio stations.
Very high frequency radios operate between 30 and 300 megahertz so their transmission range is much further. However, their radio waves travel in a straight line. In order to reach long distances, the signal must reach and be redirected off a repeater somewhere. Without the repeater, the transmission eventually travels off into space. TV stations and radio stations use VHF systems.
Since the distance range is much further on HF and VHF radios, many people enjoy them better than the simple systems. They require much more technical knowledge when it comes to setting them up and using them, and they allow people to communicate over greater distances.
Find Amateur Radio Equipment on eBay
Since there are a lot of options available when shopping for amateur radio equipment, it is best for shoppers to be able to see every kind available before making their selection. eBay is a website with thousands of products being sold by different sellers. It is a central hub for sellers to come together and compete for your business. This means that you can view all the models and then compare the products and prices between sellers to find the best deal.
To get started, go to the eBay homepage and type the name of what you are looking for into the search box. Enter something general like “Amateur Radio Equipment” or “Ham Radios” if you want to see the largest amount of products possible. If you want something specific, type something like “Handheld Transceivers” or “Mono Band Radio”.
Since amateur radios can be high priced items, be sure to verify the seller’s reputation before ordering. Read through the feedback they have gotten from their past customers and make sure that positive reviews were left about the seller, their postage methods, and the product itself.
Getting started in amateur radio is challenging because it has a steep learning curve, but it also has many rewards that makes it worthwhile. It can provide hours of entertainment, be highly useful during emergencies, and new friendships can easily be formed between hobbyists over the air. It is a hobby that has endured since the early 1900s and it has consistently remained popular for these reasons.
Since there are so many varieties of radio transmissions and transmitters, people can easily find the one that best suits their lifestyle and interests. If anyone were to ask different amateurs what the best kind of equipment is, they would receive many different answers. Ultimately, the decision comes down to personal preference and nothing more. By learning about the kinds of radios and their capabilities, anyone can determine which form of radio they want to get into and what equipment they need.