Getting involved in Amateur Radio can look very daunting, especially if you are not sure which direction you want to go in. If you look at the website for traders, their prices can seem very steep and quite mind boggling.
The best starting point is to find a local club that have equipment available to use. You will be able to watch equipment being used and learn about the different options. You might even be lucky enough to meet your local wheeler-dealer who can offer you a deal or some second hand kit.
That said, I am writing this article to explain a little bit of how you can get into the hobby on a budget – by explaining my route. This article also addresses issues such as how to get started without putting up huge antennas as I simply didn’t have the room to start turning my garden into an antenna field.
Don’t get me wrong there is an argument to say that you get what you pay for, but when it comes to antennas they are all based on very simple design principals. You can even make your own very easily for very little.
When I first got licensed back in 2005, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do in the hobby and certainly wasn’t going to spend out big money on a HF radio, so instead I bought myself a cheap hand held VHF/UHF radio which had a built in/detachable antenna. I stayed using this for 10 years – mainly operating through local UHF repeaters such as GB3UB before progressing to the next stage. My first upgrade was to buy a small loft antenna for about £35. This allowed me to get much further and saved me having to install an outside antenna. I still use this antenna to this day for UHF and VHF operation and sometimes also use it to connect to the local DMR repeaters (GB7WW and GB7KM).
In 2015, I decided to take the plunge and buy my first ever HF radio (Yaesu 450d) and my first HF antenna which was a portable indoor magloop which plugged directly into the back of the radio. It was called a Wonderloop and back then cost me less than £100. Within the first 2 hours of using it, I was talking to a chap in New York, USA on only 5 Watts of power. These are ideal if you want something you can hide away when you are not using it and have the flexibility of using it anywhere from the garden to inside the house.
About 5 years ago I got involved in DMR radio and loved it. These reasonably inexpensive radios allow connection to a vast network of digital repeaters allowing you to be able to talk to people all around the world. A dual mode (VHF/UHF) DMR Radio such as the Retevis RT82 costs only about £160 and can also be used to connect analogue repeaters too! When I first got involved, there were no DMR repeaters in my area, so I purchased a hotspot (similar to the current ZumSpot-rpi) for about £100-£160 which plugs into your internet router and then meant I could use my handheld anywhere in my house/garden and connect to people all across the world!
In 2019, I decided I needed to improve my HF set up as the wonderloop was great but challenging to operate due to the space it needed when plugged into the back of the radio, so I bought a ML40HP MK11 Remote Tune Magloop (https://www.g4tph.com/onlineshop/) for about £180. I installed this in my attic and it allows me to use VOICE and DATA modes across the world from the comfort of my desk on the floor below. It also allows higher power levels than the wonderloop (up to 100w VOICE and 35w DATA) and has simply been zip-tied to the rafters in the attic.
- Yaesu 450d for HF operation. (£500-£600)
- Wonderloop antenna (£90-£130)
- ML40HP MK11 Remote Tune Magloop (£180)
- Leixen VV898 2m70cm mobile radio (£64.95)
- Loft Antenna (2m70cm) (£40)
- Retevis RT82 2m70cm DMR handheld (£160)
- ZumSpot-rpi (£160)
So realistically, if you are starting out, you could spend £160 on a handheld and £160 on a zumspot and potentially never need to buy anything else and all without even needing to buy an antenna!
Some people run from such digital modes citing they don’t consider it real radio, although in truth these are usually our dinosaurs who simply don’t know anything about these newer modes.
The truth is that Amateur Radio is a hobby. But like with any hobby it can become a money pit, so my advice is start off small and expand into the areas that interest you most. There is no point in buying tons of equipment at premium prices to then discover it sits gathering dust. You will know when you need to improve your set-up.