I would love to get involved with amateur radio, but I'm not sure how.

My community recreation center hosts a class to get a Technicians license for a reasonable price ($10), and I know a little bit of Morse Code.

My Questions:

  • How much will it cost to get entry-level equipment? (I can build if necessary, I am okay with using a soldering gun and uploading software)
  • How can I find others to communicate with on the radio?
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ This seems like two different questions — they're both about getting started but a good answer for one won't be particularly related to the other (except that they both involve some of the same background). Would you mind splitting this into two separate posts? $\endgroup$ – Kevin Reid AG6YO Apr 8 '19 at 22:54
  • $\begingroup$ The answers to your questions depend strongly on what you want and are able to do with our wonderful hobby. Please tell us about your interests; e.g., technical education, programming, community service, cross-cultural communication, etc. $\endgroup$ – Brian K1LI Apr 8 '19 at 23:14
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Have you accessed the information at www.arrl.org? $\endgroup$ – Cecil - W5DXP Apr 9 '19 at 10:54
  • $\begingroup$ @BrianK1LI I'm mostly interested in HAM as a hobby, as an emergency measure, and a way to communicate with other people $\endgroup$ – Ben Gubler Apr 9 '19 at 23:18

My advice would be to start as a HF listener. There are a lot of fun things you can do without even having a license. As a listener you need only an RTL-SDR v3. This version has a direct sampling functionality which allows you to listen HF bands (3.5-30MHz) without any additional equipment (an upconverter). The price of RTL-SDR v3 is about 30$. Please make sure you buy it in the official rtl-sdr.com shop. Otherwise you can get a fake device without direct sampling.

Here are a few things you can do with it:

  1. Build a receive-only antenna an listen to SSB on HF bands
  2. Try to decode different amateur radio modes, like BPSK31, FT8, WSPR, SSTV, JS8 and others
  3. Receive a WeFax
  4. Figure out how to receive and decode ADS-B
  5. Receive and decode APRS signals
  6. Figure out how to use RTL-SDR as an spectrum analyzer
  7. After step (6) solder a simple filter and test it with RTL-SDR
  8. Receive images from weather satellites
  9. If you are not bored yet consider getting a ham license and bying a transceiver

The process of getting a license in USA was described not a long time ago on hackaday.com by Dan Maloney, KC1DJT. In the comments to this article you can find links to the similar articles for different countries. I happened to be an author of such an article for Russia.

A transceiver is more expensive device than RTL-SDR. A brand new 100W transceiver like Yaesu FT-891 costs 680$ on Amazon. It could be more price-efficient to buy a second hand transceiver, though in this case there is a risk of buying a defected device.

It's also worth noticing that there are a lot of channels on YouTube dedicated to ham radio. You might want to subscribe to some of them. Here is my current list of favorite channels:

73 and see you on the bands!

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If you are willing to build equipment and don't specify what functionality you want, there is no lower or upper limit to cost. Low quality commercial hardware that can transmit can be found for as low as \$25. Low quality but broad band receivers can be found for as low as \$7. About double that for both will get a decent but minimum functionality commercial device.

The easiest way to find people to talk to on the radio (after you get your license) is to call on the radio. Also, there may be local clubs you can join, and very likely the technician class you already found is sponsored by such a club. If you are in the United States, you can use http://www.arrl.org/find-a-club to search for a local club.

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I concur that a good place to begin is with a local radio club. Ham radio can be as simple or as involved as you want it to be, but getting started on the air can be made easier by working with an experienced operator. It might also be helpful to interest siblings, friends, parents, teachers or scout leaders. Group members can help each other, contributing to the fun of exploration and discovery.

Since your profile indicates your interest in coding, you might consider exploring software-defined radio (SDR). With SDR, much of the radio's functionality is implemented on a "computer," be it a PC/Mac, a single-board computer or a smartphone. Receive-only USB "dongles" are an inexpensive path into this field and relatively inexpensive open-source transceiver hardware, like Hermes-Lite, is becoming more available.

There are numerous open-source SDR programs that run under Windows, MacOS, Linux and Android on their respective hardware platforms. Here, again, you can focus on the part of the "radio" that interests you: the top-level programs are built on open-source libraries that implement lower-level (and, often, deeply technical) functions, like DSP, graphics, hardware interfaces, etc. The only limit is your imagination!

As you explore ham radio's many facets, you will also find lots of support in other areas of StackExchange. We look forward to hearing more from you!

I have no affiliation with the companies whose products are cited in this answer.

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