I am wondering about the exact pricing of kits. What is the range of each radio? How long do they last? Should I buy a portable or not? My complete budget is $100.
Financially, \$100 isn't out of the question.
For the technician part of my own experience:
- I paid about \$25 for a Technician study guide (also available on Amazon) which might be helpful if one of the free options doesn't give enough background
- It usually costs just \$15 for each exam attempt, which includes the license application fee too assuming you pass. There are free practice tests available online to see if you're ready.
- I paid around \$35 for my first Baofeng/BTech handheld, and found it to be well built. Have someone help you program it right for ham usage, and limit the frequencies so you you can't accidentally mess with business/emergency channels.
- It was about \$15 to upgrade to longer whip antenna which might be a bit better than the one that comes with the radio. But see the next item…
- iirc I paid about \$25 or \$30 for an external roll up "slim jim" antenna with a built-in cable, from someone selling handmade ones on eBay. If you have to choose only one "extra" antenna, invest in this rather than a longer whip antenna since you can hang this up higher and the signal improvement is very obvious.
You might also budget \$15–20 for a USB programming cable which hooks the radio to your computer so you can change settings with Chirp, but probably someone in your local ham club could help you get it set up the radio anyway.
You'd be pushing your luck but there's a chance you could contact the International Space Station with not much more than the above equipment that fits in a drawer. (Don't count on it though without adding a $40–80 directional antenna which is gonna need a bigger drawer or a hook in the garage.) With just a license and a cheap handheld, you'll already have a good chance of using local VHF/UHF repeaters, make new contacts while traveling, try out EchoLink, etc. etc.
When my son (who is now 10yrs old) got his Technician license, we said we would buy him a handheld radio as a reward for the hard work he put into studying even when it was frustrating, and he was nervous to take the test in a room full of (very friendly!) grownups. Then some of those same grownups bought him a similar HT since they were glad to welcome a new young ham too!
So even if you buy all new equipment on your own, the Technician level is pretty affordable and I think it's a very good investment.
If you upgrade to General class, however, that's another book and (if taking the test on a separate day) another exam fee. The equipment also gets a lot more expensive, plan on \$500 for a "real" (100W) HF transceiver and \$150 for an antenna matcher/SWR meter and maybe $25 for some cheap coax and a length of speaker wire. But if you're patient someone might sell you a spare setup for less. Especially once you pass your Technician you might find some older local hams who will help you invest in this next level.
Another option is to assemble lower-power ("QRP") kits like the Omnia SDR or the BitX for a few hundred dollars (plus a \$10–20 power adapter, \$15 soldering iron, and a \$25 multimeter) and combine it with a ~\$75 tuneable loop antenna and tripod. These "QRP" kits are a bit safer too, but by the time you take your General exam you'll know how to avoid the risks.
There's really not a upper or lower limit to price -- it entirely depends on what capabilities you want.
At the low end, you can get a receive only SDR for $20; several suggestions can be found at rtl-sdr.com
There are several hand held UHF/VHF tranceivers available for under $50. The quality of these are questionable, but they usually last at least 2 years. Be sure to buy from a vendor that supplies a warranty.
There are several single band HF kit radios that can be built for under $50 from an ARRL design contest several years ago.
Decent handheld FM UHF/VHF typically start at about $120. Features to look for include: bands supported, dual or single receive, cross band capability, digital modes. Usually each feature adds to the cost.
Decent mobile UHF/VHF rigs also start at about $120. Features to look for include the above features, and maximum transmit power (5w, 50w, 100w), and additional modes (AM, SSB).
A decent all mode all band HF radio might cost $900-$1500 new, but older models can be found used for half of that.
These prices have been stable for more than 5 years (some more than 20 years), but the capabilities of the radios have shifted.
This is a starting point. Do your research, figure out what you want.
And I can't stress enough the power of building your own equipment, especially antennas! $10 will go a long way for a self built antenna that can beat any bought antenna at 100x the cost.