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Starting a amateur radio station at home

Starting a amateur radio station at home

After a 20 year hiatus, I'm getting back into amateur radio.  This time, rather than a failed attempt at learning morse code, I'm trying to be practical.  My goals are two-fold:

  1. To be able to participate in emergency communications
  2. To be able to use digital modes like DStar, FT8, etc.

I'm not interested in old-school "rag chewing" or in collecting long-distance voice contacts. With that in mind, I've set out to equip myself with the following:

  1. A 2m (140/220/440 MHz) handheld "walkie-talkie" to be able to conduct communications in the Toronto area (primarily using the repeaters like VE2YYZ B on the CN Tower)
  2. A small "High Frequency" (HF) transceiver (10m/20m/40m)
    1. The IC-7300 was the winner.  In 2020 it's widely considered the baseline "reference" rig.  Except for the IC-705 (which wasn't available in mid-2020) there is nothing in its price range -- or even $1000 above it -- that matches its bang-for-buck.
    2. The IC-705 was the runner-up.  It's ability to do HF and UHF/VHF and DStar, all in a small (low power) package was really nice.  But it was not available in Summer 2020.
  3. A receive-only software defined radio
    1. The RTL-SDR was my choice.  That was a mistake.  The lack of filters means I can't receive a lot of stations in Toronto due to interference.
    2. I should have gotten an RPlay-SDR.

Antenna selection

  • Bands:  2M to 80m
  • Space: super constrained.  Very small backyard (~4m x 8m), nearby comms wires (cable, phone), no trees.
    • J-Pole for VHF/UHF
      • The Arrow J-Pole is perfect for VHF/UHF, even 2m above the ground on a PVC mast.  Under $100, with coax.  Have set it up.  Works well.
    • A compact vertical
      • Diamond BB7V was my first choice because it's simple and requires no tuning adjustments, but it's too tall (~6m) and could be hazard to overhead cable & telephone wires.  Price is decent ($400)
      • The Comet HVU-8 is only 3m tall and 3m wide but requires tuning.  $500 for the antenna and $500-$1000 for an antenna tuner.  That's $1000.  Does 2m to 80m.
    • A compact horizontal (Comet and Diamond)
      • Practical, a little more expensive, but won't do up to 80m
    • A small folded dipole (diamond WD-330S)
      • need a mast, but it's relatively heavy so the Spiderpoles and others won't do. They're good for permanent, maybe.
      • Local vendor told me to stay away from MFJ fiberglass poles for anything permanent and they don't stock anything else.
    • A magnetic loop (Chameleon CHA F-Loop or MLA-M are both 10W 10m-80m)
      • Intro to Magnetic Loops on YouTube  with "ultralight MLA OMOET loop.
      • Jeri Ellsworth's videos on making a Magnetic Loop for 160m using copper pipe.
      • Radio Prepper video 1 and video 2.
      • so small they can be indoors
      • F-Loop appears to be rugged .
      • The MLA is not good for permanent outdoors, not sure about CHA.  Some of the other ones at Wimo seem more appropriate, but are twice as expensive.
        • The MLA from the Czech Republic is no longer available.
        • English translation of a Czech Book on Magnetic loop antennas.
      • The MLA-30 is the cheapest (W6-LVP) antenna with decent reviews.  More reviews.
        • It's pretty noisy.  Works fine as a receiver for the price.
      • Maybe one of the more expensive Italian or German loops for 100+ watts and an automatic tuner system.  $1000 to $2000.

Maybe the Anytone mobile rig, with CAT5 can be used as an iGate?

Masts and guying

Antennas fall down and go boom.

Learning resources
American vs. Non-American Radio Operators

It's a real shame that the American Ham community is dominated by Preppers and Evangelicals.  Google searches tend to fall on to technical-light "meat and potatoes" reviews by (sometimes, literally gun-toting) hams.  There are a few notable exceptions. European and Japanese reviews are generally superior as they don't add toxic, paranoid politics into the hobby.