The new Ham FAQ!

Please post contributions to the FAQ in the separate contributions thread. I would like to keep this thread to just the FAQ only. Thanks!

Also remember that no question is too dumb! If you have a burning question you'd like answered, by all means ask! If it's FAQ material we'll add it in!

Elmers!! We need your contributions!!

Are you a new ham? You just passed your exam and got your callsign? If so, congratulations!!

Or are you one of those guys who took a break to deal with life then found ham radio again when the XYL left? If that's the case, sorry about the XYL, and welcome back.

Here are some useful tips that new hams can use to get started in the hobby.

Radios, antennas and feedlines.

Q: What sort of radio should I buy? I'm a complete newbie.

A: That is the 10 million dollar question! It all depends on what you want to do. To talk on local repeaters you need a 2 meter FM (144-148MHz) radio. Yaesu, Alinco, Icom and Kenwood all make them. Most people start with a handheld but that gets old quick. If you have a car, you might want to buy a mobile rig to put in it. I'm a fan of the Yaesu rigs. Alinco for mobile isn't bad either. If you live in a populated area or large city you might want a dual band radio because more than likely there are repeaters on the 70cm band too. If you want to get on HF or 6m, I would suggest getting an all mode radio. THere are many to choose from. Hop on over to a site such as and check out the reviews. My personal favorite for a starter rig is a Kenwood TS-440S. It's available for a few hundred dollars used.

Q. I want to modify my CB radio, can I do that?
A. It depends. If you want to keep using it on CB, the answer is no. The CB radio is CERTIFIED by the FCC to conform to the current FCC rules and regulation and is to be used only for that service. Any modifications or parts subsitutions invalidate the certification and makes that transceiver illegal for use on Citizens Band. However, nothing is illegal about modifying CB radios for use on the ham bands, provided that they meet FCC technical requirements.

Q. My wife is a volunteer firefighter. I have my Icom ham radio in her car, can I modify it so I do not need to buy a fire department radio?

A. NO, the radio is not certified for use on any commercial service and may only be used in the amateur radio service. The nature of the hobby allows for modifications and improvements. Radio systems used in public service are tightly controlled to operation. While Amateur Radio does not have the same limitations, this is one of the reasons for the examination to prove that you are competent. Furthermore, while the radio may receive and transmit outside of the ham bands, in some cases this is really stretching the capabilities of the radio and the signals may not be within FCC spec. for that service. However, it is not illegal to modify your ham radios to listen (only!) outside of the bands, except to cellular telephones.

Thanks, K8YS for the last two Q&A.

Q. I was given an old taxi cab radio (or other commercial radio), can I modify it for two meters?
A. Yes, Amateur Radios are not Type Accepted or Certified, by testing for your license, you proved to the FCC that you know the rules and regulations regarding operation and will maintain "good amateur practice". You are free to modify any gear to use in the amateur radio bands (as long as you don't use it in any other service.)

Q: What sort of an antenna should I use?

A: Depends on your needs too. For 2m or 70cm, you can use a J-pole. It's made easily with parts from the hardware store. link. For HF, you can start off with a dipole or loop. The types of antennas are varied as there are people on this earth. There is really no "one size fits all." Every antenna is a compromise. How much compromise you're willing to accept and what you're willing to compromise will decide what you should use.

Q: I've heard about dipoles. How do I make one?

A: We thought you'd never ask. A dipole is simply two pieces of wire fed to a feedline. There are several types, the most common one being the half wave dipole, the total length of which is half the wavelength of the frequency you want to use. For 20 meters it's about 33 feet. Simply cut two pieces of copper wire (could be zip cord) to the appropriate length, and feed to a piece of coax or ladder line. The total length is given by 468/f where f is the frequency in MHz. You should have insulators at the end and the center to prevent arcing at higher power and interaction with the objects at the end. The center can be fed directly to coax, or via a balun, or directly to ladder line. Make sure you secure your connections with wire nuts or solder and seal your coax from the elements. Wet coax is no good. You will then have to put the antenna up and adjust for minimum SWR. An antenna analyzer is useful and will save you a lot of time, but is not necessary. The shorter the antenna, the higher the frequency. The longer the antenna, the lower the frequency. If you feed your dipole with ladder line, you do not need to adjust it. Just make sure it is about a foot longer and use the tuner.

Q: I've heard about coax, ladder line, heliax, etc. What's the difference?

A: Coaxial cable or "coax" is composed of a center conductor, a dielectric (insulator) and an outer shield. There are different varieties, with different amounts of loss. The most common type in amateur use today is RG-8 or RG-213. Heliax is a trademark of Andrew corporation. It is a coax with a hard shield and not as flexible. It is very low loss and good for long runs or higher frequencies (VHF, UHF, SHF). It's helically wound, hence the name "Heliax." Ladder line or balanced feeder is two parallel conductors separated by an insulator. It comes in several varieties, the most common being open window line with little rectangular windows to prevent the cable from being blown away in the wind. The difference between them all is the loss and impedance. Ladder line is typically anywhere from 300-600 ohms, and coax is usually 50 or 75 ohm. Typical impedance for ladder line is 450 ohm, and for coax it is 50 ohm.

Q:What should I use?

A: Anything you like. They all work. You should try to use low loss coax for long runs or higher frequencies, if you can afford it. Ladder line (balanced feeder) is excellent for HF, but it needs to be away from metallic objects.

Q:My friend from the cable company gave me some FREE coax! It's the hardline they run on the poles. Can I use it?

A: You lucky dog you. Absolutely, 100% Yes! But there is a catch. That coax has an impedance of 75 ohms (your TV has a 75 ohm input). You need to match it. See here.


Q: Where can I operate on HF? I'm a Technician/General/Extra?

A: See this chart.

Q: I'm a tech, can I chat with my buddies on 75 meters?

A: No, you cannot, unless you upgrade or are operating under the direct supervision of a control operator who has a General, Advanced or Extra class license and use his/her callsign.

Q: Can't I just operate? How will people know? They probably won't care.

A: You can bet your uncle they do care. And it is likely you'll get a letter from the FCC and you risk losing your license if you operate outside of your privileges. Don't do it. They'll NAiL you with fines.

Q: I heard the FCC dropped the morse code requirement. I took the general written exam last year. Do I get upgraded automatically?

A: No!! You have to go to a VE session, and if your CSCE (the white certificate the VEs gave you) is less than a year old, you have to pay their fee (if any) and you'll get your upgrade. It's not automatic!

Amplifiers and propagation

Q: Do I need an amplifier to operate on HF?

A: Probably no. Most hams recommend getting a better antenna system first, then running power. Running power makes you heard, but you can't hear the other side so you can't make contact anyway. On the low bands (80,160) , you may need to run an amp due to the high noise levels on those bands.

Q: I want to work DX, so I get up late at night like those hams in the movies, turn on my radio to 20 meters and start calling CQ. No one answers. How come?

A: Could be a number of things, but most likely you're encountering the fickle beast called propagation. The atmosphere changes at different times of day or night and as a result it will be difficult to make contact at some times, and excellent at others. Get some software such as VOAProp (free). Alternatively, you can monitor the beacons. The 20m beacons are on 14.100MHz CW.

Q: Can I use a CB Amp on the ham bands?

A: You can, but you shouldn't. Most CB amps are poorly designed and will not produce a clean enough signal to stay within FCC specs.