HAM Radios For Beginners
Ham radio has remained relatively popular amongst hobbyists since its initial increase in accessibility to the general public. The modern era of radio science and mass production has only served to make these devices more and more accessible to the layman.
However, there’s a huge variety of possible options out there, and it can be difficult to sift through them all.
It might be tempting at first to sink your money into the most expensive, fancy radio kit you can find. Whilst this certainly leaves you some “room to grow” in terms of what you can accomplish with your radio, the learning curve is often so difficult for the more advanced pieces of machinery that it can be incredibly discouraging.
This guide will run you through some of the best possible entry level radios to use for the budding HAM radio enthusiast.
But first, let’s cover some basic questions you may or may not have:
What does the HAM stand for in HAM Radio?
There is actually a wealth of common misconceptions surrounding how the term “HAM” radio came to be coined. Many of them are fairly exciting too.
One theory poses that the term “HAM” comes from the last initials of the original pioneers of radio “Hertz-Armstrong-Marconi”. This is easily disproved by the fact that Armstrong was not a public figure when the term was coined.
Another theory poses that the term comes from a popular magazine known as “Home Amateur Mechanic” magazine – interestingly though, absolutely zero evidence exists to prove the existence of this magazine.
The truth is unfortunately not as exciting: the term HAM radio simply came about due to the fact that the word ‘HAM’ naturally became synonymous with ‘amateur’. This is due to the existence of the phrase “ham-fisted” which is often used in the context of describing someone’s incompetence at a particular task or skill.
Whilst this phrase had negative connotations at first, many amateur hobbyists adopted the phrase, turning it from a negative word into a positive.
Do I Need A License To Operate HAM Radio Equipment?
You do not need a license to purchase HAM radio equipment or use the equipment to monitor various frequencies.
However, If you intend to broadcast with your radio equipment in the United States, you will require an FCC license. Laws surrounding amateur radio use out with the United States may vary from fairly relaxed to completely illegal.
How Wide Can I Transmit?
The laws surrounding HAM radio transmissions are a lot more relaxed than those governing CB radio. HAM Radio operators have authorisation to transmit on a staggering 28 frequency bands (1.8 to 250K Mhz!) and can use up to 1000 watts of power to transmit! You can also transmit more than just voice: morse code, television & even digital data is allowed.
The 5 Best HAM Radios For Beginners
Radio #1 – The ICOM 2300H 05 Amateur Radio
The ICOM 2300H is ideal for beginners. It’s relatively cheap, compact in size and is specifically designed to be easy to use.
The 2300H offers some key features:
- Low weight of around 2.4 lbs
- Multiple Scan Function
- DTMF Auto Dial Features
- Repeater Lockout
- Automatic Power Off
- Weather Alert System
- Solid Audio Quality
- 65 Watt power output for long range transmission/recieving
It offers ‘Distributed Tactical Communications System’ (or DTCS) Encryption. It also offers use of the Continuous Tone Coded Squelch-System (another form of encryption, referred to as CTCSS for short.)
Another key feature is the ability to store up to 207 of your favourite frequencies across alphanumerically categorized memory channels. Whilst it’s great to write down notable frequencies on paper, this can cut down on that need greatly.
Radio #2 – The Yaesu FT-8900R Quad Band Transceiver
The Yaesu comes with 800 memory channels for you to play with. It has Very High Frequency (VHF) / Ultra High Frequency (UHF) Functionality.
It has a sturdy but sleek aesthetic design with a nice orange backlighting that’s easier on the eyes.
It has a remote-head mounting feature which makes mounting the device in virtually any car a walk in the park.
Amazingly, due to the scope and scale of this radio it has worldwide FM capability – this pairs very well with it’s high power output and thermal regulation.
Despite the functionality of this device, it’s still very much an amateur friendly HAM radio – there’s no vast array of complex buttons to get lost in. If you’re looking for something that’s beginner friendly but doesn’t sacrifice functionality, this radio is for you.
Radio #3 – The Kenwood Original V71A Dual Band Mobile Transceiver
Was 800 memory channels not enough? The kenwood original comes with 1000!
It has dual-frequency capability (VxV and UxU) and a standard 50 Watt power output.
On top of having all of the features of the radios listed above, the backlight colour can be toggled between Amber/Green. It uses a 104 code digital squelch for encryption and the front panel can be inverted also.
This radio is ideal for budding enthusiasts looking to get a considerable amount of mileage out of their radios. If you’re certain amateur radio is a hobby you’ll stick with, this may be the radio for you.
It can operate as a scanner outside of the traditional HAM radio bands but will NOT transmit. (This is very handy as doing so is actually against the law.)
The microphone plugs in to the side of the radio rather than the front, so keep that in mind if you’re working with a compact space.
Radio 4# – President Electronics RONALD HAM Transceiver
If you’re unfamiliar with president electronics, they have a pretty cool naming convention for their radios. Each radio is named after a different historical US President.
Regardless of your feelings on Ronald Reagan, his namesake makes for a great entry level amateur HAM radio for those who are perhaps nervous about sinking too much money into a hobby they’re still new to.
It comes with an easy to read LCD display with a warm amber glow for backlighting, this makes the frequency display much easier to read and is overall easier on the eyes.
It also has an external loudspeaker jack for hooking up to more powerful sound systems.
Radio 5# – President Lincoln 2 Plus (V3)
Yet another product from president electronics. It may be named after a much older president, but it’s certainly not outdated in terms of the tech involved in engineering this masterpiece.
The Lincoln 2 comes with multiple programmable emergency channels & an easy to use interface with plenty of control.
Enjoy switching seamlessly between AM, FM and SSB – Just make sure you have a good cable.
The Multi-function LCD display provides a wealth of information without being overburdening, making the initial setup of the device a total breeze.
All of the 12 meter and 10 meter amateur radio bands are covered by this device. You also have the option of RF gain and RF Power.