If you don’t have a solid background in electronic or electrical engineering, you could be forgiven for finding the task of building a HAM radio a little bit overwhelming.
Luckily you don’t need to go around sourcing every single individual component alone. There’s plenty of pre-made kits available online with all of the components included. This can save you a real headache, but it all boils down to the level of involvement you want to have.
If you had a reasonable background in electronics you could look up some circuit diagrams online, order the individual components and either build stuff out with a breadboards or design your own printed circuit board to accommodate your components.
For the purposes of this article, though, let’s assume this is slightly outwidth the scope of what you’re comfortable with.
The kits available online range in difficulty – some are even child friendly.
It’s possible to go out and source a handheld or regular HAM radio with ease, but whether you buy or build one – you’ll need a license to operate them. If you’re considering purchasing one – look into Yeasu or potentially Baofeng – both are reliable manufacturers.
If you’re curious about how to get a HAM radio license – we have a page on exactly that issue.
Below we will show you how to go about building a HAM radio from scratch.
Building a HAM Radio From Scratch.
If you’re looking to build any kind of device that’s capable of transmitting and receiving signals, you’re gonna need a few key components.
- A transmitter and a receiver. (often combined as one – called a transceiver)
- An antenna and an Antenna Tuner.
- A license to operate this equipment.
In order to send out any kind of information, you need a transmitter. This is the key component for generating the actual current that is applied to an antenna. When a current is applied to an antenna – the antenna sends out radio waves.
The receiving portion of the device is responsible for converting incoming radio signals into a format that can be played from a speaker and thus audibly heard by humans.
You can purchase these separately or opt for a two-in-one transceiver such as the ICOM 2300H 05 to make things a little bit easier for you.
The antenna is a pretty important part of any radio. Simply put, antennas are large rods of conductive materials that do a couple of key things. Firstly, they react to radio waves in the air to produce an equivalent current at their terminals.
This current is then sent to the receiver to be processed. Similarly, when you wish to transmit a signal – you need simply apply the equivalent current AT the terminals, and the antenna will begin producing radio waves.
There’s a few different types of antenna you can choose from. You can opt for a directional antenna that can only transmit in a certain direction – or an omnidirectional one. Omnidirectional antennas send out signals in every direction so they can be a bit more useful but also more expensive.
If you can make the purchase, we’d opt for the latter.
If you’re planning on making a HAM radio to taking with you in a vehicle – you’ll need a mobile antenna.
Antennas are absolutely critical – you can have the best transceiver in the world and it wouldn’t matter if you had a garbage antenna to accompany it. Antennas are one of the most important parts of ensuring you get good signal strength and reliability.
Antenna tuners are pretty handy to have – but many people don’t feel they are entirely necessary. It’s entirely possible to have a HAM radio up and running without having any actual need for a tuner.
On the flip side – you should consider this: an antenna tuner will allow you to finetune your radio and optimise its ability to both transmit and receive.
There’s a pretty big variety of tuners out their on the market. There’s lower cost ones for those of you on a budget. There’s also slightly more sophisticated ones/higher quality ones sitting at slightly higher price points. Models such as the LDG Electronics Z-817 are a perfect example of this.
Antenna tuners work by granting you the ability to transmit across frequencies your antenna would previously prohibit you from transmitting across. If your antenna locks you in to the 50 meter band, for example – your tuner would let you transmit at above and below those frequencies.
Just be cautious of the fact that transmitting in a frequency your antenna is not actually designed for isn’t going to be optimal in terms of signal strength/quality. As long as you keep this in mind you’ll be able to make full use of something as handy as a tuner without disappointing yourself.
If you’re looking for a bit more versatility in the frequencies you can actually transmit across, this would be ideal.
Please be wary that before you can actually operate a HAM radio – you must have the necessary license to use it.
There are multiple types of licenses available for HAM radio operates. Three to be specific – each one is slightly harder to obtain than the last. With each level of license granting you slightly more responsibility and loosening the restrictions placed upon you.
The first license is the technicians license – named as such because it allows you to effectively test and see if the HAM radio is functional on some restricted HF bands. No long range transmission/receiving is allowed at this stage.
The next step up is a general license – once you’ve gotten your tech license you can apply for this license. This is the license held by most HAM radio operators. It’s slightly more difficult to get than a technicians license – but it allows you to operate on way more HF bands. This license is so common because it’s often necessary to get an advanced license for hobbyist purposes.
The final step is the advanced license – you can use every HF band and the entire radio spectrum is your playground. You need to have a few years of HAM radio experience and the previous two licenses to be eligible for this license.
How you approach your circuitry is up to you. If you’re comfortable designing, printing and manufacturing printed circuit boards – then you could use a program such as proteus to build out a prototype based on circuit diagrams. This of course requires a knowledge of circuit diagrams – you must be able to tell what all the individual icons stand for. Putting a diode where a resistor should be could render your device unusable at the best of times or damage a component at the worst.
HAM radio circuit diagrams can be found with relative ease online, make sure to check out what people are saying about the diagrams first. Also check to see if they come with an accompanying walk through – this can help you guarantee that the diagram is accurate.
If you have not reached this level of comfort when it comes to the field of electronics – that’s fine too. There’s plenty of pre-made kits and bundles that will still allow you to assemble the device yourself, but eliminate the stress of sourcing the correct components or designing a PCB.
If you require further assistance, you should reach out to your local HAM radio community. Make some friends and do some networking and it’s unlikely there won’t be more than a handful of people willing to offer advice and support when you undertake this project.
You don’t need to be a qualified electronics engineer to build a HAM radio. You don’t even need to have a high level of competency – there are so many different approaches to take in undertaking a project like this that you can choose your own level of involvement. You don’t need to be rich either – you can source all the important components you need to get yourself up and running for less than a couple hundred dollars. As far as radios go – that’s great value for money.
Just be aware that you absolutely need a license to operate a HAM radio – even one you built yourself. Operating one without a license is actually a crime and can come with a legal penalty.