We all remember our first radio. I got my license back in the day when separate transmitters and receivers were more common than transceivers are today. So, my first radio was a combination of a Hammarlund HQ-101 receiver and a Heathkit DX-60B transmitter. With this combination, I was able to operate CW and AM on the 80m, 40m, 20m, 15m, and 10m bands. Of course, because I was only a Novice, I wasn’t allowed on 20m at all, and could only operate CW on the other bands.
Today, it’s more common for one’s first radio to be a VHF or VHF/UHF FM transceiver. Now that some Chinese companies have entered the amateur radio market, you can buy a handheld VHF/UHF transceiver, like the Baofeng UV-5R, shown at right, for less than $75 in the U.S. A handheld transceiver makes a good first radio, but remember that it is just your first radio. If you never buy a second (or a third or a fourth), you won’t be able to take advantage of what our great hobby offers.
The ARRL has actually done a much better job of advising new hams about buying a first radio than I can do here. So, let me point you to the ARRL Web page, “Buying Your First Radio.” On this page, there are links to several PDF files that will help you choose your first radio.
The first publication you’ll see there is the 24-page brochure, Choosing a Ham Radio. Reading this publication will get you thinking about what kind of operating you want to do, which is really the first step in choosing the right radio for you. Next, it describes features found in modern radios, and you’ll gain a good understanding of how that affects your choice of radio.
Choosing a Ham Radio also contains a lot of information about HF, or shortwave, radios. While you may start out on the VHF and UHF bands, I would encourage you to think about getting on HF, even before you upgrade to General. For me, anyway, the magic of radio is on the shortwave bands, and at the very least, you owe it to yourself to try it.
Buying Used Gear
One approach to getting your first radio is to buy used gear. In general, I would advise against doing this for your first radio. One reason not to buy a used radio is that you’re often just buying someone else’s problems, especially if you’re not in a position to evaluate the condition of a radio. Another reason is that an older radio will not have all the features and could be more difficult to operate than a newer radio.
Having said that, used equipment is not always a bad deal. You might, for example, be able to purchase an older radio from someone you trust, like your Elmer (see Chapter 1) or a fellow club member. When you purchase a radio from someone you trust, not only are you more certain that it will work properly, but you’ll have someone to go to with questions or to consult with if there are problems.
Not only that, if you ask nicely, the ham might even let you use the radio for a while before actually purchasing it. I know that I’ve lent equipment to new hams in the past. Sometimes they decide to buy the radio. Other times, they’ve decided to purchase a new radio. In either case, they were able to make their decision based on experiences they had with an actual radio.
Finally, don’t worry about making the perfect choice. First off, there’s no perfect choice, and second, you can always sell the radio and buy something else. Chances are you’ll be able to sell it for not too much less than what you paid for it, and you’ll have gained a whole lot of experience.