There are a lot of reasons to get a ham radio license, and if you are one of those that think ham radio is dead you can probably skip this post. However, if you have been interested, but didn’t want to drop a lot of money on a station, [KE6MT] has got some great advice for you. He says you can have a rewarding time in ham radio for about $100 of spending.
The post is the advice he wished he had been given in 2015 when he got his license. It turns out you can get on the air very inexpensively these days, especially if you aren’t afraid to build gear from kits.
There are some caveats. With low powered gear, you might want to stick to Morse code, a mode with which it is much easier to make contacts. He didn’t mention it, but PSK31 is good for that as well if you’d rather type than do code. He did borrow a “big radio” from a local ham and got some time with the microphone, but he still prefers the code.
He found an interesting solution to having problems making contacts with people. He participates in something called SOTA, or Summits on the Air, where you bring your equipment to the top of a mountain and then people try to find you. This is a pursuit at which the small portable equipment is an advantage. If you don’t have mountains nearby though, there are other ways to become a rare station. There are hams who try to work islands, for example. Or rare US counties. If you can make yourself a rare station, you can sit back and let those hams chase you! Great idea.
If you aren’t up on the code — you now you don’t have to pass a code test anymore — [KE6MT] has some online resources for you, including the amusingly-named Morse Toad iPhone or Android app.
The centerpiece of his station, though, is the QRP Labs QCX kit. Although he praises the instructions, he adds a few things about winding the receiver input transformer toroid. Of course, you also need an antenna, and he covers that with another kit, as well. Rounding out the kits is a CW paddle you build yourself.
You don’t need the paddle to send code, but a lot of people do prefer it to a straight key. With a straight key the dots and dashes are formed by hand, while with a paddle (and an associated keyer) a press on one side of the paddle produces dots while the other side produces dashes. Press both at once and you’ll get an alternating pattern. For ultimate convenience a computer produces the exact lengths of dots and dashes required for the speed you desire. Handy, but not necessary, if you were really on a budget.