The $50 Ham: Entry-Level Transceivers For Technicians

Last week , I covered the ridiculously low barriers to entry for radio amateurs, both in terms of financial costs and the process of training and taking the FCC exam. You’ve had seven days, so I guess you’ve caught on and you’re a freshly forged radio amateur. The next big question could be: Now what?

We briefly mentioned the image that ham radio is a hobby of a rich old man, and this reputation is well deserved. For ham facilities, there really is no upper limit on what you can spend. Glossy brochures and glossy hawk transceiver web pages, bristling with buttons and switches and loaded with the latest features, all of which are likely to become obsolete in a few years, when the next big thing comes along and manufacturers respond with new, mandatory models to you ICOM IC-7300. It is no different from any other technology market and enough people are passionate about this marketing to turn it into a going concern.

But fortunately, while there is no obvious ceiling on what you can spend on ham equipment, there is certainly a floor and it can be very, very low. Our $ 50 budget can go a long way in airing a new technician on the air if you’re willing to make some trade-offs and you can give up the latest and greatest for a while.

Better than nothing

Like seemingly any other class of electronic devices, there has been a recent influx of cheap ham transceivers aimed at new licensed technicians. And as with TVs, computers and everything else, there are pros and cons to this cheap import. The good side is the benefit for consumers who would not otherwise be able to afford such devices. Such low-cost devices also tend to push higher-end equipment manufacturers to adjust their pricing strategies to avoid eating their lunch; competition is always good for the consumer, especially in niche markets, such as ham radio transmitters, which have relatively few producers.

The bad aspects of cheap imported electronics have been hashed many times and we will not deal with these points here, except to say that in many cases you get what you pay for. You can’t expect as much from a radio station you spent $ 25 on as one that costs a few hundred dollars. The consumer must evaluate the value of the purchase offer; some people need the quality and features offered by an expensive device, others can handle the cheap one.

The first “shed” for many hams: Baofeng UV-5RA on the right, Wouxun KG-UV6D on the left. Personally, I keep Baofeng for experiments and for places where I could lose it.

However, nuance and shouting always appear only when someone offers to buy one of the cheap Chinese radio stations as their first ham platform. Older thighs make fun of these radio stations and make fun not only of the technology, but also of those who would be worthy to use something like that. Some particularly rebellious hams will flatly refuse to talk to anyone who uses cheap Chinese handcuffs (HT).

They have a point – Baofengs are especially known for their false emissions out of range – but personally I find this rude and extreme behavior. I think that anyone who is interested in growing the hobby would accept such QSOs as learning moments, instead of leaving a beginner who feels bad about his choice of equipment.

But if you think you can handle slingshots and arrows, your first radio is only $ 25. The Baofeng UV-5R the dual-band HT is one way for the newly minted technician to exercise his privileges on both the 2-meter VHF band and the 70-centimeter UHF band. The radio is impossibly small and light, has a decent battery life and has a maximum transmission power of four watts. It is programmable from the front keyboard, although it’s annoying enough that getting a programming cable and open source programming application not a bad idea. It allows the Technique to make contacts both in simplex mode (short range, radio to radio on the same frequency) and duplex (contacts with a larger range using two different frequencies and a remote repeater; we will cover the repeaters more in depth in the next article).


Obviously, the $ 25 radio has a lot of trade-offs, and the most important one for Baofeng is the antenna. The rubber duck antenna is simply pathetic. Tearing reveals that there is not much, but a coil of wire and a simple matching mesh in the flexible plastic coating. Fortunately, better antennas are available, also cheaper. The Antennas in Nagoya are a good choice and will only refund you $ 15 or more. And there’s nothing stopping you from building an even more complex antenna, like a quarter-wave terrestrial antenna or a Yagi, both of which we’ll look at in future installments of this series.

Even with a better antenna, your entire first “platform” can be well below our magic $ 50 limit. However, if you have the funds, it’s probably wise to invest a little more. My first HT was Wouxun KG-UV6G, another dual-band HT that costs about four times the price of Baofeng. And I feel that way – stronger, more solid and less flexible, with a better antenna. Some will still fuck it up as a cheap import, but I haven’t had a problem with it over the years. Still, “real” dual-band HTs from manufacturers like Yaesu and ICOM can be obtained for much more than that, and offers for used high-quality equipment can be found if you are patient.

As for the Baofengs and their cheap cousins, the FCC recently issued a board ban the import or sale of devices that do not comply with their rules. The point of attachment of these radios is their ability to transmit outside the scope of the ham, especially in the scope of public services. With (incorrect) programming, these HTs can be set up not only to receive police and fire calls, but can also be used to transmit on these channels. Listening to people in blue and red can be interesting and perfectly legal, but even accidentally blocking public safety services is a serious problem. However, it seems to me that the FCC is doing this in the wrong way. Bath radios look drastic when it would be possible to redesign the firmware of these radios to prevent the transmission of anything but ham strips.

It’s hard to say what the FCC will do with their advice or how they plan to enforce it. Will they ban future imports of these radio stations? Will anyone who uses them be fined? Or worse, will they try to confiscate your new platform? If you are handing over legally, I very much doubt that any of this will happen, but even if your new Baofeng turns out to be outlawed, you will only have $ 25. In my mind, putting a few dollars on one of these HTs to import it’s probably a solid investment if it shows you off and starts the learning process.

Are there other ways for the new technician to air? Absolutely! Home brewing is always an option; I would like to create a 2-meter platform from scratch for this series. There are UHF and VHF kits, and some people have even found ways to modify old CB radios that work on what used to be the 11-meter ham bar to be used as one-sided (SSB) radios for the narrow piece. from the 10-meter strip on which the Technicians have telephone privileges. Nowadays, CB radios are electronic waste, so this can make a cheap and interesting project.

But just by getting on the air and at least listening to what’s going on, you can’t beat the cheap HTs.

Next time

In the next installment we will discuss what to do after you have a radio: check the local repeater, find other hammers in your area and participate in networks.