New Directions Radio: Cheap Ham Radio

The author considers several options to help would-be ham radio operators put together a cheap ham radio kit.

| March/April 1980

  • 062 new directions radio3
    Copthorne Macdonald is the inventor of slow-scan television, a method of amateur radio transmission that allows ham operators to hear and see each other during shortwave broadcasts.

  • 062 new directions radio3

One of the questions that readers of this column most frequently ask me is, "How can I put together an adequate ham station without spending a fortune on equipment?"

The fact is that there are many MOTHER EARTH NEWS-type folks who'd like to own an amateur radio setup, but feel they just can't afford such a "luxury." Naturally, as the economic crunch intensifies, the situation will get progressively worse, and eventually a lot of us are going to have to find alternatives to expensive equipment . . . so why not start now?

The "standard" long-range HF band ham rig used today is an SSB-voice and CW transceiver, which covers all five amateur bands between 3.5 and 30 MHz and runs about 200 watts input. Such rigs are made by a number of different manufacturers in the United States and Japan. Prices in the U.S. currently start at about $700 for new solid-state transceivers . .. $400 to $500 for used solid-state units . . . and $300 to $400 for used tube-type rigs.

A Simplified Version

One idea that has surfaced several times in the past six years is that we New Directions Radio folks design and produce our own cheap ham radio transceiver. Of course, if we did so, and incorporated all the features of the five-band commercial rigs into our unit, it would end up costing a lot itself. In my view, we'd need to tailor the design specifically to NDR needs, using maybe one or two bands instead of five, fixed frequency operation instead of variable, etc. (We could save lots of money if we dropped the use of voice and went to code, but that particular idea doesn't seem to be very popular.)

In addition to eliminating unnecessary features, we'd probably want to try some other money saving tricks. We might, for example, incorporate surplus gear or parts into the design of the unit . . . or convert CB gear to ham use ... or possibly try using a commercial shortwave receiver as the "heart" of the new unit. And we'd probably incorporate the new, inexpensive VMOS power transistors in our final amplifier.

Our first step, of course, would be to exchange ideas on what features the unit should have, along with information on low-cost sources of critical parts like sideband filters and power transistors. The design and debugging of a few prototypes would follow that research, and actual production could either be a group effort or become some individual's cottage industry.

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