New Directions Radio: Low-Cost Ham Radio and Building a Free Transmitter

New Directions Radio shares information on a low-cost Ham radio, how Andy Schaefer built a free transmitter, and sources for convertible radio pieces.

| July/August 1975

Copthorne Macdonald is an amateur radio enthusiast, inventor of slow scan television, and founder of New Directions Radio. New Direction Radio article MOTHER EARTH NEWS NO. 34, July/August 1975.

George Brand (WA8SC0/0) and several other MOTHER-reading hams have suggested that I tell folks just how simple and inexpensive it can be to get a "no frills" amateur rig on the air. These folks are afraid that all this talk about slow scan TV, 5-band SSB transmitters, and radio teletype "is going to scare a lot of people away. Presented like that, ham radio looms up larger than life and the average person is going to think he can't handle it."

A Low-Cost Start in Ham Radio

George and the others have a mighty good point. In the early days of amateur radio, everything was simple because it had to be. Then the fallout from the growing electronics industry enabled hams to do things they couldn't do before: use voice instead of Morse code, send pictures and written material, and even put their own repeater satellites into space. It's true that some of those advances have a lot of potential as tools for that better world we're trying to build but they're not necessary for "just plain fun" communication. In fact, much can be done with the very simplest of radio gear. A 5-watt CW (code) transmitter on 40 or 80 meters can reach out reliably a few hundred miles, and extra good conditions can stretch that range to two or three thousand miles.

Yes, CW is still alive and well. The conversion of words into the dits and dahs of Morse code gets the message through with simpler, less expensive gear than any other mode of transmission. And you still can cover more distance per watt of transmitter power with CW than with any other mode.

Code transmission is slow, and many who've never tried it suppose that it must be very mechanical and impersonal. Not at all! Just as those of us who were raised on the old radio shows found them as satisfying as TV, so folks who get into CW enjoy it as much as communication by phone. The scope for imagination may be the key to this mode's appeal coupled with the excitement of seeing words appear letter by letter from the point of your pencil as you copy an incoming message!

The Novice license allows CW operation on three "long distance" bands — 80, 40, and 15 meters — and isn't difficult to obtain (the code test is given at only 5 words per minute and the written exam is very simple. See MOTHER EARTH NEWS NO. 25 for details of the licensing procedure.) Although the Novice level has so far been a two: year, non-renewable stepping stone to a higher class license, the FCC is now thinking about making it permanent and renewable.

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