Getting Started in Emcomm
After you get your amateur radio license, it can be a bit overwhelming trying to decide where to start. If your main interest is in Emergency Communications (EmComm) and helping your community, here are our recommendations for getting started.
1. Get a Radio
Most local EmComm use the 2 meter and 70 centimeter bands (144 MHz and 440 MHz, respectively), so that's the best place to start with your first radio. FRS/GMRS radios work around 462 MHz, so most Ham radios that support 440MHz can at least receive these frequencies (but some cannot transmit on those frequencies, per FCC regulations). There are many options here, but assuming you want to spend the least amount of money but also get something useful, here are some ideas.
- Baofeng makes very low-cost UHF/VHF Handheld Transceivers (or HTs). The Baofeng UV-5R can be found on the internet for as little as $35. A waterproof model is available for about $45. These do not have a great reputation among some, but they do work, and include home and car chargers. Accessories such as spare batteries are very inexpensive also. (One reason they are so cheap is they do not get FCC certification and will transmit on some FRS/GMRS frequencies when they should not. Be sure you have an appropriate license before you try to transmit on GMRS and do not transmit on FRS with these.) To move up to a higher quality dual-band model such as Yaesu or Kenwood will be around $150 at a minimum and go up from there. The Yaesu FT-60R ($150) is an example of a higher-quality starter radio. Most HTs are generally 5-7 watts maximum transmitting power.
- At some point you may crave more power or features. A good first or second radio is a "mobile" (intended for a car), because you can use them in your car, or as a portable base station, or use them indoors with a 12-volt power supply and a roof-mounted antenna. These are usually around 25-50 watts.
Antenna Upgrade Options
- A better HT antenna (such as the Nagoya 771) will extend your range and reception over the included 'rubber duck' antenna and can be found for $10-15 (although counterfeits are common, so choose a reputable seller).
- A mobile (car) antenna with a magnetic mount such as the Tram 11861 can be as little as $25, and are mandatory if you want to use your HT from inside your car. As a bonus, you can stick these to a flat metal surface such as a cookie sheet and use it outside for a "portable base station". This is very handy for EmComm!
- For a portable base station such as might be needed in an emergency, having a good quality portable antenna will really help you hear other stations and help them hear you. You can find inexpensive portables on ebay, such as this collapsible J-pole for $30 (stand not included). For a portable antenna stand, a tripod made for speakers, a microphone stand, or even a simple PVC and wood stand can be pretty portable and inexpensive.
For EmComm, it is always good to have one or two spare batteries for your HT, and a car charger (or inverter + AC charger). For mobile/portable stations some sort of deep-cycle 12V battery supply is key. Make sure it's not so heavy that you can' t carry it!
A solar panel can be used to keep a 12V battery charged while you operate your mobile or portable station. A gas-powered generator is another option for portable power.
A headset / mic that connects to your radio can make it easier to hear when in a noisy environment, and allows you to keep the antenna away from your head when transmitting. Some HTs (e.g. Baofeng) come with a simple ear-piece / mic included.
2. Join a Club
Find the hams in your area by joining your local radio club. If you are in Kensington or El Cerrito, you've found the right place! Browse the KARO ECHO website, come to our monthly meetings, post on our Facebook page, or send us email with any questions: firstname.lastname@example.org .
Related Amateur Radio Clubs include:
The East Bay ARC (EBARC) frequently offers interestig speakers, sponsors an annual field day event, a ham radio license course and exams. EBARC is an excellent venue for extending one's knowledge of ham radio. See http://www.ebarc.org/want.html The East Bay Amateur Radio Club will offer a class to prepare applicants for the Technician Class Amateur Radio License, starting September 7, 2018 and ending November 30. The class will meet each Friday from at El Sobrante United Methodist Church, on Argyle Rd. off Appian Way in El Sobrante.Textbook is The ARRL Ham Radio License Manual Revised 4th Edition. Books will be available for purchase. FCC examinations and license applications will be administered at the final class session by the EBARC Volunteer Examiners for a fee of $15. Please register by September 7, 2018. Go to www.ko6no.com and click Register, or email: email@example.com, or Contact Ken Fowler at 510-222-0830
The Mount Diablo Amateur Radio Club (MDARC) also offers courses and exams. This is a large ARC which meets in Central CoCo County. See http://www.mdarc.org/activities/education/Classes
The Contra Costa Communications Club (CCCC) is a local ham radio repeater club that meets at Denny's El Cerrito (Potrero and San Pablo). They support many repeaters in our area and also have an excellent newsletter. Swell set of guys and gals! See: http://www.wa6kqb.org/
NALCO ARES/RACES is Berkeley's EmComm group which has over 35 years of experience. They meet at 1930 on the first Thursday of the month at the Berkeley Fire Training Center (9th and Cedar). See: https://n6brk.info/
Your local hams can help you program your radio with the frequencies for the local repeaters, or simplex frequencies that are commonly used in your area. They can give advice on radios and antennas, and help you get in touch with your local neighborhood CERT coordinator. KAROECHO offers this service to members. email firstname.lastname@example.org
3. Practice, Practice, Practice
To keep in practice and learn how to best communicate in an emergency, we have amateur radio nets, or an "on-the-air" meetings. Find what organizations in your area have regularly-scheduled nets and check in.
KARO ECHO has a net every Thursday at 7pm on 146.415 MHz. Check out our Net Script before you tune in so you know what to expect.
The Mt. Diablo Amateur Radio Club has an extensive list of nets in the wider bay area. Wow, look at all those!