My $50 entry level ham kit

An often seen post around here is "how do i get into the hobby on the cheap." in fact, just this past week i posted a similar question. I'll include a link to that below.
I thought it would be good to post back and document a little of my process and how I ultimately made my decision.

The sheer amount of possible activities under the "ham umbrella" is intimidating. On top of that, there is a huge amount of equipment with a mind-boggling amount of features and modes and frequencies/bands. If your coming into the hobby on a budget your likely very concerned that you'll end up buying the wrong gear for what you want to do and it'll end up in a closet somewhere as a busted hobby.

First thing I did was start researching all the different activities. I made a list of all the things i wanted to do with ham radio. CW, ads-b, QRP DX, home-brew radios and antennas, etc. I sorted these lists by the licenses it would require, as well as the cost/complexity of the equipment required. For example, rx-only from a local UHF/VHF repeater requires significantly less complicated and costly equipment than DX'ing on the super low bands.


Ultimately I chose a UHF/VHF HT as well as a cheap wide band receiver. I think no matter what you want to do with ham radio, this is probably a good start for anyone on a budget. Here is why.

The tech (entry level) license allows (amongst other things) TX on the VHF/UHF which very likely covers the bulk of your local repeaters. In my area (Denver) the vast majority are on the 70cm and 2m. Getting on these repeaters provides not only an easy target to achieve, but also, the reward is getting access to my local ham community for advice and some camaraderie. These are the people that will help me build my first antennas (and maybe hook em up to an SWR for me to help fine tune them), they will also be the people I learn about local events from as well as new aspects of ham radio i hadn't yet thought of. For this task I chose a Baofeng UV-B5. I chose this radio because it cost $30, and the word on the net is that it provides the best receive qualities and stock antenna of the Baofeng lineup. I also considered the BF-F8+ and the UV-82. The F8+ fell off the list because reports suggest both the B5 and the 82 have a better receiver. the 82 appears to be a little more rugged than the B5, but the B5 seems to be a little more advanced design, a little better receiver, and the schematics seem to suggest its a little easier to crack open and hack up/modify for future projects down the road once i've upgraded.

I also picked up an RTL-SDR. these are cheap, cover a ton of spectrum, and interface with the computer for use with various SDR packages. It's cheap because it's just a receiver. The form factor is pretty small, and most of the really expensive parts of the radio are handed off to the computer. It can also be "upgraded" via mods and up-converters relatively cheaply to improve reception at the edges of its capabilities, particularly the 10m. Building antenna's with no SWR meter or analyzer presents a potential problem. severely unbalanced antenna's can potentially harm the TX, but since the RTL-SDR HAS no TX, no worries. I can go have fun building crappy beginners antenna's with no fear of hurting my equipment while I learn. I can make cheap, hacked together antenna's to explore a HUGE range of spectrum on this thing. every time i hear about a new thing in ham radio, i can just run down to the hardware store, grab some parts and pieces, and put together a cheap experimental antenna to get some eyeballs on it and see if it's something i want to eventually invest in a better radio for. just the other day I learned about ADS-B, and living right under the approach to KAPA (centennial airport), all i need to do is hack a little j-pole together for 1090Mz and download some software (dump1090 for example) and BOOM, a real-time map of aircraft in the area right on my screen. simple, easy, no risk of damaging my hardware, no risk of accidentally/inadvertently tx'ing on a frequency i cannot legally tx on. perfect for the beginner.

So thats my $50 ham kit. a $30 baofeng HT and a $15 RTL-SDR. It fits my budget, will provide me with plenty to experiment with, and provides me a way to learn about and experience tons of the ham world before i have to invest a ton of money into bigger rigs. Hopefully this helps at least a couple of potential "new hams on a budget" find there path into the hobby. good luck guys.
a link to my previous post requesting info for completeness.

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