How to get on the air even cheaper

My last post on how to get on the air cheap got me thinking about how to do it even cheaper.

First thing I’d do to keep costs down is ask around your club if anybody has an old tube rig they want to sell. I like buying from guys I know as I can ask them if the rig has any issues I should be aware of before I buy it. Most tube rigs from mainstream manufacturers can be fixed if they are broken.

Another place to look for a good cheap rig is your local swapshop. The Ontario Hamfest is coming to the Milton Fairgrounds on July 9.

I’d also recommend the Ontario Swap Shop but it looks like they got hacked. (I went into the cached URL and the site is still there just unaccessible by the address.)

So what would I suggest?

I would look to find a rig for free that’s working that some guy’s wife just wants to get out of her basement. If you ask enough guys you’ll find one within a couple of months of diligent searching.

Any tube rig like a HW-101 or one of the many Yaseu rigs out there I wouldn’t pay more than $150 and I’d only go to $200 if it was in perfect working order  outputting full power and good clean audio coming from the reciever.

Old solid state rigs or hybrids (solid state with tube finals) I’d say would be a deal around $175 to absolutely no more than $300.

For an antenna I’d get a cheap manual tuner and SWR meter and make your own. All antennas with very few exceptions are essentially dipoles. That is two pieces of wire.

Everything else is marketing. Slick marketing and marketing that can get you on the air looking good but for the most part just marketing. Anything covered in fibreglass is going to cost more. Anything that has some sort of tripod mount or is a tuneable mobile whip with or without a tripod is essentially an expensive dipole (loaded to shorten which isn’t good as far as your signal is concerned.

A tuner like a Johnson Matchbox or an MFJ tuner can be had for $0 to $50. You can also make your own by getting the parts from friends or fleamarkets.

An SWR meter can be had for $20 and you’re on the air.

Here’s a sampling of stuff I found on the Ontario Swap Shop:

VE3HNE has a HW 101 with CW filter for $225. Now I wouldn’t pay that much for a HW-101 but I might see if he’d take $150 and settle at $175. Still a bit steep as you can find these old Heathkit rigs for less. Avoid anything that the seller says is in mint condition or a “rare” item or “just as new” as that only puts the price up.

VE3JJJ has a Heathkit DX60 for sale for $35. This transmitter will work with crystals or a dedicated Heathkit VFO and puts out 70 watts or so. He’s also got a Hammarlund HQ-129x for $125 but the rig is going to be older than you are so maybe we should be looking at something more modern…but if it was working 🙂 this would be an excellent pair for CW work.

There’s also a KW Atlanta transceiver with power supply at the right price at $135 but this British rig will likely need some work to get going. I’d want a demo before buying. Here’s the manual. If it was working this would get you on the air with a tuner and wire antenna.

VE6TP has got a Kenwood TS850s transeciever for sale with CW and AM filters for $550. A little over our price range but a contest-quality rig even today. If you’ve got another $500 he’s also selling a Coliins 30L1 linear amp  🙂

VE3SIQ has a Yaesu FT-201 bybrid (transistors with tube finals) for $300. I hate the description of “quite rare” as that puts the price up and who knows why they’re rare 🙂 But if he’d take $250 instead of $300 this rig might be a contender.

One of the better deals I see is a Kenwood TS440 with power supply and tuner for $375 being sold by VA3KLT or VE3UB’s Kenwood TS520 for $225 or VE6WCE’s Icom-718 for $350.

There’s another TS-520 for sale by VA3UMA for $180 that might be good.

Dennis, VE3JAQ (who I know is a good guy) has a TS-520 for $250.

I’ve got an old Drake 2B receiver (I like all things Drake.) that I use with QRP transmitters that I build from kits (These cost around $20.) and this works fine but when you’re running between 300 milliwatts and two watts you must have a full size dipole erected as high as possible and in the clear to be able to radiate these tiny signals properly.

Notice much of what I’m recommending requires you to know Morse Code. Sure you can get by SSB rigs like HW-101s but you’ll work more guys and have more fun on CW. And best of all your CW doesn’t need to be all that good and you’ll find guys (on 40 meters around 7.120 mHz who are sending at five words a minute. At five WPM you can almost look up the letter as the guy is sending. It’s very sloooooow.

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About Peter West

I am retired. I'm invested into bike riding, guitar playing, yoga and Ham Radio. I am a former photojournalist, newspaper and magazine editor and public relations practitioner with national, regional and local experience. A long-time member of Toastmasters International and an active Amateur Radio (Ham) operator here in Canada I am taking on new challenges.

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