Setting up your new shack, a few thoughts…

Setting up a “radio shack” or “ shack” as its simply reffered to , is a very important ritual that every radio amateur undergoes. It poses many questions and throws many challenges at the inexperieced amateur and marks the beginning of an adventure in the hobby.

Getting some tried and tested advice from your “Elmer”; the amateur who introduced you to the hobby and coached you to your license, is a very important.

This post aims to inform the readers on some of the technical, practical, and economical aspects of setting up one’s radio shack.

Budget:

How much are you willing to sink into the hobby? Are you on a shoestring budget or are you willing to take a dive into the hobby head first?

As with any hobby it is very easy to get sidetracked by the number of options and fancy marketing!

Needs:

A beginner to the hobby is almost always surprised to see the different possibilities the hobby has to offer! Dxing, Bird/Fox Hunting, Ragchewing, Homebrewing, Contesting, are just a few examples of activities that radio amateurs engage in.

Take some time to research some of the curious things radio amateurs do and what is it that you wish to explore in this hobby! It is crucial in setting up your station!

Time commitment:

This is, by far, the most crucial factor that is most often overlooked. There are far too many radio amateurs out there who hold their license and radio equipment but lack the time to come on air! Do not become one of those statistics!

Plan with the future in mind. Factor in possible work, family, and social commitments which might clash with your hobby.

With those philosophical questions addressed, lets move on to the individual components of a radio shack.

  • Antenna System : The antenna system comprises of the Antenna and its auxiliary components such as an impedance matching unit, a duplexer,etc.
  • Radio System: This is the equipment with which you intended to transmit signals and also any auxiliary components which are connected to the radio for control, such as audio filter or a CAT controller, etc.
  • Power supply system: This system consists of a setup to power the equipment and suitable protection for the equipment they power.
  • Test and Measurement systems : These are the tools used to keep the radio shack in safe, working conditions.

Antenna:

The antenna system is one the most critical elements in a Radio shack. Without a suitable antenna, a listener cannot search for weak stations that they intend to listen to, and may not be able to put out a strong signal for their intended listeners.

There are no “best” antennas due to the wide variety of variables present in an antenna system and the environment it is in.  Antenna modelling is still considered a “Black art” by many simply due to this!

Antenna systems range in complexity from the mammoth directional antennas to simple wire antennas thrown down from a balcony!

While there are many antenna types and configurations, the simple inverted V dipole , for HF operation, and the SlimJim, for VHF/UHF operation, are the most favoured designs by Indian amateurs!

As the old addage goes, “Any antenna is better than No antenna!”

Radio:

The radio plays a very vital role ; It converts a radio signal to audio signal and vice versa. A modern radio typically consists of a transmitter and a receiver integrated to form a working unit known as a transceiver.

A good transceiver can be either be bought commercially or made at home. Although commercial name-brand equipment is now very easily accessible and available in India, the cost of these equipment can very easily burn the wallet! This can be overcome by “home brewing” your own radios for a fraction of the cost!

Radio transceivers can be broadly classified based on the bands(sections of frequencies) they cover; Multi band radios cover more than a single band and are usually more expensive than mono band radios, which are set to a particular band.

In case of HF radios, which allow worldwide communication over long distances, a good starting point would be the Bitx or the uBitx(pronounced “micro bi tx”) radios from HF signals. These radios are sold the world over due to their simplicity and performance at a very affordable price.

VHF radios, with their comparatively lower range than HF, are usually less expensive than their HF cousins. VHF radios from popular brands such as Icom, Yaesu, Kenwood are the most common in the Indian amateur scene. While searching for a good vhf radio, a beginner will almost always run into chinese made radios such as Baofeng, Puxing, etc. Even though they are sold at bargain prices, they carry the stigma of poor/non-existent quality control, when compared to good name brand equipment.

Power Supply:

Power supply is often the most underlooked system of a radio shack. Most modern transceiver equipment are standardised to function at 13.8 Volts DC, while our household is powered by AC mains at 220 Volts!

The power supply converts the household AC to stepped down DC at 13.8V for the radio. The total amperage of current which the power supply can deliver should be well above the maximum current draw of the station.

The power supply should be well protected and well designed to meet the requirements of the shack. Any problems in the power supply can and will creep into the radio equipment and causing malfunction and damage.

Another option for a power supply is battery. This is useful when equipment needs to be operated from a remote location where household mains isn’t available.

The power supply can either be a linear or a modern SMPS type power supply. While linear power supplies are bulkier and more expensive than the SMPS varieties, they are considered less noisier. Some commercially available SMPS brands, such as Meanwell and Axiom, have found a place in many Indian amateur shacks.

Test equipment:

Test equipment, although strictly not needed, ensure the smooth functioning and the safety of the shack.

A basic list of test equipment and tools found in a radio shack

  • Multimeter : Digital or Analog. Versatile tool. A digital meter cost upwards of ₹150 onwards.
  • SWR meter: Digital or Analog. Can be a little expensive but handy to test the antenna.
  • Dummy load: A “dummy” antenna for your radio to transmit power into during testing
  • Computer: A ton of uses for this!


Featured image:  Shack of VU2OY,OM Dr Ranjith Unnikrishnan. Photo by Sinosh PK VU2LN

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Licensed since 2007

passionate about radios, especially homebrewed ones

If you hear me on the air, feel free to pop in and say hello!

Comments

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Ragav

Licensed since 2007 passionate about radios, especially homebrewed ones If you hear me on the air, feel free to pop in and say hello!

3 thoughts on “Setting up your new shack, a few thoughts…

  • September 15, 2018 at 4:17 am
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    Well written article Raghav, you have covered all aspects.

    Reply
    • September 15, 2018 at 4:38 am
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      Thanks Rajesh. 73

      Reply
  • September 15, 2018 at 7:19 am
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    Very nicely written! The clear highlighting of the philosophical aspects is very interesting and relevant, as are the tech aspects too. Hoping to see further continuation of this post with more intricate details and tricks of the trade …

    Reply

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