27 Feb 2013

What IS amateur radio?

This is a question I keep asking myself. It clearly means different things to different people, but I am saddened by the trend to cheque book amateur radio.

In its early days the hobby was clearly about experimental radio: making receivers and transmitters that communicated over short distances, with many/most of the parts being hand-made, even down to the variable "condensers". Over the years this has changed for many (most?) amateurs and now one could be forgiven for thinking all that matters is how expensive ones new HF radio or antenna is, so one can boast about how wonderful ones station is to others on HF.

I was struck by the cost of the hobby, for some, again tonight when visiting http://www.bigskyspaces.com/w7gj/vhf.htm and looking at the massive and very expensive antenna farm at W7GI.  Now this 144MHz antenna, like many, antenna arrays at this amateur's QTH is aimed at reliable EME operation where large antenna gains help. But what I see is 16 very expensive antennas plus an equally expensive support structure, expensive coax and an expensive mast. This is just one antenna for one band. He has another very big array for 50MHz too, plus no doubt a shack full of expensive radios and linears. The rotator to turn this lot will be a very large device indeed.  Yes, successful EME operation needs big antennas and high power, but honestly is this AMATEUR radio still or semi-commercial experimentation?

I can understand why an amateur may want one 100W commercial radio as the "mainstay" radio for the shack, but I see many shacks loaded to the gunnels with very expensive radios that must have cost their owners well over £10k and in some cases well over £20k.  It amazes me how much money some amateurs must invest in their hobby. I had a decent job and a decent salary when I worked, but there is no way I, personally, could justify this sort of expense on my hobby. It's a personal view and I do not want to preach to others on how to enjoy their hobby, but I am fascinated that spending lots of money on radios seems to be the norm.

Are any readers prepared to share (in the comments) how much they spend, on average, a year on their hobby? £10, £100, £1000, £10k, £20k?  Just for the record, I reckon on about £2 a week (a couple of new HF transceivers over 12 years plus the odd accessory and components).  It is possible to really enjoy the hobby and spend less than the cost of a coffee every week.

My question is, what IS amateur radio?


DOn W7DTG said...

I like the hobby aspect of it. I enjoy working on old tube radio gear and chasing distant stations DX. I also learn a lot by experimenting with different radio to put them on the ham bands. I write about it as well over at cb & ham radio communications.

Paul VA3PAW said...

ARRL + RAC memberships (with QST magazines) together are already close to $2 per week. Add CQ magazine and we are at $3 / week. 1-2 kits per year, one transceiver over 5-6 years and we are close to another $250/year or additional $5/week. That's about my maximum budget I can justify for the hobby: $400/year

Dick said...

There are multi K dollar/euro/pound/yen big company transceivers on the market and they are getting more expensive with the passing days.

There is also the FT-817ND, well under 1,000. And some nice basic QRP HF kits from OHR, TenTec, yes MFJ, etc.

I think as the hobby progresses and modes other than HF CW become popular, the peripheral equipment "required" for that type of operating adds to the cost.

An Oak Hills Research 20 meter QRP kit with cabinet is $150. A Chinese straight key from the same company can be purchased for $70. Cheap earphones and some antenna wire for another $50. Total investment $270. Pen, paper, cheap QSL cards and you are at a $300 investment...not $3000. OHR will build the rig for you if your hands and eyes are no longer up to it.

Google Radio Boys and you will read books addressed to adolescent males of the early 1920's infatuated with the new science of radio. Everything turned by hand. I have a number of original hard copies and also downloaded a few more from the gutenberg project public domain site some months ago when I purchased my Kindle for travel reading.

I continue to enjoy QRP CW enen though lack of a good antenna can be frustrating. John N8ZYA has an enviable DX record running a few watts to a length of indoor wire.

73 Dick F8WBD/N2UGB

John said...

I have an old TS440, an early FT817....and the rest of the shack is filled with a mix of home-brew and VERY 2nd hand kit. Over 20 years I've spent around £2k - and that includes buying the commercial radios. I can't see me spending much in the foreseeable future, what I've got ticks all the boxes for me.
It's AMATEUR radio, not PROFESSIONAL radio - but each to their own.

Steve Bunting said...

Surely, a hobby is what you want it to be? It is all very well for people who are retired to say that everything needs to be home made, but I have two kids under 4 and a full time job that pays me reasonably. I know that I can make that yagi or kit as I have done lots in the past, but I simply don't have much time any more. So, I put financial value on my spare time and this is probably greater than someone who is retired and has a lower income. As a result I bought four antennas to start on 144 EME. Black box operator? To some extent, yes. I wouldn't be on the air otherwise!

I also thank the likes of W7GJ, W5UN and the big HF contest stations. They have spent lots of money, but they give smaller stations like mine a chance to make contacts that normally wouldn't happen. Chacun a son gout!

Paul PC4T said...

I quit ham radio for 30 years and picked it up again in 2008. I was curious after reading your post about how much I had invest in this hobby. I can say I spend 1728 GBP in 5 years now, that's a average of 346 GPB/year. That's 0,97 GBP a day for a lovely hobby. We (western world) are rich. I think a lot of people in the world can't afford what I have spend on this hobby. So I am grateful for what I have, do I want more... not really. It's good as it is. 73 Paul

Roger G3XBM said...

Thanks for the feedback everyone. Steve Bunting makes a valid point about big (expensive) EME stations giving smaller stations a chance.

By the way, please be clear I am NOT saying it is wrong to spend large amounts on a hobby: this is an individual choice. What I AM saying is I am surprised just how much some do spend on radio gear.

GW0KIG said...


Looking at the price of some of the new top end rigs I have been amazed. Personally its hard to give an average that I would spend but over the years maybe £1 per day on average would not be too far off.As a non smoker I have friends who would spend more than five to six times that on something harmful to them, so the way I see it its not a bad deal! Most of the gear here was bought second hand and I tend to hang on to it for a long time!



Anonymous said...

25£ a YEAR.


Anonymous said...

What ive noticed Ham's dont seem to be round at each others shacks - like if you was within walking distance you'd be round. Now it seems a more insuler hobby compared to 25 plus years back


Steve Wigg said...

Radio is the only hobby I have, I don't smoke either.

Inc QST and Radcom, plus a few minor memberships Sprat etc, bits of components or a small kit, attending on average one rally, the odd cheap Chinese rig or two. I would say about £500 per year.

Still less expensive than a set of decent golf clubs and a membership at the old boys club.

73 Steve


Anonymous said...

Hi Roger,

An interesting question and one that I have asked myself several times.

I spend money in dribs and drabs. As I'm working I have to maximise radio time as much as possible. I probably spend more money on expensive items such as items of test equipment rather than transceivers. As I like experimenting, and having decent test kit can speed things up considerably.

However I do try and keep spending on the hobby to a reasonable level, and help finance it by trading radio gear and writing occasional magazine articles.

I don't drink, smoke, or buy lottery scratch cards. Nor do I sail, keep horses or participate in any other hobbies that genuinely do cost a fortune. Even at a very basic level.

The great joy of Amateur radio, is that it is really a collection of related hobbies. That it is very easy to join at an entry level. Without having to spend a fortune.

I think the real question is how much do you spend vs. the amount of enjoyment you get back. In that respect simple QRP operation probably provides the best return on investment.

But I don't begrudge folks spending more if they can afford to do so. As long as they bring something to the hobby, and help others to do so too.


Martin - G8JNJ


Anonymous said...

A high spend by some is not unique to amateur radio. This afternoon my wife and I called into our local RSPB reserve for a cup of tea. Sat at the next table were two men - each had a top of the range Canon DSLR, 600mm 2.8 lens plus teleconverter and other bits and bobs. At a conservative estimate neither would have had much change from 15K.

Dominic Rivron said...

What's amateur radio? It used to be reading Gilbert Davey by torchlight under the bedclothes.

These days? I did lash out on an IC-718 and PSU a few years back, when my old FT200 that cost me 50 quid died (I still have it - and aim to resurrect it one day). And I spent 70 quid on a RA17 receiver. I built my ATU from junkbox parts. My garden is festooned with dipoles made of car wiring wire.

I've a 40m 7MHz CW transmitter I built and a second receiver I built from Sprat and boxed up, but a lot of homebrew projects have come and gone, living their brief lives on dead-bug boards. I use an old PC for PSK31 and RTTY and built my own interface.

I'm not into contests on the whole but can't get snooty about them as I occasionally make half-hearted attempts to get into SOTA using my other piece of commercial gear - a 2m handheld.

Dominic M0KXD

Owen said...

I had nothing a month ago
here is my complete setup.

LDG Z100(used)£90
30MHz LPF £59.95
25m RG58 COAX £15
2* Plug - PL-259 £3.16
Balun DXE-BAL050-H10-AT £139.98
30m twin feed/Ant wire £30
25amp PSU £90
Slim Jim 2m / 70cm ant £16.52
Baofeng UV-5B £30
Patch leads/Dummy Load £30
Total £1013.61 or (1654USD)

Not cheap I suppose