Ham Radio Equipment for Beginners

By Louise Krona

The space where ham radio operators set up their equipment is called a shack. Equipment for the shack can be purchased new or used, and the technically inclined can build their own with kits. Various classes of ham radio operator licenses are given different band privileges with corresponding frequencies allowed, and that may restrict the equipment you can use. Members of ham radio clubs can help you choose equipment and get you started in your new hobby.


Ham radio operators do a lot of listening, not always talking or transmitting. A scanning receiver is a short-wave, or "SW," radio that searches different frequencies to find an active one. You can get either a desk-top, or "base" model, or a hand-held portable model. Many receivers have memory banks to store favorite frequencies. The "HF," or high-frequency, band is the best for making "DX," or long distance, contacts all over the world.


A transceiver is a combined receiver and transmitter. Two-meter, single-band models are the most popular, but you can get dual- and tri-band transceivers for more options, although they require upgraded licenses.

"HT" stands for "handheld transceiver," and that is a great choice to start with because you can carry it with you while you get familiar with using the technology. They are also more affordable.

Linear Amplifier

Ham radio operators use a linear amplifier to increase the transmitter's signal strength. In the U.S., the FCC allows a maximum of 1,500 watts on amateur frequencies. The FCC requires that you use only the power necessary for a "QSO," which is the term for contact, or conversation between two radio operators. The benefit of using an amplifier is that a distant contact won't have to strain to hear you.


Base station antennas are directional or omnidirectional. Omnidirectional antennas radiate the signal out equally, while directional antennas beam signals in a concentrated direction. The cable that connects the radio to the antenna is called a feed line. The support structure is the boom and the cross elements it supports are arranged according to the frequencies it will pick up.

Mobile units use whip antennas that can be interchanged for different bands.