11.28.20

So you want to get on Two Meters…

You are a newly minted Technician class Amateur Radio operator, and as usual you want to get on the 2 Meter (144-148 MHz.) band. You go and buy one of those sub $100 Chinese HTs and you are all set, right? Wrong. Without getting into the well-established fact that the Chinese HTs, especially the Baofeng, are junk (see http://www.nf9k.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/ARRL-Lab-HT-Testing.pdf), you are doing yourself a disservice by starting out with an HT, regardless of which company made it.

You take your HT, program in a repeater that’s 10 miles away, throw out your callsign, and someone 10 miles in the opposite direction comes back to you saying you’re “full quieting” into the machine. All with a 5 watt handheld and rubber duck antenna? Great, right? The only thing that’s great about that is the effort the repeater owner went into getting the machine on the air. The repeater is at a much higher elevation than you, is running 50-100+ watts (versus your 5) into an antenna system with some pretty high gain, and perhaps even a has preamp on the input to help the receiver hear better. In short, the repeater is doing all the heavy lifting so you can use that HT.

Get a friend of yours who also has an HT, and go on a hike to see how far away you can hear each other on simplex with 5 watts and a rubber duck antenna. I guarantee you that under normal circumstances you won’t get more than a mile or two range. Now HTs are nice in that they are portable and you can carry them around, but unless you and your local ham buddies you like to ragchew with are all within a mile or two of each other, you will be out of luck if the repeater goes down, and repeaters do go down. Sometimes it’s because of a natural disaster. Other times it’s because the repeater owner is unable to maintain the machine any longer, and takes it off the air. Either way, being able to properly operate simplex and be self-sufficient on the air is a wise idea. The solution is to get a mobile/base 2 Meter transceiver in the 25-50 Watt output power range, and install an external antenna. Now your 1-2 mile simplex range becomes a 20-50 simplex range, and you won’t have to worry if the local repeater goes down because you will be able to reach out further to hit a more distant repeater, or work simplex. Here is what you will need.


Oops. When heavy weather takes down a repeater like this, HT users will be screwed.
  • Two Meter Transceiver. Since I like Icom, I went with the IC-2300H.
  • Antenna. The best antenna out there in my opinion is the Spectral Isopole (https://www.isopole.com/).
  • A 12V power supply with enough current capacity to run the radio at full power. The IC-2300H, according to the manual needs 11 Amps. The old-skool trusty Astron RS-20A (16 Amps continuous, 20 Amps intermittent) is a good choice.
  • Some coaxial cable to connect your radio to the antenna. Most of you probably wouldn’t need any more than 50 feet or so, and you can get a preassembled 50 foot length of decent VHF-rated coax, say LMR-240, with PL-259 connectors on each end.

Looking at the “buy it new” route, setting up a station via Gigaparts, Ham Radio Outlet, or one of the other mail order outlets will cost the following:

Icom IC-2300H – $150.00
Spectral Isopole- $180.00
Astron RS-20A- $149.00
50 feet LMR-240 with PL-259 connectors – $50.00
Total – $529.00

If you go the brand-new mail order route it would cost you $529.00 to get on two meters. That’s actually less than the new cost of just an entry-level HF rig. There is a better and less expensive way to get on 2 meters.

You can save a lot of money if you buy used, and build your own antenna. You can buy a used two meter mobile rig off Ebay for less than $100. A good used Icom, such as the 1980’s vintage Icom IC-27H shown to the left, runs about $70 or so. That almost halves the cost of your radio. I have seen older 2 meter mobile rigs for sale for even less at hamfests, around $25-$50. That knocks down your radio cost anywhere from half to a third. You can build an antenna out of $10 worth of parts with information from an old copy of the ARRL Antenna book you find at a hamfest for $5, or from data you find online (https://www.hamuniverse.com/2metergp.html). Used Astron power supplies cost about half their new price at hamfests, but for now you can get away with buying a suitable deep cycle battery from Wal-Mart or your local auto parts store for about $60. The charger for it will be about $20. Finally, if you measure out your actual coax length from your radio to your antenna, you will save some money there. At under 50 feet, you’ll be able to get away with a higher-loss coax than LMR-240 because the differences between it and say RG-8X will be minimal at short distances. A 20 foot RG-8X coax jumper will set you back about $18 at a local truckstop like Flying J or Pilot. Let’s take a look at how much a station will cost.

Used 2 meter mobile rig (average) – $70.00
Used copy of ARRL Antenna Book and parts – $15.00
Deep-cycle battery – $60.00
Battery charger – $20.00
RG-8X coax jumper – $18.00
Total Cost: $183.00

By going the used equipment route, and engaging in a little DIY, you can get on the air for about a third of the cost than if you went and bought everything new.

The two meter band goes from 144-148 MHz., and most of that is unoccupied these days. There are, however, a few places where FM simplex operation is commonplace. Stay above 144.300 MHz, because below that is where the weak signal (SSB/CW) hams operate. Repeater inputs and outputs should also be avoided, for obvious reasons. Preferred FM simplex frequency ranges are 144.300-144.500,144.900-145.100, 145.500-146.000, 146.400-146.580, and 147.420-147.570 MHz.