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Creating a Budget Shack

Breaking into Radio, Without Breaking the Bank

Introductory Article to Creating a Budget Shack ᆞ Written by Sai (M7TEM) and Vicky (M7TAL)


Disclaimer of Transparency

This article is not sponsored in any way shape or form. I have not been paid to recommend anything over anything else. This article is entirely based on my own experiences and nothing further. I am not affiliated with, receiving kickbacks or rewards from any of the products or services that I am writing about in this article, nor am I using affiliate links to something like Amazon. If any article I write is ever sponsored, or not, in this case, I will disclaim it before the introduction as always.

Introduction to the Budget Shack Series

This article is in itself an introductory article, I will be writing a series of articles on or around the subject of “Creating a budget shack”. I have this weird suspicion that this is going to perhaps rub some people the wrong way and perhaps be a little controversial to some people and that’s fine. I will certainly agree that just like with everything in life, there are costs and benefits to things, and not everyone can afford the costs. This entire article is based heavily on personal experience and talking to others who are in similar situations as I am. 

I have never seriously used a Yaesu this or an ICOM that, save from the practicals in my examinations in which my club had them for these purposes in which I used one of these for all of five minutes. I can say confidently that the devices I used in the practicals had exceptional build quality and superior audio. They were an absolute delight to work with. However, let’s be realistic; I am most certainly not going to say that some Chinese handheld radio you can pick up on eBay for less than £20 is better than these radios because that would be a bald-faced lie, but it is enough to get you started, especially if you’re on a tight budget.

Understand what these series of articles are. They’re for those who - like me, don’t have an awful lot of money, or are into so many different hobbies that spreading the cost between them doesn’t leave an awful lot left, or perhaps are just starting to get into it and don’t want to mortgage/remortgage their home just for a radio. That’s understandable, whatever your reasons. Some people may look down their nose at you for it, but so be it. It says more about them than it does you, so do not let it bother you. We radio amateurs come from a diverse range of backgrounds and all walks of life.

I won’t be covering High Frequency (HF) or Citizens Band (CB) any time soon, because I don’t really have the experience due to living in a flat, and therefore not having the room to stick up those kinds of antennas. I have indeed played around on the USB on the HF from the flat, but I’ve not really spent too much time into it and was only able to hear other CB stations about a mile away which I could easily do on VHF/UHF. That said; I do enjoy using upper-side band, a great deal so actually. In my experience, HF rigs and even certain CB rigs are not cheap when you try to source from eBay. I have a feeling that budget HF radios are going to require a whole article in its own right, so I may do a follow-up article on HF radios later down the line, but I’ve seen some on eBay for £150+ which is not exactly cheap. You will also need to factor in noise, which is a common problem on HF, especially on UK Frequency Citizen Bands, which has even more problems.

Furthermore, the overwhelming majority of things I am covering in this article will be mainly focused around handhelds and mobiles, but not necessarily restricted to that. Handheld radios are great in that you can indeed use them within the shack, but then you can easily pick them up and go take them out and use them mobile as well.

Lastly, I do not claim to be an expert I have only just recently started and this is more aimed at people who are just about starting, thinking about getting into radio, and what-have-you. If you feel I have gotten something wrong please let me know in the comments. I will always accept feedback and criticism, and radio-educational related information. The only thing I will censor from the comments is the use of profane language and spam.  

General Advice on your Budget Shack

There are some general tips and tricks that I can relay onto you from things I’ve picked up from other amateurs or have done myself for your budget shack.

Never say “No” to free! If someone is offering you a radio, an antenna, or something completely free of charge - don’t turn it down, especially if you’re just starting. These are people in the hobby who are trying to help you out. Generally speaking, they are probably just trying to get rid of a pile of radios that they aren't using. Perhaps they think you can make better use of it and you know what? They have experience in this matter. They might also want you on the air as much as you want to get on the air too. However; don’t act entitled, like you’re doing them a favour by taking it off their hands either.

Private Mobile Radio (PMR) conversations are cheap but only deal with people who know what they’re doing, as they can make sure that it is within specification. I recently purchased some ex-PMR rigs, but you would be limited as near as I can tell with what channels are programmed up, or even flashed to the EPROM, in my case. 

Radio rallies can be a great place to pick up bargains, and not necessarily just radios. You can find out where the UK rallies will be in the coming days via this RSGB link, which shows other events as well. You can get all kinds of things from there such as EPROM’s, Coax, Wires, Antenna’s, parts and pieces, batteries, electrical and radio components, etc. A rally is good to go pick up a bargain but most - if not all - charge an entrance fee. Whilst we’re on this subject, know your prices. Take a phone with you, and make sure you can access mobile internet if you want to check online for prices elsewhere. I’d recommend going to a few first, watch how customers interact with the traders to get a feel for it and to see what kind of things are on offer.

Become a member of your local radio club. In my experience, you tap into the collective knowledge of a group of people who like the same thing. Not only that, but members of such clubs willingly offer their expertise and help if you are having troubles with anything such as setting up an antenna of your own.

Got some old electronics that don’t work anymore? Such as an old PSU for a PC that doesn’t work at all anymore? There are fans in there that could be usable, there may be bits of wire and other things that could be usable in there too. Salvage it. I do this all the time in the computer hobby, nine times out of ten I can take things out of a broken computer and use the parts in repairing another computer. You’d be surprised at what can help. I once had an issue where I turned off my radio power supply and it messed with some of the equipment in my flat, like restarting my DAC for my PC, blasting noise into my handheld radio, tripping out my Raspberry Pi - causing it to reset, etc. I took out a ferrite toroid from an old dead PSU and used it to choke out noise from my power supply. What I had done was stripped the wires from the metal ring, dismantled the plug, unscrewed the wires out of the plug, looped the wire around the ring, put it all back together, and from that day on I’ve never had a problem with it since. It was a cheap and easy fix that cost absolutely nothing but ten minutes of my time.

Invest in your Radios, Invest in your Budget Shack

Maintaining a budget shack isn’t just about buying things for the cheapest possible price, but being smart with your money. Look after your things, treat them as if they were an investment. If you have a power supply or radio that gets hot, put a fan on it to maintain its longevity.

Wes (G0LUM) once told me an interesting anecdote from his personal experience. It was about something that has a good moral of the story angle to it. It went something like this: Wes was giving away (For free) two SWR meters, they were pretty much the same. The person he was giving them to was allowed to pick which one he wanted.

  • One of them that had damage to its physical appearance, a cracked plastic over the needle window - but was otherwise absolutely fine and accurate.
  • The other was in pristine condition, physically but not very accurate at all, although it could be calibrated.

The person in question rejected the cracked screen one and took the pristine condition one despite both being offered.

Which one would you go for? If you had gone for the pristine condition then you picked the same one as that guy. I was asked by Wes, “Which one would you go for?” To which, without hesitation, I replied: I’d go for the more accurate one. 

Ultimately it’d be up to you, but if it’s peanuts money we’re talking about - I don’t care if it looks a “Well loved”, if it does what it is supposed to do, and does so accurately then I’ll buy that one. After all, I have no intention of reselling it, if offered, I will take it because I need it.

The opposite is kind of true when you’re looking at new, however. In this new scenario, for example, you’re looking at two radios £30, and the other is £50 from an online store. You’ve done the research online and you’re looking at reviews and what have you. The common complaint about the cheaper one is that it has a design flaw, the radios are usually broken and useless after about a year. However the reviews from the £50 one all seem to be saying the same thing; it’s solid, it lasted absolutely ages, they’ve dropped it a hundred times and it still keeps going, etc… I’d personally “invest” in the £50 one.

Yes, it costs more now, but in the long run, it would be cheaper, because otherwise, even if I end up buying another £30 radio after the first one broke, that’s £60 I’ve shelled out rather than just £50. This is what I mean by investing (Or spending) your money wisely.

If you’re looking at buying your radio from a site like eBay, Aliexpress, Amazon or any other similar site then take time to read the listing properly, look at the seller’s feedback, and remember the old saying: If something sounds too good to be true, it most likely is.

Your budget shack is probably going to need some cooling fans to keep the radio cool. I recommend quiet fans that are usually designed for computers as these can chuck quite a volume of air over the radios keeping them cool. But be careful for fans that cause quite a bit of RF noise. Same goes for power supplies in your budget shack, these will need to be sufficiently cooled and some can cause quite a bit of RF noise.

Analogue Radio

The Chinese have made radio products extremely affordable to the masses, and this comes with both upsides and downsides. In every case, as I understand it, when it comes to comparable radios: analogue radios are much cheaper than digital radio. 

You also need to take the marketing with a huge pile of freshly refined salt because sellers on eBay (and especially on Wish) mislead - or outright lie about some of the claims that they make about their radios. For example, I have seen UV-5R’s claim to be able to output 50W when it’s more like 5W, and even then the quality of the UV-5R can radically vary from one UV-5R to the next. In this example you could ask: Does it suffer from counterfeiting problems? You’d think because of how low cost it is already and how widely available it is, that no, there’s no point. But it does, and there are many clones of it too. There certainly does seem to be a quality issue that I will get into in the actual review of the UV-5R. That said if you’re looking for a very cheap radio for your budget shack, that should at least work and has been tried and tested then consider looking into it. I will be posting up a review of this soon.

Analogue comes with many modes such as the more common: 

  • Amplitude Modulation (AM)
  • Frequency Modulation (FM)
    • Narrowband Frequency Modulation (NFM)
    • Wideband Frequency Modulation (WFM)
  • Continuous Wave (CW)
  • Single Side Band (SSB)
    • Lower Side Band (LSB)
    • Dual Side Band (DSB)
    • Upper Side Band (USB)

Analogue is still used today despite the rising trend of Digital, and I think whilst analogue radios remain more affordable than their digital counterparts, I don’t think it’s something that’s going to change any time soon. Even then; I think there is a certain flair for analogue that digital doesn’t capture, it’s old. Sure. But it’s tried and tested, it works the world over. Its imperfections make it perfect, and I don’t think it’s going out of style any time soon.

For PMR446 users: Beware of the law in the UK. PMR446 has some strange regulations and limitations. For it to be legal, it has to be one with a fixed antenna (IE: Not removable) and has an output power of .5W (500mW) or less. I am aware of a Chinese brand of PMR446 radios on eBay and Amazon that are branded “Florian” that has a fixed antenna and have 16 legal PMR446 channels, which is great, but then some smart spark decided to give it two power modes Low: 500mW and High: 1W. Which makes it a non-legal PMR446 radio, which is an absolute shame, because I don’t know of any affordable PMR446 radios with 16 channels. They all have 8 channels. Also, be wary when they say that they have 986 channels or something ridiculous like that. Almost certainly they’re counting all the different CTCSS tones as separate channels. 

Lastly, there are some radios marketed as licence free, that transmit on 462.5375MHz to 462.7375MHz and 467.5375MHz to 467.7375MHz which is FRS (Family Radio Service), the United State’s version of 446MHz, as far as I can understand it, which is most certainly not legal in this country. 

For budget shack users, I recommend either a Baofeng UV-5R as a handheld, which you can see a review of here. Or perhaps going for an old PMR converted radio.

Digital Radio (DMR)

The Chinese again come out with some digital radio products that are somewhat affordable, although it’s certainly more expensive than the analogue variety. You could be looking at around two to four times the price of analogue radio. Like with analogue this will come with both upsides and downsides, and like with analogue you will need to take the marketing with a huge pile of salt, because sellers on eBay, will mislead or outright lie about some of the claims that they make about their radios. For example, The Baofeng DM-5R was infamous for this, the radio isn’t as bad as it’s often made out to be but it was missold… Big time. It’s a DMR radio in the loosest possible sense, it doesn’t talk to other DMR radios because of the VoCoder, it doesn’t work properly on repeaters and it pretty much only works with other DM-5Rs. They were continuous transmission modes, not TDMA (Time-Division Multiple Access). That said, do I recommend the DM-5R? I recommend that you avoid it like the plague. 

This brings me into the myriad of things to consider with Digital Radio. Unlike Analog Radio which is relatively easy, this is going to take some thought. I will be focusing on DMR, but there are two other mainstream modes such as D-STAR (Digital Smart Technologies for Amateur Radio) and Fusion. Then you have to consider it’s VoCoder, from what I’ve read and understood, if your radio has a different VoCoder to another, although this is typically less of a problem as AMBE+2 (Advanced Multi-Band Extraction) seems to be the running standard nowadays. Besides, you’re probably going to want something that is a Tier 2 DMR.

There is no easy answer for this though, and it’s going to largely depend on what your use case scenario is going to be. I am going to say off the bat that I don’t think that you can get a cheap handheld D-STAR or Fusion radio. 

I will no doubt be making other articles on digital radio as I gain experience. Because I have only just started my journey of exploring DMR so even I am still trying to get my head around most of it.

Sticking to the theme of not breaking the bank I will say that your choices for entry-level DMR are fairly good, although I’ve only tried the Retevis RT84, which is very similar to the Baofeng DM-1701. You could also look into the Baofeng DM-1702, DM-1801 and DM-X, but please do your research before buying.

DMR is a must if you want to use digital repeaters, but some are worried that DMR will replace analogue radio completely and seem to resist it quite zealously. I do not agree that it will replace analogue, after all - Morse is still a thing today, FM Radio is still a thing today, and I think DMR is just yet another mode in which people can play with, and experiment with radio.

You have to shop smart if you want to include a DMR into your Budget Shack. I've reviewed one of the cheaper options (Retevis RT84) and it really wasn't all that great. You'll want a radio that works properly and one that won't likely give out on you at a moments notice which increases costs if you get it replaced.

Software Defined Radio (SDR)

If you can’t afford the latest radio complete with a waterfall of the spectrum, or perhaps you like looking around the frequencies, then consider getting and Software Defined Radio (SDR) which you can plug into your computer for your budget shack. I typically use SDR# (SDR Sharp) but there’s a fair few that you can use depending on your operating system or taste. Some are free, but some cost. For those that cost, I recommend doing the research.

The free ones that I know of are as follows:


WindowsMac (OSX)LinuxAndroid
SDR#Maybe
HDSDR
SDR-RADIO v2/v3
Linrad
GQRX
CubicSDR
SDRUno
SigDigger
WebRadio
RFAnalyzer
QtRadio
Sdrangelove
Natpos
QuestaSDR
QIRX SDR
SSB WebSDR DATV

As for the hardware; you are spoilt for choice. The one I use is an RTL-SDRv3 and I’ve found it to be a well built, solid little device. You will need a computer or laptop to run it on properly unless you favour a mobile phone setup, and you will also need to do some research into best practices when it comes to using an SDR dongle. 

Please be aware that, as with anything even remotely successful: There are fakes out there, and a lot of them use sub-par components. I recommend buying from as close to the source as possible. 

An SDR is a very cheap way to not only monitor the bands and frequencies but to track planes, track wildlife, to download from satellites and play around with radio astronomy, and so much more. If you’d like more information then please check out RTL-SDR which has a list of applications for such a device, and on the same place is a good list of the hardware, and their specifications to help you find the right one for you.

You do not want your SDR dongle or its antenna anywhere near your transmitting antenna, this should go without saying. If you’re getting a cheap SDR dongle (I don’t know with the more expensive ones) you can risk overloading the front end or even damaging your SDR by having it too close to the transmitting antenna. You probably don’t want it near your main computer either, especially if it’s noisy. Computers tend to pump out a lot of RF noise; something I discovered with my SDR. When I turned off just the LAN adapter my noise floor dropped by around 20-30 (I think it’s in dB), when I turned it back on, the noise floor went back up again. I also noticed a lot of data-sounding noise around 36MHz which was coming from my main computer rig. Turned off, I find I get a much better and clearer signal. It is why I recommend that when using an SDR, to utilise a laptop on the battery as that produces a lot less noise.

That said, there’s nothing wrong per se with running your SDR on your main rig, it just might not be optimal. Ultimately these are experiments you will need to do to find the right balance between practicality and finding signals. I like to keep my SDR antenna relatively close so that I can adjust the dipole accordingly depending on the frequency. 

An SDR coupled with a cheaper radio might be a good (but not perfect) combination to get some of the same functionality as a high-end radio. Whilst it’s certainly a step closer you’d still be bound by certain limitations.

I think if you're trying to build your budget shack, you should consider using this as opposed to the radios that have it built in.

Antennas for your Budget Shack

To me, antennas are extremely important. As an amateur photographer, there is a saying that’s banded around that particular community. Your camera is only as good as the lens on it. You can have all the megapixels in the world, but it doesn’t mean jack-all unless you’ve got a decent lens on it. I feel with radio, antenna’s fit the same saying;

“Your radio is only as good as the antenna on it. You can have all the height and power in the world, but it doesn’t mean jack-all unless you’ve got a decent antenna on it.”

Somebody, probably.

There are a few ways that you could go about this. Initially, I bought my antennas such as the Nagoya 771 which I’m sure was perfect for my handheld and not fake in the slightest (Foreshadowing). I also purchased a Moonraker Skyscan Antenna (Mk. III) which I used with my SDR for a time because it was better than the dipoles that came with it, it was reviewed by a lot of people as a fantastic receive antenna but not a transmit antenna (Foreshadowing). I was also given a Diamond X30 Collinear Antenna by Si (M0ILR) when he upgraded to an X50.

I have also made a 70CM’s dipole before, although granted it was a bit lacklustre, it did work, and was better than my rubber duck antennas - not bad for a first go. I’m also going to be attempting to make Andy’s (G6OHM) design guidelines of a 70CMs Double Quad Beam which is also known as a Bowtie Beam, which might become an article in its own right later on. When creating a Budget Shack you might want to consider going down the route of homebrew, simply because it's cheaper. Especially if you have the things you need, laying around already, or have access to cheap resources from rallies for example. You could just outright buy your antenna, however, some of them do start getting ridiculously priced especially if you already have the parts and know-how to make your own, it most assuredly would be cheaper. 

If you do end up buying your own however beware of the fakes. The Nagoya 771 I was talking about earlier has more fakes out there than genuine articles, and I’ve tested the SWR of the one I bought. Not one of the amateur frequencies on the two meters band came anywhere near close to resonant, and 70CMs was barely any better. The best I could find with it was around 446 (As a matter of fact) at 2.5:1, if memory serves me right. Even in the real world, where I did a blind test with John (G1JGT) the rubber duck antennas that came with the radios were far better than the Nagoya 771 fakes. Beware of these fakes, a badly made antenna can be quite bad for your radio. 

Also; and I’m not sure if this was intended or not but the Moonraker Skyscan Antenna Mk. III that was reviewed as, “…a fantastic receive antenna but not a transmit antenna…” was fantastic at transmitting on. I did an SWR test and for the frequency to get into GB3OV I was getting 1.4:1 - 1.5:1. So I tested it, and sure enough, it worked quite well. Granted, it can’t beat a proper antenna for the job, but consider the facts:

  • It was reviewed and marketed (Where I purchased it from) as receive only.
  • Being converted from SMA to BNC via three adapters initially until I streamlined it to one adapter.
  • Powered off of a Baofeng UV-5R.
  • The cable to the antenna is thin - perhaps slightly thinner, or around the same thickness as than an RG58 cable, I think. About two or three meters long, transmitting on UHF.

I was doing pretty damn well. Although when I described my setup over the air, I no doubt got some funny looks or even a few facepalms. Not optimal. Not even ideal. But workable? Absolutely!

Computers in your Budget Shack

I’d say a computer is pretty important when it comes to radios, especially when programming them. Unfortunately, several older radios can be programmed via serial port only (Also known as a Com Port), which is a port that predates Universal Serial Bus (USB). A good workaround for this is a USB to Serial adapter which is readily available from several websites but a lot of people - myself included have had mixed luck with these. An old computer might make a little more sense when trying to run old programs, which presents another issue, as newer 64-bit Windows doesn’t play nice with 16-bit applications. 

I am rather fortunate in that I still have an old computer kicking about from 1998 or so, with an old cartridge-based Pentium II processor, that runs at about 233MHz, although I have also gotten hold of another computer that whilst slightly more up-to-date it’s only by a couple of years or so. Then again I’ve got a fair amount of computers around the flat, perhaps more than I should. 

To program these older radios, if a USB Serial adapter doesn’t work for you, and Windows 10 is out of the question I’d recommend looking around on eBay for second hand but old computers. Perhaps a copy of Windows XP or something, just to make sure that it’s compatible. I have seen lots of computers on eBay - hell it’s where I have bought a lot of them from in the past. An old office computer is perfect because more often than not, they’re cheap and come with a lot of old features. I’ve seen them at all kinds of prices too, from £15 including postage to £40 which is fairly reasonable if you don’t have an old machine. Of course, if you don’t need one, I wouldn’t worry too much about it - at this moment in time. 

I’m not saying that you can’t make it work, by the way, a modern computer and perhaps some kind of virtual machine (VM) running old Windows, or even DosBox with a USB to Serial adapter - what I am saying is that I found it to be less of a pain in the backside to just use an older machine when trying to program an older radio. With a budget shack you're more likely going to be using older radios, and there's nothing wrong with older radios, except programming them on modern machines can be hit and miss.

If you’re looking for weak signals on an SDR then a laptop is the way to go, ideally one running off the battery, in my opinion. As I discussed under SDR, computers can be quite noisy. I do not believe a netbook is powerful enough, generally speaking, but a good laptop (Doesn’t have to be brand new) might be your best bet. 

Then again nothing is stopping you from having your actual computer far away from the desk, if you have a long enough cable to go to the monitor, I’d just be wary about using wireless keyboards and mice - for slightly obvious reasons. That and I find that wireless keyboards could present a slight security risk in the first place as the keystrokes - more often than not, are not actually encrypted, so anyone can eavesdrop on them and effectively monitor your keystrokes - or even - send keystrokes. But that’s another subject for another day.

These are things you will need to think about when setting up your budget shack.

Zello

I have found Zello to be a rather mixed bag, and indeed it seems to be quite divisive, with one side saying it’s not radio, whilst the other is saying it absolutely is, and then you have the middle ground and the people who don’t care either way. I’m of the camp that thinks Zello is both not radio and yet radio at the same time by a technicality. That technicality is that it runs on mobiles, and uses either Wi-Fi or Mobile Data to transmit voice which is radio, although granted, with that logic you could argue that Skype or Discord is radio because it goes online and you can transmit voice over it as well. But you don't control the frequency or anything like that.

I do use Zello, but only informally. There’s a crosslink to it from an FRN server that I frequent and as it stores clips of voice its a good way to go back and listen to what was going on, on a day that I wasn’t on it.

Some people might consider this useful to a Budget Shack if they already have a mobile phone it could indeed be a useful extension.

EchoLink

EchoLink is an amateur-only radio system that allows amateurs to link their repeaters online so that people can access it from their PC or Mobile and transmit all over the world. I’ve not used it all that much, but as someone who came from Free Radio Network (FRN), which is a very similar concept although it is licence free. I’ve found it to be quite similar but a lot more complicated and involved.

You will need to prove that you are a licensed amateur to use the system, the EchoLink website linked above will tell you what you need to do. If you’re privacy-conscious, I don’t think they have a problem with you redacting your address. They want to see your name and callsign, that you have gotten from the regulatory body that deals with these things. 

I may cover this in a later article because right now I know next to nothing about it. But it does exist and I do recommend using it. But do remember that even if you’re transmitting from your computer amateur protocols apply.

EchoLink might be useful for a Budget Shack because it allows you to use repeaters/links all over the world without having to actually radio into them. It can also be useful in making contacts, and talking to people all over the place for that reason.

Free Radio Network / eQSO

Free Radio Network and the rather neutered eQSO is great if you’re not yet licensed (Or are, and you like the more relaxed environment now and then) which can be used by an internet-accessible computer. There are ports of FRN that are usable on different operating systems, such as Mac/Linux but it’s primarily Windows. Users are split into three categories: crosslink providers, gateway administrators, and PC users, although you can use FRN on Android; if you don’t mind using unsigned APKs (Which I don’t recommend, but you can). 

I am going to focus on PC Usage. But I will first explain Gateway Administrating so that there is some context. A gateway is usually done by connecting license-free UHF radios, like PMR446 radios in the UK for example via a comport keyer or taking advantage of the VOX functionality to a computer, this in effect turns the radio, that is connected, into a ‘node’ for the network. All transmissions done through the network will be transmitted out of the radio, and all transmissions into the radio will be transmitted onto the network. For this reason, whilst it’s relaxed there is still an etiquette that needs to be adhered to. It is a lot like EchoLink, except it's usable by non-amateurs, and it’s a good thing to use if you’re looking at getting your ticket.

However, a word of caution: setting up a gateway is perhaps a grey area when it comes to Ofcom’s regulations. I’m not a legal expert so if you become a gateway operator then do so at your own risk, research for yourself. Using a PC, however, is not illegal as you’re just using a VoIP program, talking to other people over the internet from your PC. If they have a radio attached to their computer and are broadcasting then it’s on them and not your responsibility. Using a legal PMR446 radio into a gateway isn’t illegal as far as I can tell under the same vein.

I used FRN extensively as a PC user before I went for my amateur license because there were amateurs there who gave me all kinds of advice and it allowed me to practice speaking concisely and clearly to them.

Budget Shack users might want to consider FRN as a PC user. There are amateurs on there, but it's quite relaxed, as in there is no amatuer protocol to adhere to, if you're into that kind of thing. Like EchoLink it will allow you to contact people across the world, pretty effortlessly.

You need the following pieces of information to register to FRN via the program:

  • Username: Not necessarily your real name, if you don’t want to give that out.
  • Callsign: You can make one up, even if you’re an amateur, you don’t need to worry about it.
  • Email Address: You need to put a valid email address in, so you can receive your 7-8 digit password.
  • Country: What country you’re from, you should be honest about this one.
  • City: Your nearest QTH. You can be vague but try to be honest.
  • Part of City: County, or State. 

Once you have your password sent by email, you will need to pick a server to join, you can do this via System Explorer, or go to:

  • Server: 001english-eu.ddns.net
  • Port: 10026
  • Net: Test, at first to test your audio levels, but then English

Once you’re connected, that’s it. You’ve set it up and you can start transmitting. Once you’ve made sure your audio levels are alright of course.

Etiquette

  • No swearing: Often there are license-free radios attached to many servers, and these radios are sometimes used by children. The odd one is bound to slip out now and then, but it’s better to practice not swearing here than to go on the Amateur bands with the colourful language.
  • The three sins: Steer clear from religion, sex, and politics, as well as topics that are considered to be taboo. 
  • Leaving gaps: Leave a few second gaps between overs. This allows radio users to break in if needed, as there is often a slight delay. 
  • Hogging: Do not talk for more than two minutes in one over, if you need to, break by saying “I’ll just take a quick pause”, de-key and then re-key again to continue. Although try being concise and accurate at the same time.
  • CQ: You do not need to call out CQ, however when entering a room, do not go down the list reading off names and asking if they’re there. Make a general announcement such as; “Is there anyone out there monitoring, this is (NAME) from (QTH).” This is because listeners might not even be on the list, such as radio users who are coming in through a gateway.
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    4 thoughts on “Introduction to the “Creating a Budget Shack” series”

    1. thanks for this Sai and Vicky. do you have recommendations about how to save money when going for the foundation licence? 73s’ Daz

      1. Hello Daz, thank you for leaving a comment. I am glad this article was helpful for you.

        do you have recommendations about how to save money when going for the foundation licence?

        Absolutely! You have to pay in order to do the exam, such a thing as far as I am aware is unavoidable. But you don’t need to do the course with them, which can save you a bit of money (Because rental costs, etc). Vicky and I saved money by self studying, using the RSGB for mock exams and supplemented this through Essex Ham’s “Ham Train” course which is online and 100% free. We also purchased the Foundation Course materials from Amazon for the Kindle, which you can get the Kindle app for your phone or the reader for the PC (Don’t need to buy a Kindle) to read it. I think in the end we saved around £30-£40.

        I wish you luck on your Foundation, let me know what your callsign is when you get it. With any luck we’ll meet each other on the air!

        All the best and 73,
        Sai (M7TEM)

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