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Ham Radio Is A Real Value

(Originally published in AIRWAVES, The newsletter of the Sierra ARC, May 2008.
As extracted from the ARRL Club News - June 3, 2008 - Norm Fusaro, W3IZ - Editor - to subscribe, edit your ARRL profile )

Mike Herr, WA6ARA

As a kid in the '60s I hung around my father, WB6MNX, and his ham buddies. The talk in those days was pretty much similar to now, what features their new rig had. But one thing I now note is that each ham had but one rig, yep, just one rig. It was usually a HF rig, and it was used both in the house and in the car. Before the 2 meter revolution everyone, except for the few brave experimenters in the VHF regions, was on the HF bands. But why did most ops have only one rig? The answer is simple economics; radio equipment was expensive back then.

As a novice I would lust over the Heathkit "perfect" novice station, the DX-60B, HR-10 receiver and HG-10B VFO. Wow! Ninety watts on CW or AM on 80, 40, 20, 15 and 10 meters (In my Novice days we only had privileges on 80, 40 and 15 meter). But with a price tag of $200 it was way out of reach for a lot of people, especially for a teenager.

Today ham radios are much cheaper and offer much more features than rigs available to Amateurs in the mid 1960's. I cannot comment on every ham's financial situation but when comparing selling prices, average salaries and technological features, Amateur Radio is a bargain today.

Let's take a look at the previously mentioned DX-60B, HR-10 and HG-10B station. In 1965 it cost about $200, only offered two modes (AM and CW), took up an entire desktop and it generated enough heat to warm half the house. Adjusted for inflation the "perfect" Heathkit novice station would cost $1,323.00 today! Compared to entry level radios today that offer 100 watts on all Amateur bands, all modes (AM, FM, CW, SSB and digital), dual VFOs, general coverage receive and all sorts of bells and whistles, not to mention outstanding dynamic receivers and clean, stable transmitted signals, when adjusted for inflation, would have cost less than half the price of the 1965 model.

The Heathkit HW-101, an entry level SSB rig for many operators during the '60s and 70s, sold as a kit in 1971 for $350. In today's dollars that same unit would be $1,849, which buys a heck of a lot more radio the old '101.

The biggest bang for the buck is in a piece of equipment that we all use, a 2 meter rig. Back at the time the 2 meter revolution was in full swing FM transceivers were selling for about $300 to $500 which translates to thousands of dollars today. There were a few synthesized models but most were crystal controlled which meant purchasing a pair of crystals, one each for transmit and receive for each channel that you wanted to operate and were limited to two to ten channels. They were about the size of a large book and operated at 2 to 5 watts output. Today you can buy a shirt pocket handheld or a 65 watt mobile transceiver, fully synthesized 100 channels, scanning, CTCSS encode/decode, etc for what amounts to about $28 in 1971 dollars.

Ham radio is CHEAP. In the 60s the typical ham had to work for a month to buy a rig, today it is more like one week. I remember in 1965 when dad bought a SBE-34 and he had to buy it on time because it was just so expensive. Compared to other hobbies and recreation, ham radio is a steal. You can be on the air with the local repeater for about $150. A complete 100 watt HF station including an antenna is less than $1000. If you are a builder, parts have never been cheaper or more available. A couple of minutes on the internet and you can order parts and have them at your house in a couple of days. No more waiting for the once a year trip to the Hamfest.

Of course you can spend tens of thousands of dollars creating the ultimate station. There is no limit as to what you can spend on any hobby but there a tremendous value to anyone who is attracted to Amateur Radio. Let's compare Amateur radio to other past times. A decent 4 wheel drive vehicle, with the extras to keep up with others in the local 4 WD club might set you back $30K. That boat for water skiing or fishing during the summer is about the same. How about the home computer? Again, about the cost of a HF rig and you buy a new one every couple of years or so. Ham radio cost a fraction of what it did in the past and offers twenty times the features. So get out and enjoy ham radio and stop feeling guilty about the money.

Here are some prices taken from advertisements in January 1976 QST and adjusted for inflation using an inflation calculator.

% mean
VHF Gear 1976
Tempo VHF/ONE 2m
  (synth xcvr-2 chan-10 watts) $495.00 3.31% $1,887.98
Yaesu FT-620B 6m AM/CW/SSB $449.00 3.00% $1,712.53
Yaesu FT-221 2m AM/FM/CW/SSB $679.00 4.54% $2,589.77
Midland 13-505 2m FM
  (plus crystals @ $6.95 ea) $309.95 2.07% $1,182.18
Heath HW-2026 (kit) 2m synthesized $289.95 1.94% $1,105.90
Handheld VHF/UHF
Wilson 1405 SM 5 watts 6 chan
  (plus crystals @ $6.95 ea) $279.95 1.87% $1,067.76
Heath HW-2021 (kit)
  (plus crystals @ $6.95 ea) $169.95 1.14% $648.21
HF Gear
Yaesu FT-101E HF xcvr $749.00 5.01% $2,856.76
FV 101B ext VFO $99.00 0.66% $377.60
XCVR + VFO $848.00 5.67% $3,234.36
Collins KWM2A xcvr $1,760.00 11.77% $6,712.82
Drake TR4C $599.00 4.00% $2,284.65
RV4C remote VFO $110.00 0.74% $419.55
XCVR + VFO $709.00 4.74% $2,704.20
R4C rcvr $549.00 3.67% $2,093.94
T4XC xmtr $580.00 3.88% $2,212.18
RX + TX $1,129.00 7.55% $4,306.12
TS-520 $629.00 4.21% $2,399.07
R 599D rcvr $459.00 3.07% $1,750.67
T 599D xmtr $479.00 3.20% $1,826.95
RX + TX $938.00 6.27% $3,577.63
HF Amplifiers
Henry 2K-4 Legal Limit HF Amplifier $995.00 6.65% $3,795.03
Yaesu FL-2100B linear 600 watts out $359.00 2.40% $1,369.26