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So for someone completely uninitiated: what's the smallest and cheapest possible step into this world? I'm not ready to dive into it fully, but I feel like a good first step might be to just get portable, cheap equipment that lets me tune in and listen to broadcasts on various frequencies. Does my thinking make sense?

Background: I have ADHD so I have to force myself to not jump in at the deep end whenever I hear of something novel and cool.

Cheapest? A Chinese radio off Amazon, e.g., https://www.amazon.com/BaoFeng-UV-5R-Dual-Radio-Black/dp/B00.... This will allow you to tune in to local repeaters and listen. N.B., you cannot legally transmit without a license which is easy and cheap to obtain http://www.arrl.org/getting-licensed.

After getting licensed, you'll probably get frustrated with the UV-5R and look into a more capable hand held unit, or a mobile radio. These start at around $150 and go up from there (plus antennas, power supplies, etc).

Thanks! I'm well aware I'm not legally allowed to transmit and don't plan to either. I'm just fascinated by the prospect of receiving invisible waves and having them translated into sound in my hand.

Can I read somewhere about which frequencies are used by ham operators, and descriptions of things like UHF and VF and narrowband and such?

Google "ARRL Band Plan"


I roughly split spectrum in my head as "longer waves" (kHz, AM radio, needs impractically large antennas), "HF" (thousands of miles of range, largish antennas), "VHF/UHF" (line of sight, 25 miles, walkie talkies), and "microwaves" (1GHz+, short range, tiny antennas for wifi).

Someone already mentioned the Baofeng style of cheap Chinese radio. They're good enough but they also produce pretty dirty signals that there's a chance they aren't legally compliant. That being said, everyone seems fascinated with them right now so they get away with it for the moment. I wouldn't let that stop you since if you stick with it, you'll move up soon enough and it'll become the backup/beater radio.

I'll add on that $25 RTL-SDR (get a "TXCO" one like a Nooelec Blue) is also a pretty cheap entry into listening to absolutely everything. With that, you can start making antennas, listening to satellites, running your own FlightAware ADS-B scanner, etc. To listen to HF, you can add a $75 upconverter.

If you do pick up a Bao Feng be sure to grab a 16" whip like this: https://www.amazon.com/Authentic-NA-771-15-6-Inch-SMA-Female...

Will do wonders for what you'll be able to hear(and send). I've got a similar Diamond one on my VX-8DR and I can pick up the repeaters ~20mi away. Can't hit them though, but that's what cross-band is for :).

I'm able to run a pretty resonable APRS setup w/ BF-F8HP + above and a mobilinkd for ~$120.

If you don't have any interest in transmission (for now) you should probably pick up an SDR dongle since they can tune a much wider range of frequencies, and are cheaper.


I bought an rtl sdr before I started studying for my license. It is a great entry point into the hobby. GQRX and SDR# are great applications for browsing and visualizing. Another fun thing to do is get weather data from commercial outdoor wireless weather sensors in your area with RTL 433 https://github.com/merbanan/rtl_433


This is as cheap as it gets, given that you've already got internet access and (I assume, not sure if it works on mobile - theoretically it should, it's all HTML5 now) a capable PC.

Okay this is surprisingly captivating. I didn't think something "on the web" would be as good as the real deal, but I've been stuck with this for 30 minutes. Currently tuned in to a couple of Russians talking while I do the last bit of work for the night. (I don't know Russian so the static on the air plus the foreign language is a nice background noise.)

Oh yeah, it's absolutely brilliant, I have literally zero interest in radio but I spent a good 2 or so hours just fiddling around with it a few days ago - it's surprisingly relaxing just tuning in and out of different things.

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