Ham radio continues to grow in the United States. That’s great news as we have more operators getting on the air. That can mean many are wondering how to get started with some ham radio basics.
When you finally earn your technician license, you’ll run out and purchase your first VHF/UHF handheld radio. More on that a little later. Once you get your new radio, you’ll be excited to program it for your local repeaters and hear what’s going on in the air. Let’s talk about are repeater inputs and outputs.
What is a ham radio repeater?
One of the most fundamental ham radio basics is what’s known as a repeater. Repeaters enable two radios to communicate that wouldn’t normally be able to talk to one another due to distance or terrain. It is placed in a high location like a radio tower or atop buildings. The repeater receives a transmission and rebroadcasts it a higher power from an elevated location. (See photo below)
The repeater listens on one frequency, and simultaneous rebroadcasts it on another — hence the word “repeater.”
What is a ham radio repeater input and output frequency?
As mentioned above, repeaters operate on two different frequencies:
- Repeater input frequency: The frequency that the repeater listens for transmissions from your radio.
- Repeater output frequency: The frequency that the repeater simultaneously rebroadcasts to and your radios receives on.
When your radio transmits, it transmits on the input frequency. When you unkey, your radio switches to receiving the output frequency. These two frequencies are commonly called a repeater split or repeater pair.
Here is an example of a repeater frequency pair you’ll find published in an online directory for repeaters:
Repeater directories always list the output frequency and tell you whether the input is up in frequency (+) or down in frequency (-). Whether up or down, repeater splits are always 600 khz away from the output on 2 meters (144 mhz). The number following the output frequency is the PL tone needed for access — if required.
If that repeater output is 146.8200- as shown above, then the input frequency is 146.2200, exactly 600 kHz lower.
What are PL Tones or DCS?
Once you’ve programmed your repeater frequencies, you may need to enter what is known as a PL tone. The easiest way to think about a PL tone/DCS is a password. A password that grants your radio access to use the repeater. When you turn on a PL tone, there is a sound that is carried with your voice that you can’t audibly hear with your ear– but the repeater can hear it. The repeater needs to hear that tone, or else it won’t allow you to access the repeater.
Preparing for your first ham radio contact
As you work on mastering your ham radio basics, getting on the repeater for the first time can be nerve-racking. Your palms are sweaty. You’re afraid of not knowing what to say and how to say it. Take a breath and know that we’ve all been there. No ham radio operator gets on the air and knows how to handle the lingo. It comes with experience, and the only way to get experience is to do it.
Take time to listen to the chatter on your local repeater.
Listening for a few days can be very beneficial. You’ll begin to learn how to exchange your call sign with other operators and the “flow” of a ham radio conversation.
Write down callsigns on a piece of paper
One of the most challenging things to remember is names and callsigns. When you make contact for the first time, write their name and call sign down on paper. Having it in front of you will make it easier on yourself later when you sign off.
How to exchange your callsign
Always begin with the other callsign first, then followed by yours. Let’s look at an example. Let’s say I hear a station with the call sign W0TTL mention he is on the air and monitoring. Here is how I would respond.
Him: W0TTL monitoring
Me: W0TTL, this is K0LWC — Good afternoon.
Him: K0LWC, W0TTL — Good afternoon, name here is Jim.
Me: Nice to meet you on the air here, Jim. Name on this end is Matt.
The bullets above should give you a great cheat sheet for making your first contact when you hear a station on your local repeater!
Get on the air!
Most importantly, get out there and start talking. You’ll learn quickly, and we’ve all been in your shoes. No will give you a hard time, and many will jump in to help and answer any questions you have, no matter how basic they may seem. We need more newly licensed ham radio operators on the air and keeping the repeaters warm — so get out there, and I hope we can connect on the air someday!
What ham radio is a good first radio?
If you’re looking for a radio I strongly recommend the Yaesu FT70. It’s a great beginner radio that’s about 60% less than the most expensive HT radios. Keep in mind that you get what you pay for with radios. If you absolutely cannot afford a couple hundred dollars, the Baofeng UV-5R is one of the most popular beginner radios on the market.
I cover some of these topics and give a demonstration in this video: