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KC9DNN's Ham Radio Resource

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This page is to inform and describe some of the various basic types of equipment used in the Ham Shack, depending on what you want to do.

    This is the most basic piece of equipment in any shack.  They have the Base Station radio, the Mobile radio, and the "HT" or "Handy Talk."  Many can be bought in stores that sells Ham Radio Equipment.  Some can be built at home, either from scratch, or from a "kit."  The output power can vary from less than 1/2 a watt to 400 watts.  These radios may handle one band ( a group of frequencies ) or several bands.  Some are HF only, HF + 6 Meters.  Some will Do one or more of the bands in the VHF / UHF range.  Now some radios offer HF+ 6M + 2M + 70 CM.  Also to be concidered is the modes it will opperate, such as AM, FM, Single Side Band, Morse Code, and Digital.  Some are menu driven ( buttons to select features, and settings ), while others have buttons or knobs for everything. 

Antenna Tuner
     The Antenna Tuner can be very useful, and is found in many Ham Radio Shacks.  Since most modern radios operate at 50 ohms, this is the target resitance of most tuners.  They usaully work by fist adjusting for minimal inductance, then by adding capacitance untill a match is made.  Do not be fooled, One side bill have high resistance (side going to antenna), while the other side ( going to radio) will see a "matched" resistance.  It is always best to place the tuner as close to the antenna as possible to minimize excessive feed line loss (as heat).  Many place the tuner near the radio because it is simpler to use there.  The Antenna Tuner comes in two major flavors.  One is the maual tuner, the other is the newer automatic tuner. They both contain some type of capacitors, and inductors for tuning.  It is always important to have a "tuned" antenna so you don't destroy your radio, and it helps improve radio reception.

Terminal Node Controller (TNC)
     A TNC is A Radio Modem.  It does as it implies, and is similliar to the Telephone Modem.  It takes Computer Code and converts it to Audio Tones, and Vice Versa.  Also It send it in frames known as Packets.  For Ham Radio, most is done in the AX.25 TCIP Protocol.  A few Radios have them Built-In, but most are stand alones.  Most TNC's have several modes that can be handled, and has built-in Mail Box's.

Morse Code Keys
    There are several types of keys all for morse code.  Here I will just talk about 2 of the most common types.  The first is the Iambic Paddle, which is hooked up to an electronic keyer (most modern HF radios have the electronic keyer built in).  The basic funtion is one paddle sends an automatic dot (dit), and the other paddle sends and automatic dash (dah).  The Electronic keyer defines the dot/dash, by setting up the ratio and words per minute speed.
     The second main type of Morse Code Key that I will talk about is known as the Straight Key.  These are very simple, and do not require a electronic keyer, as you directly control the ratio, and speed.  But to get it to sound good it does take more practice.  Many prefer to hear a straight key, because they can tell it is a real person from the variances (dosn't sound so mechanical).

Spectrum Analyzer
     This is a good piece of testing equipment for most hams who like to build their own equipment.  However it is very exspensive.  They work by you defining a frequency range for it to "listen" to, and in this range it will give you it's strength.  This is very helpful in testing many things concerning RF.  For example, you have some unwanted RF noise, and you want to build a notch filter.  You can use a spectrum analyzer to make the adjustments, untill it removes the unwanted noise.  If you are building a transmitter, you can make sure that the harmonics are within FCC regulations.  If you are building different filters, you can see how steep the filter slope is.  Any way, the list goes on, and on.  The Spectrum Analyzer works in the frequency domain, and should not be confused with an oscilliscope which workd in the time domain.

     Another useful piece of test equipment is the Oscilliscope.  It compares a frequency, and voltage in the time domain.  You can see the wave form, and tell if it DC, a Square Wave, a Sine Wave,  a Saw-Tooth Wave, or Audio.  You can see wave shaping, as in for morse code, or do two tone testing for Single Side Band.  One can go on, and on for testing.  As with most Test Equipment it can be very exspensive.  It can vary from several hundred, to several thousand Dollars.  It is however, recommended that you get an Oscilliscope that can receive and compare at least two signals.  Most Oscilliscopes will handle upto 30Mhz, but to go above that would make it more useful, but also make it cost more.

Low-Pass Filter
     The low-pass filter is good to use for HF.  It is a way to be a "good neighbor."  It works by passing RF below 30Mhz, and cutting off everything above 30Mhz.  This way you do not interfere with other your neighbors Television, Telephone, and other electronics.  Remember it is in our best interest to keep our neighbors "happy" with us.  There are also other consumer electronics filters available to prevent interferance.  Also, there is RF chokes ( a type of filter) available to prevent interferance.  I highly recommend these in order to minimize potential of your outside equipment from being vandlized.   It is not common, but it has been known to happen.  Just another reason to be a good neighbor.

Antenna Switch
     The Antenna Switch is very handy when you have more than one Antenna to hook-up to one radio, or one antenna to hook-up to several radios (the later is not recommended).  For example you have a HF radio, but you have one antenna for the high-bands, and another for the low-bands.  The Antenna switch would be handy, and would minimize damage caused by the wear and tear of constantly changing antennas at the back of the radio.  I thnk you get the basic idea.

Dummy Load Antenna
     The dummy load Antenna is great for testing purposes, where you do not want to have the signal on the air.  They come in many shapes, and sizes.  Some are small, and don't handle a lot of power, while others are large, and handle a lot of power.  Some are in paintcans filled with tranformer oil to dissipate large amounts of heat.  Typically it is a 50 ohm resistive load, in a container that prevent the RF (rado frequency energy) from radiating.  A good way to test, and tune equipment before going on the air.


Example of a High-End base radio


A common mobile/base radio


Manual tuner




TNC or Teminal Node Controller


Iambic Key


Straight Key


spectrum anlyizer




low-pass filter


antenna switch


small dummy-load