Everyone is asking. buying a ham radio
As I roam the internet keeping up with others’ thoughts about ham radio, the number one theme that seems to come up, by a very large margin, is “I want to get into amateur radio, but I can’t afford it!”. The sentiment is also a high concern brought up in Off Grid Ham reader emails. It becomes even more complicated if your desire is to use radio off grid. In addition to buying a ham radio, off grid operators also have to acquire all the appropriate hardware to generate electricity. It’s not as easy as plugging in a simple AC power supply and calling it good.
Before we get into the meat of this article, let me offer some commentary about the idea that amateur radio is “too expensive.” The truth is, yes, radio can be expensive. In my forty-or-so-years of hamming I don’t know how much money I’ve spent on this hobby; it’s easily into tens of thousands of dollars. Heck, I think I have over a thousand dollars of coax cable coiled up in my garage right now. Like any passion, it’s easy to get sucked into a vortex of money!
But let’s keep things in context. Yeah, ham radio can be expensive. However, when compared to other pastimes, it’s cheap fun. One of my coworkers just spent several thousand dollars to travel out of state to play in a weekend golf tournament. Another acquaintance spent $30,000 on a fishing boat he uses only a few weeks a year. I’m certainly not putting them down. We all have our “thing” and it’s all good. But in practical terms, compared to those guys a $1500 radio looks like an excellent bang for the buck.
A recurring theme. buying a ham radio
A lot of aspiring hams make the mistake of running out and buying a lot of equipment without really knowing what their goals are. Or, even worse, they have a goal but have the wrong equipment to achieve that goal.
Recently, I came across a social media post by a guy who was recently licensed. He said he bought a FT-991A radio with a primary purpose to communicate around town on 2 meter simplex. It’s true he has a lot of room for expansion beyond that, but it was by accident, not design. I don’t know if he was given bad advice or simply did not bother to do his homework, but he could have achieved his low-bar goal for a heck of a lot less money.
The moral of the story is that you need to define your goals before dropping a ton of money on anything. I know this is a recurring plot on this blog, but the idea seems slow to sink in, so we need to keep beating the drum.
The market is completely nuts right now.
Options are limited due to the tight market for used radio equipment and shortages of new gear. Worse still, the limited stock of all equipment is commanding high prices. I did a little research for this article and was shocked to find broken 40-50 year old tube radios being sold “for parts” priced higher than what you could buy clean, working unit for just a few years ago! The big commercial retailers like Ham Radio Outlet are not price-gouging on new radios, but they are out of stock on the most popular rigs.
In these times, why would someone buy a used radio when for just a few bucks more they could get a new one? This is unsustainable. I think we are reaching critical mass with used radio prices. Don’t be surprised if their value crashes in the next year or so. If you’re looking to sell, do it now while the market is hot. If you’re looking to buy, holding off and waiting for the bottom to fall out may or may not be a good idea depending on your situation (more on that in a moment). This is madness, but I believe it will ultimately sort itself out and return to something resembling normal.
On the good side, off grid power gear is more affordable than ever. Solar panels are down in the recently unheard of $1.00-$1.50/watt range (US dollars), and often even less than that. Solar controller prices are stable. I paid $500 for my Morningstar MPPT controller about seven years ago. Today, the exact same unit is still $500. Batteries are kind of all over the place. The cost of lithium batteries is coming down while older battery technologies get more expensive.
No easy way out.
We face a dilemma. Off grid power equipment (solar panels, batteries, etc.) is very affordable right now. Radios, however, are hard to find and expensive when they are available.
If you already own radio gear and have been contemplating going off grid with it, the time to act is now! There’s no way of knowing how long the low prices will last. There’s so many good deals and it’s not likely to get any better. Price-sensitive amateurs have just lost their last excuse for not going off grid.
If you are looking to buy radio gear, you’ve got a hard decision to make. Buy now and pay crazy-high prices, if you can find anything at all, or wait it out. I guess the decision depends on how badly you need/want radio gear. Most of the people who recently jumped on the ham radio bandwagon for prepping/survival purposes are at a serious disadvantage. I suggest those folks take a deep breath and open their wallets, even if it hurts. Ham radio is so essential to prepping/survival that it cannot wait for a dip in the market.
What is going on with ham radio in particular and the world in general should make all of us do some serious thinking. How ready are you? Do you plan ahead of time, or do you react to situations after they happen? It’s never too late to learn and change, but “tuition” for the school of experience just went up considerably.