September 15, 2012 6:33 AM   Subscribe

Received a old Ham Radio transceiver as a gift. Is what I'd like to do with it plausible?

I received a Kenwood TS-440S from relatives who have no use for it. It seems to be an older but quite decent HF transceiver.

I took it because I hate to see good electronics equipment go to waste. Although I have a broad background in electronics and audio engineering (production, not EE) I know very little about radio, RF and broadcasting.

I have neither the time nor interest for getting an amateur radio license. I correct in thinking I may legally use this unit as a receiver only without a license? If that is true, what I'd like to do boils down to "listen to cool stuff, especially international stuff." Is it possible to do this without diving in deeply to amateur radio?
posted by werkzeuger to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Legally, you're fine.


To pick up anything international-international, as opposed to just Canada (sorry Canadians), you're going to need a pretty decent antenna, simplest of which is probably a dipole, and the space to set it up. For a dipole, that's ~60 feet of horizontal space. A yagi antenna is more compact breadth-wise, but is much more intensive to setup.

'Cool stuff' might also be a stretch. If you stick to the actual amateur radio bands, something like 50-75% of the talk is people giving each other signal reports (how strong, how clear can I hear you) and talking about their radio gear. I don't know you or your interest in such things, but that's the main reason why I don't actually use my ham radio license. There's the occasional weird atmospheric setup where you can, say, hear some Polish commercial radio station or something, but that's pretty rare.

If you decided you don't want it, you could see if there's an ARRL chapter in your area doing anything in the schools.
posted by PMdixon at 7:10 AM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks PMdixon, that's the kind of info I'm looking for. The unit is supposed to receive 0.15-30 MHz in AM/FM/SSB/CW modes, which I thought would include the shortwave frequencies. I was hoping I could use this as a large, overbuilt version of those little shortwave "international" radios, but perhaps I misunderstand the part of the spectrum involved.

I did receive two antennas with the receiver, both large vertical affairs. I have the space but I probably wouldn't want to commit to something large for aesthetic reasons, so maybe I'm hosed there too. I had noticed the little shortwave receivers all had short telescopic antennas and was hoping that might work here too.

posted by werkzeuger at 7:58 AM on September 15, 2012

If you're interested in international DX, you might be better off selling the Kenwood and using the money to buy a decent shortwave radio instead. It doesn't have to be terribly expensive - I bought one of these years ago and logged all sorts of interesting stuff - HAMs overseas, ship-to-shore traffic, aircraft, beacons, and all the usual broadcasters overseas. Your antenna in that case can be nothing more than a LPW ("long piece of wire"). I think I still have some of the QSL cards I collected when I was in college.

You can do the same with AM radio - tuning to distant stations around your local sunset - AM stations still in daylight will be broadcasting at their full power until they need to power-down for the clear channel broadcasters.

It's about as niche as a magazine can get, but Monitoring Times will have the latest propagation forecasts and a whole host of other current information on what's out there on the airwaves.
posted by jquinby at 8:00 AM on September 15, 2012

The little telescopic antennas on a portable SW radio aren't really much use. An SWL Antenna is about the same size as a dipole for transmission, but doesn't need all the heft for handling output power.

The TS-440S is still quite a popular radio with an enthusiastic core of users.
posted by scruss at 8:07 AM on September 15, 2012

Best answer: No license is needed for listening or possessing.

That's a great radio and you should be able to get shortwave signals easily. They are usually AM signals and picking up something like Monitoring Times or just search for "shortwave frequencies" on google will get you more than you can ever listen to.

There are some simple signals you can get any time of day to check your system out.

Check out the time signal from WWV on 2.5, 5, 10, 15 and 20 MHz (aka 2500khz, 5000khz,, etc..)

Antenna setup is less important if you are receiving. The reason people worry about the proper length of radio antenna so much is that on Transmitting if they are not the right length you get power reflected back into your radio which can cause damage.

On receive there is no such concern, though an antenna of the proper shape or length can still help with signal receive.

Any antenna is better than no antenna on receive, even the small whip antennas you see on portable shortwave receivers.

Be very careful setting up outside antennas, many people get killed ever year setting up outside antennas by not paying attention to power lines.

The other thing you might be interested in listening to is the Ham radio digital modes. You can interface the radio with your computer to decode digital signals from amateur radio transmissions (kind of like IRC chat, or pictures).

There is some great software like Fldigi and other free ones that would let you do this, again no license required just to listen in.

A basic ham radio license only takes a day to get through a "ham cram" where you come in cold and at the end of a study session you take the test. With the basic "technician" license you can transmit voice on the 10m band of you radio (~28MHz)

Have fun!
posted by bottlebrushtree at 9:54 AM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

There's no reason I can think of to sell that radio for something else, if you just want to receive. It's a fine receiver, and will cover some (though not all) of the SW broadcast bands.

You're definitely going to want a decent antenna if you want to hear DX. Tuning the antenna to a specific frequency isn't as important for receive-only as just getting as much "metal in the air" as possible. Getting it outside your house, or at least up into the attic, is a huge help. But I'd just buy a spool of cheap 16 or 18 ga wire and make a big random-wire antenna and see how it goes; you can always tweak it later. The antenna you have will always receive better than the one you haven't built yet.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:51 AM on September 15, 2012

I agree with Kadin2048, you just need to run a good length of wire out the window to get started receiving. And i sure wouldn't trade this rig for a SW one since listening to the old school hams is a gas and if it tickles your fancy and you get your license this is a fine rig to start with.
posted by okbye at 1:46 PM on September 15, 2012

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