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How To Become a HAM Radio Operator






NYECOGunsmith

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#41
Steve you said:
"It is possible to take all three exams and pass them at one time, for only $15, and go from no license to Extra class in one jump." .....

Do you need to let the exam site know ahead of time if you plan to take more than one exam (tech and general) at the scheduled date or just when you arrive? In a word, NO. See below for the more complete answer and explanation.

Thanks for starting this thread, it was something I wanted to do and never got around to. Thanks to you and your enthusiasm for the sport I just bought Gordon West's books and will soon take my exam.

Kent
Hi Kent.

Nope, you don't need to tell us a thing, other than what exam you want to take. We have to, by law, give you anyone you ask for.

The only way we would NOT be able to give you the General Class (Element 3) or Extra class (Element 4) exam, is if the three attending Volunteer Examiners (VE's) were NOT Extra Class HAMS.

If one were General Class licensee, and the other two were Extra Class licensees for example, then all we could offer would be the Technician Class (Element 2) exam, for the law requires that all three VE's have to be Extra Class holders to give the exams for General and Extra Class.

General Class VE's can only administer the Technician Class exams in other words.

Some more possible scenarios for the curious:

You could walk in with no license, and ask to take the Extra class exam (Element 4) , and we would give it to you.

HOWEVER, even though you pass it, you would NOT get a amateur license of ANY class at that point.

The law requires you to pass what is known as Element 2, the Technician class, before ANY license is issued.

However, even though your Extra class, Element 4 CSCE (Certificate of Successful Completion of Examination) would be valid for 365 calendar days from the day you passed the Extra exam, the FCC would hold off granting you a license with Extra Class privileges, until you , within those 365 calendar days, passed BOTH the Technician class exam AND the General Class exam.

In this example you would still be unlicensed until you took and passed the Technician class exam, at which time you would be granted a Technician class license.

Note I said Technician, and not an Extra class license. This is because you still lack the CSCE for the General Class exam.

However, if within that same 365 calendar day period, you took and passed the General Class exam, you would have a licensed issued to you, but you would be issued an Extra class license. Your record with the FCC would show you passed all three exams, but it would not show you "holding" a General Class license, or a Technician class, because that valid Extra Class CSCE would supersede the General CSCE and the Technician class CSCE.

Similarly, if you were to start off by taking the General Class (Element 3) exam before any other, and pass it, your General Class, Element 3 CSCE would be valid for 365 calendar days, however again you would not be issued any license until you take and pass the Technician exam, at which point the FCC would issue you a General Class license, and your record would show you as having passed the Tech and General, but it would show you as only having held the General class license.

Last scenario, you take the Tech, General and Extra exams on the same day (in any order!) and pass all three. The FCC record will show you passed all three, and they would issue you a Extra Class license, and the record would show you as only ever having held an Extra Class license.

If you take and pass the three exams on different days, in the correct order (Technician, General, Extra) your record would show your current license class and the previous one, with grant dates for each of them. The grant date is the date the FCC issues you a license of any particular class.

Confusing, probably, but, the above information will be (most likely!) found in a question on one of the versions of the Technician Element 2 exam!

Hopefully you can make sense of the above, it not, let me know.

And if you have any questions that come from your studying, don't hesitate to ask, there are several HAMS on here, one of us is bound to be able to answer them for you.

Good luck, looking forward to hearing you on the air.
 

bplv

uber Member
#42
I'm taking the test this Sat Dec 3rd in LV. Anyone else going to be there?

I've been doing lots of practice tests on qrz.com. I really like the sample tests there. In theory, I should be good for the technician and general tests. General has taken a lot more repetitions through the practice tests, but now I'm generally getting passing scores on it. Technician seems pretty easy. (Hoping not to jinx myself.)
 

NVCowboy1

Ground Rat Extraordinare
#44
One thing that I really disagree with is the fact that Operators are authorized a "Technician" class license when most of them aren't really technicians per se. I'm a crusty old component level radio maintenance "purist" when it comes to the designation of a radio technician vs. an operator. Mind you the vast majority of HAM operators are good people with common sense and abide by the rules. HOWEVER, there are those out there who get a wild hair and decide to tweak things and end up having a Tim Taylor moment and just gotta have more power. This ends up causing this wonderful thing called interference which tends to make maintainers like me very very annoyed. Case in point, there's a HAM operator that lives within a mile of me who likes to splatter a good portion of the VHF Air band when he keys up due to his "more power" theorem. Luckily he's not creating any real havoc for me yet other than the occasional annoyance. But once the first phone call comes in from the customers about interference I will have legal authority to shut him down until he rectifies the problem. Here's a piece of advice for you folks trying to get into the hobby. Don't cram for the test and go in and pass it and then go out and start building these awful contraptions that have no usefulness whatsoever. Granted I've personally created some rather interesting HF radio antennas, but that was for a military mission. Go out and actually take some classes on electronics theory, the RF spectrum, antenna theory, and maintenance. This way you'll understand that you don't need 250W to hit an antenna 5 miles away. I've got a cheap radio shack mag mount antenna and a cheap ICOM handheld receiver that has no trouble picking up aircraft 100+ miles away at altitude and 65 miles away for ground station traffic. No special mods, no special tricks, no nothing. So take the time to actually learn the equipment instead of becoming what some of us call "CBers with a learners permit".
 

NYECOGunsmith

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#47
Passed the Technician and General this afternoon. Now I have to decide on equipment I guess. :)
Congratulations!!

I'm sure the VE team probably gave you all this info, but just in case they didn't:


If you check for your name at this URL :
http://wireless2.fcc.gov/UlsApp/UlsSearch/searchLicense.jsp

By changing where it says "by Call Sign" to "by Name" (or FRN if you already had one of those) and then filling in your name, you can check to see when your license is granted. Depending on how soon they (the VE team) mail off the exam results and how soon the ARRL and FCC receive them, you could find your name and your call sign listed in the ULS (Universal Licensing System) data base within the next week or so.

Once your name and call sign show up in the ULS, you are then legally able to go on the air with your General Class privileges and transmit.

In about two weeks the hard copies (one to go on your wall, one to go in your wallet) of your license should arrive in the snail mail.
Sign them both, put the small one in your wallet. Some folks like to laminate it first, I recommend that, they last longer.

When / if you go to upgrade to Extra class, be sure to bring both the original (of either the large or the small license) AND a photo copy of it with you. The VE team will need to see the original and will keep the copy.

IF you do upgrade to Extra, I encourage you to take the online, open book exam for Volunteer Examiner that is found on the ARRL sight here:

http://www.arrl.org/become-an-arrl-ve

And then get with your local VE team and learn to administer the exams. We always need more VE's. You can become a General Class VE now, and be able to administer the Technician exams (with at least two other VEs of General class or higher present) , and then when / if you upgrade to Extra, all you have to do is notify the ARRL and they will upgrade your VE ID to reflect the Extra Class, at which time you can then administer all three levels of examination. With at least two other Extra Class VEs present of course.

In a couple of weeks you will most likely receive catalogs from AES (American Electronic Supply, they have a store at 4640 Polaris, two blocks north of Tropicana in LV) and HRO (Ham Radio Outlet, stores all over, but none in NV) and MFJ Enterprises, and probably Texas Towers as well. These will let you look over all the various rigs that are out there, and give you an idea of cost for new equipment.

You can also find good used equipment at HAM swap meets and HAM Fests from time to time.

If you join the ARRL (good idea, lots of good info, free QST magazine each month, great articles that will teach you a lot about the hobby, plus ads for equipment,etc. and more) you can find in the back pages locations for the HAM fests and such.

I would also suggest you consider joining one of the local HAM radio clubs, particularly one that is ARES/RACES affliated as is the one here in Pahrump.
Lots of folks there to help further your knowledge of HAM radio, and you will get involved in lots of interesting community events as well. Things like disaster training drills with the various local emergency agencies, parades, races, etc.

Which reminds me, any and all of the HAMS on this sight, if you don't know about the Baker To Vegas Relay Race for Law Enforcement charity run that is coming up in April (21 and 22 April 2012) for the 28th year, and would like to participate, drop me a note.

I am the HAM lead for Stage 12 of the race, Stage 12 will be located here in Pahrump on 160 at Dandelion St, near Lewis Crane Company, and we/ I can always use more volunteers. Lots of fun. And a nice goodie bag from the Race sponsors each year as well.

If you have any questions, post them here or drop me a PM, be happy to answer all that I can for you.

Again, congratulations "General BPLV" on becoming a HAM. You're embarking on a new hobby that is very useful and has a potential equal to that of the "gun" hobby to occupy your time and empty your wallet!
 

ScottyS

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#48
Go out and actually take some classes on electronics theory, the RF spectrum, antenna theory, and maintenance. This way you'll understand that you don't need 250W to hit an antenna 5 miles away.
Yes. Pure transmitter output power is seriously overrated, and there are only two ways to get it: the expensive way and the irresponsible way (which can screw up a lot more than the adjacent band). Good antenna design and clean station practices will net you 99% of desired communications every time.

A couple months ago I was on a mountainside in Great Basin National Park at 11,000ft and was able to have a long VHF conversation with a fella camping in the Spring Mountains. I was using my VX7R, nominally 5w output with a 15" Diamond antenna, hitting the Highland Peak repeater 80mi to the south. He was 90mi on the other side of the repeater with a standard mobile setup.

25w and a $25 J-pole antenna hit every repeater in the Reno area from my home on VHF/UHF.

A homemade center-fed Zepp long wire has done every non-contest contact I have attempted camping in the field from QRP (5w) to 150w.

Amplifiers have very few practical applications, contests being far and away the primary use.


Congrats to those who passed and are on their way!
 

bplv

uber Member
#49
There were about 15-16 people there taking the test yesterday. The VEs seemed pretty busy so there wasn't really much beyond administering the test that they were doing. They didn't try to recruit me for any of the clubs, mention the ARRL, wait times or anything. I was fortunate to be the second person called up to get their test and I finished before the last person had their test. It went smoothly, just spent most of the time waiting.

I think I'm going to get a vanity call sign so it is easier to remember. Is it a bad idea to use your initials in the ID? I may go for the Amateur Radio license plate as well. All-in so to speak. :)

I had already stopped by AES and got their catalog. I learned a lot about computers just looking through catalogs before the internet.

I'm having trouble deciding which route to go for equipment. My primary purpose is backup communications when off roading, shooting, hunting, etc. Secondary purpose is emergency communications if for some reason the power goes out in Vegas. At this point, I'm not interested in DXing or contesting. I'm leaning towards a 2m mobile, mostly because it is a lower cost of entry. I'm wondering what kind of coverage I would be able to get in the rural parts of NV. Seems like they general hover around 50w and there are lots of antenna options with lots of gain. I can't go crazy with antenna height because I want to fit in the parking garage at work without having to remember to fold down the antenna.

Is radio programming just setting up named frequencies that you frequently utilize, such as the local repeaters?
 

NYECOGunsmith

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#50
There were about 15-16 people there taking the test yesterday. The VEs seemed pretty busy so there wasn't really much beyond administering the test that they were doing. They didn't try to recruit me for any of the clubs, mention the ARRL, wait times or anything. I was fortunate to be the second person called up to get their test and I finished before the last person had their test. It went smoothly, just spent most of the time waiting.

I think I'm going to get a vanity call sign so it is easier to remember. Is it a bad idea to use your initials in the ID? I may go for the Amateur Radio license plate as well. All-in so to speak. :)

I had already stopped by AES and got their catalog. I learned a lot about computers just looking through catalogs before the internet.

I'm having trouble deciding which route to go for equipment. My primary purpose is backup communications when off roading, shooting, hunting, etc. Secondary purpose is emergency communications if for some reason the power goes out in Vegas. At this point, I'm not interested in DXing or contesting. I'm leaning towards a 2m mobile, mostly because it is a lower cost of entry. I'm wondering what kind of coverage I would be able to get in the rural parts of NV. Seems like they general hover around 50w and there are lots of antenna options with lots of gain. I can't go crazy with antenna height because I want to fit in the parking garage at work without having to remember to fold down the antenna.

Is radio programming just setting up named frequencies that you frequently utilize, such as the local repeaters?
Nothing wrong with a vanity Call Sign using your initials that I can see. However, unless you gave a post office box as your mailing address for the license, I would tend to stay way from a vanity license plate for the vehicle that has your Call Sign on it.

The reason is, it is far to easy for anyone to look up your information on the FCC ULS sight, and if they see a NV plate in AZ with a HAM call sign on it, they can look up your address, know you are not at home, and burglarize your home in your absence.
Sounds far fetched, until you consider that there are a number of nation wide burglary rings, with thousands of cooperative crooks involved, who do just this sort of thing. Not here-say, we worked such cases when I was a federal agent.

Additionally, I have a snow bird HAM friend here in town who was a victim of this very crime. When the burglars were caught, one confessed that they had gotten word of homes that would be empty from out of state "eyes and ears" who wrote down and looked up HAM radio vanity license plates and passed the info on.
My friend was rather embarrassed by this incident, as he is a retired 25 year veteran LEO, and was a detective for about half his career, investigation burglaries.

As for your choice of radio, yes, a mono band 2 meter mobile rig with 50 watts will let you hit pretty much any repeater within range, especially if you couple it with a good antenna.

I have the same problem of clearance in the garage with my H1 HUMMER, so I have a short mag mount on top that clears the garage, and is used most of the time for easy range contacts. But I have a second mag mount up there as well, with the radiating element removed and stored in the vehicle. It's 62" long and has a great deal of gain. When I need a bit more range, I stop and screw that higher gain antenna to it's mount and flip the two position switch in the cab to connect it to the radio. Best of both worlds that way. When traveling out of town I just install the big antenna as soon as I pull out of the garage, but most of the time it's stored in the back.

Second question: Yes, programming the radio is just entering frequencies that you want to make use of frequently, by putting them into the radio's memory banks. Then you can call them up in an instant to use them, instead of having to stop and enter the frequency, and if it's a repeater, the shift and PL codes if the latter is used.

And I agree with ScottyS and NVCowboy1's commments above. Most folks today will not be building or modifying their rigs to any extent, and are not likely to cause interference with their rigs, but MOST FOLKS isn't 100% of the folks using the various frequencies allotted to the HAM bands.
So there are still some folks out there who will, without sufficient knowledge of the subject, cause harmful interference to others by tinkering with their rigs.

Most HAMS today who have been licensed in the last 5 years or so, do not understand even simple radio related subjects such as the Decibel scale, gain as referenced to an antenna, or gain as referenced to an audio circuit, signal strength, etc. along with a variety of other related knowledge that could save them a bundle of money.

They will spend a fortune on commercial antennas and 1,500 watt legal limit amplifiers, and wonder why the guy with a stock 100 watt HF rig and a solid knowledge of antenna theory, with his home built antenna and excellent ground plane, is beating the tar out of them in contests and DX contacts.

In the radio club GEO and I belong to, there are 3 of us with Master's Degree's in Electronics, all of whom worked on radio design, maintenance, etc. for either the government or large corporations, and we try to pass along some of these tidbits of information at our meetings, HAM CRAM sessions, and examination sessions as well.

But most folks just want to be "users", not fixers and "understanderers" as one of the other engineers calls them.

I think they should have used the term "NOVICE" for the entry level license, but that's just a personal opinion.

I have heard recent rumors of the FCC considering another class of license beyond EXTRA, which would only be given to those who pass an extensive examination demonstrating a very solid knowledge of radio theory, much like a Commercial Radio Engineer must have today. This would involve being able to construct, tune and align receiver and transmitter circuits, power supplies, antennas, etc.

This new class of HAM license if it ever comes to be, would grant more privelegs frequency wise, but no increase in power output, which is fine by me, for as NVCowboy1 mentioned, you don't need megawatts of power to communicate effectively.

A well constructed transmitter and sensitive receiver, with the transmitter putting out as little as 1/10 of a watt, plus a good antenna (and a good location for it as well!) and a good ground plane, will let you work the work on CW easily. If your ears are still good, you could do it on phone (voice) as well, although a lot of QRP (low power) enthusiasts will jump to 5 watts for voice communications over long distances.

You can work the other side of the world with a 5 watt VHF hand held as I have mentioned before, with a good gain (Yagi type) directional antenna via the EME (Earth-Moon-Earth) bounce technique, or via bouncing it off one of he AMSATS (Amateur radio Satellites).

AES and HRO both carry some great books on radio theory, tuning guides, antenna design and theory, etc. and I always recommend any new HAM investing a bit of his or her budget in some of these books.

Even if you never build or modify a radio, a good working knowledge of the theory will let you get more bang for your buck out of the equipment you do have.
 

NVCowboy1

Ground Rat Extraordinare
#51
I would love, LOVE , LOOOOVEEEEEE to get my hands on a KWM-2A. I worked on one of those when I was maintaining HF systems in the military and that little 100W wonder would reach out and touch people halfway across the world. If the zombies get ahold of a suitcase nuke and manage to let off some EMP I'll still be able to be listen to the BBC with that bad girl.....LOL. Gotta love a tube radio.
 

jherman

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#52
Is there like an gunbroker for old ham rigs. I havent a clue what too get, but I know my budget will be really limited. I dont care about how old something is as long as it works. I just upgraded my CB, I had been using a cobra unit my dad bought when he was a hotshot trucker in the early 80's/

If I just want to take the test and get to talking would something like this be servicable.

http://www.ebay.com/itm/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=270866709167
 

bplv

uber Member
#53
eBay doesn't restrict the sale of HAM rigs so I see them listed there. And it seems there are HAM swap meets at HAMfests and the local AES store has one monthly (although I see you aren't in LV.) QRZ.com has forum for selling as well. I'm thinking that I'll swing by the local swap meeting in January when people are trying to unload the stuff they replaced with Christmas presents. We'll see how that plan goes. I worry about getting something that has been "enhanced" a little too much, especially since I don't have a great understanding of what I'm dealing with or the tools to properly evaluate the equipment.

My interim plan is just to pick up the super cheap, but decently reviewed BAOFENG UV-3R Mark II handheld off of ebay. eham: http://bit.ly/rzeZGb ebay: http://bit.ly/u2ykip And maybe find a better mag mount antenna for it. It is only 2w, but mostly I think I want to listen initially. Later maybe it will be handy to talk back to the truck or something.

AES and HRO both carry some great books on radio theory, tuning guides, antenna design and theory, etc. and I always recommend any new HAM investing a bit of his or her budget in some of these books.
Any specific ones you recommend?
 

NVCowboy1

Ground Rat Extraordinare
#54
To piggy back on the power out comments that have been discussed here, take some time and check out the repeater coverage maps for the areas you plan on being in/around. For example, in mountainous northern Nevada, a Moto mobile at 150MHz or so, 50W out with a P25 mod scheme(digital narrowband FM), and mag mount unity(none) gain antenna transmitting to a 100W Quantar repeater system with cans(bandpass filters) on it can REALISTICALLY hit that repeater and have reliable communications from 65 miles away. Yes this is going over mountains(the ruby mts to be exact), over the river, and through the desert. Now it just so happens this is the system I personally maintain and I've got 20 years of experience on Moto equipment so your personal experiences will GREATLY vary based on the experience of the people maintaining your repeater systems. If I put a gain antenna on the mobile, got rid of the cans on the repeater, and put a gain antenna on the repeater, I'm sure I could EASILY get 100+ miles on a bad day. My personal thoughts on this are that less is more. If you are traveling in desert areas where there's very little coverage and the people maintaining the systems use bailing wire and duct tape to mount their antennas, and have no clue what a CSM is, then yeah you might need a 50 to 100W mobile to hit the outer edges of the coverage map. If you are sitting inside your house and the local repeater is just across the way, then a two watt portable with a mag mount antenna on your roof will have absolutely NO problems hitting the system. The scanner I have in my house uses a cheapo radio shack mag mount antenna that sticks to my roof vent and connects to the scanner through 30 ft of cheapo cable (1/4" RG-58). With that I can pick up ground station traffic using 10 watt transmitters 70+ miles away. I regularly pick up aircraft at altitude using 10 watt transmitters from over 200 miles away. Oddly enough the air band isn't too far removed from the VHF HAM band, so the propagation is pretty much the same. A little research and some study will save you a BOATLOAD of money in the future.
 

ScottyS

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#55
...especially since I don't have a great understanding of what I'm dealing with or the tools to properly evaluate the equipment.
It sounds like a little exposure is what you need before buying anything. I imagine that Steve could point you to some good clubs/meetings (there are some weekly and monthly breakfast/lunch meets in Reno, for instance) where you can talk to quite a few people about their experiences with equipment.

Or, do a lot of looking on QRZ.com.

For an initial radio, I'd recommend a dual-band VHF/UHF, the Woxsuns are getting good reviews if you want cheap, but a decent Yaesu or Kenwood really isn't that pricey. Check the QRZ classifieds if looking used, once your call is issued you should have no problem making deals there.

The ARRL Handbook (doesn't have to be the current version unless you are really looking to push digital technology) is a good overview, and the ARRL Antenna Book is also a good one. There are probably people in the local groups who would lend or give older copies. But there really isn't a substitute for personal experience and watching someone who really knows their stuff.
 
#56
...

My interim plan is just to pick up the super cheap, but decently reviewed BAOFENG UV-3R Mark II handheld off of ebay. eham: http://bit.ly/rzeZGb ebay: http://bit.ly/u2ykip And maybe find a better mag mount antenna for it. It is only 2w, but mostly I think I want to listen initially. Later maybe it will be handy to talk back to the truck or something.

...
I have the UV-3R. Just got it Saturday. It's smaller than it looks. I've only used it for simplex so far. From inside my truck it doesn't seem to be able to get out, so I have a mag mount on order. Standing outside it works fine. I have the same problem with my more powerful Yaesu FT-51R.
 

bplv

uber Member
#57
The ARRL Handbook (doesn't have to be the current version unless you are really looking to push digital technology) is a good overview, and the ARRL Antenna Book is also a good one. There are probably people in the local groups who would lend or give older copies. But there really isn't a substitute for personal experience and watching someone who really knows their stuff.
Thanks ScottyS. I requested the ARRL ones from the library.
 

NYECOGunsmith

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#58
Is there like an gunbroker for old ham rigs. I havent a clue what too get, but I know my budget will be really limited. I dont care about how old something is as long as it works. I just upgraded my CB, I had been using a cobra unit my dad bought when he was a hotshot trucker in the early 80's/

If I just want to take the test and get to talking would something like this be servicable.

http://www.ebay.com/itm/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=270866709167
IF that rig is in good shape, yes it would be serviceable. In it's day it was a good set up.
I would suggest that a similar rig, or one a bit newer, that handles the 2 meter (144-148 MHz) band would probably be a better choice.

The rig in the E-bay URL is a UHF (440 MHz or 70 cm) band handie talkie, , and you may or may not find a lot of activity and repeaters in your area on UHF.

Where there once were a lot of repeaters and activity on the UHF/ 70 cm band nationwide, it has subsided substantially in some parts of the country due to the fact that we (HAMS) are secondary users of this band.

Uncle Sammy is the primary user, with his PAVE PAWS radar installations making use of this band.

In many areas due to interference, a large number of UHF repeaters have been shut down because they just didn't get the job done after having their power output lowered to 5 watts or even less (those that could be reduced, the ones that could not were simply shut off) to reduce the interference with the radar sites.

Some sights were ordered to reduce power output by 10's of decibels, which took them from 100 or 50 watts down to the one watt or less range, making them basically useless as repeaters.

A 10 decibel drop reduces power output to 1/10 of what it was, so reducing the power by 10's of decibels drops the power output off quite rapidly towards next to nothing.

Northern CA had a ton of UHF repeaters go off the air because of this. There was a flood of them on the used market starting about 2-3 years ago because of it. There have been a number of articles about it in QST magazine and on the web if you are interested and want more info.
 

jherman

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#59
I wasnt paying attention. Im going to go with a 2 meter. I need a portable unit because i travel alot. I wish i could find an older servicable one in that price range.
 

NYECOGunsmith

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#60
Haunt E-bay and the HAM swap meets and you should be able to find one.
Be aware that the battery packs are usually dead or dying, and new ones are difficult if not impossible to find for some of the older hand helds.

So you would have to rig a power feed from the vehicle, or build up your own battery pack by replacing the ni-cads in the existing dead one.

But that's half the fun of being a HAM, improvising, adapting, modifying and overcoming problems to get on the air.