ARRL Amateur Radio Education & Technology Program

ARRL Amateur Radio Education & Technology Program
ARRL Amateur Radio Education
& Technology Program
Unit 4 Transmitting and Receiving Devices
In this unit you will be introduced to some of the basic equipment that goes into an
Amateur Radio station. This will include: transmitters, receivers, filters, antenna switches and
other equipment. You will learn how to connect the equipment to make a fully functional ham
radio station.
You will learn some new
terms that may be confusing at
Figure 4.1
first. Don’t worry if you don’t
understand everything at first,
these terms will be reinforced
later in other units.
One of the new terms you
will be introduced to is block
diagrams. In a block diagram,
each part of a station is shown as
a box. The diagram shows how
all the boxes connect to each
other. Once you start working
with block diagrams you will
catch on quickly.
To get started, look at Figure 4.1. This is a block diagram of a simple Amateur Radio
station. Let’s discuss the blocks one at a time.
Section 4.1
The heart of a radio station is the transmitter. It is a device that will transmit radio signals
out over the air. These signals are often called RF, for radio-frequency signals. A TV station or
your favorite radio broadcast station both need powerful transmitters to get their signals out to
the public but amateur radio operators uses much less power to communicate with each other. A
transmitter transmit an electrical signal that can be picked up by a receiver, such as a household
radio. Because students of all ages can earn their own amateur radio licenses, we will talk about
amateur transmitters. All transmitters operate in basically the same manner, whether broadcast
or amateur.
A transmitter puts out a signal called the radio-frequency carrier or RF carrier. An RF
carrier can be switched on or off with a Morse code key to make dots and dashes. These dots and
dashes turn messages into coded forms that radio operators can understand. RF carriers can also
be altered to carry actual voice messages by a special circuit in the transmitter called a
A transmitter and a receiver can be combined into
one unit called a transceiver. Some circuits in the
transceiver do double duty, sometimes helping with
transmitting and other times helping with receiving. Other
circuits are for transmitting or receiving only. Combining
the two types of radios into one package simplifies design,
saves space, and reduces cost as well. In our discussion,
we will talk about transmitting and receiving as separate
topics even though transceivers can perform both
In a home amateur radio station, a transmit/receive
switch allows one antenna to be used by both the
transmitter and the receiver. See the TR switch in Figure
4.1. In a modern transceiver, the switching function is
accomplished automatically. In simpler or older radios with separate transmitters and receivers,
the operator may have to switch between transmit and receive by hand.
Morse Code (CW) Transmitters
What is a transmitter made of? Inside a transmitter there are various parts or components
that work together to produce RF signals. Figure 4.2A shows a block diagram of a simple
amateur transmitter. It produces CW (continuous wave) signals when a special switch called a
key is closed. The signal is produced by a crystal oscillator made from quartz. The quartz keeps
the signal on frequency. Two other stages include a driver and a power amplifier. In order to
send information, you have to modulate the RF carrier. This means you have to do something to
it or change it somehow. If you just hold the key down, you will send out an unmodulated
carrier, See Figure 4.3, but if you move the key down or up you will be able to turn the signal on
or off to make dots and dashes. See Figure 4.4. This is how you can send Morse code to
someone else, by modulating the carrier signal on and off.
With a crystal oscillator, you can send messages on only one frequency (just like your
favorite radio station…it's always on the same place on the radio dial.) With a variablefrequency-oscillator or VFO (Figure 4.2B) you can change the transmitter frequency whenever
you want, such as when a certain frequency is already being used by someone else.
Even though Figure 4.2 doesn't show it, the transmitter also needs a power supply of
some sort. The diagram leaves this off to make it simpler to understand.
Figure 4.2
Figure 4.3
Figure 4.4
Any voice mode used for communication is known as a phone emission under the FCC
Rules. AM, SSB and FM voice are all phone emission types. We are familiar with AM from our
commercial radio stations.
What is single-sideband (SSB)? Now we will get a little technical but don’t worry about
it. If you concentrate, you will be able to understand the process. Begin with a steady radio
frequency (RF) signal such as you would get by pressing the key of a CW transmitter and just
holding it down. This signal is called the RF carrier. See Figure 4.5. Then combine this signal
with a voice signal from a microphone. This is called modulation. The resulting signal has two
sidebands, one higher in frequency than the carrier frequency and one lower in frequency than
the carrier frequency. They are called upper sideband and the lower sideband. For a singlesideband voice signal, the carrier and one of the sidebands is removed, and only one sideband is
transmitted. The RF carrier is the signal that we modulated to produce a radiotelephone signals.
SSB is the most common voice mode on the HF ands.
FM Transmitters
As mentioned, information is sent over a radio wave by somehow changing the
characteristics of the signal or carrier. This is called modulation. FM radio systems have a
special method of modulating the carrier. In FM the carrier is modulated by changes in voltage.
These voltage changes represent information to be sent. Microphones, video cameras, and
computer modems can all send information over radio waves. The carrier frequency can go up or
down depending on how the modulating voltage rises and falls. FM modulation produces an
excellent quality audio signal that is especially good for mobile or portable communication. See
Figure 4.6.
Figure 4.5
Figure 4.6
A transmitter sends out information. The RF signal it produces goes to a transmitting
antenna. The antenna radiates the signal into the air. Some distance away, the signal is picked up
by a receiving antenna. A current is created in the receiving antenna that travels down into a
receiver. Here the RF energy is converted into something you can understand such as an audio
signal. You hear the audio through a loudspeaker or a set of headphones.
Just about everybody is familiar with receivers. Receivers take signals out of the air and
convert them into signals that we can see or hear. Your clock radio is a receiver and so is your
television set. If you look around the room you're in right now, you'll probably see at least one
receiver. A receiver is also a very important part of an Amateur Radio station.
A good receiver can detect weak radio signals. It separates them from other kinds of
signals and interference. The ability to detect weak signals is called sensitivity. The ability to
separate radio signals from other kinds of signals is called selectivity. A good receiver also stays
on frequency without drifting. This is called stability. In general, a good receiver must be
sensitive, selective, and stable.
Like transmitters, receivers can be simple or complex. You can build a simple receiver
that will work surprisingly well. The ARRL Handbook for Radio Amateurs has receiver plans,
including sources for parts and circuit boards. A crystal set is an easy-to-build AM broadcast
receiver. You can find information on building a crystal set at internet web sites such as Many companies supply relatively inexpensive radio
kits, such as those produced by MFJ, Vectronics, Tentec (,
and others.
In most modern Amateur Radio stations, the transmitter and receiver are combined into
one box. We call this combination a transceiver. It’s really more than just a transmitter and
receiver in one box, though. Some of the circuits in a transceiver are used for both transmitting
and receiving. Why a transceiver? Transceivers generally take up less space than a separate
transmitter and receiver.
Many modern radios need 12 V dc to operate. This makes them ideal for use in a car as
part of a mobile radio station. If you have one of these new modern radios, you will need a
separate power supply to operate it in your house. The power supply (usually) converts the 120
V ac from your wall socket into 12 V dc to power the radio.
A 100-watt transceiver may draw 20 amperes of current when it is transmitting. A
heavy-duty power supply is often required to provide the current needed to operate the radio
while transmitting. Some radios have built-in power supplies while others are designed only for
12 V operation, and therefore need an “external” power supply.
We use many kinds of filters in our daily lives. We have filters for our coffee, filters for
water, filters for air conditioners and even in our televisions. You are familiar with most of these
filters but you may not have known about the filter in your television set. Let’s look at the filters
used in radios and why they are necessary.
Sometimes, wireless communication causes interference in home entertainment systems.
This can be a problem for some ham radio operators as well. When you transmit a radio signal,
the signal carries along with it some extra information called harmonics. Remember that a radio
signal is transmitted on a particular frequency. Harmonics are signals that occur on different
frequencies that are exact multiples of the transmitted signal's original frequency. For example, if
you have a frequency that you're transmitting on, multiply it times 2 and you now have a
harmonic frequency. If these extra harmonic signals are strong enough, they can interfere with
broadcast signals. For this reason, modern amateur radio transceivers have filters built in that
attenuate (reduce) unwanted harmonics. Modern amateur radio transceivers seldom create
harmonic-related interference.
How do filters work? Filters are like gatekeepers. They allow certain frequencies
to travel through a circuit but they block others. In an amateur radio transceiver, the desired
frequency is allowed to pass but unwanted harmonic frequencies are stopped by the filter. Filter
circuits are found in all modern communication devices and allow various kinds of equipment to
operate on different frequencies without interfering with each other.
So far, we have been talking about a very basic station layout. We showed you how
transmitters and receivers are connected to antennas to either send or receive radio signals in a
simple home station that you could build yourself. To communicate effectively, you also will
need a few accessories. Let's look at what you need.
Antenna Switch
Different types of antennas are useful
under different operating conditions. An
amateur radio operator may have more than
one antenna and may want to switch from
one antenna to another. Each antenna has its
own feed line to connect to the radio. You
could disconnect the feed line from one
antenna and then connect another. This is
time-consuming and very inconvenient. A
device called an antenna switch will allow
you to change from one antenna to another
by the simple flick of a mechanical switch.
See Figure 4.7.
Figure 4.8
Figure 4.7
All the feed lines from the
different antennas connect to the
switch inside the station where the
operator can easily flip the switch.
An antenna switch can also be
used to switch between a regular
antenna and a special kind of
antenna called a dummy antenna
or dummy load, used for tuning
and testing. See Figure 4.8.
Figure 4.9
Standing Wave Ratio Meter
Some stations have an
SWR meter, which measures
something called standing-wave
ratio (SWR.) This indicates how
well your antenna is working and
whether or not you may have a
problem with it. Antenna
problems can damage radio
equipment so it's important to
know how well the antenna is
Antenna Tuner
Another useful accessory in a ham radio station is an antenna tuner, also known as an
impedance-matching network. (Impedance is similar to resistance.) It allows you to use one
antenna on several different bands. Because it matches the impedance of the antenna system to
the impedance of a transmitter, it is sometimes called a Transmatch.
An SWR meter is used along with an antenna tuner to show the operator if the antenna
system is working properly. See Figure 4.9.
Morse Code Key/Keyer
Morse code is transmitted by switching the output (outgoing signal) of a transmitter on
and off. This can be controlled completely by hand using an old time code device called a
straight key. The operator manually works the contacts of the key up and down to produce code.
The spacing between dots and dashes as well as the speed at which the code is sent require a lot
of practice. Over the years, electronic keyers have been developed to make sending code easier.
The keyer sends perfectly timed code characters, which are easier to understand. See
A microphone is used to transmit voice. It converts sound waves into electrical signals
that can be used by a transmitter. Like a code key, the microphone connects directly to the
So far we've been discussing Amateur Radio transmissions that you can listen to, but
some transmissions are designed to be received and printed automatically. These are sometimes
called digital transmissions. Radioteletype (RTTY) and data communications are examples of
this form of communication. Information is sent from one computer to another in a way similar
to the Internet. In Amateur Radio data communications, however, you use amateur radios to send
the information instead of telephone lines. You type information into your computer and then
your transmitter sends it out over the air. Another amateur radio station receives the information,
processes it and prints it out on a computer screen or printer. This is popular with many hams.
Here we will talk about how to set up a station for digital communication.
Radioteletype (RTTY) communication goes all the
way back to World War II when the U.S. military connected
teletype machines to radios to send important messages over
the air. Mechanical teletype machines were originally
invented to send printed messages over a telephone line. In
places where there were no telephone lines, the military began
using radios to send the information. Hams began using this
technology after the war but now have replaced the old
teletype machines with computers, although some hams still
use the old machines for fun.
These days we use a device called a modem for
Amateur Radio digital communications. Modem is short for
modulator-demodulator. A modem takes digital information from a computer and modulates a
transmitter with it. The transmitter sends the information over the air so that another radio station
can receive it. The receiving station also has a modem that demodulates the radio signal so the
information can be sent to a computer on that end. The computer processes and displays the
signal. As mentioned earlier, some hams use an old time teleprinter instead of a computer. A
Figure 4.10
station must have
a computer or
teleprinter, a
modem, and a
transceiver. See
Figure 4.10 to
see how these
components are
connected to
each other.
Packet Radio
Packet radio uses a device called a terminal node controller (TNC) as an interface
between a computer and a transceiver. (An interface is something that joins two other things
together.) The TNC acts something like a modem but takes the data from a computer and breaks
it up into little pieces called packets. Like a modem, the TNC goes between a computer and a
radio, as shown in Figure 4.11.
Figure 4.11
By breaking up the information into packets, one channel (frequency) can handle the
information from several different users at the same time. Besides containing the information
from your computer, the packets also carry addressing, error-checking and control information.
This is a very efficient method of sending wireless data.
Now you know a little about how radios work, let’s look at how antennas work!
We know that a transmitter generates radio-frequency energy. We convert this electrical
energy into radio waves with an antenna. An antenna may be just a piece of wire or other
conductor designed to radiate the energy. The antenna converts current into an electromagnetic
field (radio waves). The radio waves spread out or propagate from the antenna. It’s like
dropping a marble into a pail of water or a pond. The waves expand out in all directions. Waves
from an antenna radiate in all directions, though, not just in a flat plane.
It also works the other way. When a radio wave crosses an antenna, it generates a
voltage in the antenna. That voltage isn’t very strong, but it’s enough to create a small current.
That current travels through the transmission line to the receiver. The receiver detects the radio
signal. In short, the antenna converts electrical energy to radio waves and radio waves to
electrical energy. This process makes two-way radio communication possible with just one
Some antennas work better than others. Antenna design and construction have kept radio
amateurs busy since the days of Marconi. In your class you will probably experiment with
different types of antennas. You can have fun building and testing your own antennas.
How long should an antenna be? Antennas have to match the operating frequency used
for transmitting and receiving. The length of an antenna depends on the wavelength of the
operating frequency. The wavelength of a signal is related to its frequency. We can use
mathematical formulas to determine wavelengths for different frequencies.
The symbol for wavelength is the Greek letter lambda (λ) To determine the wavelength
of a given frequency, we use the following equation: λ (in feet) = 984/f (in MHz). The letter "f"
stands for frequency. Here's an example. Suppose we want to determine the wavelength of a
frequency of 52.15 MHz. Substituting in the formula we get: λ = 984/52.15 = 18.9 ft.
Whenever we talk about an antenna, we refer to its design frequency. This means the
antenna is designed to work on a certain amateur band. Most popular ham antennas are less than
one wavelength long for whatever band they are designed to operate on. For example, a very
popular antenna that is easy to build and use is the 1/2-λ dipole antenna. We can use a variation
of the equation we gave above to calculate the length of a 1/2-λ dipole antenna:
λ (in feet) = 468/f(MHz.) 1
Antennas operate most efficiently at what is called their resonant frequency. The resonant
frequency is the frequency that matches the length of the antenna. You can change an antenna's
resonant frequency by changing its length. If you lengthen it, the frequency goes down. If you
shorten it, the frequency goes up.
Feed Lines
To get the RF energy from the transmitter to
the antenna you use transmission line. A
transmission line is usually made from coaxial cable
and is connected between the transmitter and the
antenna. Transmission line is also known as feed
Characteristic Impedance
One electrical property of a feed line is
characteristic impedance. Impedance is like
resistance (see the section on antenna tuners) and is
influenced by the space between line conductors and
the insulation in the feed line. An SWR meter
(described earlier) helps us to determine the amount
of impedance in our antenna system, which includes
the feed line as well. If the impedances of the
transmitter and antenna system don't match, some of
the transmitter's power bounces back to the
transmitter, lowering the overall power output. If the
mismatch is bad enough, the transmitter can be
damaged. The SWR meter helps us to keep the SWR
as low as possible by telling us if there's a problem.
See Figure 4.12.
Figure 4.12
Since this is a 1/2-λ dipole, why don't we use the formula 492/f(MHz)? 492 is one half of 984
in the first equation, so what gives? A dipole antenna has an insulator in the middle and some
supporting lines on both ends of it. This increases the electrical length of the dipole so we have
to physically shorten it a little to make it work right.
Half-Wavelength Dipole
Probably the most common amateur antenna is a wire cut to ½ λ at the operating
frequency. The feed line attaches across the insulator at the center of the wire. This is the halfwave dipole. (Di means two, so a dipole has two equal parts). Each side of the dipole is ¼ λ
long. Figure 4.15 shows construction of a simple dipole antenna.
We use equations like the one given in the section on wavelength (L (feet) = 468/f
(MHz)) to help us know how long to make the elements of an antenna. Usually we have to tinker
around with the length of a wire or other element to get the best impedance match. Here is where
the SWR meter can help us to match the antenna to our transmitter.
(See Activity Sheet #4.2 – Antenna Construction)
The Quarter-Wavelength Vertical Antenna
The quarter-wavelength vertical antenna is popular with hams because it is effective and
easy to build. It requires a single vertical element plus some horizontal ground radials, usually
made from wire or metal rods. Vertical antennas radiate equally well in all directions.
Figure 4.16 shows a simple vertical antenna you can make. For this equation use the equation:
Length (in feet) = 234/f (in MHz).
Beam Antennas
Beam antennas are directional. That means they concentrate their energy in one
direction. The most common directional antenna is
the Yagi antenna. Yagi antennas have two important
advantages over dipole and vertical antennas. First,
by concentrating most of its transmitted signal in one
direction, the antenna provides gain or directivity in
the direction it is pointed. Gain makes your signal
sound stronger to others. Second, the antenna
reduces the strength of signals coming from other
A Yagi antenna has several elements attached
to a central boom. The elements are parallel to each
other and are placed in a straight line along the boom. The feed line connects to only one
element, called the driven element.
A final word about antennas. Never put your antenna or feed line under, or over the top
of electrical power lines. Never place a vertical antenna where it could fall against the electrical
power lines. Avoid running your antenna parallel to power lines that come close to your station.
Should any part of your antenna come in contact with the power line, severe damage to your
equipment could result. Even worse, you could receive a fatal electrical shock.
Citizen Band (CB) radios operate simplex, which means they transmit and receive on the
same frequency. Most of Amateur Radio HF radios operate simplex also, but have the ability to
also operate split frequency (that means receive on one frequency and transmit on another). A
non-licensed radio service, CB has been most identified with long haul truck drivers as they
cruise down the nations highways. CB radios operate at about 27 MHz in either AM or SSB
modes. Many communities use CBs for emergency communications as well.
Cell Phones are fast becoming the most popular form of radio communications. Yes, I
said radio communications. Cell phones are actually very sophisticated radios that have the
ability to transmit and receive signals. The three most popular cellular services in the US are
conventional analog cell phones, digital cell phones and Personal Communications System
(PCS). Originally developed in the late 1970s to early 1980s, cellular systems have been refined
since that time and operate in the 800-MHz frequency range.
So how does the system work? Cities, and rural areas are divided up into “cells,” each
with a base station and tower for receiving and transmitting a group of frequencies. A typical
provider will receive 832 frequencies, between 824-849 MHz and 869-894 MHz, with which to
divide up among the many cells. Each cell may cover an area of about 10 square miles. Most
cell phones have two signal strength (power levels): 0.6 watts and 3 watts. High power is not
necessary because it is only necessary to reach the local base station to communicate.
As the caller moves from cell to cell, the base stations track his signal and when the
signal starts to fade in one cell, another cell’s base station will see it increase and therefore,
“switch” the caller over to the next cell without any interruption in service. It is possible today
to travel nationwide without losing your cell phone signal. However, there are some remote
areas in the nation that do not have base stations and therefore, no cell phone coverage. This
system is referred to as an analog cell phone system.
What about digital phones? Digital cell phones have the ability to compress messages
(make them smaller so they don’t take up much space), therefore allowing as many as three
times more calls within an individual cell. This makes the entire system more efficient than the
traditional analog system. Digital cell phones also offer clearer signals, without the static and
noise that you occasionally hear on analog phones.
There is a third type of cell phone system called “PCS.” The Personal Communication
System is also a digital system that operates in the 1900 MHz range. It can do many things,
including give users Web access.
It sounds amazing that all this technology can be packed in one cell phone. Indeed, the
cell phone can shift from analog to digital, to PCS, while switching from cell to cell as you travel
down the highway.
The Family Radio Service (FRS) is for use by the general public. There is no license
required and no age limit, so it has become very popular as a radio service for families to use
while traveling or at the mall. The FRS has a series of 14 channels with frequencies between
462.5625 MHz to 467.6125 MHz. The emission type is FM. FRS radios are limited to ½ watt
power, thereby limiting the range to approximately ¾ mile.
FRS radios must be used just as they are manufactured. No modifications are allowed.
That means you cannot make any changes to the radio. No amplifiers may be used to boost the
power and no additional antenna may be attached to increase the range of the radio. They are
meant for personal communication in a limited location.
The Global Positioning System (GPS) has, through a system of satellites, the ability to
determine exactly where on Earth you are. Circulating about the Earth at 11,000 miles are 24
satellites that make up the system. GPS works its magic by measuring the precise distance
between the receiver and at least four satellites. The receiver uses this information to calculate
precisely where it is located on the surface of the Earth, or above it. This allows airplanes, boats,
cars or even people to determine their location at any time, day or night.
The GPS system is very important to navigation. Airplanes are able to travel over the
polar rout without using a magnetic compass. Ships at sea are able to pinpoint their positions
regardless of weather conditions, and we are now capable of finding our way around on the
nations highways by using GPS systems in our cars.
Where else are GPS systems being used? The Department of Defense (the military) uses
GPS systems for navigation and locating aircraft, equipment and personnel. Police and fire
departments use GPS systems to locate the nearest unit to a fire or reported crime. Car
manufacturers are installing GPS systems in many new cars as an option. And GPS was actually
used to precisely measure the location for digging during the construction of the tunnel under the
English Channel that connects England and France.
New applications for GPS are being developed every day. From navigation to recreation,
there seems to be no limit for imaginative people.
What if you live in an apartment in a big city or a condominium with restrictions against
putting up antennas? Can you still operate a ham radio? The answer is yes, there are still ways
to “get on the air.” Many hams are turning to their computers and the Internet to talk to their
friends over the radio. All that is needed is any 300 MHz or faster IBM compatible system with
a sound card, microphone and headset. These innovated hams connect (interface) their radio to
their computer so they can communicate through the Internet with their radios.
The four Internet linking systems in use today are: IPHONE, ILINK, eQSO and IRLP.
With these systems it is possible to link repeaters in different parts of the world through the
Internet and speak to others as though everyone was in the same city. It is also possible to
operate an HF station remotely using the Internet. For instance while on vacation far away from
the home QTH, hams can connect through the Internet to the home station and operate their
station, including changing band, frequency and turning the yagi antenna, remotely. There are
different names for this process but “Internet Remote Base” seems to bit best. More information
is available on line at and
Did you know you can operate your own
television station? Many Amateur Radio operators
operate their own station called Amateur Television
(ATV). ATV can be used by any ham with a Technician
class license or higher on any ham band 420 MHz and
What do you need to start an ATV station? You
may already own 2/3 of the main components in a
beginner’s station, namely, the receiver and camera.
Your standard cable-ready TV set will work as a
receiver without modification of any kind. The required camera is the same camcorder that you
use to record your family and vacation memories. The video output can drive the transmitter
directly. All you need is an ATV transmitter and antenna and you’re in business.
The majority of the ATV action can be found on the 70cm (420-450MHz) band. High
power transmitters are not necessary. While the broadcast station uses thousands of watts of
power and antennas a thousand feet above the ground, a typical ATV station uses less than 50
watts with an antenna height of less than 50 feet. Why go through all the time and expense just
to send a picture 20 or 30 miles away? It’s the challenge. It’s the knowledge gained and it’s just
plain “fun.”
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