The term homebrew can mean a lot of different things to different people. For instance, in the world of beer, homebrew can literally mean a home brew. That is a beer that has been brewed from home by an amateur.
In the indie gaming scene, homebrew is just another slang term for those homemade games.
And in radio, the same thing is effectively true. Homebrew means homemade, and amateur. It of course refers to HAM radio. But more specifically, homebrew refers to home-built noncommercial radio equipment.
The design and construction of equipment following first principles is one of the most valued skills and pastimes of radio hobbyists and is an excellent and rewarding experience that is something that anyone can get something from.
What Homebrewing Involves
During the early days of amateur radio – before factory-built two-way radio equipment was even available – homebrewing was of course the only way to get involved. Thus, hams would handcraft their own vacuum tube based transmitters and receivers in the 30s through to the 50s, and would often keep these in their basement. Often a well designed rig would be able to cover all the high frequency bands, ranging from 1.8-30Mhz.
Of course today, it is much easier to get hold of all the equipment you need. It’s relatively easy to invest in a handheld two-way radio and even some mobile phones will come packed with the basics that you need to get started.
But that isn’t to say that there isn’t still good reason to try your hand at homebrew. This is still the ‘original’ way to enjoy the hobby, and it’s incredibly rewarding knowing that you crafted something entirely on your own and then used that thing to tap into signals that bounce around the planet.
More Types of Homebrew
Of course this is also an extremely good learning project, which is why it’s something that a lot of parents will want to enjoy with their young kids. And if it sounds a little bit too complex, then of course you could always invest in a homebrew kit instead, which effectively provides all the parts you need to build a shortwave radio but still gives you the satisfaction of putting it together yourself.
Either way, you’ll learn about electromagnetic fields, alternating currents, sound waves, and how to build basic circuits. The best part is that depending on how complex you want your radio to be (a simple receiver vs digital police scanners…), you can potentially build something interesting for $10 in a few hours.
QRPers are ham radio enthusiasts that use a power output of just five watts, in many cases operating with as little as 100 milliwatts or below. This low power version can be more affordable, while at the same time being portable.
A glowbug meanwhile is a homebrew that is designed using a vacuum tube. They get their name of course from the light glowing that the vacuum tubes are known to generate, and they are affectionately referred to as bugs due to their small size. Most of these transmitters are intended to be used in the CW radiotelegraphy mode.