Amateur Radio - Thinking About Getting My License

Discussion in 'The Great Outdoors!' started by Phog Allen, May 26, 2012.

  1. Phog Allen

    Phog Allen Contributor

    Good evening chaps. I wonder if there are any amateur radio operators here who would mind answering a few questions about the hobby? I know the basic Technician certificate is not real hard to obtain and most of the posts I have seen on various websites seem to think there is plenty to keep you occupied in the bands covered by that license.

    I guess what I am getting at is what really are the other pursuits within the service coverrd by that tickrt? I see reference to ARPS radio and slow and fast scan ham Tv. Can you elabourate? I really want to find something my youngest daughter can get into as well. We will probably start geocaching this year as well and I suspect ham radio (is that title okay or do participants dislike it?) goes with it like it was meant to be.

    I know most start out with a dual band 2 metre/70cm mobile or handytalkie and I suppose that is perfectly fine. But talking to the space station or fiddling with phone patches would be real fun too. So lets hear what you like about it. And some of what you wish were different.

    Cheers, Todd
  2. It's admirable to get into amateur radio. If the fecal matter hits the fan (internet loss, power loss, cell tower loss, disaster), the hams are able to keep communication flowing.
  3. It's a fun hobby with countless different aspects depending on what and how deep your interests are. I'm in the process of setting up an hf station at my house. I want make contacts with distant stations throughout the country and world, and would love to become proficient at morse code.

    The tech license is not hard at all. This website is worth the money to study: I used it to get my general and passed 100%.

    There are ham radio clubs everywhere, and they'd be a good place to find out more about the hobby.

    Check out to find a club close to you (and lot's more information about the hobby).

    Right now my only radio is a 2meter HT, and it's great for talking to the locals. The more advanced models are set up for APRS. I don't know a lot about APRS, but I could see it working great with geocaching. I don't know anything about slowscan tv.

    People think of radio as an old fashioned technology, and ham radio as an old fashioned hobby. But look around at all the radios we use now. Cell phones, wifi, radio control etc... Most are descended from technologies started by amateurs tinkering. There are actually more licensed hams in the US than ever before. So somewhat surprisingly it's a growing hobby.

  4. I had an extra class but when they dumbed down the code requirement I lost interest. Also the junk mail load was unbelievable. I would go to sea for 4 or 5 months and have an entire shrimp basket full of junk mail. And all the paper chasers were so obnoxious when I explained that I was not interested in exchanging QSLs and they didn't care about anything BUT collecting paper. I was all about CW or RTTY ragchewing and never saved a QSL. The paper chasers would get really upset if I was /MM from a ship and didn't have a QSL for them, or was working them QRPp with like 50 mw of power. I always thought it should be about communication and operating skill and technical innovation and improvisation, not just hanging paper on the wall. I used to enjoy building and using homebrew gear. It really puts a grin on your face the first time you take a half dozen odds and ends and build a 1/4 watt transmitter, feed it to an inverted vee, tune to your xmit freq with a $70 rat shack receiver, and work a station a couple thousand miles away. That aspect was fun.

    I strongly suggest that you pursue at least a general license, so you can work the HF bands. It is easy to build an HF CW transmitter, and not so hard to put together a DC receiver. When you build your first superhet transciever with automatic TR switching, you have arrived. Digital modes are really easy now, with software that uses your computer's sound card for a modem. VHF and above allow higher data throughputs, including live action ATV. Want to build your own neighborhood surveillance drone? You can do that! Launch a balloon or a rocket and take aerial photographs? Been done. You can do it too. Bounce a signal off the moon to another station thousands of miles away on Earth? They do that all the time. Just remember, in every hobby, no matter how much the official line about brotherhood and acceptance, there will be a lot of cretins who will get angry if you don't do your thing their way. And get ready for the junk mail.

    ex AB5VH
  5. Phog Allen

    Phog Allen Contributor

    Thanks chaps. Frank and Slash, thank you for the detailed responses. The whole Morse code (CW?) thing is pretty intimidating for most including me. However, I understand why traditional operators do not like it that the requirement has been dropped. Sort of like trad shaving where barbers knew how to hone, strop, and properly shave with a real cutthroat razor. It is almost gone now and even if they do know state regs typically demand disposable blades. Saying that I understand why the code requirement was lifted for vhf /uhf bands. It is essentially a voice service for most people.

    I know everyone says eventually you will head to the HF bands and that may be but I do not anticipate it anytime soon. And it is a real shame the paper chasers are turning some aspects of it into CB radio. Is the junkmail you reference QSL requests or is it that you have to give a contact address for your call sign and it is being sold to advertisers as well as collected by paper chasers? And I think the advise to go ahead and test outfor the general license is pretty sound. You are now covered for almost anything. I found a test site close to me that is offering tests in June. Maybe time to get it done. And Frank, thanks for the link.

    Cheers, Todd
  6. Don't let the code intimidate you. There are programs for learning. Work with it for 15 minutes, twice a day and you will have it in no time.

    The best way to learn is to SKIP the 5, 10, 13WPM babysteps. Learn at 20WPM and you will learn a lot faster, because at that speed, you won't be able to count dits and dahs. You will hear the characters, instead. At first you will get like one or two characters out of an entire message. Then you will start getting several. Then you will start getting enough that you can look at your copy, and guess the gaps. Then eventually you will be getting solid copy. But here is where it gets good... when you are so used to hearing it that you can carry on a conversation without writing. You will be hearing a LANGUAGE. You will probably never get there if you start out at 5WPM.

    When I learned, the R/O on my ship gave me a receiver and some wire for an antenna, and gave me a listening schedule that fit around my watch and my overtime hours. I tuned in at the prescribed times to the prescribed frequencies, and I was right away getting like one out of every 20 characters but by counting and eyeball translating to letters and numbers and punctuation and prosigns. Eventually I knew the sounds of the letters, and I was getting more, sometimes 4 or 5 characters in a row. I figured out what I was listening to... the weather and the traffic list from a coast station. I kept at it. After a month I was getting almost enough to be able to give the Captain the weather report. I would show Ernie, the R/O, and he was disappointingly unimpressed, like "well, it's still not solid copy. Whaddaya want, a doggie biscuit?" I progressed until I could get a minute of solid copy, then two. Finally, one day I tuned in a couple of minutes early, and got the message preamble... WLO WX 30WPM... Boy, was I p.o.'d! That darn R/O had me listening to 30WPM code... I could barely write that fast! I went up to the radio room to give him a piece of my mind. He laughed and pointed out that I was now ready for not only the Extra class code test, but also the code test for RadioTelegraph Operator, the same license he had. He finally got me calmed down and I had to agree that it was the best way to learn, by far. The code was sent automatically by machine or computer, and "Farnsworthed", with the characters sent faster and the spaces between them longer, which makes it much easier to understand. Less run together. I started listening to the sloppy code on the ham bands and found that 20WPM from many hams was harder to copy than WLO at 30WPM.

    Next I bought a used 286 with a whopping 20MB hard drive and 640kb of RAM, running DOS 5.0, and got a copy of Supermorse from the R/O and started taking simulated amateur code tests at 20WPM, exactly like I would hear in the test venue. at 20WPM, I got solid copy for over a minute, maybe 90% of the time. You could pass by either getting a solid minute of perfect copy out of the five minutes, or by answering 10 questions based on what you should have copied. (You could often guess the answer, with only one or two characters of the relevant word or group) I tested and passed the "hard way", and I was confident enough that after I knew I had my minute, I put my pencil down. Mr Examiner Guy FROWNED! Said I was a smart-@$$ or something. But I passed, and took the Novice and Tech written elements, and had my Tech Plus license in the mail lickety split. I studied the General, Advanced, and Extra question pools, and went back and got my Extra, having already passed the code. 6 months later I had taken all the elements for my commercial licenses, and the FCC was no longer testing, and private examiners were not qualified to do the code test, so the FCC was giving 20WPM code credit for having an Amateur Extra license.

    If I had started with those 5WPM Gordon West tapes, I would never have made that sort of progress.

    The moral is, learn the code at a conversational speed, fill in the gaps as you can, and it will come easy, and be a PRACTICAL skill. Start with the letters sent at 30WPM and the inter-character spaces lengthened for an overall speed of 20WPM and you will learn much faster than counting dits and dahs at 5WPM. Hear the characters. Hear short WORDS as a unit. Learn to ear-copy, without writing or typing. Deebitty-deep, bibbitybeebledy-beepitty boop. instead of, "3 short one long, two long, blah blah blah".

    15 minutes is a good length of time for listening. Do this two or more times a day for best results. Don't burn out. Don't let it be a chore.

    Whatever app you use for learning, set the character set to send ALL of the characters that you might hear on the test. Don't just listen to letters. And have it send random groups as well as plain text. The random groups builds your actual listening skill better because you can't just copy, "K-E-N-" and fill in the blanks, "Kenwood" etc. Also learn to write cursive as you copy, not block letters. Your speed will be throttled if you write one letter, block style, at a time.

    I am not current on state of the art in morse tutor programs, but I took a quick look in the apple app store and there are a bunch of apps, some free, some like $.99 for learning the code. So if you have an iphone you can practice any time, anywhere.

    Don't shy away from the code. It won't bite. It isn't as hard as you think, if you learn it the right way.
  7. "Paper chasers" have been around since the beginning of radio. It is not required to exchange QSL cards but many hams like to do so. And by the way , a call sign in the USA is public knowledge. A call is listed in a Federal database along with the holder's name and address.
    The advice to obtain a General class licence is sound. This will enable you to do just about anything that Amateur Radio provides. And unless the rules have changed, with you as the Control operator, your daughter can participate as well.
  8. Oh, sorry... I didn't answer your question. The junk mail is people selling crap. Your name, callsign, even your ADDRESS are public records that anyone can download. If I have a mail order ham equipment business, I just look in the database for all the recently issued licenses, and send my catalog to all the addresses. So does every other guy in the business. Of course after I hit the newbies, I follow up on all the OMs (ham for "Old Man", another operator, particularly an experienced one.) in case they want to buy something. Yes, lots of QSLs, too, and when they send one, they expect you to send one back for the same QSO (conversation). Your address isn't merely sold... it is GIVEN AWAY to anyone who wants it. And you must keep your address current. Failure to do so can get your license revoked, though usually you get a warning, I imagine.

    Oh and I just remembered... the WLO WX broadcast was 31WPM, not 30WPM.

    The biggest advantage of the HF bands is the DX. Long Distance communication. Working another station halfway around the globe is routine on HF. Working another station directly that is only 100 miles away on VHF is pretty hit or miss, more miss than hit. Even hitting a repeater 20 miles away is pretty dodgy. Also, equipment is easier to build, especially when using discrete components. VHF and above has its strong points, but DX is its major weakness. That is the biggest Cool Factor element in HF. Oh, and there are sub-bands for voice communication in the HF spectrum. Both SSB and AM.

    Most modern HAM HF recievers and transceivers can be tuned (RX only, unless you modify the radio) to the CB channels or to Maritime, utility, shortwave broadcast, and "spy" frequencies. (a voice dictates groups of numbers, obviously a coded message that must be transmitted for a long distance)

    Another entirely different service to look into... google "LOWFER" and you will find reference to a ULF band that does not require a license at all. It is very much a hobbyist/experimentor band, though, due to the restrictions on antenna, feedline, XMIT power, etc. Practically all traffic there is CW or RTTY. Some AMTOR. Most equipment is homebrew. Typically the transmitter is located AT the antenna feedpoint, because the combined length of feedline and antenna must not exceed 50 feet. Eliminate the feedline for more antler length! Keying is remote, from your operating station on the ground, and your receiver antenna can be as long as you got money to buy wire for.
  9. is a great code tutor. It's free, and web based. You don't download anything. You can adjust the settings. I'm learning by playing characters at 20wpm with the longer gaps between. It's starts off having you copy only two letters. When you can tell them apart you move on adding a letter at a time.

    Slash, thanks for the advice, it's useful to me as a newer ham trying to learn code.

    As far as the junkmail I've had my license for 2 years now and really don't get much at all. I got a few catalogs when I first got licensed, but I actually found them pretty interesting. I haven't gotten anything at all in several months except from ARRL. Maybe marketers have backed off.
  10. That's an excellent approach. But do kick up the speed. Trust me... you will be doing yourself a favor.

    No prob!

    Interesting. I guess junk email is cheaper than junk paper mail.
  11. Phog Allen

    Phog Allen Contributor

    Man, some good information provided here. Thank you to the responders. I found a nice set of video tutorials at YouTube. A whole series for tech and general ticket studies. There is a disclaimer about the general license parts due to a new question pool. I have started on the tech section and the guy is prrtty thorough. At least to this newb. Here's a link to his blog.. Hamwhisperer Take a look and see what you think. You kind of have to fiddle with the site to find the video links and tests but it is not too hard and is free.

    I definitely want to sit for the general license at the same time I take tech schedule. While things are fresh in the mind. So far I have taken to the video teaching pretty well. Having a bit of interest in this hobby I had read enough online to know what some of the different bands were such as 10, 6, and 70cm were. So it helps if youhave a genuine interest in the field. Thanks again lads.

    Cheers, Todd
    Last edited: May 28, 2012
  12. Ham radio is fun and educational. It's amazing how many aspects there are to it. From CW (the first binary code) all the way to digital. If you have any interest in technology you would not be sorry getting involved. It's also a bit of a brotherhood like wet shaving. I have ham friends across my state, country and world for decades now and shall always remain friends. Some that are far away I'll probably never meet but talk to a few times a week.

    What's somewhat amazing is that not only are there a lot of new people coming into the hobby but they are comprised of whole families. Young and older. My father, mother and brother are hams. Give it a shot. Your tech ticket will get you involved enough at the beginning, then your general will get you on the 'low bands' where you can talk to anybody.

    I don't doubt that some may get some junk mail (electronic or otherwise) but I really have never, and my name and call sign is published in the ARRL QST magazine every month.

  13. Phog Allen

    Phog Allen Contributor

    It always amazes me how things are right under your nose and you never see them till...well till you do. I asked two chaps at church Sunday last if they knew anything about it and both told me they were licensed and ready to go. One of their wives is as well. Small world. And of course the first thing both offered to do was help out with the teaching and setting up with equipment. I sure hope we never lose "gentleman's radio".

    Cheers ,Todd
  14. I have my Extra ticket though I don't get on the air much these days. I got into it when I bought a scanner and found out in Minnesota, scanners are illegal to use in a motor vehicle, unless you have an amateur radio license. I wanted to have it my truck, so I got my Tech license with no intention of ever actually transmitting. Something happened along the way and I ended up going all the way to Extra, getting several radios, etc.

    Two things you can do with a Tech license that are pretty fun and very helpful are becoming a storm spotter and getting into emergency communications.

    You can find a local Skywarn group here:
    I've been in Skywarn for 8 or 9 years now. You don't have to have a ham license to be a storm spotter, but it sure helps in getting the reports in, plus you're able to listen in on other reports.

    Emergency Radio Communications groups help local gov't entities, hospitals, red cross, marathons, etc, with their communications in times of need. Emergency Communications groups were a huge help when the Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf coast. They've helped out around here for the aftermath of floods, tornadoes, or in search & rescue operations. Get more info here: or here:
  15. Bumping this thread. You ever get your license Todd? I am taking the Tech and General later this month. Been reading through the ARRL guides from the library the last couple weeks.
  16. Phog Allen

    Phog Allen Contributor

    No I didn't and I am kind of disappointed in myself. I missed the local testing date since it was shortly after I posted this. Then I broke my leg/foot/ankle in three places and dislocated the foot to boot. I was out of commission for ten weeks. I should have been studying for the exam three months later. Now I have missed it again. That Ham Whisperer site is really good. I went through all the Tech class stuff and was starting the more advanced stuff when the accident happened. I still think it would be a good idea but equipment acquisition will be difficult financially.

    Cheers, Todd

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