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A lot of people will cite that they decided to get their Amateur radio license to prepare for a disaster or an emergency. I agree that this is still a big part of the hobby, but Amateur radio (HAM Radio) is a hobby and not a job.
If you are getting into the hobby just for the usage during a disaster you will likely fall out of the hobby quickly and it will not be useful in a disaster because you would not have used your radio enough to make it effective.
Personally I have always been drawn to decentralized communication. It is part of the reason I am a software engineer today. I have always wanted to get my HAM Radio license (something that my dad has had since before I was born). It took me years to finally find the time to study and take the test. I took my technician exam in October 2017 and finally joined the HAM hobby.
Getting Licensed #
Before you are allowed to use and operate a HAM radio you must first take a test and get a license from the FCC (if you are in the United States).
I have tried to get licensed many times before, but was never able to follow through and go take the test. The breakthrough for me was listening to the audiobooks during my commute and finding a test session I was going to attend no matter what. I also took many, many practice tests when I got close to completing the audiobook until I could pass every time. I was always afraid of going to a test and not passing, but taking so many practice tests helped build my confidence that I knew the material.
Things to do #
After you get licensed there is a whole world of things to explore. Below I have started to make a list of things I have experimented with.
APRS (Automatic Packet Reporting System) is a digital communication system that from as far as I can tell right now is mainly used for sharing your position, basic statuses and simple messages.
One of the fun things that I have found is that there is a way to send SMS messages to friends and family through a SMS gateway. This could be something fun to try out and can be useful if you do not have cell service, but can get your message into the APRS network. Check out the SMS gateway for more instructions.
D-Star is one of the oldest digital modes available to amateurs. If you have a D-Star repeater in your area and a D-Star capable radio you can easily get access to worldwide communication through the Internet.
D-Star is a digital radio mode that allows for arguably better audio quality and slow data transfer. I do not want to go into depth here as there is better websites that go into greater detail better than I can do here.
If you have an okay connection to a repeater you will get reliable audio quality. One of the problems is that there is a sharp drop off as you go out of range of a repeater. It first sounds great and then will start to sound like a robot than disappear.
From my office in downtown San Francisco I am able to reach the WW6BAY repeater, but from home I can not. To get around this and to access many more repeaters and reflectors I purchased a SharkRF OpenSpot. This device sits at home near my desk on very low power. With it I am normally connected to the MegaRepeater (REF001C) and I can talk to people around the world easily.
HF (High Frequency) #
After you get your General class license you are granted access to the HF (High Frequency) bands. With the HF bands you can get worldwide communication (without using repeaters or Internet gateways). This is the biggest reason to get your General class license, but you are going to need more than your handheld radio to transmit.
You are going to need to invest a bit of money to get started. You should get a good antenna system and a decent transceiver. If you have the extra cash I would probably allocate it to the antenna versus the transceiver. A better antenna will get you a lot more coverage than a slightly better transceiver. I don’t have any recommendations on gear yet.
To be continued…
Working satellites is something I have yet to do, but I am extremely interested in. I mean, communicating through space with your handheld transceiver?! I am still doing research and understanding what I can do.
- Amateur radio satellite passes for the next 6 hours
- Arrow Handheld Antenna
- Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation (AMSAT)
Below is a list I will try to keep updated with the equipment that I am currently using.
Baofeng BF-F8HP #
- Baofeng BF-F8HP
- FTDI Genuine USB Programming Cable
Kenwood TH-D74a #
- Kenwood TH-D74a
- Diamond SRH320A 144/220/440 MHz Tri-Band Handheld Antenna
- Samsung 32GB 95MB/s MicroSD Memory Card
- Skinomi TechSkin Screen protector Any large size that can be cut to fit
I have two “larger” antennas that I often use. One is mounted on our car and the other is a mobile magnet mount that I can move around as needed. I would like to eventually mount a permanent antenna onto our roof, but seeing as that right now we rent it is not a possibility. At the moment when I want to use my radio at home I run the antenna out of our window and put it on top of the fence. I could
- Diamond Antenna K400S-NMO
- Diamond Triband Mobile Antenna CR320BNMO
Signal Reports #
R = READABILITY #
- Barely readable, occasional words distinguishable
- Readable with considerable difficulty
- Readable with practically no difficulty
- Perfectly readable
S = SIGNAL STRENGTH #
- Faint signals, barely perceptible
- Very weak signals
- Weak signals
- Fair signals
- Fairly good signals
- Good signals
- Moderately strong signals
- Strong signals
- Extremely strong signals
Below are a list of things that I have found useful while studying to become a HAM Radio operator and in the day-to-day usage of my license.
- AE7Q Advanced Call Sign Search & Availability
- DX Maps
- FCC License Manager
- FCC Advanced License Search
- HF Propagation Predictions
- VHF Propagation Map