HAM Radio in today’s world

When I was in middle school, our principal came to talk to the science club about HAM radio (yes, I was in science club). The most interesting part of his talk was when he demonstrated making a phone call via a phone patch. Since it was amateur radio, the phone call could be heard by anyone monitoring the frequency so it wasn’t a replacement for the phone. However, this made an impression on me, but not enough to get licensed.

Eleven years ago I was part of CERT (and still am) and someone offered a course to become licensed as an amateur radio operator. As the FCC had dropped the requirement for morse code for the Technician license and was dropping the requirement for the higher level classes as well, passing the test was less difficult. The question bank for all the classes is published which makes it easy to study. I passed and was issued the call sign KI6FRM. I did nothing with my license until two years ago when I was laid off from work. I had nothing to do so I decided to study for the General Class license. I spent about a month reading and studying the ARRL General Class License Manual. In addition to reading the book, I used an iOS app to take practice test after practice test until I had high confidence that I could pass. I passed and still did nothing with the license. I bought a BaoFeng BF-F8HP radio which is a cheap Chinese radio and figured out how to program it with CHIRP. I listened a bit, but never pushed the transmit button.

Fast forward another year and a half. I’ve been searching for a hobby for awhile and as I approached my 45th birthday, I realized that I’ll be “retiring” in 20 years and will have to find something to do with my time. HAM radio popped into my head and thought that I might as well try to pass the Extra Class test while my brain still worked and I could memorize the answers. I studied the ARRL Extra Class License Manual and used an iOS app by the same author as the other app (the app is functional, but not pretty). I was extremely nervous as there is a lot of material that I just couldn’t wrap my head around. While a lot of the material was familiar (I have an engineering degree and studied electronics), I didn’t know if I would be able to do it. My wife kept telling me that I had nothing to worry about; she was right, I passed on the first try and only missed 5 (you can miss 13 or 50 and pass)!

This time I’m determined to do something with my license. After my license came through the FCC, I decided to get a vanity call sign. The FCC dropped the fee for doing it a few years ago, so what did I have to lose? As an extra class operator, I had a lot more choices for call signs. Many people seem to like keeping their region in their call sign (California is region 6), but I just wanted something that sounded cool. My wife thinks that I’m a dork or a geek and keeps comparing HAM radio to CB by saying “breaker, breaker 1-9”. I’m OK with that, so I applied for and was granted KD0RK. Yup, I’m KD0RK and proud of it.

Now that I’m licensed for all amateur frequencies, I’m trying to put together all the pieces. There is a lot of information out there and a lot of different ways to use amateur radio. I’m particularly interested in emergency communications, so I’m exploring a radio (HT) to purchase and have my eye on the Icom ID-51A Plus2. This radio is a 2m/70cm radio (VHF/UHF) and only requires a technician license. I did purchase a Diamond Original X50A Antenna to help with my radio and am waiting to try it out.

My plan after getting used to local communications (through repeaters and such) is to explore HF. This is what interests me because I’ll be able to communicate without the Internet and talk to people all over the world. I read stories about HAM radio use in Puerto Rico after the hurricane and would potentially like to help out with something like that in the future. However, HF brings another aspect to the hobby that I have to learn including what antenna to get, what radio to buy, what frequencies to use, how does the weather affect propagation (yes, the manual went over this, but until it is used it is just theory), etc.

Back to the title of this article. Does HAM radio have a place in today’s society? I think it definitely has a place in emergency communication when cell phones may not be available or the circuits are simply jammed. In addition, while some think that the Internet has brought people together by always being in touch, I think written communication is less personal than voice communication. People seem to have no problem bullying others in public forums, but would likely never say what they write to someone. Is that true? I have no idea, but I’m willing to give it a try. A lot of aspects of radio communications have been replaced by the Internet, so many people don’t think it has a place. When the Internet comes crumbling down, what are we going to do?



13 Replies to “HAM Radio in today’s world”

  1. Great post, Scott. I am a General class operator myself, (KG7QCY). One thing to look into is all the digital modes, and with your networking interests, you would enjoy some of the things we are doing. Mesh networks for EMCOMM work (read up at http://www.aredn.org) and many other options. Currently I’m in a group that runs an old school BBS type sytem with chat, file sharing, automatic repeating of messages even when the conditions dont permit, or the user is offline, etc…all over HF frequencies, primarily 40m. I recently put up a 35′ tower and will be increasing it to 65′ and the primary purpose is emcomm and mars, but mostly digital communication. After I found digital, I don’t really enjoy voice comms nearly as much!

    1. Hi Paul,

      I have no plans to put up a tower (I’m actually limited by law to 30’), so I’ll have to figure out what kind of antenna I can put on my roof. As I don’t know anything about HF frequencies, I have no idea what radio or antenna to get. Research for another day.

      Thanks for the link and I’ll check out digital modes. I do enough networking as I hobby, that I’m not sure I need more!

      1. There are plenty of long wire solutions that are very stealthy. End fed antennas you can run to a tree, etc. Getting beyond 20m is pretty tough without a long wire in your situation, but if you had about 60′ of space to run it to, you’d be amazed what you can accomplish. I started with a Cushcraft vertical, which covers 6-20m, and that more than get’s the job done for getting going, and you can mount that just about anywhere and is only about 10′ tall.

        1. Thanks! I was told about MagLoop antennas as well and I’ll investigate that later. What kind of contacts can I make on 6-20m? A 10’ antenna might be doable (not on the roof though as that would push the legal height limit).

          1. Well, 6m is only active in short windows, so that’s not usually dependable. 10m is the only one you can use as a technician (unless you learn CW, which I just did and am hooked) but 10m is only useful during the day, and with the band conditions being at a low in the solar cycle you can’t expect much. 20m is an all around day time and part of the evening band that has quite a bit of traffic, but you need General or Extra to use it. Honestly with the conditions where they are, 20m on a vertical antenna is probably your best bet considering your situation. Unless you have the room to string a long wire antenna.

            Since I have a tower now, I’ll be taking down my vertical antenna so if you end up needing one let me know and I’ll make you a sweet deal, if anything for exchange in great education from your blog!

          2. Hi Paul,

            Sounds like 20m might be the right way to go for now. I’m not familiar with antennas, so another research project! I’d definitely be interested in a good deal on a used antenna when you take it down. Drop me email. Thanks!

  2. Definitely figure out if there are any local repeaters in your area on 70 cm / 2m. Especially DStar, Echolink and IRLP repeaters. I mention DStar because you’re thinking of getting that ICom radio. I have the same radio and enjoy it (But put a screen protector on it). DStar will give you the ability to talk all over the world without needing HF bands, however if the Internet is down, you’re back to just your local area. It sounds like this would be a decent option in your antenna restricted area. 70 cm / 2m outdoor antennas blend in more than HF antennas too.

    1. Hi Jared,

      Thanks for the tips. There are a bunch of 70cm and 2m repeaters in my area with D-Star, System Fusion, and DMR capabilities. I can easily put a 10-15′ antenna in the backyard and at most a 5-10′ antenna on the roof, so that may be enough to get me going with HF. I never considered a 30′ height limit as antenna restricted, but I guess if some people have 65′ towers, then it is definitely less than that!

  3. Also keep in mind you don’t need anything digital when it comes to worldwide 2m contacting. Most club repeaters have echolink, and you can even download the echolink app on your phone and contact repeaters through your phone. I’m not a fan of proprietary systems, and echolink is universal. System Fusion is probably going to die. It was Yaseu’s attemp at combating D-star. Now DMR…thats some cool stuff 🙂

    1. I’ve read some of the information about Echolink and the digital systems. It is too bad that there are different digital standards as it forces me to choose a radio (I’m not ready to invest in mobile radios). I got a strange feeling about Echolink, but it is definitely one way to go without an antenna. The ZUMSpot with one of the digital modes is where I’m headed in the near term after getting a radio.

      1. Echolake will also work with any radio because it is an analog mode where you just use your dial pad to connect through your repeater.

  4. I just a pass-by, looking how to sync my unifi ssl cert between my ER-X and ubnt controller. It is really funny to see someone write for something on HAM at year 2018.

    Due to limited living space my beloved FT-897D was not powered more than 10 years. I am not active in APRS since 2005 and i came up my mind to do some DXing recently.

    Mid age crisis? Maybe 🙂

    73 DE VR2VJJ, Hong Kong

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