Welcome

Welcome to the NewHams.info site.  Its purpose is to provide training, information and general encouragement to new or prospective amateur radio operators (hams).  Sort of a virtual “Elmer”, as we say.  Experienced hams should find it interesting and useful as well.

Organized in sort of a blog format, post topics are usually small and simple. You can scroll through the posts sequentially or search for key words or click on a category of interest.

The reader can sign up for email notification of new posts by clicking on the Follow button below Categories on the sidebar.

Topics generally cater to USA hams getting started in amateur radio with local VHF/UHF communications.  However, HF band operators and hams in other countries should find something interesting here as well.

You will see US license exam questions and answers in green boxes in various posts to refresh your knowledge.

Change Your Call Sign

So you just passed the Tech license exam and your new call sign just appeared on the FCC ULS database.  Congratulations!

Let’s say you were assigned KG5ZXY, but that’s both hard to remember and hard to pronounce phonetically.  Or maybe you’ve been licensed for years but just don’t like the call sign you have.

Either way you would really like something different; maybe a catchy one or a call that has your initials or something shorter or easier to remember.  Don’t despair!  You can request a specific call sign if it is available, termed a vanity call.

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Vanity call signs typically include alphabetical characters of personal significance (e.g., licensees initials, parts of names, hobbies, etc), or sometimes are simply chosen because they are shorter calls, or sometimes they have double or triple duplicate characters (e.g., W1WWW).

Note: this information is valid for USA hams.  Many other countries have vanity call programs but the details and rules will be different.

Now there are limitations to call signs, of course.  This is a good time to review our call sign variations topic where you can learn about valid prefixes, suffixes, formats, and quantity of characters.

It goes without saying that you cannot request a call that is already issued (for two years Continue reading

Traffic

New hams listening in on a local net are likely to hear the net control station begin the session by asking for stations with traffic.  Seems like there never is traffic, so what’s that all about?

Traffic is ham-speak for passing messages, usually via regular radio nets.

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Messages are almost always formal, written on a form with bureaucratic detail.

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Even friendly, casual messages (“happy birthday, Aunt Edna”) are typically passed this way.

ARRL Radiogram

Such messages (traffic) resemble the old telegram format.  They go back to the very early days of amateur radio when passing messages was a primary function.  In fact, this is from where the US Amateur Radio Relay League (ARRL) derives its name.

Nowadays traffic is mainly an emergency communications (EmComm) function, although the occasional casual message is passed on.  Purpose-specific traffic nets meet regularly to pass messages to stay in practice for when they are really needed, like when there is a local or regional communication outage.  Likewise, local nets support traffic to maintain readiness.

The general traffic flow is from an originating station to a local net where the message is Continue reading

Keep Up With Rules and Knowledge

I have enjoyed helping teach technician license classes in the past and may help with more in the future.  When you step into the instructor role you realize how much you don’t know about a subject, or have forgotten.  It’s humbling to discover that you forgot something or really didn’t understand a particular topic.  I’m an extra class operator and was surprised at how many things I forgot or couldn’t answer with certainty on the Technician exam.

So now we will discuss keeping up with rules and knowledge regarding amateur radio, and not just resting on our laurels, having passed a license exam one day in the past.  The reason the FCC requires some basic knowledge about ham radio is because we have the most privileges in the radio spectrum around the world, and we can cause a lot of trouble with that freedom.  In ham radio there is an expectation of continuous learning and that also implies that we should not forget what we already know.

There are seven broad categories of questions in exams of all three license levels.  These are:

  • Regulations
  • Operating practices
  • Electronics
  • Propagation
  • Antennas
  • Safety

Of these seven we might say that three are the most important:  Safety (first!), Regulations and Operating Practices.  That doesn’t mean the other categories are unimportant but we should probably place a priority on these three.

To reinforce the premise that we easily forget important details, let me quiz you on some Continue reading

What’s So Funny?

Something new hams need to be aware of is a less-than-obvious bit of old-timey ham-speak still in use.

You may hear a ham say, “hi or “hihi” over the air or in person or in writing, and, curiously,  their particular use of the term, “hi” is not in context of a greeting.

In ham-speak the term “hi” means laughter.  Often doubled (hihi), it’s a ham’s way of expressing a humorous response.  So when a ham says, “hi” (s)he is laughing at something.  Kind of like saying LOL in a text message or web post.

Where did this come from?  In the early days of amateur radio, CW was the only mode so all communications were in Morse code. The word HI in Morse is dit-dit-dit-dit  dit-dit, (•••• ••)which sounds like an electronic chuckle.  Quickly adopted, hams have been using “hi” for laughter decades after voice and other modes were added to our radio amateur repertoire.

We’ll wrap up with a ham joke:  Two antennas met on a roof, fell in love and got married. The ceremony wasn’t much, but the reception was excellent.  Hihi

What Can I Say?

The new ham may be unsure what they can or cannot talk about over the radio.

Surprisingly, there are few limitations in the Part 97 rules governing prohibited transmission, and we will review these below.

While there aren’t any rules against discussing sex, politics, and religion, these and other controversial topics are best avoided in general radio work.  Now there might be nets or affinity groups that meet on the radio to discuss controversial things.  Participation is fine but be prepared for hecklers who don’t agree with or appreciate the topic.

Foul language is a big no-no, as you might expect:

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Best to avoid any crude words or topics along those lines.

Another prohibition is using amateur radio to do business for yourself or a third party:

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You must never be paid to use your radio, except as narrowly outlined above.

Even selling your own goods is prohibited, although there is an exception for ham gear (occasionally):

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Monthly or weekly swap nets are OK.

You should never play music or sing or whistle over the air:

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Play it safe by keeping background music or audio (including your phone ringtone) muted when keying your mic.

Unlikely that you would want to do so, but you should never use secret words or codes to speak over the air:

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Finally, never make general announcements that do not involve other hams:

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Avoid transmitting anything that might be considered of interest to a wide audience, especially a one-way message with no reply.

Common sense should prevail; avoid controversial topics, don’t cuss and don’t do business over the air.  That leaves plenty of room for things to talk about.

 

 

 

What Flavor of Ham Are You?

What flavor of ham are you?  Honey-baked, smoked, prosciutto, chipped…  Just as there are many varieties of the pork meat, so there are different kinds of amateur radio ham.

Ham radio isn’t just about talking on the radio.  Radio amateurs use different modes and frequencies.  There are also many unique activities and special interest sub-sets in amateur radio.  One or more should appeal to the new or prospective ham.

We present some of these here to whet your appetite or encourage further interest in our hobby.   Maybe one of these becomes your ham radio passion or niche.  For many hams their focus changes from making voice contacts to something more specific.  Amateurs tend to be an adventurous lot and many are eager to try something new.  Radio work has a myriad of possibilities.  And for many of these, you don’t need fancy or expensive equipment:

Chasing DX, DXing-Working distant stations, generally outside your own country.  One of the most basic ham interests.

Awards- Recognition from various groups can be achieved for different accomplishments.  Two of the big ones are the ARRL worked all states [WAS] award (confirmed contacts in all 50 states) and their DXCC award (confirmed contacts in 100 countries).

Fox hunting- Radio direction finding to locate a hidden transmitter.  Can be competitive or just for fun.

Satellite operation- Using repeaters on orbiting amateur radio satellites for quick long-distance contacts.

ARISS- Communicating with the International Space Station via VHF radio.

ATV/SSTV- Amateur Television or Slow-Scan Television to communicate using video exchanges.

Contesting- There is no shortage of opportunities for the competitive ham. Most weekends have some sort of contest scheduled for hams to make as many contacts as possible under various modes and guidelines.

Digital modes- Don’t like to talk over the radio and don’t want to learn Morse code?  Digital modes can give you the thrill of long-distance contacts without a mic or key; you need only a computer and simple interface to a HF transceiver to work digital modes.

OTA-  Organized events to contact as many stations as possible of a particular type; Mountaintops/Summits (SOTA), Islands (IOTA), National Parks (NPOTA). Continue reading

Technician Class Distant Contacts

Making radio contact over great distance is one of the more interesting aspects of ham radio.  For many radio amateurs, it’s their main pursuit.

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Working DX (ham-speak for distance) commonly means contacting a station outside your own country but Alaska and Hawaii are certainly DX stations by distance, and in reality good DX is cross-country in a large entity such as the USA.

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Unfortunately for US hams, the entry-level Technician class license permits rather limited opportunities for making radio contact beyond line of sight.  Don’t despair if you have only a Tech license and want to do more than chat with locals on a repeater.  There are six ways for a Technician licensee to communicate outside of town, outside your state, or even outside the country.  We will briefly mention these here and perhaps cover them in greater detail in future posts.

DX is commonly accomplished on the high frequency (HF) bands due to ionospheric refraction or bending of radio waves.  HF signals routinely reach the other side of the planet and places in between.  So for most hams chasing DX or just working beyond the local area means having a HF transceiver and antenna for the band(s) of interest.

The first two opportunities for Technician licensees to communicate over distance involve traditional HF equipment:

1) USA Technician class operators have privileges to operate CW mode (Morse code) on 80m, 40, 15m and 10m HF bands with a 200W power limit.  This is how hams used to get started in amateur radio and while CW is still quite popular, it is intimidating to many new folks.  So opportunity #1 may not be appealing to many Techs unless they want to learn Morse code (a fun skill, by the way).

2) USA Technicians also have SSB voice and  digital (data) privileges on 10m, again with a 200W limit.  This is the only HF voice privilege for this class and the frequency range is very narrow.  The data mode privilege is really helpful here because it allows Techs to work popular digital modes such as JT, FT, PSK,  Olivia and MSK.  However, 10m propagation is highly dependent on solar activity.  The band can be inactive or slow for weeks or months at a time.  So Technicians may be frustrated over a lack of activity for opportunity #2.

Tech license DX opportunities #1 and #2 above on HF bands are admittedly limited by mode and/or active band.  This alone is excellent motivation to upgrade to a General class license.  Consider this possibility.  It’s not a huge leap in learning and study to move up, very achievable for most people.

We know that the VHF and UHF bands for which Technician licensees have full privileges are generally limited to local communication because of line of sight propagation.  Repeaters and/or tall antennas can extend this range but DX is not readily achieved using normal methods.  However, there are four clever technologies that enable DX on VHF/UHF bands: Continue reading