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.

Going Mobile

The Who had a hit tune entitled Going Mobile that may be playing in your head right now.  While the song celebrates the joy of living in a mobile home and traveling caravan-style in the UK, going mobile to hams means using radio equipment in your vehicle.

While some hams have HF radio setups in their cars, mobile predominantly means local VHF/UHF communication.  Besides bring able to talk to our ham buddies while driving around, 2m/70cm capability is particularly useful in case of disaster or other emergency communication (EmComm) situations.  It is perfect for storm spotting and certain public service events.

Mobile operation is popular and important enough that there are a number of US license exam questions involving the topic as you will see below.

Installing and using amateur radio equipment in one’s personal vehicle is too large a topic to cover here so we’ll simply advise you to research details on your own.  Talk to fellow hams and see what/how/why they installed their own gear.

The internet is also a vast resource for [mostly good] info .  One noteworthy site dedicated to mobile ham operation is managed by Alan Applegate, K0BG, and is located here.   It contains exceptionally useful info on most topics presented below.  We encourage you to use this site as a primary reference for your own mobile radio installation and operation.  The ABCs topic is the best place to start.

Before embarking on any of this yourself, there are several important points to consider:

  • Radio type
  • Radio control location
  • Radio mounting
  • Radio power wiring
  • Antenna type and mounting
  • Radio audio/speaker
  • Transmitting while driving
  • Hands-free/Distracted driving laws
  • Noise and interference

We will scratch the surface of each of these topics here:


Radio type-  Choose a mobile radio that best fits your needs, desires, and budget based on several factors:

  • Brand– quality/reliability and/or familiarity/loyalty
  • Transmit power (Watts)
  • Features– Auto power-off, APRS, dual-channel, remote head, cross-band, packet
  • VHF/UHF (V/U) or HF?
  • FM only, or multi-mode?
  • Single-band, dual-band, tri-band, or quad-band?
  • Analog or digital communication, or both?
  • New, reconditioned, or used?

Note that while a hand-held transceiver (HT) can be used in a car, it is significantly limited by its antenna and transmit power.  Both can be improved (linear amplifier and external antenna) but if you really want good mobile performance you should consider a purpose-specific mobile radio.


Radio control location-  Modern mobile transceivers typically feature removable front panels where the operator controls can be positioned in a more convenient, ergonomic, and safe location using a smaller footprint. Continue reading

Ham Radio License Plates

If you are a new ham (or an aspiring one) you have probably noticed Radio Operator license plates (tags) on vehicles in your area and perhaps elsewhere.

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According to a Wikipedia topic, “All U.S. states offer specialized license plates for licensed amateur radio operators, in many cases at no extra charge or at a discount compared to standard vanity plates. Among the stated reasons in various state statutes for providing special amateur radio plates are to recognize amateur radio operators for their service, and to enhance visibility of amateur radio operators in an emergency. The owner’s radio call sign is used instead of a standard-issue serial.”

In addition to the USA, many other countries also issue specialty vehicle registration plates to licensed amateur radio operators,  purportedly to facilitate their movement during an emergency.  Notably, ham plates are not issued in the UK and Europe; please advise if this is incorrect or has changed.


Before you elect to get ham radio license plates for your own vehicle(s), consider the pros and cons of having them.

There are several advantages in having radio operator plates on your vehicle:

  • A fun form of specialty plate and the number is easy to remember (your call sign)
  • Helps other hams identify you
  • Opportunity to discuss amateur radio with a curious public
  • Possibly give you more credibility when driving into a disaster area
  • Likely at lower-cost than any other form of vanity plate

And some disadvantages:

  • Makes it easier for the public to locate you if they want to, if you are sensitive to this issue (alternative is to give the government a PO box instead of a street address)
  • Negative publicity for ham radio if you are a bad driver
  • Potentially makes vehicle contents more attractive to thieves
  • You need to get new plates if you change your call sign

Interestingly, in Texas and at least three other US states, radio amateurs are permitted to have their call sign on the license plates of multiple vehicles that they own, in effect Continue reading

Packet Radio

If you’re exposed to ham radio for any length of time you are sure to hear some discussion of packet radio.

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Without going into much detail, we’ll present a big-picture description here.  Just enough for you to have a basic grasp of what’s involved and give you some idea of how it might apply to you.

Packet radio is a generalized term for a digital communication mode where data is sent in bite-sized chunks (packets) via radio.  The transmission and receipt of packet data is largely automated and features data error correction for reliable messaging.

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Packet radio (sometimes shortened to just packet) blends radio and computer technologies together.  Sounds complicated but it really isn’t.  All you need besides your normal ham radio transceiver is a household computer and an interface between the two.  The heart of this interface is a Terminal Node Controller (TNC) which is an intelligent modem that converts text to audio tones and vice versa.

hal-with-tnc

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Packet radio can be used between hams directly in real-time (peer-to-peer or keyboard-to-keyboard) but is more commonly used to send messages that can be retrieved on demand.  This operates more like email or mobile phone text messaging.

Slow data rates (typically 1200 baud) make large messages impractical, so packet messages should be relatively short and not have any large files attached.  120KB is the max message size accepted by some big message servers.  A 4KB message will transfer in 2-2.5 minutes under ideal conditions at 1200 baud.

Particularly useful for emergency communication (EmComm) messages, packet radio is predominately used on VHF radios (more local) but can be sent over HF bands Continue reading

National Simplex Calling Frequency

A national calling frequency in the USA is a radio frequency that is widely accepted and understood to be a place to start communicating with other hams.

This frequency is established for each RF band under the voluntary US band plan and is not regulated by the FCC.  It is routinely monitored by any number of radio amateurs and is likely to result in a response when calling CQ or Mayday or SOS.

The US band plan shows calling frequencies for various modes (CW, SSB, FM, AM, digital) in different bands.  A calling frequency list includes not only the modes but adds specific activities (expeditions, power levels) as commonly practiced.

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For new hams who are likely to get started in local VHF/UHF operation, the national calling frequencies to be concerned with are 2m and 70cm FM simplex (non-repeater).  These are 146.520MHz and 446.000MHz, respectively, and should be included in your radio’s scanned channels.  If you regularly use 1.25m, 33cm and/or 23cm bands, there are national simplex calling frequencies defined per the band plan for you to look up.

Be aware that the national calling frequency for whatever mode and activity is only a place to start communicating.  Protocol and common courtesy require that once contact is established, you move to another frequency (QSY) to leave the calling frequency open for others to use.

The national simplex calling frequency is sort of a universal (within the USA) place to make contact when you are not sure where to start.  It is particularly useful Continue reading

Ham Humor

Amateur radio operators are not all serious business; some of us actually have a sense of Yuma (and fondness for puns).  It may be obscure and occasionally off-color, but some of it is pretty funny.

You can find bits of amateur radio-related humor on various ham websites.

For our part we have created a new Ham Humor page here which contains links and a selection of favorite clean ham radio humor which will grow as new material is discovered.  You can always access this page from the NewHams.info site menu just below the top banner.

Antenna Gain

Newer amateur radio operators may read or hear some discussion of antenna gain.  The gist of it usually involves how much stronger signals are with a particular type of antenna.

This concept of antenna gain can be confusing or misleading to new hams because it sort of suggests that some antennas actually amplify received or transmitted RF signals.  Not so.

Like the decibel (dB) antenna ‘gain’ is always relative.  So when we speak of antenna gain it refers to a performance improvement compared to a different type of antenna.

More commonly, gain is used to compare highly directional antennas (beams, dishes) to monopoles or dipoles.

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While antenna gain usually emphasizes directivity it may also be used to compare two similar types with different characteristics, as efficiency is another contributing factor.  For example, we can observe and measure the relative gain of a stubby “rubber duck” handheld radio antenna (pathetic) vs. a 5/8-wave whip (much better) even though they are both vertical monopoles with the same directivity.

The two types of antennas usually referenced against are isotropic and the simple dipole.  When measuring performance of other antennas, they will often be compared to one of these two.

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If the gain impovement is relative to the theoretical isotropic antenna, the units should specify the gain as dBi.  If measured against a dipole antenna, the gain should indicate dBd.  Any other comparisons should mention the reference antenna in the text.

Some good references for antenna gain are given below: Continue reading

Mic Fright and Your First Contact

Mic fright is a general term for anxiety leading to freezing, choking or hesitating when speaking into a microphone (mic).  The psychological response of worrying about saying the right thing to an audience large or small is very natural and expected.

micfright

Mic fright or shyness is a reality in public speaking, stage performance and similar situations.  Of course, it’s an important topic to new amateur radio operators so let’s provide some perspective and encouragement here.

Making that first voice contact over the radio can be an anxious moment for many new hams.  This can also carry over into the first several radio contacts where you worry about saying the right thing and following the rules.

First off, don’t let the “rules” make you nervous.  It mainly comes down to proper identification which means giving your call sign every 10 minutes during an exchange and at the end of your last transmission.  That’s pretty easy to remember.

Second, every ham was a newbie once and remembers what it was like not knowing exactly what they were doing.  Most will be patient and helpful, giving coaching and gentle reminders along the way as needed.

For general phone (voice) contacts, there are no real procedures and formalities to worry about; it’s more conversational, much like a phone call.  While radio amateurs often use jargon, abbreviation and technical terms (see our Ham-Speak topic), this is not mandatory.  Hopefully that takes some of the pressure off to make you more relaxed for your first few contacts.

A starting point for getting on the air the first time is to listen in on the local (VHF/UHF) repeaters and HF SSB bands for a few hours to learn what people say and how they say it.  If you follow these examples you are almost certain to be successful when transmitting on your radio.

An excellent way to get past mic fright and performance anxiety is to ease into it with Continue reading