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.

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

Clutter

New hams, don’t hesitate to make that first radio contact.

Experienced hams, don’t hesitate to try a new band or operating mode.

Technician and General Class hams, don’t hesitate to upgrade your license class.

All hams, don’t hesitate… on the air.  With your mic keyed to transmit, don’t fill up time and space with “um…”, “well…”, “er…”, “aah…” and other such sounds of hesitation.

It’s not only annoying to hear but hesitation really clutters up the airwaves.  In certain cases it impedes more important communication.  For example, during a special event operation or true emergency communication (Emcomm) situation or drill, the Net Control Station (NCS) is constantly talking to various stations.  If you’re using up valuable time on the air, other stations cannot be relaying their info.

A good rule of thumb or general practice is to know exactly what you will say before you key the mic.  Think first, then talk.

If Net Control asks you a question that you cannot immediately answer, don’t take 20 seconds to stall or explain away your delay, just reply that you will get back to them.  This frees up the net for others and lets the NCS know to expect a reply shortly.

The opposite of hesitation in radio work is brevity .  Keep your transmissions short, few, and far between in a special event or Emcomm scenario.

Don’t call in periodically just to let the net know you’re still there.  Net Control and the rest of the net assume you are there unless you have to drop off for a valid reason but you must inform them in such case.

Don’t use 50 words where ten would do. Unfortunately, some hams are long-winded on a special event net.  It takes forethought and practice to keep a report short and simple.   Use the minimum number of words to communicate effectively.

Don’t talk to sound important or just to hear your own voice.  This is heard occasionally on a special event net; others can usually tell when this happens and it’s aggravating.

Study up on Emcomm radio practices, guidelines, procedures and etiquette and then practice these.  Drills and special events are perfect exercise.  Refer to our “EmComm Toolbox” topic for such info.

Another form of clutter to avoid during a special event or Emcomm operation is speculation.  Rumor, guessing, second-hand info, and supposition often lead to confusion and unnecessary concern.  Just the facts, ma’am.  Seriously, only give solid facts.

Log Time

Keeping a record of contacts is important in amateur radio.  While not required by the FCC in the United States, logging is definitely encouraged.

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For the common, everyday VHF/UHF radio chatter we participate in on a local repeater, contacts are rarely logged.  This is fine, since logging of these would be a tedious nuisance.  Logging of all other contacts is highly recommended.

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Besides frequency, call sign and signal report, date and time of contact are logged.  Time should be when contact begins, not when completed.

In practice, active hams live in two time zones. The first is their local time, which is when they join a net or sign off a contact because dinner is being served.

Local time is what should be recorded in emergency communication (EmComm) logs when participating in drills or actual disaster deployments where local time is more meaningful.

The second zone hams more frequently use for logging is Zulu time, the current time at the Prime Meridian of the World running through Greenwich, England.  Zulu time (Z)  is also known as Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) or Coordinated Universal Time (UTC or sometimes UCT).   If it’s coordinated Universal Time, why is it Called UTC and not CUT?

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Technically GMT is a time zone while UTC is a time standard (details) but practically speaking they are the same thing and in the aviation, military and telecommunications world it’s Zulu time.

Why the name Zulu?  There are 25 integer World Time Zones from -12 through 0 (GMT) to +12. Each one is 15° of Longitude as measured East and West from the Prime Meridian.  These are given alphabetic designations A-Z, less the letter J.  Z (ITU phonetic Zulu) corresponds to the prime meridian at 0° longitude.  Zulu time.

When logging all but EmComm contacts, hams should use Zulu, not their local time.  Then both parties in a logged contact have the same (universal) time and date recorded (date will change at midnight between 2359z and 0000z).  This becomes important when confirming contacts and getting awards.

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 continental Europe; please advise if this is incorrect or has changed.  One commenter from the UK has reported that they are available but expensive there.


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.

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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