Listen and Learn

Prospective hams or hams in training may wonder what they will do or say over the radio when they get their license.  There is all that lingo/jargon that hams use and there are rules about identifying and phonetics and whatnot; it can be confusing and intimidating to non-hams who haven’t had much exposure to amateur radio.

The best way to learn how hams speak on the air and what kinds of things they talk about is to listen in.  No license is required to listen; you can monitor radio traffic 24/7 if you like.  Listen and learn.  Just keep your finger off the transmit control (usually a push-to-talk [PTT] button) until your have a license.

Start by listening in on the local repeaters, which is likely how you will get started anyway.  Repeater traffic is more conversational but you still get a good feel for protocol and topics.

If you don’t have repeaters in your area it will take more effort only because the radio setup is slightly more complicated.  The radio will have more features to fiddle with and you will need a bigger antenna to work with the HF bands.  Here you will likely be listening in on SSB voice communications where it will be more interesting because people are likely talking over great distances and their conversations are generally less personal.  Again, you get a feel for how people talk over the air by listening.

Listening in on both local repeaters and the HF phone bands gives you a more complete picture of what ham radio is all about and how things work.  If you are really curious and adventurous, you can listen in on Morse code contacts with code reading software or intercept data mode and/or video communication to get an even better feel for all that amateur radio has to offer.

Don’t have a radio to listen with?  Maybe a friendly local ham can loan you an old or spare rig to use for a while.  Or you could buy some used gear or a cheap handheld transceiver (HT).

Beg, borrow, or buy some radio gear and start listening before you get your license.  It will make your study more meaningful and give you some confidence to transmit when you get your ticket.

3 thoughts on “Listen and Learn

    • Good question, Mike. There are three common ways to look up repeaters. All are a form of repeater directory.
      Easiest and most convenient is with a smart phone app called RepeaterBook. Of course it depends on data connectivity so won’t work when the internet is down or when you don’t have mobile data.
      Another way is using a repeater directory website. I posted links to two good sites in the Links page.
      The third method is old-school using a physical repeater directory book. This is always recommended for EmComm use but new copies need to be purchased every year or two to stay updated.


  1. Hope I don’t double post, as there was a login error.

    As to the Lingo/Jargon. Don’t bother with it. Speak plain english. Q-this and Q-that were meant for brevity on CW. We can hear each other just fine on the phone bands. I hear newer hams often getting tripped up in a conversation (not QSO) because they are trying to say “OK”, “Yes”, or some other acknowlegement, but are fumbling for some Q equivalent, when “Yes” would have been the plain english word to say.

    One of my favorites is heard on a local weekly net. It’s “all calls will go through the NCS Station”. So what they are actually saying is, “all calls will go through the Net Control Station Station”. Don’t add words that confuse yourself or others, and just take up space. To quote from Good Morning Vietnam, “This is just radio”.

    “I’m at the home QTH” ?! 7 syllables vs 3. “I’m at home”. I think some of it is radio mystique from TV shows and CB chatter.

    Part of NIMS/ICS in public safety communications is dumping the 10-codes and signals. When several agencies get together on something, nobody knows all of the other guy’s codes, but they can all speak english.

    On phonetics. Learn the ITU version, and use it WHEN needed, like on noisy HF. Example. If your name is Gill, but someone keeps calling you Bill or Phil, then maybe spell it out. Golf India Lima Lima.

    Oh, and a new one that has really taken hold is, “For ID”. Well, everytime you say your call sign, you have ID’d. We all know it’s your ID. “Standing by and listening” Yeah,…we kind of got the point when you said your call on a quiet freq. “Mobile and monitoring”. Yeeaahhh,…..when you said “KC7XXX Mobile”, we figured you were monitoring as well. “Standing by and on the side” What if you’re actually sitting down and in the middle?How about “KC7XXX listening.”

    Build good habits in the beginning. Leave the CB blabber on CB. Leave the Q-codes on CW. Have fun.


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