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).
QRP operation- Low power transmit (5W or less).
Antique electronics- Using vintage radio gear, usually featuring vacuum tube (valve) electronics.
Homebrewing- Building your own radio equipment and using it to communicate.
Moonbounce/EME- Reflecting VHF/UHF signals off of the moon to make contacts with distant stations. Generally requires specialized equipment.
County hunting- Working US counties; quite a challenge with 3,142 available, some with no active hams.
Meteor scatter- Using VHF signals to make long-distance contacts when meteors excite the ionosphere.
Straight key operation- CW mode Morse code using a purely mechanical key. There are a couple of groups that actively promote this.
Public service- Many hams support the community by providing communications during large events or when disaster strikes.
DXpeditions- Hams organize to set up temporary operation in remote locations where there are no fixed stations.
Antenna work- Designing, building, and experimenting with different antenna types.
Unusual bands- Low frequency (LF), Very Low Frequency (VLF). microwave/MESH; there are real challenges to operating unusually low or high frequencies and it can be rather interesting.
Traffic- Participating in organized nets to pass messages (traffic); yes, this is still done and could be vital in case of widespread communications outage.
We may come back and add some more info later.
A couple of websites with more details on this can be found at:
Hopefully some of these specialties are interesting to you and that you try out a few. The experienced ham is likely to dabble in several of them over time.