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.

hamplates

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

Don’t Settle for Just a HT

zys-ft-60r

Often a new ham’s first radio is a handheld transceiver (HT).  A HT represents the lowest-cost entry point to amateur radio and is relatively easy to set up and use.  Your first on-air experience as a licensed ham may involve a HT on a local VHF/UHF repeater, and that’s fine.

But don’t settle for just a HT as supplied by the manufacturer for your early ham radio experience.  You are almost certainly going to be frustrated and disappointed at its performance to the point of giving up on ham radio and wondering why all these hams are so enthusiastic about the hobby.

Don Keith N4KC makes this point eloquently  in his ‘HT Trap’ article where he discusses how easily a new ham can get discouraged with amateur radio because of the limitations of a stock HT.  I have observed this as well while helping new hams get set up in a local EmComm organization.

Huge improvements in HT performance or ease of use can be accomplished with three accessories.


First and foremost is the Continue reading

ARRL Membership

arrl-logo The American Radio Relay League (ARRL) is is the largest membership association of amateur radio enthusiasts in the USA and it represents the interests of hams before federal regulatory bodies, provides technical advice and assistance to amateur radio enthusiasts, supports a number of educational programs and sponsors emergency communications service throughout the country.

The ARRL is the primary representative of amateur radio operators to the US government, lobbying Congress and the Federal Communications Commission on various issues of importance to ham radio.  The ARRL has a significant international membership and influence as well, serving as the secretariat of the International Amateur Radio Union, which performs a similar role internationally, advocating for amateur radio interests before the International Telecommunications Union and the World Administrative Radio Conference.

The ARRL’s underpinnings as Amateur Radio’s witness, partner and forum are defined by five pillars: Public Service, Advocacy, Education, Technology, and Membership.

ARRL’s Vision Statement–  As the national association for Amateur Radio in the United States, ARRL:

  • Supports the awareness and growth of Amateur Radio worldwide;
  • Advocates for meaningful access to radio spectrum;
  • Strives for every member to get involved, get active, and get on the air;
  • Encourages radio experimentation and, through its members, advances radio technology and education; and
  • Organizes and trains volunteers to serve their communities by providing public service and emergency communications.

For all the above reasons it is good to support the ARRL with membership at $49 per year. As a bonus, and for many it is reason alone to be a member, the ARRL publishes the monthly magazine QST.  Each issue is a source of equipment reviews, technical tips, projects, news and many other ham-related topics.

Regular columns address specific interests:

  • Amateur Radio World-  International ham radio news and info
  • Classic/Vintage  Radio- Fun look at older receivers, transmitters and transceivers
  • The Doctor is In-  Authoritative answers to interesting technical questions
  • Eclectic Technology- Discussion on new or unusual technology in ham radio
  • Hands-On Radio- Practical technical discussion of interest to DIY hams
  • Hints & Kinks- Ideas, tips, and related handy suggestions on all things ham
  • How’s DX?-  Long-distance (DX) communication news or issues
  • Public Service- Ham radio for emergency communication and/or events
  • The World Above 50 MHz- Ham radio at VHF and higher frequencies

There’s something for everyone in QST.  A new ham will be exposed to the Continue reading

Get on the Air Now!

An outstanding resource for amateur radio operators, and new or prospective hams in particular, is a paperback book by Don Keith N4KC entitled, GET ON THE AIR…NOW!

    

There is something for everyone here: Folks who are interested in ham radio, those who just got a license, experienced hams who lose interest, and long-time hams who are looking for something to share with newbies. N4KC covers most of what current and prospective ham radio operators need to know and he does a great job of selling the hobby/interest. And no, he’s not pushing Morse code, although CW operation is one of the more interesting aspects of amateur radio.

The main emphasis of the book is encouraging licensees to actually get on the air and experience real ham radio, not to get frustrated with bad experiences and limited equipment and then give up on our hobby.  He addresses some of the common discouragements and steers us to realistic remedies.  Chapter five is a practical discussion of antennas and I particularly appreciate chapter six with Don’s concise description of what to expect on the HF bands.

gotan TOC

The second half of the book is a comprehensive dictionary of “ham-speak”–amateur radio terms, abbreviations and slang, useful to all hams, new and old.

About $19 with a Kindle version for $9.  Highly recommended and the first item listed on a new site page entitled Recommended Reading.

License Training & Study

So you are interested in ham radio and want to get a license.  Thats’s great!  Now how should you study for the exam?

Let’s present some basic information first. Breathe a sigh of relief to know that Morse code is no longer required to be a licensed US amateur radio operator.  Also unlike the days of old, you no longer have to travel to a FCC office to be examined.  Many of us old timers recall having to demonstrate our skills at sending and receiving Morse and taking a tough written test at a FCC office in a large city.

License exams are now conducted by local hams who are accredited by an authorized organization to certify that examinees have passed the written exam.  These volunteer examiners then process the paperwork necessary to get passing candidates their license.  You can find the nearest exam dates and locations at the ARRL website.

License exam questions are all multiple-choice and are managed by the exam coordinator organizations.  There are question pools for each of the three license grades and these pools change somewhat every four years.  The question pool for the Technician class license consists of about 425 possible questions while the General exam has around 460.  The Tech and General exams both have  35 questions and a passing grade is 26 correct answers (74%, 9 wrong).  The Extra class license is much more extensive with over 700 questions in the pool and consists of 50 questions with a passing grade of 37 correct answers (74%, 13 wrong).  Each license class has questions about Rules/Regulations,  Operating Procedures, Radio Fundamentals, Practices, Electrical/Electronic Principles/Components, Equipment, Modes/Methods, Radio Wave Behavior, Antennas/Feedlines, and Safety.  As you might expect the questions become more involved and difficult as you progress from Technician to Extra license classes.  Every exam will have a certain number of questions from each of these general categories.

The Technician license exam is relatively easy to pass and is where most people start.  The General class exam is more challenging but is still doable for most people, being moderately or somewhat difficult to learn.  The Extra class exam is truly difficult and requires extensive learning and study to pass.  You can proceed from Technician to General and on to Extra in one exam session if you are really eager and prepared or just settle for Tech or General that day, as most people do.

Because you won’t know which questions will be on any given exam, you need to understand most (at least 75%) of the entire question pool for whichever exam you are attempting to pass.  So this requires some study in advance of taking the exam.

While it is possible for a reasonably intelligent and technically-minded person Continue reading

New Topics Coming

Sorry that it’s been several months  since any new topics have been posted.  The site manager  had a major stroke in April that put him in the hospital for four weeks and Jim has been recovering since.

Now that AF5NP is doing much better and has regained most of his functionality and energy we can think about writing and posting new material.  Still don’t have full use of the left hand, which makes typing awkward.  But we hope to roll a few things out in the near future even if he has to type one-handed.

Here are some of the topics on Jim’s list to prepare:

  • Practical skills for the radio amateur
  • Don’t settle for just a HT
  • Using a multi-meter
  • Your QRZ profile
  • License study
  • Call sign variations
  • Guide to using PowerPole® connectors
  • Packet radio
  • Dummy loads
  • Public service events
  • Radio craft language
  • Ham radio license plates
  • ARRL membership

We will also add a page of recommended reading to share publications that are particularly useful.