Other Resources for New Hams

Here at NewHams.info we don’t pretend to be the ultimate authority or only game in town.  While we may have a lock on this website domain name, there are other truly useful and interesting sources with good information for new or prospective ham radio operators and we want to share some of these with you here.


The ARRL produces an audio podcast entitled So Now What?  It is a “bi-weekly podcast geared to those who are just getting started on their Amateur Radio adventure. Whether you’re new to the hobby or looking to get back on the air after an absence, we know that you’ve got lots of questions.”

You can access and/or subscribe on Apple and Android to listen in with mobile phones or you can link to a web stream via Blubrry here.


A page on N0JI’s website is entitled, For New Hams.  It has quite a bit of detail; topics include:

  • First steps
  • Equipment
  • Making contact
  • Service and groups
  • Preparedness
  • Activities
  • Just curious
  • Above and beyond
  • Assistance

eHam.net has an informational page:  Guide to Amateur Radio for New Hams.


St Louis radio club web page:  New Ham Radio User Portal.


Great website with tons of educational material, Ham Radio School: Basics

HRS also has a topic, I Got My License, Now What?


As other related new ham resources come to our attention we will update this post to add links.

Don’t Be a Lid

“Lid” is ham-speak to denote a poor operator; one who is inept at the practice of the radio amateur art.  It is someone with very poor operating technique, a newbie or an experienced ham that acts like a neophyte. This old term likely originated from the days of wired telegraphy.

A previous post entitled, What Can I Say?,  presented more don’ts than dos, which was appropriate considering the topic.  This is a good time to review it.

In addition to those prohibitions, we’ll expand on the topic and add a few more things a good ham doesn’t do, assuming you don’t want to be known as a lid.  Most are things a good ham should avoid saying.  In fact, this article was originally entitled, What Should I Not Say?

There are some bad habits certain hams need to break, mainly because it demonstrates ignorance and carelessness.  Other amateurs may not take you seriously if you practice these things.  Numerous ham websites list pet peeves containing these bad practices (a few are linked below).

Some liddish behavior is understandable or excusable in a brand new ham but habits form quickly.  These are generally frowned upon and the perpetrator may find themselves publicly shamed (in a hammy context).  Don’t let it happen to you!

Here is a short list of things a ham should not do:

  • Use of CB lingo and police/public safety codes.  “10-4″,”what’s your 20?”, and “breaker” are particularly egregious.
  • Checking into a net or answering a CQ without identifying phonetically.  But once you are acknowledged you should ID without phonetics.
  • Partial phonetics is also bad form (e.g., KG5-alpha-bravo-charlie).
  • Talking too far from or directly into the mic.  See our microphone technique topic.
  • Using the term “broadcasting”.  Hams never, ever broadcast; they transmit.  The word broadcast has a very particular meaning to the FCC.

T1D10-2018

  • Using too much power or audio level (splatter) on digital modes
  • Adding an S to 73.  73 by itself is fine, but pluralizing it (73s or 73’s) is the equivalent of saying “best regardses”, which doesn’t make sense.

73

  • Calling your small VHF/UHF radio a Handie-Talkie.  HT means handheld transceiver, not Handy Talkie.

This is a handheld transceiver ⇒       zys-ft-60r

This is a Handie-Talkie ⇒  170px-Portable_radio_SCR536     See the difference?

  • Briefly keying your mic on a repeater without ID.  See our topic on Kerchunking.
  • Calling CQ on a VHF/UHF repeater.

Funny CQ 2m

If you want to talk to somebody/anybody, simply ID and ask for a QSO.

  • Over-use of Q-codes and other unique ham lingo.  Makes sense in CW work but not on a local VHF net.
  • Saying “over” on a repeater.  The closing squelch and courtesy tone let everybody know that you are done transmitting.

All of these are bad practice; lid-like behavior, although only a few are likely to earn Continue reading

What Can I Say?

The new ham may be unsure what they can or cannot talk about over the radio.

Surprisingly, there are few limitations in the Part 97 rules governing prohibited transmission, and we will review these below.

While there aren’t any rules against discussing sex, politics, and religion, these and other controversial topics are best avoided in general radio work.  Now there might be nets or affinity groups that meet on the radio to discuss controversial things.  Participation is fine but be prepared for hecklers who don’t agree with or appreciate the topic.

Foul language is a big no-no, as you might expect:

T1D06

Best to avoid any crude words or topics along those lines.

Another prohibition is using amateur radio to do business for yourself or a third party:

T1D08

You must never be paid to use your radio, except as narrowly outlined above.

Even selling your own goods is prohibited, although there is an exception for ham gear (occasionally):

T1D05

Monthly or weekly swap nets are OK.

You should never play music or sing or whistle over the air:

T1D04

Play it safe by keeping background music or audio (including your phone ringtone) muted when keying your mic.

Unlikely that you would want to do so, but you should never use secret words or codes to speak over the air:

T1D03

Finally, never make general announcements that do not involve other hams:

T1D10

Avoid transmitting anything that might be considered of interest to a wide audience, especially a one-way message with no reply.

Common sense should prevail; avoid controversial topics, don’t cuss and don’t do business over the air.  That leaves plenty of room for things to talk about.

What Flavor of Ham Are You?

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). Continue reading

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 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

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.

What Will My New Call Sign Be?

Of particular interest to prospective hams just finishing their study and preparing for their license exam, there is a great way to get a basic idea of the call letters they will be assigned, at least in the USA.  First they must know the FCC region they reside in based on the address they gave on the license application form.  The FCC divides the US into ten geographic regions with a numeric designation for each one;  a quick reference is found here.  For example, the table shows a numeral 5 for Texas so all New Texas licensees will have a 5 in their call sign as originally assigned.  By the way, this can be changed later but that will be a future topic.

From here you can refer to the Hamdata FCC info website and look for the most recent sequentially assigned call signs in your numeric region.  You can estimate that your assigned prefix (the letters before the number) will likely be the same as the most recent one issued for your region (unless it is at the end of the alphabet already), and your suffix (the letters after the number) will be the next one or two alpha characters subsequent to the most recent one issued for your region. All of this applies, assuming you take your exam in the next two or three weeks. If you test further out, you will need to check the database again to see the current stats.

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 Continue reading

Who’s Your Elmer?

Elmer is what hams affectionately call an experienced amateur radio operator who acts as a mentor, guide, or encourager to new or prospective hams.  They coach and help prepare for license exams. They help new hams obtain equipment and accessories and get on the air.  They advise how to work the radio and what to say on the air.  They spend time showing new hams how things are done.  They practice communicating on the air to get over mic fright.  They demonstrate new or different modes or aspects of ham radio.  Elmers do all this and more.

So who is your Elmer?  Few people jump into ham radio cold on their own; they probably saw it in action by a relative, friend, or neighbor.  So  that person is your most likely Elmer.  But maybe that person is no longer around or available.  Who do you turn to? Continue reading

What is Ham Radio?

Ham radio is a common term for amateur radio.  It is a licensed personal communications service for non-commercial use, meaning you can’t use the airwaves to make money.

For many people ham radio is a fun and interesting hobby, communicating with people around town, across the country, or on the other side of the world using various methods.  For others it’s part of personal or community preparedness and emergency response.  Some use ham radio to talk to family and friends in remote locations where other means of communication are unavailable or too expensive.  Ham radio is also used to control high-performance radio-controlled aircraft or other RC models.

Ham radio means all this and more.  There are dozens of different aspects to amateur radio and because you’re reading this, at least one of them probably appeals to you!

Anybody can listen in on any ham radio frequency but transmitting requires an amateur radio license.  This is obtained from the federal government by demonstrating knowledge and skills associated with ham radio.  Requirements vary by country and there are usually multiple license levels available with increasing privileges corresponding to proficiency.

Ham radio can be a lot of fun but it can also be practical in times of disaster or disruption; sometimes it’s the only way to communicate.

In the USA ham radio is governed by federal regulations under 47 CFR Part 97 which lists five principles for the existence of amateur radio.  These can be summarized into four purposes for ham radio:

  • To encourage the advancement of the art and science of radio.
  • To promote the development of an emergency communication capability to assist communities when needed.
  • To develop a pool of trained radio operators.
  • To promote international good will by connecting private citizens in countries around the globe.

Hams are not all alike as there are many different aspects of amateur radio that appeal (or don’t) to individuals.  Howsoever, we can identify six basic things that hams do:

  • Communicate
  • Experiment
  • Build
  • Compete
  • Serve their communities
  • Engage in life-long learning

Learn more about amateur radio from these excellent references:

ARRL

HamTestOnline

Wikipedia

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.