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.
  • 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.  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:

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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:

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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):

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Monthly or weekly swap nets are OK.

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

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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:

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

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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