Practical Skills For the Radio Amateur

While not every ham is technically inclined or particularly handy, amateur radio operators tend to be do-it-yourself (DIY) kind of people who often build, install, and fix their gear and other things.  In many ways hams are some of the original “Makers” and experimenters who have actually helped further the art and science of radio and communications technology.

To encourage and further this historic reputation, consider developing in yourself some of the practical skills that ham radio operators are stereotyped to possess.  While the list rightly could be more extensive, we will suggest four basic ones here:

  • Electronic soldering
  • Using a multimeter
  • Stripping and terminating different kinds of wire and cable
  • Drilling and cutting material (fabrication)

We can’t go into details on these here*, so the reader will need to Continue reading

Antenna Lightning Protection

Many hams have a VHF/UHF radio and antenna for local communication, especially if they are involved in EmComm.  Ideally you have an exterior antenna up high for best performance with your radio. The downside to that is that vertically-oriented VHF/UHF  monopole antennas are a juicy target for lightning strikes.  Basically, they look like a lightning rod.

Lightning Antenna

Lightning wants to go to ground and if the best path is through your antenna and feed line, your radio is likely to be destroyed.  And if you’re right near the radio when it happens, you might be injured, or a fire might be started by the lightning strike.  Bottom line, bad things can happen with an outdoor antenna during a thunderstorm.

W0ZUX lightning damage
Lightning damage in W0ZUX shack

Lightning protection is important to have.  There are numerous sources of arresters available, mostly for coaxial cable (feed line).  Some simple and cheap, others complex and costly.  How much is your radio and even your house worth to you?

Here are some commonly available coaxial cable lightning arresters:

Arrestor4     Arrestor3     Arrestor2

Even better than these stand-alone arresters with separate ground wires is to group them on a plate that is well-grounded.

T0a07-2018

Special ground rods with arrester mounting plates are available for this:

Arrestor1

Common lightning arresters on your antenna feed line help only with minor stray lightning bolts.  A direct strike on your antenna cannot be stopped by a simple arrester; there is too much energy involved to dissipate.  The radio will be destroyed in such a case, along with possible damage and injury.

So what can you do to protect yourself and your radio from lightning?  In addition to using arresters the best way is to Continue reading

Keep That HT Antenna Vertical

The previous post introduced you to the handheld transceiver (HT) and suggested that it had limitations.

One of the HTs weaknesses is that because it is hand held, the operator must maintain the antenna pointing up for maximum performance, as shown below.

DSCN4227

This is because repeater and mobile antennas are always vertically oriented and the handheld antenna should match orientation for maximum power transfer.

T3A04-2018

Antennas are polarized according to Continue reading

The Handheld Transceiver (HT)

A handheld transceiver (HT) is often a new ham’s first radio.  As the name suggests, it is small enough to hold in your hand and has enough performance to be useful under many circumstances.

zys-ft-60rThe appeal of a HT is in its relatively low cost plus its obvious portability.  Some new hams want to spend as little as possible to get started in amateur radio and new HTs can be had for less than $50 (although not recommended by experienced hams).  Other new hams get started with a local emergency communications group which uses them.  Still others simply want a radio for keeping in touch with others while hiking or some other outdoor activity.

These radios have a practical range of one to three miles from one HT on the ground to another.  This is limited mostly by power and terrain or obstructions.  Greater range is achieved by operating from an elevated position or through the use of repeaters (refer to the repeaters topic).

Amateur use of handhelds is most common on the 2m (146MHz) VHF and 70cm (435MHz) UHF bands using frequency modulation (FM).  HTs are available for a few other VHF and UHF ham bands as well, depending on local usage and repeater support.  While HTs can be found for upper HF bands, antenna length makes them less practical as handheld devices.

Dual-band HTs are quite common and practical, costing little more than a single-band radio.  Many of these also allow the user to receive non-ham band transmissions such as weather alerts, aircraft, and police-fire-EMS dispatching.

While useful in some situations, HTs have limitations for ham radio use.  To obtain reasonable battery life a HT Continue reading

Understanding Antennas-A Simplified Perspective

A PowerPoint slideshow, Understanding Antennas / A Simplified Perspective for Ham Radio Operators is downloadable here:  Understanding Antennas-A Simplified Perspective

This presentation provides a working understanding of amateur radio antennas without being overly technical or dry.

The target audience is newer hams with limited knowledge of antennas.  It is presented at the Technician license level. You will see Continue reading