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

Packet Radio

If you’re exposed to ham radio for any length of time you are sure to hear some discussion of packet radio.

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Without going into much detail, we’ll present a big-picture description here.  Just enough for you to have a basic grasp of what’s involved and give you some idea of how it might apply to you.

Packet radio is a generalized term for a digital communication mode where data is sent in bite-sized chunks (packets) via radio.  The transmission and receipt of packet data is largely automated and features data error correction for reliable messaging.

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Packet radio (sometimes shortened to just packet) blends radio and computer technologies together.  Sounds complicated but it really isn’t.  All you need besides your normal ham radio transceiver is a household computer and an interface between the two.  The heart of this interface is a Terminal Node Controller (TNC) which is an intelligent modem that converts text to audio tones and vice versa.

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Packet radio can be used between hams directly in real-time (peer-to-peer or keyboard-to-keyboard) but is more commonly used to send messages that can be retrieved on demand.  This operates more like email or mobile phone text messaging.

Slow data rates (typically 1200 baud) make large messages impractical, so packet messages should be relatively short and not have any large files attached.  120KB is the max message size accepted by some big message servers.  A 4KB message will transfer in 2-2.5 minutes under ideal conditions at 1200 baud.

Particularly useful for emergency communication (EmComm) messages, packet radio is predominately used on VHF radios (more local) but can be sent over HF bands Continue reading

Mic Fright and Your First Contact

Mic fright is a general term for anxiety leading to freezing, choking or hesitating when speaking into a microphone (mic).  The psychological response of worrying about saying the right thing to an audience large or small is very natural and expected.

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Mic fright or shyness is a reality in public speaking, stage performance and similar situations.  Of course, it’s an important topic to new amateur radio operators so let’s provide some perspective and encouragement here.

Making that first voice contact over the radio can be an anxious moment for many new hams.  This can also carry over into the first several radio contacts where you worry about saying the right thing and following the rules.

First off, don’t let the “rules” make you nervous.  It mainly comes down to proper identification which means giving your call sign every 10 minutes during an exchange and at the end of your last transmission.  That’s pretty easy to remember.

Second, every ham was a newbie once and remembers what it was like not knowing exactly what they were doing.  Most will be patient and helpful, giving coaching and gentle reminders along the way as needed.

For general phone (voice) contacts, there are no real procedures and formalities to worry about; it’s more conversational, much like a phone call.  While radio amateurs often use jargon, abbreviation and technical terms (see our Ham-Speak topic), this is not mandatory.  Hopefully that takes some of the pressure off to make you more relaxed for your first few contacts.

A starting point for getting on the air the first time is to listen in on the local (VHF/UHF) repeaters and HF SSB bands for a few hours to learn what people say and how they say it.  If you follow these examples you are almost certain to be successful when transmitting on your radio.

An excellent way to get past mic fright and performance anxiety is to ease into it with Continue reading

Public Service Events

Are you a new ham who wants to practice radio communication?

Just getting started in amateur radio and want to learn about emergency communications (EmComm)?

Are you a ham who wants to make better use of your hobby?

If you answered yes to any of these, consider helping with a local public service event (PSE). Public Service Events provide an excellent chance to practice your EmComm radio skills.  Not only is it fun and interesting, but you will gain valuable experience in radio communications similar to a real disaster scenario, without the stress and urgency of a life and death situation.

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Ham radio operators are often invited to assist with PSEs to provide primary or supplementary communication.  PSEs typically involve parades, races or large gatherings.  They normally use VHF/UHF radios so you don’t need any fancy equipment or big antennas.

Participants may be stationary  or mobile, depending on the nature of the event.  You may be sitting or standing or walking around.

Because hams supporting a PSE will often use a handheld transceiver (HT) it’s a good idea to have a few recommended HT accessories.  First would be a quality 1/4-wave antenna in place of the poorly-performing factory “rubber duck”.  Second is a spare battery pack for your radio.  Third would be headphone(s).

A must-read for new hams is Continue reading

Powerpole® Connectors

The Anderson Power Products Company makes a family of electrical connectors with the registered trademark name of Powerpole®.  Now that we have established that, we’ll skip the ® symbol from now on.


Powerpole connectors come in several sizes and colors.  Housing size depends on current rating, from 15A  up to monstrous 350A and supporting wire sizes from 20AWG wire up to heavy 3/0 cable using different connector contacts.

powerpole-family

Hams in the US, and particularly within EmComm groups such as ARES, have adopted the 15-45A  Powerpole product as the de facto standard for 12VDC  power interconnect for amateur radio equipment.  These connectors are gaining popularity world-wide as well, so you will see more and more usage of this flavor of Powerpole connector being used everywhere.

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Besides the convenience of a high-current quick-connect, having a standard means one ham’s equipment can be plugged into another’s  power source.  This is particularly important in emergency communication situations.  Additionally, a standard drives greater availability of commercial products that support it.


One reason Powerpole connectors are growing in popularity is that they have some unique advantages over other electrical connectors: Continue reading

EmComm Toolbox

Many new hams get involved in emergency communications (EmComm) and it may even be their primary focus or purpose for getting an amateur radio license.  Emergency communications is the first of five basic principles spelled out by the FCC for the existence of the licensed amateur radio service in Part 97:

Section 97.1(a): Recognition and enhancement of the value of the amateur service to the public as a voluntary noncommercial communication service, particularly with respect to providing emergency communications.

In fact, by accepting an FCC operator/primary station license grant under these rules, USA amateurs are obliged to provide emergency communications as needed.  Not that you’ll get thrown in the slammer if you don’t help, but all licensed hams with the equipment and experience should help out in case of disaster or other EmComm situation, and most do so.

Having said all that, I would encourage all hams to join a local or regional EmComm group (such as ARES or RACES in the USA) and train and drill with them to get some experience.  It’s not enough to know how to talk on a repeater or social net; things get more serious in an EmComm situation.

There are more formal radio operating practices and language used in EmComm which is almost always conducted as a directed net.  You need to learn when and how to communicate and with whom and what to say and why things are done a certain way.  Participating in EmComm drills and public service events is important training, as is listening in on EmComm training nets. Taking EmComm courses such as the ARRL’s Introduction to Emergency Communication Course EC-001 is also of great benefit.

To familiarize you with the Who/What/When/Where/Why/How of EmComm, attached here Continue reading

Know Your Radio

Do you know how to change the settings on all of your radios?  You should, particularly with the VHF/UHF rigs that would be used in an emergency situation in case of a local disaster.

It may seem silly to ask this question when such knowledge is often assumed.  But consider these factors:

  • Many of the modern radios can be configured via software on a PC, often including memory channels for local repeaters.  Did you actually set up your radio manually, or was it cloned or computer configured?
  • Many hams have multiple transceivers- handhelds (HTs), mobile, and base station rigs.  Configuration of these is likely different for each model, even with the same manufacturer.
  • Hams may have different makes of the same type of radio as well, each with very different configuration procedures.  If you have both Yaesu and  Baofeng HTs, the procedures will be quite different.

Consequently some hams only know how to turn the radio on and off, adjust the volume and squelch, and then select a memory channel to work a local repeater.  This is OK when you want to chat with a buddy, since little can go wrong and there are no real consequences.

But during a drill, public service event or EmComm deployment, we have to be flexible and prepared to change things up.  There are many reasons things don’t go as planned, and you may have to change a setting on your radio.  Even something as simple as communicating outside the local area will require different repeater access tones.  Some events use a portable repeater that you may not have programmed into your radio.  Many of us have been embarrassed in the field when Continue reading