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

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

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 Continue reading