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.

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


The practice of briefly keying a microphone (hitting the push-to-talk/PTT button) to see if a repeater responds with a courtesy tone is commonly known as kerchunking (or ker-chunking) in ham-speak.
Don’t do it!  Don’t be a kerchunker, even though it’s often a quick and convenient way of verifying that you can hit a repeater.
For one, it is technically illegal.  All transmissions must be identified (with rare exceptions).  Just because you hear it happening a lot and the probability of getting caught is very low doesn’t make it right.
However, the main reason not to key a mic without identifying yourself is that it
is both annoying and disruptive.  It’s bad etiquette and almost always discouraged in published guidelines by the repeater owner.
If you really want to test your connection to a repeater, take the extra second to speak your call sign into the mic. Or say “testing”, followed by your call sign.  Or ID and ask for a signal report, which will give you even more info than just to hear a courtesy tone.
On a related note, if you want to test transmit power or SWR or something like that, consider using a simplex frequency to avoid tying up a repeater.


Back in the ham-speak topic we noted that ham radio vocabulary includes plenty of jargon and lingo.  As mentioned there, it is best to not use too much ham-speak on the air, since plain language is preferred for voice modes (phone) but in reality you still hear many code words and abbreviations being used.


You will run across many terms on the air as well as in books and magazines and perhaps in email that are cryptic to the new or prospective ham.  To help you with this we will present the topic of Q-codes here.

The Q code (or Q-code) is a standardized collection of three-letter codes, all of which start with the letter Q, where each code has a particular meaning. These brevity codes were originally developed for commercial radiotelegraph use but were quickly  adopted by amateur radio operators.  Although Q codes were created when radio used Morse code exclusively, they continued to be employed after the introduction of voice transmissions. Some history on Q-codes can be found here and here and here.

Listed below are ten Q-codes the average ham is most likely to hear (in the author’s opinion), along with their meaning and common usage:

  • QRM- Man-made interference, interference from other stations.
  • QRN- Natural interference, typically static or crashing from thunderstorms.
  • QRP- Low power transmit, generally 5W or less.
  • QRT- Quitting; stopping transmission or shutting down station.
  • QRZ- Who is calling me?
  • QSB- Fading signal.
  • QSL- I acknowledge receipt; also confirmation of contact.
  • QSO- Conversation, radio contact and exchange.
  • QSY- Change frequency.
  • QTH- Location.

You should be familiar with at least these and perhaps some others as well.  Comprehensive lists of Q-codes can be found here and here and here and here.t21b10





The main point here is not for you to learn Q-codes to use them, but to understand them when you inevitably hear them.

That’s all for now so 73 and I’ll be QRT.

Radio Shack

When you hear the term Radio Shack, readers over 30 years old will automatically think of the electronics retail giant that had a presence in nearly every city and town across the US.  Indeed, Radio Shack® was sometimes the only local source of electronics, parts and supplies.

In ham radio lingo (ham-speak) the term radio shack or even just the shack refers at least to the operator station, typically a desk or bench or table.  The ham shack may also refer to the room in which the radio gear is used (den, office, bedroom, garage) or even a purpose-specific building for such equipment and use.  The shack often includes an electronics workbench or similar area for building and tinkering and storing parts and accessories.

The radio shack may be somewhat stealthy to blend in with a living area such as my own:


Or it may be a large and luxurious setup such as shown below:


If you want to see some really complicated and fancy (dare I suggest outrageous?) ham shacks, check this out for fun.

When setting up your own shack you need to do what’s best for you (and the spouse!) so it will range from super-simple to elaborate dream; most likely something in between these extremes.  An excellent guide with 17 suggestions and considerations in setting up a new radio shack is found here.


The term radio shack likely derives its name from the earliest days of radio Continue reading


Amateur radio operators have quite an interesting vocabulary.  This “ham-speak” may be called terminology, lingo, or jargon and it often includes many abbreviations.  If you don’t understand a term, just ask the person using ham-speak to explain it.  Don’t worry, you will figure these out over time.

A lot of the words are technical because hams use radios and electronics and antennas and cables and power supplies and meters and…well, quite a few gizmos that involve big and fancy words.

Other forms of ham-speak are more cryptic and non-technical.  Hams are equal-opportunity obfuscators; we can make an unintelligible mess out of anything!  Just kidding– there is often good reason for all of this terminology and abbreviation.

The technology part of ham-speak is largely unavoidable; there are no good alternatives for transceiver, impedance, modulation, propagation, and such terms.  There are, however, slang terms for some of these technical words and plenty of abbreviations.  For example, the word Continue reading