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.

micfright

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

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

Kerchunking

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.
handmic
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.

Stuck Microphone

While it’s mainly a local VHF/UHF communications issue, stuck microphones can be a real problem.

A stuck mic situation is when a radio operator inadvertently transmits for an extended time because they have unintentionally triggered the push to talk or transmit switch on their radio.  Consequences of a stuck mic range from being a nuisance to a life-threatening disruption. At best a stuck mic ties up a repeater or simplex frequency with dead air or noise.  At worst it blocks urgent communication during a disaster net or public service event.

One common stuck mic situation involves a mobile unit with the hand-held mic loose in the vehicle where it might get wedged into the seat to trigger the PTT button.  Best practice here is to keep the mic clipped into a hanger when not being used to minimize inadvertent transmission.

mobilemicclipped
Keeping a mobile mic secure in clip minimizes chance of inadvertent keying.

Another common situation involves mic accessories with HTs during a public service event or emergency deployment.  When using a speaker-mic or headset, ensure that the PTT button is protected from accidental triggering.  Also, the Yaesu FT-60 is a wonderful handheld radio and many hams have them, but they (and others like them) have a squirrely speaker/mic jack that is prone to false triggers when the connector is not seated completely.  So make sure your accessory is connected securely and not prone to pulling out when the radio is clipped to your belt or in a pocket or something like that.

yaesu-spkr-mic
External mic or headset prone to false PTT triggers because of plug design on certain HTs.

In any case, awareness is our first line of defense.  Be aware that a stuck mic is a problem and that you might be the culprit.

stuckmicmeme
Don’t be this guy!

Keep an eye on your transmit light to make sure it’s not on when Continue reading

Microphone Technique

Amateur radio operators have numerous modes available for communication but the most common one is voice transmission (phone). This is particularly true for new hams and those involved in EmComm.  Whether you’re using FM, SSB or AM phone, getting your voice clearly heard on the receiving end involves proper microphone (mic) technique.

No matter whether you are using a hand mic, desk mic, boom mic, or built-in mic, there are are two primary concerns with microphone technique: distance and angle.

Keep the mic 1-2″ (25-50mm) away from your mouth.  Any closer and it picks up wet mouth sounds and/or noise from your face/beard/lips brushing against the mic.  These are mainly annoying to the listener but in the extreme may obscure your voice.

If your mouth is too far from the mic, the audio level drops significantly and you may become unintelligible, particularly if there is noise at either end.  You also begin to lose some of the Continue reading