Technician Class Distant Contacts

Making radio contact over great distance is one of the more interesting aspects of ham radio.  For many radio amateurs, it’s their main pursuit.

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Working DX (ham-speak for distance) commonly means contacting a station outside your own country but Alaska and Hawaii are certainly DX stations by distance, and in reality good DX is cross-country in a large entity such as the USA.

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Unfortunately for US hams, the entry-level Technician class license permits rather limited opportunities for making radio contact beyond line of sight.  Don’t despair if you have only a Tech license and want to do more than chat with locals on a repeater.  There are six ways for a Technician licensee to communicate outside of town, outside your state, or even outside the country.  We will briefly mention these here and perhaps cover them in greater detail in future posts.

DX is commonly accomplished on the high frequency (HF) bands due to ionospheric refraction or bending of radio waves.  HF signals routinely reach the other side of the planet and places in between.  So for most hams chasing DX or just working beyond the local area means having a HF transceiver and antenna for the band(s) of interest.

The first two opportunities for Technician licensees to communicate over distance involve traditional HF equipment:

1) USA Technician class operators have privileges to operate CW mode (Morse code) on 80m, 40, 15m and 10m HF bands with a 200W power limit.  This is how hams used to get started in amateur radio and while CW is still quite popular, it is intimidating to many new folks.  So opportunity #1 may not be appealing to many Techs unless they want to learn Morse code (a fun skill, by the way).

2) USA Technicians also have SSB voice and  digital (data) privileges on 10m, again with a 200W limit.  This is the only HF voice privilege for this class and the frequency range is very narrow.  The data mode privilege is really helpful here because it allows Techs to work popular digital modes such as JT, FT, PSK,  Olivia and MSK.  However, 10m propagation is highly dependent on solar activity.  The band can be inactive or slow for weeks or months at a time.  So Technicians may be frustrated over a lack of activity for opportunity #2.

Tech license DX opportunities #1 and #2 above on HF bands are admittedly limited by mode and/or active band.  This alone is excellent motivation to upgrade to a General class license.  Consider this possibility.  It’s not a huge leap in learning and study to move up, very achievable for most people.

We know that the VHF and UHF bands for which Technician licensees have full privileges are generally limited to local communication because of line of sight propagation.  Repeaters and/or tall antennas can extend this range but DX is not readily achieved using normal methods.  However, there are four clever technologies that enable DX on VHF/UHF bands: Continue reading

Q-Codes

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.

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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

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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.

Signal Reports

One of the most basic features of an amateur radio contact (ham-speak=QSO) is an exchange of signal reports so each participant knows how well they are coming through.  If either end has a poor signal then usually the exchange is minimized to avoid the frustration of trying to copy the other ham.  Conversely, a good signal report means you are likely to have a good QSO and can exchange a lot of information if you want to.

Signal reports vary with operating mode and other factors.  We will look at three basic types: CW (Morse code), general phone (voice), and repeater use (very different here).

The complete standard ham radio signal report is a three number code representing Continue reading