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

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

The Handheld Transceiver (HT)

A handheld transceiver (HT) is often a new ham’s first radio.  As the name suggests, it is small enough to hold in your hand and has enough performance to be useful under many circumstances.

The appeal of a HT is in its relatively low cost plus its obvious portability.  Some new hams want to spend as little as possible to get started in amateur radio and new HTs can be had for less than $50 (although not recommended by experienced hams).  Other new hams get started with a local emergency communications group which uses them.  Still others simply want a radio for keeping in touch with others while Continue reading

Repeaters

Many new hams get their first radio communications experience on local VHF or UHF amateur bands with an entry-level license.  Often this involves what are known as repeaters.

Repeaters are simply automatically controlled amateur radio stations that simultaneously re-transmit on one frequency what it received on another frequency.

Their purpose is to extend the range of radio communications beyond normal line of sight propagation in the VHF and UHF spectrum, or to enhance local communication in low-lying areas or where there are many obstructions and/or hills.

Repeater Cartoon
Columbusco-ares.weebly.com/repeaters

For maximum range and performance, repeaters typically have Continue reading