Becoming a Ham
What is Ham Radio?
Amateur Radio, or 'Ham Radio' as it's more commonly known
around the world (a 'Ham' means 'a licensed radio Amateur'), is a hobby shared
by like minded people around the world, who communicate with each other using
special frequencies, or 'wavebands', set aside for their use by national and
international agreement. It knows no political boundaries, nor has any 'class
distinctions'. One day you may be talking to someone in the same town with the
same job as you, another day to someone on a remote desert island or across
the other side of the world, with a totally different lifestyle. You can, if
you're lucky, also have the chance to talk to a King, even an Astronaut on
board a US Space Shuttle or a Cosmonaut on the MIR Space Station. One UK
Amateur, earlier this year, was surprised to find himself taking to the Duke
Not just speech
Radio Amateurs don't just use speech to communicate, although
this is the most-often used method. If you're interested in the Internet, then
you'll have a whale of a time on 'packet radio', and it's all free, no phone
bills! By using 'spectrum efficient' modes that get though when speech can't,
like some modern data modes linked to your computer, or more simply an
uncomplicated Morse code station, you can directly communicate around the
world with a low power transmitter and just a small aerial. Also, either on
speech, data, or Morse code, you can even use the orbiting amateur radio
satellites to help you chat around the world with!
Unlike the 'old days' of the hobby where 'short wave listening'
was the starting point, many beginners nowadays start off either by overhearing
their local amateurs chatting on VHF and UHF, or by 'direct
introduction' by a friend or relative already in the hobby. Whichever way, if
you have a scanner or receiver which includes VHF 'Air band/Marine', as many
radio-interested people nowadays do, try tuning around 144MHz to 148MHz, and
you'll no doubt soon come across radio Amateurs on FM. If you have a short
wave receiver (you'll need one with a 'BFO' fitted, i.e., a switched position
to receive either 'SSB' or LSB/USB on), try tuning around 3.5-3.8MHz on a
weekend morning to hear amateurs around the UK, or around 14.0-14.35MHz during
the day to listen in to amateurs from different countries. If your short wave
receiver has these bands but no BFO, don't worry, you can add one very easily.
Meet your local amateurs!
One of the best steps you can take is to pay a visit to your
local amateur radio club. Those we feature every month in Club News are all
active, go ahead clubs (because we don't List those that aren't!) and all
these welcome newcomers with open arms. As well as meeting other like-minded
folk, and learn something from the club talks and activities, you'll often be
able to 'listen in' using the club's station, and maybe even pass a greetings
message on this to other radio amateurs while one of the club members operates
the station for you!
There are plenty of 'Beginner's Guides' available, including
the videos we've reviewed in this issue. A useful 'basic introduction' is the
book 'Amateur Radio for Beginners', you can get this for $10.00 plus $1.00
postage and packing from the Amateur Radio Relay League, their Web site is
listed in the Links section, and contact details follow the 'Club News'
section each month. They'll also be pleased to send you an information pack
just for the asking. An introduction to the licensing side of getting started
is the 'Guide to Amateur Radio' booklet and the 'Novice Licence Information
Sheet', both free from the Radio communications Agency (details, again, in the
Links section and following 'Club News' each month). You'll also find your
local amateur radio store is often a mine of information as well as a source
of beginner's guides, the staff there are often happy to chat to you if you
call in, especially during less busy times, check the adverts in Ham Radio
Today for your nearest one.
If you're thinking of getting a station together, either
receiving only or transmitting as well, then as well as the monthly features
in Ham Radio Today try the excellent US book 'W1FB's Help for New Hams'. This
costs £5.75 plus p/p (but check first as prices change with currency
rates), and is available from Poole Logic (49 Kingston Road, Poole, Dorset,
Tel. 0202 683093), they also stock a comprehensive range of books on amateur
radio for both beginners and advanced
alike. 'Setting up an Amateur Radio Station' by Ian Poole
BP300, £3.95 plus p/p) is another you may like to obtain. Needless
to say, your local amateur radio store (with leaflets etc.), as well as local
amateurs, can all be a mine of information.
What does it all cost?
Quite simply, as much or as little as you like! To listen into
amateurs, you don't need a licence, just a receiver which you may already
have, which effectively costs you nothing! There are, of course, some radio
amateurs who have 'monster' stations with shelves full of expensive new gear
and large aerial systems. Others, indeed the vast majority, have more modest
setups, some just use a single 'walkie talkie' for their station. Some
amateurs build all their own equipment, often combining this with 'QRP' (low
power) operation, which gives them a 'challenge' in communicating that's
missing from 'push-button black-boxes'. Using ex-PMR (surplus Private Mobile
Radio) equipment which you've converted yourself through the regular Ham Radio
Today articles, you can get on the air for less than £10, all in,
and this opens up the world of local communication as well as allowing you to
link your computer up to the radio via an interface for packet.
If you'd like to transmit as well as just receive, you'll need
an amateur radio licence, and for this you'll have to pass a multiple-choice
exam to show you know what you're doing (like not transmitting on the wrong
frequencies!). Contact your local club for information on this, many run
courses for beginners, and you should be able to get through and pass the exam
within a few months. The RSGB also publish good exam manuals and revision
notes for these. One option is the 'Novice' licence, based on 'hands-on'
instruction followed by a simple exam, another is the 'full' licence which is
based on either self-study or in a class, followed by a more difficult exam
but with greater operating privileges (like more frequencies and more power).
Once you've passed the exam, if you're under 18 a Novice licence costs you
nothing each year, otherwise a 'full' or 'Novice' licence costs just
£15 a year, and let you to use the relevant amateur-allocated
frequencies above 30MHz (i.e., VHF and UHF) for communication. Currently, a
further optional test is a practical 'Morse code' exam, which if you pass
allows you to use allocated Short Wave frequencies (those below 30MHz) as well
as the VHF and UHF ones.
We hope this has given you a brief insight, and remember
there's plenty of information out here. You just need to get it, and we've
shown you how to........
Back to Ham Note's