Welcome to a great journey, the journey of ham radio. Hams come from all walks of life with a common interest in communicating over the radio. Whether it is across town, to another continent or off the moon, there is always a ham out there somewhere. You will have a lot of fun learning as you advance in license class and in your ability to work new contacts on all the various modes you prefer. The main Modes include voice (phone), morse code (CW) and digital (PSK31, among others). There are 3 license classes, Technician, General and Amateur Extra. Each advancement in class gives you more privileges than the previous, Amateur Extra class is the top level.
Morse code (CW) is NO longer required to earn any license class!
Many folks had trouble with this mode so removing CW from the requirements has been good for the hobby. You can still try your hand at CW and see if you can master it. CW is a great mode to strive for since it makes reaching distant contacts easy compared to phone. Portable setups for CW can even fit in a backpack which is great when you are camping, etc.
The newer digital modes have much in common with CW since the info is conveyed digitally rather than in analog fashion via typical voice (phone) mode. CW or Digital modes can get through when voice cannot due to noise, interference, etc. Digital modes use an everyday PC, MAC or other computer running Windows, Apple, Linux, etc to send the data on the radio by working together. Digital modes are much like texting on your phone since you are typing your message which is sent out over the HF radio to the world to “hear” and decode. The receiving station or stations then send their own typed message out over the air that you can decode and further respond to. Unlike a cell phone text message sent to only one phone your digital mode call goes out to the world and can be read or decoded by any HAM capable of digital m ode operation. Your call could be received by someone from a few miles to many thousands of miles away – not possible with cell phones. Many modern radios have a USB port that can be plugged into your PC to control your radio and send the data.
HF involves operating on the bands from 6 meters to 160 meters – the bands most known for DX or long distance communications. As a general class licensee you will have access to the 20 meter band where there is always some action going on. Many hams use a simple (and cheap do-it-yourself) wire antenna and a starter HF radio to get on the air. You can build the dipole antenna yourself and get on the air easy, at home in the backyard, in a park, in your car, rooftop of your high rise, parking lot, etc. Many hams start out with a used radio, many are for sale on ebay and craig’s list, etc. More experienced hams use directional or beam antennas to work DX. You can also put up vertical antennas as well but these need ground radial wires but have been put in fields or on rooftops.
You can try all the modes to see which one you prefer and hone your skills on your favorite. Making contacts via HAM radio is fun because you never know who will come back to your call and you meet interesting people on the air and can learn a lot about distant lands. Most HAMs are very friendly an eager to make new contacts and share their knowledge of radio, culture, language, etc.
Many hams start out with a hand held UHF/VHF (H/T) radio before they get their first HF radio. Hams in cities large & small setup a network of repeaters that make their H/T’s operate over great distances. Chances are this will be the first call you make as a new HAM. A repeater is a fixed base radio that hears your call on one frequency and simultaneously retransmits it on another adding range to your call. For example, on your H/T you transmit on channel “A” and listen on channel “B”. The repeater listens on channel “A” and transmits on “B”. This is similar to how a cell phone works using its low power signal to reach a cell tower which is high up running more power making the range longer. More on this is the recommended texts.
While there are many ways to study for your exam many hams believe that the best way to do it is to study to pass the test and then spend your time learning how to operate from doing it, talking to other hams, and by using operating manuals, etc. No study guide will provide you with everything you need to know to be a good operator. Nothing beats experience and RWK has a mentor program with experienced operators willing to assist new hams get going – we call them Elmer’s. You first have to earn your technician license then you can move ahead to general and extra. After you earn your tech you can study for the general and extra and take both exams the same day.
Studying for the Exams
While the ARRL offers test study guides, many folks prefer the more “user friendly” Gordon West series of study books. They have some good technical info in them and they help you learn the right answer so you’ll do well on your exam. The tests are given by hams that volunteer their time, they are known as VE’s – short for volunteer examiners. Ham clubs, W5YI and the ARRL organize the tests and a link below has info on where the exam is offered in your area.
For your tech license start with this book 2018-2022 Technician Class Book If you want an audio CD of it to listen to on your ipod or computer or stereo in your car you can them there too. The same setup is offered for general and extra with audio cds too.
As you study each level take the practice exam on line for free at http://www.eham.net/exams/ once you can pass it three times in a row then you are ready to take the real exam at a VE session. Remember that the Test questions in the book and on the practice test are exactly what you will see in your VE exam.
You will learn some theory & operations in the process of studying for your test. Focus on learning what you need to pass the test. Once you have your license you can learn the theory and operating by reading the following materials, being active, joining a club, etc:
Antennas (the HAM bible) http://www.arrl.org/shop/ARRL-Antenna-Book-Softcover/
Entry level operating manual http://www.arrl.org/shop/ARRL-Operating-Manual-11th-Edition/
Intro to ham radio http://www.arrl.org/what-is-ham-radio
If you are in the Dallas Fort-Worth area, RWK offers testing every month and we invite you to test at your club. For more info on times see https://www.k5rwk.org/home/ham-testing/
If you are out of town check out http://www.arrl.org/exam_sessions/search (ARRL) http://www.w5yi.org/exam_locations_ama.php (W5YI) and plug in your info and either a list of test locations appears (ARRL) or you get a list of examiners in your area to contact about tests (W5YI).
Once you are licensed get involved with a club in your area, you’ve already found one of the best in RWK but if you are out of town you can locate clubs via this link: http://www.arrl.org/find-a-club
Attend our famous RWK mentor sessions at 6:00 PM prior to the RWK monthly meetings. You can also ask questions vie the website www.k5rwk.org
There are so many fun things to do in this hobby it will boggle your mind. Literally there is a facet for everyone. Have fun and good luck studying, taking your test, and getting on the air.
RWK is a friendly club and we are here to help you get going and get on the air!
Visitors are always welcome at our monthly meetings – come check us out!
We hope to hear you on the RWK repeater one day soon!
Feel free to email us with any questions you may have.
Ken Hanson has some other options, written up in a new hams page.