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 mode 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 Elmers. 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.
There are so many fun things to do in this hobby it will boggle your mind. Literally there is a facet for everyone. Our friend Jason Johnston KC5HWB has a video that describes all the things that you can do as a ham:
Have fun and good luck studying, passing your license exam, 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.
How to Study For Your License Exam
There are many ways to study for your exam:
- Online study – We recommend HamStudy.org. It’s free and there are several ways to use it. If you use the “study mode” it will quiz you and tutor you on the questions that you miss. If you consistently get 85-90% in the HamStudy practice tests, you will pass easily.
- Gordon West License study books – 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.
- ARRL License Manuals – these books are published by the ARRL (the national association for Ham Radio in the US)
As you study each level take the practice exam on line for free at hamstudy.org/ If you consistently get 85-90% in the HamStudy practice tests, you will pass easily. Remember that the Test questions in the books and on the practice tests are exactly what you will see in your license exam.
How to Take Your License Exam
The license exams are administered by hams that volunteer their time, they are known as VE’s – short for volunteer examiners. Ham clubs, W5YI VEC and the ARRL organize the tests and a link below has info on where the exam is offered in your area.
You can now take your Ham License Exam Online!
The RWK Volunteer Examiner Team offers online testing (usually) weekly. Check the schedule and requirements here: https://www.k5rwk.org/ham-testing/
If you prefer to take your license exam in person, in the Dallas Fort-Worth area, RWK offers testing every month. For more info on times see https://www.k5rwk.org/ham-testing/
If you are out of town, check out this list of available sessions for either in person or online testing opportunities.
Once You Have Passed Your License
Your learning has only begun! There are so many things to learn about Ham Radio. We recommend our RWK University for a 10-part Course for new Technicians and 10-part Course for new Generals.
We also recommend that you 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
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
Ken Hanson has some other options, written up in a new hams page.