Advice For New Technicians

OK, you passed Element 2 (your Technician Exam) – hopefully RWK was your VE Team – and received that oh-so-important email from the FCC that contained the link to your license. It’s downloaded, you’ve discovered your auto-assigned Radio Callsign, and you’re ready to go! Now what??

We’ve all been there. Having a license is just the start of your ham radio learning (and you just thought you were done studying…). Most of us learned how to be a ham from other hams (in old radio vernacular they are called “Elmers” (for a reason I’ve long forgotten), but a better term is “Mentor” – someone who can help you get started and hopefully avoid the common mistakes and pitfalls that are common for new hams.

So we’ve tried to encapsulate a brief bit of that knowledge here on the RWK Website… in what we call the RWK University. It’s an outline and bits of knowledge for your journey as a new Technician (and your further journey as you upgrade to a General Class license). You can see all the RWK University units in the column on the right and on the RWK University page. There’s no substitute for a real live Mentor, or more than one, or a whole club full of mentors, so we hope that you will join the RWK and let us help you. If not the RWK, find a local club in your area that you can tap the knowledge of.

In the mean time, we urge you to read and view our curated material – some original from us, some from what we consider authorities in various aspects of Ham Radio. It will hopefully answer many of your questions – if it doesn’t, please let us know – and get you down the road towards doing all the things that your hard-earned Technician License allows you to do!

Congratulations! Now What… Next Steps For New Technicians

[The following sage advice was written by John di Filippo AA5MN, one of the Past Presidents of the RWK.]

The expressions on the candidate’s faces when they’re told that they’ve passed is a combination of relief and euphoria. Most have been so focused on studying for the exam that they haven’t given a lot of thought to what to do afterwards. So what should newly licensed Techs to do after all the the high-fives in the exam room?

Find and Join a Club

For starters: Join a club! All new hams need to understand that a Technician Class license doesn’t make them a ham. That’s best learned from other hams — and the best place to learn is in a club. I joined the RWK months before I owned a single piece of radio gear. A club is where newly minted hams will find others whose interests and attitudes are similar to their own and where they’ll find Elmers [mentors for new hams] ready and willing to help. Our hobby has a steep learning curve and the ham parlance can be intimidating at first — openwire, LMR-400, balun, phone, CW, etc. All new hams are going to face challenges — how to program their HT, what are the best local repeaters, etc. Membership in a club will allow a new ham to assimilate the more nuanced aspects of the hobby by hearing them in context. One of my favorite expressions is “Eyeball QSOs” where hams meet face-to-face at club meetings, ham lunches, or mentoring sessions to discuss their latest issues, plans, and projects.

Get a Radio!

Second: get a radio. Start with an HT. Opinions differ on this but I feel like an inexpensive Chinese HT is a good first radio. The cheaper HTs are a little harder to program but they perform quite well for the price. Others feel you should start out with a higher-end radio. Just talk to a lot of hams and follow your pocketbook on this one. New, high-end HF ham gear is expensive and the specs can be daunting. In a club you can get advice on what radio to buy, where to buy it, what type of antenna you need, what feed line to use, etc. You don’t need a brand new radio starting out. Consider buying used at first. I fell in love with an old Kenwood transceiver on my first Field Day event back in 2014. Then I was lucky enough to find a fellow club member who was selling his. I got a great radio and a great deal which wouldn’t have been as easy without being in a club.

Get on the Air!

Third: get on the air! It’s helpful to monitor for a little while to hear how others operate. Once you gather enough courage then just swallow hard and press the PTT button. For me, this was a little frightening. How do I announce that I’m even on the repeater? Whose call-sign do I say first? Should I say my call-sign every time I key the HT? The simplest thing to say is “THIS IS (CALLSIGN), COULD I PLEASE GET A RADIO CHECK?” Another fun thing to do on the RWK 2M repeater is to say “THIS IS (CALLSIGN), OK GOOGLE, WHAT’S THE WEATHER FORECAST FOR RICHARDSON TEXAS?” There is even a way for you to hear how you sound to others! While pressing the PTT button, key in *511 and then release. Wait for the tone and then press PTT again and say something like “THIS IS (CALLSIGN), TESTING 1 2 3 4 5 TESTING” and then release PTT. The repeater will then play a recording of what you just said.

Get More Involved

Fourth: Get more involved. Join the American Radio Relay League (ARRL). You’ll receive QST magazine or their new On The Air magazine for new hams and periodic emails from national as well as local ARRL entities that will provide you with timely information and news about your hobby. You should also consider attending local hamfests such as the Cowtown Hamfest in Fort Worth, the Irving ARC Hamfest at Betcha Bingo in Irving, the Ham EXPO in Belton. For the really serious ham consider traveling to Ohio for the annual Hamvention.

Put Your Skills to Work

Fifth: Put your skills to work. Volunteer to monitor a tornado siren on our monthly siren tests or help out in a local event such as the City of Richardson Christmas Parade in December. Those are great ways to get EmComm [emergency communications] experience in a relaxed atmosphere. Once you gain a little more confidence you can consider working a local race such as the Turkey Trot or the Dallas Marathon.

What’s Next?

Finally: Now that you’ve done all the above; what’s next? The possibilities are endless. Run for office in the RWK, consider upgrading your license, join some nets, learn Morse Code, join SkyWarn (storm spotting) or RACES, participate in a fox-hunt and Winter and Summer Field Days, build a digital hotspot, become a Volunteer Examiner, visit other clubs.

Less than 0.3% of Americans hold an amateur radio license so be proud of what you’ve accomplished and have fun participating in this fantastic hobby! You will eventually be an old-timer so start now to teach your fellow hams and to spread the word about the pleasures of amateur radio.

RWK University

We’re here to help get you started on your ham radio journey. Our RWK University material is designed to lead you from being a brand new Tech to learning all you can do with your new license, and then again when (notice I said “when”, not “if”) you pass your General Class Exam, all the things you can do with that.

Technician Series

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