Amateur Radio ...
 
               What is this hobby about?
 
                                

So what is amateur radio? By definition amateur radio hobbyists provides free public service two way communications in times of emergency or at other times when regular means of communications is not available. Most of the time the radio operators enjoy chatting with each other in the neighborhood, the state, the country or around the world. The operators will chat with each other using voice (SSB, AM, FM), Morse code (CW), TV, or computers (SSTV, RTTY, PSK, etc).  The amateur operator primarily uses the short wave frequencies for communications but they can also use extremely low frequencies or extremely high frequencies to send and receive signals. Radios can be so large that they can take up whole rooms in a house or so small that it will fit in a shirt pocket. The signals may only travel line of sight, bounce  off of the upper layers of the atmosphere to distant locations (DX), bounce off of the moon (EME), or pass though satellites or even the ISS in orbit around the Earth.
 

There is something for everyone. In addition to making world wide friends and visiting with other operators on-the-air, amateur radio operators like to experiment. They may build their transmitters, receivers, antennas and other accessories. Experimenters will tinker and explore new designs of radio circuits. Other operators enjoy collecting and restoring old and antique (we generally prefer the term "vintage") radio equipment. I like to "chase DX." That is chatting with stations in distant countries. There are awards for contacting operators in every state, every county of the United States, and in various numbers of different countries. Some amateur operators participate in contest style activities and pit their operating skills against each other. Operators may participate in "Sky Warn." Operators will install a mobile station in their vehicle, make observations of bad weather (WX) conditions and report those conditions back to radio and TV broadcast stations to be made available to the public. When the hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit along the Gulf Coast, most all the power lines were damaged, telephone system including cells phone were inoperable, and other means of communications were knocked out. Amateur radio operators stepped in and were able to provide the desperately needed communications from those areas. Families that live great distances from each other can regularly talk with each other and not have to worry about massive telephone or cell phone bills.

Who are amateur radio operators? Teachers (Me!), Students, Professors, Deans (of colleges), Children, Fathers, Mothers, Young people, Old people (not me), Singers, Actors, Housewives, Househusbands, Retirees, Politicians, Sales persons, Astronauts, Astronomers, Actors, Auto mechanics, Engineers, Lawyers, UNICEF workers, Ministers, Missionaries, Doctors, Truckers, CB (children's band) converts, D Js, People that do a lot, People that do nothing (except for ham radio).

 KB2GSD (Walter Cronkite - TV Journalist), W4CGP (Chet Atkins - Singer/Songwriter), K4EB (Larry Junstrom - Bass Guitar player for the rock group 38 Special), WB4KCG (Ronnie Milsap - Singer/Songwriter), WD4LZC (Larnelle Harris - Country Music Singer), W5LFL (Owen Garriot - Astronaut, first ham radio operator in space), WB6ACU (Joe Walsh - Singer/Songwriter for Eagles - I have met him at ham radio conventions), W6OBB (Art Bell - Radio personality, hosts late night program "Coast to Coast," can be heard locally on KTRH 740 kHz - I have chatted with him on occasions), K7UGA (Barry Goldwater sk  - US Senator), CN8MH (King Hassan II sk - former King of Morocco), EA0JC (Juan Carlos - King of Spain), FO5GJ (Marlon Brando  - Actor),
HS1A (Bhumiphol Adulayadej - King of Thailand), I0FCG (Francesco Cossiga - former President of Italy), JY1 (King Hussein sk - King of Jordan),
JY1NH (Queen Noor - Queen of Jordan), OD5LE (Emil Lahoud - President of Lebanon), UA1LO (Yuri Gagarin - First Cosmonaut),
VU2RG (Rajiv Ghandi sk - late Prime Minister of India, I have contacted him), VU2SON (Sonia Ghandi - wife of VU2RG), W6EZV (Gen. Curtis LeMay - Military legend), LU1SM (Carlos Saul Menem - President of Argentina), W5CY (Howard  Hughes, Jr. - Inventor, Pilot, Hollywood producer, America's first billionaire), KD5VNP (Barbara R. Morgan - NASA teacher in space, flew on latest shuttle; backup to Christa McAuliffe who was killed in the Challenger shuttle disaster in 1986), N6FUP (Stu Cook - Bass player with Creedence Clearwater Revival), WA5POK (Michael Furrey - physics teacher, DXer, author of this page),
W5ULC (Don Witt - my physics teacher from SRSU), AA6VO (Steve Baum- good friend, hosts my web pages, we did FD on his boat; see FD pictures),
N5DO (Dave Cockron - Contester, Dean of admissions at SRSU), WA5ROE (Bob Ward - owns the largest hardware store in the largest city in the largest county in Texas), AD5Q ("Quack" - contester, DXer, computer guru, saved my rear-end on computer issues), N6YOS (Priscilla Presley - Actress),  WX4DAN (Dan Noah - works for NOAA and does SKY WARN training in Tampa),
KA7EVD (Donnie Osmond - Donnie of "Donnie and Marie" fame), N7YA (Adam S. Taylor - bass player for the rock group "Industry"),
VR6TC (Tom Christian - direct ancestor of Fletcher Christian, the man who led the famous mutiny on "H.M.S. Bounty." Lives on Pitcairn Island,  in the South Pacific. I have chatted with him many times and met him in person at ham radio conventions),

How does a person become an amateur radio operator? Amateur radio is one of the very few hobbies in the world that requires a license because radio signals have no boundaries. Since the signals will travel as far as the equipment and solar conditions permit, the amateur radio operator must demonstrate that they know the rules and regulations, safety of operations, and basic communication theory before being issued a license. Volunteers on behalf of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) branch of our government administer exams that the prospective licensee must pass before a license is issued. What do you study? The American Radio Relay League (ARRL) publishes books that can be purchased to prepare the applicant for the exam. For high school students, think of this test as a bit more material than a major test in your physics class. Local clubs will have classes to help the applicants learn the material. Perhaps your physics teacher (me) on campus can provide information.

Once the exam is passed (I took my first exam at age 13. If I can do it, anyone can do it.), the FCC will send you your license with your assigned call letters and you can immediately get on-the-air! There is a small fee for the exam and your license is good for 10 years and renewal is free. Your call letters will identify you to other operators you communicate with.

What kind of equipment do I need?  Equipment can be purchased new or used. You will need a transmitter, a receiver, an antenna, a telegraph key and a microphone plus a few other odds and ends. Now days a transceiver is the preferred unit that combines the duties of transmitting and receiving. When purchased new they usually come with a microphone. Attach a telegraph key and an antenna and you will be good to go. Sounds simple and it can be with a basic station to get started. Observe all safety guidelines when installing equipment. Use ARRL publications as a guide and always solicit assistance from an experience amateur operator to check out your first installation.

There are many vendors of new radios for the amateur radio operator. The cost can be from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands of dollars. The major manufacture of radios are Elecraft, Ten Tec, Yaesu, Kenwood, and Icom. Heil makes a great line of headsets and microphones. Vibroplex and Bencher provides telegraph keys and accessories.  A basic dipole or loop antenna is inexpensive, effective, and easily constructed. Once again, use the ARRL publications for construction information. Check out HRO and AES as major dealers of new equipment and accessories. If you are good at assembly, its very gratifying to build your radio from a kit, not to mention that building it yourself is a great way to cut back on costs. Search for ham radio kits on the Internet.
 
 
Used equipment can be a good deal and a very inexpensive way of getting on-the-air. Go to ham radio conventions and check out the "swapfest" area, shop the Internet. If used gear is your first purchase, have an "old timer" (No, we are not old. We only have a few more radios and Qs in the log) help you check out used gear. Older tube-type equipment may be a good purchase but beware of very old or "vintage" radios. This type of equipment might need minor repairs and some of those parts may be very difficult to find.
 
 
 How do I operate? The key to being a good operator is to listen, listen and listen. Do not transmit without first listening so you do not cause interference to others on the frequency. You don't want to be called a "lid!" Lid is radio lingo for a poor operator. For your first contact, listen for a strong station. When they have finished their QSO (radio conversation), give him a call. Exchange signal reports, names, and QTH (your location). Let that operator know that you are a "newbee" (new to the hobby). The "old timer" is always glad to help out and offer useful tips. Get a few QSOs logged and then try a CQ (a general call to any radio operator for a conversation) on a clear frequency (listen first and say QRL?, "Is this frequency in use?") to see who answers your call. The station that answers your could be in the same town, the next state or on the other side of the world! Let it roll from there. The ARRL offers an excellent operators guide and it will not take long for you to operate just like the "old timer." I keep a log book (now I use computer logging software) that contains a record of every contact I have ever made. It used to be the law to keep a log book, now radio operators are not required to keep a log. I consider my log book my radio diary. Not only is my log a record of every station I have contacted but I also note my equipment, WX, and notes about the other station I had a QSO with.

Order QSL cards. To confirm that a contact was made with a station, amateurs will exchange QSL cards. The QSL card is postcard sized and shows the stations call letters, time, date, frequency, and mode of the contact. I love to collect the cards. I have them from 343 different countries (some in that number are not countries any more due to wars and/or political changes that dissolve countries or form new countries) and operating entities. A side note is that I have an extensive collection of really cool stamps from around the world.
 

 
One of my personal favorites, along with many amateur operators is the "Field Day" event.   Field Day (FD) is a North American activity that occurs on the forth weekend in June. Clubs from around the country operate under simulated emergency conditions to make as many contacts around the country as possible in a 24 hours. It is a great time of camaraderie, socializing, eating, and relaxing (unless there is a real emergency). This is truly a fun skill-building event. Operators take radios, food, generators, food, antennas, food, computers, food, camping equipment, food, insect repelant, and food to a location, set up equipment, and operate for the weekend. I have participated with clubs, and schools. Once a friend of mine and I operated from a boat in the Pacific ocean, and got in some fishing too. Most of the time I operate with the Big Bend Amateur Radio Club and my college alumni from Sul Ross State University in Alpine, Texas. In the case of a natural or unnatural disaster in which normal lines of communications are shut down, amateur radio operators are prepared to quickly step in and establish a network of local to world wide communications. 
 
Try out the hobby, I know you will like it. If my physics students convert the xtal radio to a one transistor short wave radio, you will have a basic receiver to listen to ham radio conversations (and a few other signals your aerial will snatch from the sky). Find and local club, join, learn and get your license. The club members are always most willing to help. Use the ARRL to locate a club near you.

73, Mike Furrey WA5POK

 p. s. "73" is a Morse code radio communication term that means "Best Regards!" Listen to the cheery rhythm as it is tapped out on a telegraph key.

Amateur Radio Links and Resources:
    160 meters from a small lot - Under construction
     6 Meter Quack Beam - My grid square expedition antenna  
    ARRL - This is the national club, a great source of information about amateur radio.

    AC6V Resource page - This is one of the most comprehensive amateur radio resource page on the web.
    DX Summit - Provides minute-by-minute information on DX stations activities
     FCC Practice Exam       
     N1MM Introduction - My BARS presentation         
    QRZ - Mailing address look-up and FCC practice exams

     VHF Rovering - KI5YG and I (WA5POK)