|How Can I Become A Ham?||| Print ||
|Written by Alfred Perez N5VEV|
How Can I Become A Ham?
Getting started as a Ham is easy with some help from CLARC.
Q: What is Amateur (ham) Radio?
A: Amateur Radio is a hobby. Unlike most hobbies, it is also a critical resource in the time of emergency. It allows you to communicate and make friends with other hams around the world. You become an ambassador for your country. It also allows clear, reliable, communications in your local area. Amateurs are licensed by the Federal Communications Commission and must pass a test to show their proficiency.
There are many aspects of ham radio from just talking with other hams over the air to construction of equipment and antennas, innovating and experimenting, contesting and contacting amateurs in different countries (Dx-ing), and contacting exotic lands and rare geographic spots put on the air just to allow hams to contact that spot (DX-peditions). Hams can communicate in many different modes. They may use video via slow-scan TV or regular TV. They can communicate over numerous digital modes including Packet Radio, RTTY, Amtor and PSK31. Of course they can also communicate via voice over AM, FM or SSB. They can also use the reliable, basic mode of CW (Morse code). Usually hams start with voice or code communications and add other modes as their interests dictate.
Like many hobbies ham radio can be expensive. However, simple stations running 50 to 100 watts can communicate around the world, and can be set up on a low budget.
Q: What kinds of people are Radio Hams?
A: The typical amateur may be a housewife, a rock singer, your local newscaster, an astronaut, the person you encounter in a wheelchair at the mall, the yachtsman at the marina, the missionary on his or her way to South America, your neighbor, or the young boy on his bicycle who delivers your paper. Radio hams can be found in all walks of life, all ethnic groups and almost all nationalities. The image of hams being only electronics engineers, or geeky young men is passé. With today's license class structure housewives and nontechnical people are discovering ham radio as a great new hobby.
Here are some noted people who are or were radio amateurs (in no particular order): Walter Cronkite - newscaster, Steve Wozniak - Apple Computer cofounder, Vivian Douglas - author, Barry Goldwater - politician, Joe Walsh - rock star (The Eagles), Jean Shepherd - radio personality/narrator, more than 80 of the astronauts who have traveled in space, The late King Hussein of Jordan, Curtis LeMay - Air Force General, Chet Atkins - C&W singer, Howard Hughes - Producer/Businessman, Patty Loveless - Country Singer, Joe Rudi - Baseball Player (Angels), Arthur Godfrey - TV/Radio personality, and many more!
Q: Where can I find more information on Amateur Radio?
A: The American Radio Relay League (ARRL) is the national organization of radio amateurs. A lot of good information for people interested in amateur radio as well as for long established hams may be found on their website. Their Getting Started website is one resource an aspiring ham should visit.
Ham Radio clubs are a good place to meet hams and ask questions and see presentations about various aspects of Amateur Radio. Feel free to visit our meetings and events.
Reading Ham Radio magazines is another good way to learn about Amateur Radio. There are many good books and magazines specializing in amateur radio. Among them are QST Magazine (a part of ARRL membership), CQ Magazine and World Radio magazine. Two informative, but discontinued, magazines you might find in libraries or used book stores are 73 Magazine and Ham Radio Magazine. There are numerous other ham radio related magazines available.
If you have a question that you can't find an answer to, the CLARC forum lets you ask questions. It is specifically set up for new and want-to-be hams, so don't be shy about asking questions. You may also want to contact a club member.
Q: Why does the U.S. Government support Amateur Radio?
A: Amateur Radio is a service licensed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The United States Government and the governments of numerous other countries around the world recognize the tremendous resource licensed radio amateurs can be in the time of an emergency. Hams have proven themselves time and time again in disasters such as floods, hurricanes, fires, earthquakes, etc. They are often lauded in Congress and recognized for their skills and dedication.
In times of disaster, normal communications quickly fail or become overloaded. Many hams take pride in learning the techniques of handling emergency traffic and provide their service to city, state and federal organizations. With the wide frequency allocations available to amateur radio, verbal traffic can be supplemented by video and keyboard-to-keyboard messages. In order to keep our priceless frequency allocations it is important that amateurs continue to perform in times of peril.
Q: What is the difference between Ham Radio and or Citizen's Band?
A: The Citizen Band was established by the FCC to provide short range communications for the safety and general use of citizens. A license was required, but no test was needed. Power was limited to 5 watts input to keep the range short. CB worked quite well in the rural areas, but quickly got out-of-hand in urban communities. The twenty-three original channels grew to forty channels and licensing was suspended when the CB craze swept the nation. Illegal operation and excessive power use was common. Channels were jammed and interference almost constant in heavily populated areas. The FCC was limited in its ability to police the Citizen band and mainly enforced only the most flagrant violators.
On the other hand, Amateurs have, through international treaties, a wide range of frequencies that they can utilize. Higher power, up to 1,500 watts output is allowed with some restrictions. Long-range communications is easily accomplished on the High Frequency (HF) bands, and by switching bands as propagation changes they can continue to work long distances (DX) over the majority of a 24 hour period. On the VHF and UHF bands repeaters are allowed so communications over a wide metropolitan area can be established and maintained. While the bands are crowded in certain areas, it is much easier to communicate without the interference common on the CB band. The ham bands are also better policed. A core of Official Observers, appointed through the ARRL, help hams be self-policing. Serious violations are investigated by the FCC. About the worst thing a ham can do is not to answer a notice of violation from the FCC. To operate an amateur radio station without supervision requires an FCC license that you can only obtain after taking a written test. Some levels of license used to require a morse code test too. Morse code is no longer a requirement.
Q: Must I get a License?
A: Yes. The Amateur Radio Service requires an FCC issued license. To get a license you must take a written test. Upon successful completion of the test you will be issued your license that includes your call sign. Your license is actually two licenses in one. A station license and an operator's license. Once you have your license you may operate only with the privileges granted by your class of license unless there is a higher class licensed operator supervising you.
Without a license you will not have call letters. Using a bogus (pirated) call will quickly get you in trouble and may prevent you from obtaining a valid license in the future. Radio hams are a close knit group and using a bogus call is usually noticed quite quickly.
Q: Do I need to know the International Morse Code?
A: No! Effective February 23, 2007 the FCC removed Morse Code as a requirement to obtain any amateur radio license class.
Still, it is a good idea to learn the code. It is the fundamental digital mode of communications and one that will get through when others can't. Many repeaters identify with Morse code so it will also help you know where you are. Besides, on HF it is an often used mode, especially among DX stations. Those who know it, find it a fun way to communicate.
One of the best kept secret of ham radio is that Morse code is easier to learn than everyone thinks. Yes, to get your speed up to 20 wpm is a challenge, but 5 wpm is slow and easy to learn. Get a good set of code tapes or CD and follow the instructions. One very important tip is to NOT say "dot" nor "dash". Instead, when verbally speaking the code say "dah" for the dash and "di", or if it's at the end of the letter "dit", for a dot. Thus a "C" is pronounced "dah di dah dit". The sounds are then much more realistic!
Q: What are the various Classes of License and their requirements?
A: There are three amateur license classes that are currently available, the Technician, the General and the Amateur Extra.
To obtain a Technician class license you must pass examination element 2. The Technician class licensee may operate in any of 17 Amateur bands above 50 MHz. If the Technician has also passed examination element 1 he may operate in four novice bands in the HF range (CW and digital modes only).
To obtain a General class license you must pass examination elements 2 and 3. A General class license has privileges in all 27 amateur bands and may operate in voice modes on bands in the HF range.
To obtain an Amateur Extra class license you must pass examination elements 2, 3 and 4. An Amateur Extra class license has full amateur privileges in all 27 amateur bands.
Written examination elements require a score of 74% or higher to pass. The four examination elements are:
Besides the three classes mentioned above, there are three additional grandfathered classes: Novice, Technician Plus, and Advanced that are no longer available but are still held by many amateurs.
The Novice class has privileges in the HF Novice bands (CW and digital only) and limited privileges (including voice) on one VHF and one UHF band. It required Element 1 and a 20 question written test less complex than element 2.
The Technician Plus class is the same as the Technician class above but the holder has also passed exam element 1. Any modification or renewal of the Technician Plus class license will convert it into the new Technician class with element 1 privileges.
The Advanced class is similar to the General class but includes 275 kHz of additional spectrum in the HF bands. It required an additional written test that was between element 3 and 4 in complexity. It also required a 13 WPM code test.
Until recently the code speed requirements for licenses were: Novice and Technician Plus required 5 WPM; General and Advanced class required 13 wpm and the Amateur Extra required 20 wpm.
You can read more about Amateur licensing in subpart F of the Part 97 Rules and Regulations.
Q: Where can I find an Amateur Radio class or self-study material?
A: You have a choice of either self-study or taking a class to prepare yourself to take the amateur exam.
CLARC sponsors an excellent Technician's class that provides the training needed to pass in just two days. This class is fun and easy has licensed hundreds of hams. For more info check out our classes page.
Many self-study books are available at electronics and ham radio stores and stores like Radio Shack and Frys. The ARRL also sells up-to-date study material by mail. Ham study software courses are available from the Ham University. One word of caution: If you are buying self-study material be sure it is up-to-date. The Amateur question pool changes frequently and older books may not cover some of the recent changes.
Although code is no longer required for any ham license, many hams want to learn code to enjoy this fun and efficient way of communication. If you are learning code, these same sources carry code study material on cassette or on CD. Even though you don't have to know code to get a license, it is wise to purchase a code course or take a code class. You may find it easier than you believe to learn.
Q: Where can I take my test?
A: The FCC no longer administers Amateur Radio examinations as of 1983. This task has been turned over to organizations known as Volunteer Examiner Coordinators or VEC. A VEC, in turn, accredits radio amateurs to act as Volunteer Examiners (VEs) and give Amateur Radio exams. When you take your test you will be taking it in front of a group of three or more VEs.
CLARC sponsors regular testing sessions. You can find out more on our Exams page.
Some exam sessions require reservations while others are open to walk-ins. CLARC testing sessions requires no reservations and takes walk-ins as space allows. There is a small fee required to take the test. The fee varies with session and covers out-of-pocket expenses for the examiners. The fee covers any and all elements taken on that day. A retest does require another fee payment. The current fee for a session given through the ARRL VEC program is $15.
Q: What do the various call letters designate?
A: An amateur call sign is divided into three parts, a prefix, a number and a suffix. A prefix of one or two letter tells the country that assigned the call sign. By international treaty the U.S. ham calls have a prefix starting with K, N, W or AA - AL. The number designates the area in the country where assigned station resides. For the U.S. one is the New England area, six is California and the Pacific Islands, etc. A suffix is one to three letters and is issued sequentially for different classes, with the more advanced classes receiving shorter call signs when available.
Recently the FCC has begun issuing "vanity" call signs for a fee. While the prefix must be one of the group above, a vanity call can have any number and suffix (up to 3 letters) the requester wants, so long as it it not currently assigned. Other restrictions apply.
Amateur Radio Rules and Regulations
Q: Where can I find the Amateur Rules and Regulations?
A: The Amateur Radio Service is governed by Part 97 of Title 47 of the Code of Federal Regulations. (Title 47 covers the Federal Communications Commission.) A current version of Part 97 is available on the FCC's website. Part 97 is composed of six Subparts (plus appendices): You can find a link to Part 97 by clicking here.
You should have a copy of the current Part 97 in your radio shack. You can print one off the web or purchase a copy from most ham radio stores. Part 97 is also included in many of the ham radio training manuals and exam guides.
Q: What happens if I accidentally break a rule?
A: If you accidentally break one of the rules, you may receive a post card from an "Official Observer." The OOs are appointed by the ARRL to help self-police the amateur bands. The card is sent to make you aware of the violation so you can take corrective action. Should your infraction be more serious, such as out of band operation that results in interference to another service, you may receive a citation from the FCC. Generally they ask you to respond and explain why it happened and what you are doing to prevent it from happening again. The worst thing you can do is not to respond. The FCC is interested in you taking the necessary precautions so you won't continue to make the same mistake.
Flagrant violations, repeated violations or failure to respond to an FCC notice of violation can result in suspension or revocation of your amateur license and possibly a fine.
It is a violation if you fail to keep the FCC advised of any change in your mailing address so they have difficulty contacting you. (§97.23)
Buying Your First Amateur Radio Equipment:
Q: Where can I shop for ham equipment?
A: You have many choices as to where to buy your ham equipment. There are a few local stores in Texas and numerous mail order stores around the country. The nearest local stores is Houston Amateur Supply located at 267 Cypresswood Drive in Spring TX, 77388. The people working behind the counter in most ham stores can offer good advice.
HRO and AES are chains with outlets around the nation including locations in Texas. Many other stores that deal in amateur radio equipment may be found on our Ham Shopping page.
Also, you may consider used equipment. Ham conventions, called Hamfests, and tailgate sales are a good source of used equipment. Hams often upgrade their station and sell or trade in perfectly good equipment. Of course, there are also few unscrupulous people, so it's buyer beware. One way to improve your odds is to buy from a fellow club member who has a good reputation. If you buy a used radio you might consider either taking, or having the seller take, the radio to the manufacturer or repair place for checking and alignment. If the radio has a memory backup battery and is more than a few years old, have it changed. Many of the stores listed in the Ham Shopping page also carry used equipment.
Q: What are the different types of radios I may want to own?
A: Radios come in different forms and for use on different bands. You can purchase a desktop radio for use in your house, a mobile radio for use in your car (these can also be used in your house), a portable radio that has its own battery supply and can be used camping, etc., and a handheld radio (HT or walkie-talkie).
High Frequency radios cover most or all of the bands between 160 meters and 10 meters; some include the 6 meter and even the 2 meter VHF band and the 70cm UHF band. VHF/UHF radios usually cover one to three bands in the VHF/UHF range. If you are planning on buying a VHF or UHF portable or handheld radio you might consider a dual band radio. Talk to hams in your area to see which bands are the most popular. In Harris and Galveston County, TX repeaters are operating on 6 meters (54Mhz), 2meters (146MhZ), 23cm (220Mhz), 70 centimeters(450MHz) but the most popular are 2meters and 70cm.
Another choice you will need to make is selecting the radio's power. HF desktop and mobile radios that run 100 watts can work the world with a proper antenna. Portable HF radios between 5 and 25 watts or more work well; battery-size and life being the trade-off. Many radios allow you to select different power settings. Handheld units range in power from one-half watt to 5 watts. The lower power radios are cell phone size, the higher power handhelds are larger, but get smaller with each new generation. The lower power radios are good for short-range communications and when you are close to the repeater. Unless you have a need for the smaller size, a two to five watt radio is probably the best choice.
Many desktop and almost all mobile radios run from 13.8 volt power. This is not a problem when installed in a car, but when used at home a power supply that converts your AC (wall plug) power to 13V DC is needed. These power supplies must produce lot of current for 100 watt radios (20 - 35 amperes.) They can be bulky and heavy, but can be place on the floor out of the way. New switching power supplies are now available and are smaller and much lighter. Be sure your switching power supply is designed for communications work, as RF can cause problems with these power supplies. Switching power supplies can also make a lot of noise that interferes with your reception if not designed for use in communications. Some people have home power supplies that run off batteries that are constantly being charged by household AC. This allows them to operate when the power is out and in times of emergency.
Portable and handheld radios run off of batteries almost exclusively. Four types of rechargeable batteries are commonly used: Lead gel-cell, nickel-cadmium (NiCad), nickel-metal-hydride (NiMH) and lithium-ion (Li). Each has its advantage. Lead gel-cell batteries are heavy but can supply a lot of power and hold their charge well; they are good with larger portable radios. NiCad and NiMH batteries are similar; the newer NiMH batteries have a higher capacity for a given size and do not have the memory problems of NiCads. NiMH batteries require a different charging method than NiCads, so be sure you have the proper charger. These batteries tend to self discharge when just sitting around. Lithium ion batteries have the best capacity. They also have the high self discharge rate. Lithium ion batteries require special chargers and have restrictions when traveling on commercial aircraft.
There are other power choices for handhelds too. An adapter that plugs into a car cigarette lighter is one, another, that is highly recommended for emergency use, is an empty battery case that takes standard alkaline batteries, usually AA size. This case can be used with NiCads and when there is no way to recharge the NiCads they can be removed and regular AA batteries installed to keep you on the air.
Q: What should I look for in a radio?
A: Before you purchase a radio it is best to try it out. Another club member might have the model you are interested in and let you operate it. Be sure it covers the bands and modes (SSB, CW, FM, AM, digital modes, etc.) that you want to operate.
All of the new radios are programmable. While this makes operating easier once it is programmed, it can be a problem if you suddenly want to program a frequency or repeater while in the field; and you'll find yourself needing to do this far more than you think! Some radios are easier to program than others; when there are few controls that have many functions and menus that go very deep programming can be complex. This is especially true when it's been a while since you last programmed the radio. There are some ways to lessen this problem. the obvious one is to choose a radio that is easy for you to program. Spend some time researching this aspect of the radio before you buy. Also, a company called Nifty! sells rugged plasticized condensed radio manuals for the major models. They are small and easy to keep in your bag with your spare battery. An accessory is available for many radios that lets you plug it into a computer and program the radio using a computer program. Many radios may also be cloned from one radio to another with a special cable.
Q: What do I need in the way of an antenna?
A: Your choice of antenna depends upon a lot variables, many not associated with your environment. Tract CCRs, city ordinances and the size of your property all come into play. Installing antennas on a small lot can be a challenge; living in an apartment or mobile home can be even more challenging. Many antenna books have articles on stealth and hidden antennas for the more difficult cases.
For the HF bands two good beginner antennas are the half-wave dipole and the vertical. The dipole is a very efficient antenna, especially if mounted more than a quarter-wavelength above the ground. the dipole is made with two pieces of copper wire fed by 50Ω or 75Ω coaxial cable in the middle. The total length is one-half wavelength long or about 66 feet for the 40 meter band. Dipoles work well at odd multiples of their fundamental frequency, thus a 40 meter (7 MHz) dipole will also work on 15 meters (21 MHz). A variation of the dipole is the inverted vee. This dipole is raised in the center and lower at each end. These antennas are direction favoring the direction perpendicular to the wire. The vertical is a non-directional antenna. It takes up very little room and can either be mounted on the ground or in the air. Quarter-wave dipoles are easy to build, but require a counterpoise, usually in the shape of radial wires coming out from the base. When mounted on the ground numerous radials are required to reduce the ground resistance and improve the efficiency. Half-wave verticals are larger (taller) but don't require radials. Commercial multi-band verticals are available from most of the major antenna companies. Links are available on our Ham Shopping page.
For VHF/UHF FM operation from the home a vertical is the best choice, as most repeaters and mobiles are vertically polarized. If you live in a fringe area a small yagi (beam) will provide higher gain in one direction. For VHF and UHF mobile service there are external antennas for your car. There are many ways to mount an antenna on a car; lip mounts that clamp on the lip of your trunk lid are popular and don't require cutting a hole. For smaller antennas and temporary use, a magnetic mount works well, that is if your car body is made of metal. If you are using a handheld mobile, you will find an outside antenna will work far better than the little rubber antenna that came with the radio.
Check out our Antenna Section for more information
Q: Can I get help selecting equipment at a radio club?
A: Yes, and we hope you choose our club if you are local. A word of caution is in order though; you will encounter many different opinions. Thus it is best to talk with many people and get to know the ones who seem the most informative. Listen to those who are active in the same facets of radio that you want to learn more about.
The Clear Lake Amateur Radio Club - CLARC
Q: How can I contact people in your club?
A: For general information about the club you can use our contact page. Click here.
Q: Where and when do you meet?
A: Our meetings are held on the third Thursday of each month at 7:00pm (except December and January) at the community building at Clear Lake Park, located at 5001 NASA Parkway, Seabrook, 77586. The community building is on the south side of NASA Parkway.
In December we have no meeting. In January we have a annual banquet in lieu of the general meeting.
Be sure to check our meetings page for locations, maps dates, times and for any changes.
Q: What kinds of activities does your club have?
A: CLARC is an very active club. Every year we; provide communication support for dozens of Public Service Events such as races, fun runs, parades, and other charitable events, we give hundreds of exams and tech Ham classes to more than one hundred potential hams.
Other club activities include a yearly banquet, construction projects, fair booths, hamfest caravans, contest participation, gatherings to raise and take-down antennas, emergency preparedness drills, etc. The club also sponsors tailgate sales. We're always open to suggestions from our members for new ideas.
Q: Can I learn about Emergency Communications at your club?
A: While the Clear Lake Amateur Radio Club is not directly associated with emergency communications, many of our members participate in local emergency groups such as county and city EOCs (emergency operations centers) and OEMs (Office of Emergency Management), ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Service), Galveston County Emergency Communications Group(GCECG). Pasadena Emergency Communications Group (PECG), RACES (Radio Amateur Civil Emergency System), Skywarn Spotter Network, The American Red Cross, Texas Baptist Men, and the Salvation Army. The club is a great place to be introduced to emergency communications and learn about the best organization for you.
To learn more about Emergency Communications visit our Emergency Communications page.
"I Have a Question That Isn't Covered Here."
Q: What is the CLARC Forum?
A: "Elmering" has long been a ham tradition to help interested people to learn more about Ham Radio. The CLARC forum (or message board) was created especially for helping new and wanna-be hams get answers to their questions. Several well known amateurs monitor the board and will get back to you with an answer to your question. These hams know the mysteries ham radio can present to newcomers and will answer your questions politely and informatively.
To register to use the message board you must register on the CLARC website click on "Register" under the CLARC login near the bottom and to the left on the CLARC home page. Enter the pertinent information and and profile you wish to include. Finally select "Submit". You can go back and change your settings at any time.
Q: How can I contact the Club if I have further questions?
A: You can also send a question by using the contact form on the main menu. Go to the home page and then from the top menu select Club Info and then Contact Us.
Another way to get your questions answered is to drop by any of our meetings. CLARC meets on the 3rd Thursday of the month at 7:00pm at the Clear Lake Park Community Building, Civic Room 5001 NASA Parkway Seabrook, TX 77586. Guests are always welcome. Click Here For A Map.
|Last Updated on Friday, 24 February 2012 07:33|