Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Get on the Air Part 1 - Technician License

Congratulations on your first ham radio license. This is an intimidating hobby and I hope this will be a rough guide to what to do on the bands. I'll talk about my first few years in the hobby, my renewed interest, and then my third and current activity.

There are a couple of paths you can go down, decided by your current license, budget, available real estate, comfort with a soldering iron, the phase of the moon, etc. I'll break down the path to success here for both the VHF/UHF Technician parts, and HF. My preference is HF, because who doesn't like talking to their neighbors in the next state over about their heart conditions after having a few too many cold ones?


This is what you'll need to get started. It's only the minimal, low-cost way to get on the air. You can obviously go nuts here. I'll save building your own radios for a later blog post.

  1. Get a handy-talkie, handheld, or whatever the kids call them today. My first HT was a Radio Shack HTX-101 and it ran on 32 AA batteries (exaggerating only slightly). It was roughly the size of a European brick (which is smaller than a standard American brick, and probably doens't exist), and had a BNC antenna connector on it. Later in life I had a Yaesu VX-6R, mid 2000's variant. The VX-6R was built by a brick. Unfortunately by the time I acquired it I was A) living in a small town with an inactive ham community B) More interested in HF work and C) I didn't really want to sit in the rain watching runners pass by. Be careful about any radio sold on Amazon. They are either extremely low quality, or knock-offs. Work directly with Ham Radio Outlet, DX Engineering, or other reputable dealers.
  2. Connect your new radio to the antenna, power supply, microphone, or any other accessory you want to use
  3. Figure out what the local repeaters are in your area. Once you've got them, program it into your radio and then you're ready to go. Remember repeater's have offsets, tones, and other things that require setup.
  4. Marvel at how wonderfully and universally bad all radio documentation is. Give up and go to Google to figure out how to program it.
  5. Make your first call! I will talk about how to do this later.
Making Your First Call

First start by listening. If someone else is using the repeater, and just happens to be pausing to take a pull off of a Cold One, don't be the noob that interrupts. I recommend listening for 30 seconds or so before assuming the channel is clear. Identify, saying something like "URCALLSIGN". In my case I would say "K1HYL". Then listen for someone to say the frequency is in use. If you don't hear anything you're ready to tell everyone you're listening and willing to talk.

VHF, UHF, and other non-HF bands all have a different way of signalling an intention to initiate a contact. Here in the United States, the convention is to say "K1HYL, monitoring" every 5-10 minutes until someone comes back. If you're wondering whether or not your radio is working say, "K1HYL can anyone give me a radio check?" You should here substantive critique of your audio, signal, and operating technique shortly afterwards.

If someone calls back, answer them with their callsign, your call-sign phonetically if you don't know the person, your name, and what radio you're using. After the other person tells you their name, then talk about when you were licensed, what antenna you're using, or other general conversational points. It's traditional to not engage in political conversation, or in general anything controversial in the slightest. 

Then you can jibber-jabber back and forth until you're finished. If you're conversation runs long, be sure to remember to ID. When the repeater, or your other person IDs, do it then.

Ideas for What To Do Next

Try making a digital call, setting up APRS, or talking with the International Space Station. Personally I like the HF bands more. I'll talk about that in a later post. Technicians get access to the old Novice areas of the HF bands. This is a great time to study for your next test.

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