About the Author
I was first introduced to HAM Radio when my dad dragged me into studying. At first I had no idea what I was getting into. But when I started participating in nets and events, it sparked my interest. I wrote this article simply to help myself explain it to friends who did not understand it well. When I posted the article on the "Reflector" of the El Cajon AR Club, I recieved many comments and it ended up in the September counterpoise.
Intro and how to get a license
HAM or Amateur Radio is a fun way of communicating widely used around the globe. To be a HAM you must study for and pass a test made up of 35 multiple choice questions randomly chosen from a list of 391 questions. At most 9 questions can be answered incorrectly to pass. There are different levels of being a HAM. Technician (first question pool), General (second question pool) and Extra (third question pool of 50 chosen for the test). The level determines the operating privelages for the licensee.
The operating privelages are also which "bands" operators can use. Band names consist of 2-meters, 70-centimeters, 10-meters, 80-meters and other select measurements. the legnth of the band is how far the radiowaves jump before bouncing again (see figure 2). The most widely used and known is the 2-meter band.
When licensed, a HAM recieves a call sign chosen sequentially with certain other traits. The format can be 2-by-3, 2-by-1, or 1-by-2. a 2-by-3 is most commonly the first assigned format. a 2-by-3 would look like this, KI6UPY. The 'by' is the numeral. The numbers in the format name resemble letters. The first letter of a call sign can either be A,K,N, or W, the second (if letter) can be any letter of the alphabet chosen sequentially. The numeral is dependant on the area code of the operator, (see figure 3). The Final part of the call sign is called the suffix and consists of the letters after the numeral, assigned sequentially. Breakdown KI6UPY. K(first letter) I(sequential letter) 6(area code) UPY(Suffix). One way of finding call signs and names is through qrz.com.
The bigger the antenna, the further your transmission will travel. Different types of antennaes consist of Directional, Dipole, J-Pole, and other designs. The antenna matters. Many HTs (handheld radios) come with a 'rubber ducky' a stubby, rubber antenna with a low rating. this can be replaced in many cases. See figure 4.
Wattage and output power
The higher the output power, measured in watts, the farther the signal will travel. Most HTs will have a maximum of 5 watts output. Mobile (vehicular) stations will have near 45 watts output. Wattage and SWR, the gain or Standing Wave Ratio of the antenna, are sometimes measured on a device such as the one in figure 5. This is placed in line with the antenna and station.
A net or network is an over the air 'meeting' where there is a net control and the net members. They are scheduled and organized events.
There are also active clubs operators can join. These clubs are normally named by area, for example, The El Cajon Amateur Radio Club. Clubs will often host club nets and other events. Clubs can apply for club call signs that all members are free to use in events. Clubs are the best way to get and stay involved with HAM radio and have support and someone to learn from.
The best way to start using your license is simply by buying a handheld radio and a fractional wavelength mag-mount antenna (see figure 8). With it you can easily place it on the roof of a car and join in on nets almost every night of the week. The next step up is a mobile station (see figure 6). You can use a simple mag-mount antenna but the most commonly used with a mobile is an antenna that retracts down approximately 1 foot (see figure 9). The next step is a basestation in the comfort of your own home (see figure 7). This is best used with an antenna in figure 10.
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