When I first got my amateur radio license (also called ham radio), I really didn’t know what I was doing. I studied the recommended book, quizzed myself on the recommended website, and showed up and passed the test. Now what? I thought. Just because I can understand it in a book doesn’t mean I know how any of it works with a real radio!
So here’s what I’ve done that has worked to help me understand a little better how the ham radio world operates.
1. Join the local Amateur Radio Club. These guys and gals can be really helpful. Right after I passed the test, one of them loaned me a little hand held radio to use until I could get my own. It took me a year and a half to get my own radio (they’re not real cheap), but every time I saw this guy he just told me whenever I got my own he’d get his back. Sweet. The president of the club is the one who set up the whole repeater system down here and he’s extremely knowledgeable. Most of the members know what they’re doing well enough to help me with some questions. Another guy has the same radio as my new one, so he’s got it programmed for me and given me some good instruction.
2. Take part in the “Net”. A net is like a meeting on the radio where you don’t have to go anywhere, just call in from where you are at a specific time. The net is hosted and controlled by one radio operator and everybody else gets to check in and chat as their call sign is read. Visitors can check in after the club roll call, and sometimes we get people who are traveling through or visiting the area check in. Our local club net is Tuesday nights at 8:00. Yes, that’s right at bed/picking up son from scouts/feed the baby time, so I’m not too regular at taking part. But I have an alarm set on my phone so I don’t forget it’s happening and it’s okay to check in and out early so I really only have about 5-10 minutes invested in listening long enough to check in. Sometimes I’ll keep the radio on and listen to the whole net and occasionally I’ll stay on and chat during the “informals”. It’s a good way to let people in the area know who you are and get to know them as well.
3. Take part in work meetings and other club activities. Sometimes the repeaters or antennas will need some repair and the club calls for help fixing them. Go along. Even if you don’t know what you’re doing, you’ll get a good lesson in how things work.
Our club is also helping with a scout radio day, there are simulated emergency drills, “fox hunts” where you use your radio to locate a transmitter that is emitting a signal, etc. Get your radio out and use it. Don’t just assume that in an emergency you’ll be able to get it figured out.
4. Ask questions. I got a second radio from a guy at the club (I know, I return one, and get a different one!) I have no idea how it works. It is supposed to have an online manual, but it turns out it needs a power supply and I’ll probably need an antenna on the house to use it right. Well, when I asked the guy I got this radio from about how to plug it in, he just happened to have a power supply he wasn’t using, so now I have two thirds of what I need to get this second radio working. Fun.
5. Keep studying. So you got your technician license. Study for the General exam. Got your General? Study for the Extra exam. Got your Extra license? Help teach a class so people like me can learn more. There is a ham class planned for this fall and I’d like to go take it even though I already have my license. I’m thinking I’ll learn something more than what I already know (which, by the way, still isn’t much).
6. Keep your radio on. Listen to the other people on it and you’ll pick up on basic amateur radio speak. It’s not hard. Talk when you’re inclined to and someone will usually talk back with you. They know you’re just starting out and if they don’t, you can let them know and they’ll be happy to help you. It’s okay to still be “new” 2 years after you get your license!
So there’s a few ideas from a ham radio beginner on how to get more comfortable using your ham radio. Amateur radio is an enjoyable hobby (albeit quite similar to parts of my high school physics class) and something that you’ll want to have in your skill set for communication in an emergency.
Keep preparing! Angela
Subscribe to my email newsletter for updates and special deals.
Please be sure to follow Food Storage and Survival on Facebook which is updated every time there is a new article. You can also find me on Pinterest, and purchase my book, Food Storage for Self Sufficiency and Survival on Amazon.
Shop the Thrive Monthly Specials or my favorites, the freeze dried vegetables and yogurt bites!
Lee Drew says
Great post Angela.
Here are a couple more items that will be of interest to folks starting or already involved in Ham Radio..
An excellent ham radio show, Ham Nation, is broadcast every Tuesday at 7 p.m. Mountain on the twit.tv network. The hosts are the famous Bob Heil, Gordon West and Leo Laporte. Watch live.
If you miss the live show, you can watch the recorded shows at http://twit.tv/hn I highly recommend the show to all hams.
The second item isn’t intended as an advertisement for the company, but rather a great solution to inexpensively get your first (or 2nd) 2-meter handi-talkie.
The Wouxun KG-UV2D radio is extremely popular among many hams now. It sells for $110.95, a price dramatically lower than the ‘name’ brands but its users love the radio. See them at: http://wouxun.us
Thanks for your posts that support the preparedness and ham communities.
Thanks Drew! I had to get that post up in a hurry and thought about that Ham Nation show afterward, so thanks for those links. :)
Practical Parsimony says
What a great post! After being out of touch for several days during our April tornado, things like your ham radio mean lots more to me.
Lisa K. says
So, what is the “recommended book” and “recommended website” to get started?
I used the <a href="Technician Class 2010-2014 by Gordon West–that’s what the Ham club around here recommended. Then I got online and took the practice tests at QRZ.com about a hundred times until I felt comfortable with them.
Wow! What a timely post. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about getting my amateur license. I have a technical background so I think I’ll be able to pick it up, but I’m completely ignorant about the whole thing right now.
I hope you don’t mind a few questions:
What resources did you use to study for the technician license?
Did you buy a mobile radio, or one for the home?
I’d like to know more about the practical aspects (as well as the technical for passing the exam) so I’ll know what to buy. I’m interested in having a system that can transmit/receive with enough distance so that if there’s a major disaster in my area that takes down any repeater systems, I’ll still be able to communicate. Any insight into that?
Joe, I used Technician Class 2010-2014 by Gordon West and the practice tests at QRZ.com a bunch of times. That book is the one our local ham club uses when they teach classes, so that’s the one I got and it was really easy to understand. The test questions are all in the book and they’re explained really well, so it’s not too hard to get the right answers. General class book got a bit more confusing, so I’ll be working on that one more as I learn a bit more.
I bought a handheld (Kenwood th-f6a). Again, on recommendation from a guy in the radio club. A few of the guys have that same radio so I was able to get it programmed by one of them which makes my life a whole lot easier! I figure if the power’s out, that’s the one I’ll be using anyway until I have some kind of back up power source figured out for my home radio. I got a home 2 meter radio and power supply from a guy in the club, but don’t have it hooked up yet.
And as far as losing repeater systems, I’m not sure what I’d do! I haven’t gotten that far yet. ;)
To PreppingtoSurvive. Ref. your question about what to do when the repeaters go down. One radio can do it all, but one BAND won’t, you need to remember that you can buy a radio with multiple band capability, but to “make it work” you need to have an antenna system to go with it, and a TOWER, for UHF and VHF communication altitude is KEY, line of sight is what you are working with in the UHF and VHF, once you move into the HF bands you change to ground wave and atmospheric skip/bounce and those are dependent on atmospheric conditions. My advice is the same as this great article. Listen to the radio, get with some “aged” active Hams, that “work” different bands… buy a scanner, buy a shortwave radio, dial into the local repeaters, be selective on the advice you heed also, not all Hams are models to follow! :-)
About the Wouxun, it’s a decent radio as our a lot of the Chinese HTs. The 110 price seems high though since you can find cheaper prices on Ebay. In fact if you are going to spend $110 for a Chinese brand HT than you are better off getting a Yaesu FT250R for a literally a few dollars more. If you have any kind of electronics confidence, you can open it up and do the 136-174 TX/RX mod for it. If you’ve got a couple of these HTs, coupled with a 2 meter mobile rig fashioned as a base station then you’ve a pretty good communications setup.
Here’s a bonus in a true SHTF situation, you can transmit on an unused NOAA weather radio frequency. So many people have weather radios but few have transmitters….5 watts on a decent(and high) antenna could cover an entire small community.
I’ve actually been trying to decide between the FT-250R and the FT-2900R. We live in the country and I don’t think there are any repeaters close by. The lower wattage FT-250R may no have the umph to make a contact. But I like it’s simplicity (don’t have to worry with power supply, cables, etc.
Whereas the FT-2900R has a lot more power, could be used in my truck and in the shack, but will be a bit more complex to set up.
Thanks for your insight.
Thanks Angela & Jeff! I’m just getting started and I’m enjoying reading everything I can get my hands on. Would enjoy any other perspectives you may have as well.
Dr Bill says
I have a Kenwood TM-231A 2 meter mobile and an ICOM T7H 2 meter HT. Both radios are run on a 25A switching power supply as primary power supply. When the power goes out the Kenwood can be run off the solar charged battery backup and the HT can be charged off the battery as well.
I have a Yagi-Oda 5 element antenna I made from a Radio Shack TV antenna 10 feet above our roof on a PVC pipe with rotator for 2 meters.
I have a ‘J’ Pole made from TV Twin Lead wire for 2 meters for my ‘Grab And Go’ bag.
Finely, I have a mag mount for a car positioned on a steel 9″ pie plate with the lead wire wraped around and taped to the side of the pie plate for lower SWR’s (1.1:1).
My lead in wire from the Yagi has an inductively coupled RF meter attached and an in-line SWR meter so I know the Watts are going to the Yagi antenna.
All this is used in our nightly ARES Net.
Most any low power 2 meter transciever, when combined with a 100 watt linear amplifier and a Yagi antenna 30′ or more up, will give you the ability to transmit and be heard as much as 200 miles away. With Atmospheric Ducting you can be heard as much as a 1000 miles or more away.
Gordon West is a good way to study also ARRL.org has testing and study as well.
Thanks, DrBill! Great information. I’m sure I’ll end up with both a HT and a mobile rig at some point in the not so distant future.
Dr Bill says
Please post your call signs when you get them.