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Amateur Radio

Amateur Radio Posted by Admin on October 18 2018

Have you ever wondered what it's like to communicate with the astronauts in the International Space Station (ISS)? Ask a ham radio operator - we do that. How about talking directly with a fellow ham in Moscow, or Argentina, or virtually anywhere else on Earth? Yep, we do that, too. And when there's an emergency and normal methods of communication fail, guess who steps up to handle emergency communications?

While I've always been fascinated by amateur- better known as 'ham' radio, I didn't get into it until 2013. In my younger years, the fact that most radios had tubes in them and I just never developed an affinity for such gizmos, combined with the fact that until recently you had to pass a Morse Code test to get a ham license, is what kept me from pursuing the hobby. Recently, learning that you could get started in ham radio with a $40 Chinese transceiver (with no tubes!), plus the fact that the Morse Code requirement has been dropped from the license exam, which only costs $15, together with the realization that President Obama's vision of what the world should be differed quite dramatically from my own, finally prompted me to get my 'ticket' (license).

There are two ham radio clubs in Kingman, as well as clubs in Bullhead and Lake Havasu City and probably more I don't know about. While there is a political undertow in one local club, generally speaking hams are like Republicans; always willing to answer questions and help however they can. This was proven by a friend who I met through the clubs, who has since passed away (he was 92). He had been a ham for many years and since I was more involved with computers and digital electronics and he with radio and analog devices, we were able to benefit from one another's knowledge. When he learned that I was interested in getting into HF radio (this is the frequency that lets you talk around the world) but lacked the funding for a HF rig, he bought a fixer-upper for me and helped me get it working. It was with that radio that I made my first HF contact, with a gentleman who lives about 300 miles south of Moscow, some 6,000 miles from Kingman. I did this with a radio that puts out 100 Watts - as much power as an incandescent light bulb.

Even if you've never heard of ham radio, you are probably familiar with Citizen's Band (CB) and have probably seen or heard public safety (police, fire), aircraft, or business class radios being used. While CB is supposed to be point-to-point and low power, oftentimes bootleg rigs are used to bounce signals off the clouds and communicate around the country. But this is sporadic and weather dependent, while the other systems mentioned all incorporate repeater systems that pick up the signal from a small mobile or handheld radio and rebroadcast it, providing large areas of coverage. Ham radio also operates in the VHF and UHF ranges (HF is High Frequency,VHF and UHF are Very and Ultra High Frequency, respectively) where public service, aircraft and business class radios operate, and like these systems, ham radio utilizes VHF and UHF repeaters. In fact in our area, you can directly communicate all the way down to Yuma just by going through one of the local repeater systems.

For those who are never satisfied, ham radio has bled over into the Internet. Special modes been created tha replace tediously tapping out messages in Morse Code with typing a message into a computer connected to your HF radio. The computer output is modulated as special audio signals broadcast over the air, which other radios then pick up and their computer converts back to text. Sort of like a wireless Internet. Ham radios are also connected to the regular Internet, in such a way that you can connect to an Internet connected radio that receives your signal and sends it over the Internet. Users worldwide can tune to the same channel, so that not only can you sit in your livingroom in Kingman and talk to fellow hams in Yuma, you can actually connect to repeater systems in other coutries and communicate with people there as if you were on their local repeater.

There are lots of activities on ham radio, from traffic nets that meet regularly to check equipment and maintain emergency preparedness, to contests to see who can make the most contacts in a given period, to fox hunts where hams try to locate hidden transmitters, to just plain old rag-chewing... meeting people from around the city, country, or world, to just share a conversation. It should be noted that for the most part, hams worldwide are friendly, helpful and welcoming people... yeah, there are a few buttheads on the air, but the rest are genuine people who you wouldn't hesitate to invite to dinner, no matter what part of the world they're from.

If you'd like to learn more about the world of ham radio, particularly how useful such a system is in a world as volatile as ours has become, you are welcome to contact me with your questions. As time permits I will be adding more information here, including information on ham club meetings and activities. If you are interested in getting your ticket (becoming a licensed ham), it's pretty easy to pass the technician test (there are three classes of license, technician, general and extra) to get started, and the cost for the test is only $15 and testing is available regularly in Kingman. Beyond that, one of those Chinese radios mentioned earlier will let you access the local repeaters, as well as monitor a host of other services (many ham radios will receive aircraft, public safety, and business frequencies, but transmitting on them without the proper authority can land you in some serious trouble), and can be had for under $40.

If you're interested in obtainiing a ham license, there are excellent online study aids to help you prepare. My favorite is hamexam.org. Although registration is not required, if you create a free account you can track your learning. If you can average 85% on the sample exams, which are use questions from the actual exam pool, you should have no trouble passing the test.

-Cutter, KG7DZV (that's my ham radio callsign)

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