What is Amateur(Ham) Radio?


Hello everybody. So as I am starting this blog I figured I would start from the very beginning so to speak. I am starting this blog of catering more to those that have no idea what amateur radio is, or maybe they have an idea but don’t know what it’s all about. If you are already an amateur radio operator, please stick with me, I will be getting more in depth into the hobby as my posts move on. I have been an amateur radio operator no for nearly 15 years and I am still learning about the hobby. I was reading through some material as I was getting ready a future post and actually learned something that I had never heard of, that I will actually talk about in a future post.

So, on to the topic of today, what is Amateur Radio? Amateur Radio or Ham radio as it is also known by is defined as People who pursue the hobby of using a personal radio station to communicate, purely for non-commercial purposes, with other radio hobbyist. That pretty much sums it up, however, that short 35 word sentence only gives you a very narrow definition of what it actually is. Probably the best thing about ham radio is that it knows no country boundaries and brings the world together as good friends. To expand a little bit, let’s talk about what can be done with ham radio.

First and probably the most used method used in ham radio, is voice communications on High Frequency(HF), Very High Frequency(VHF) and Ultra High Frequency(UHF). This can be anything from two people that don’t know each other getting together on the same frequency and just talking about whatever, to an organized Net where a specific topic is discussed. These conversations could be done on HF and the people that are talking could be on the other side of the earth from each other, or they could be neighbors or even husband and wife, like a lot of my family. My family has quite a few hams in it, myself, brother and his wife, father and step-mother, a few cousins.

As mentioned in the last paragraph, Nets are something else that can be done with ham radio. Nets are when a group of people get together on the air to talk about a certain topic. These nets can be done on pretty much a frequency available to licenses operators. It could be a group of people on HF that are scattered all over the US that get together to talk about chess or it could be a group of people on VHF/UHF that are storm spotting an incoming storm. Pretty much anything that you can think of there is probably a net for somewhere. One type of net that is really useful for a lot of different scenarios, is a Traffic net. There nets are used by people in all areas of the world to pass traffic from person A to person B. It could be anything from a “Hey, I’m OK” message to a happy birthday message. This type of net is organized by the National Traffic System or NTS for short. Missionaries often use this system to get messages back to their love ones when they are in an area that doesn’t have “normal” methods of communications.

That brings us to our next subject, community service. Amateur radio and community service go hand in hand. The amateur radio community helps with anything from a walk-a-thon to a natural or man-made disaster. Many clubs help out with public service events like walk-a-thons, bike-a-thons, parades, etc. On the flip side of that, there are groups of hams that help out in disasters. These hams are part of one of more organizations that help out in disasters such as Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Services(RACES), Amateur Radio Emergency Services(ARES), or Skywarn. These groups help out both during and in the aftermath of natural or man-made disasters. Most of these groups normally use VHF/UHF frequencies, but there are those that use the HF bands as well. Such has Hurricane nets, or the NTS system.

For those, more leisurely topics, there are several awards you can earn or contests you can participate in. One of the biggest contests in the amateur radio community is called Field Day. It is always on the 4th full weekend in June and there are thousands of groups of amateur radio operators or just individuals that participate in it. It runs for a 24 hour period from midnight to midnight UTC time. The idea behind field day is to operate in an environment that is not the norm. Such as, running your equipment on emergency power and using an antenna that is not permanently mounted. There are several other contests that go on through-out the year. Please check back later for more information on these as I am planning to do a post on this at a later time.

Digital modes are growing in popularity over the past 10 years or so. This mode includes things like Amtor, PacTOR, Gtor, RTTY, Packet and APRS. Yea, I know, some of you that are reading this have no clue about what any or all of these things are. I will go into this mode in greater detail later as well. For now a brief overview, AMTOR, PacTOR, G-TOR, RTTY are all digital modes that are used on HF. They are basically the ham radio version of an instant messenger. Packet radio is a digital mode that was popular back when I got my license and was used primarily on VHF. This was the VHF version of instant messengers and email. APRS however, is growing strong. APRS stands for Automatic Position Reporting System or as I like to call it, Automatic Privacy Reduction System. This system using your GPS location and transmits it over the airwaves to other people that are listening. It is used a lot in things like during a storm so that the net control knows where everyone is, or during a bike-a-thon to know where its repair vehicle or Sag-wagons are. It can also be used for sending short messages to another ham, just like you would do on twitter, but over the air instead of the internet.

Some ham radio operators like building their own equipment. They could be from radio kits, equipment for APRS, or just about anything that they can think of. QRP is when the operator uses less than 5 watts transmitting power, normally on HF. Morse code is probably one of the oldest methods of communicating in the Amateur Radio Hobby. However, there is no requirement to learn Morse Code, CW, anymore so normally the older hams, or those that just enjoy it use it anymore. I know a guy that can copy and send morse code faster than I can type, which at last check was around 75 wpms. I was having dinner at his house one day and his radio was on in the next room with a couple hams having a conversation using CW. All of the sudden he busted out laughing. When we asked what he was asking about, he said they just told a joke and pointed towards his radio. The code was being sent at easily 50 wpm. I guess, once you know a language, whatever that language is, you can use it like you would any other.

I’m sure there are many other things that you can do with amateur but the last one Im going to talk about it in this post is Amateur TV. There are three different parts of Amateur TV. First of is Fast Scan TV with is basically just like you get when you turn on your tv now, or actually like it was before it went digital. The second is Slow Scan TV. This method is slower and normally the frame rate is less than 25 frames per second. Regular TV is about 30 FPS. The third one is Fax. Yep, it is just like a regular fax machine but instead of going over the phone lines it goes over the air.

I think that just about wraps up this post. I hope that I have given you some kind of idea about what ham radio is all about. I’m sure, as my dad says at the end of the first class of his technician class, It’s probably about as clear as mud. Whether it is or not, I hope that you will check back to my blog. I hope to post at least once a week, maybe twice, we’ll have to see how it goes with my RL.

Please subscribe to my blog, and share it with your friends, I hope that you find this blog helpful and/or interesting.

Thanks for reading… 73 de K5CLM

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