When I first began the trail to Amatuer Radio it all felt rather daunting. Gagantuan antennas, radios with more buttons that a 747 and a price list even Bill Gates would balk at…
So where do you begin?
Remember one fact: Amateur radio needent be complex, nor expensive. The beauty of this hobby is you can start humbly, and go in any direction you and your ambition wants. Literally to the moon and back, or further…
If you’ve never experienced Amateur Radio first hand before, your very first port of call should be the many WebSDRs around the world. There are thousands of radios dotted all over the world that you can monitor via the internet. This will give you a taste of what it sounds like to be on-air.
As you’ve no doubt spotted, the graph is a sort of reverse waterfall. This is a spectrum scope – a measure of activity on the radio. It wont surprise you to know the bright white spots are transmissions, whilst the dark purple & black is silence and natural noise. As you first start to play around, click on the longest lines – chances as that’s a transmission.
What you ought to know is 2 Meters & 70 Centimers (2m/7cm) more often than not is the frequency where most people enter the hobby. This sits within the the Very High Frequence (VHF) and Ultra High Frequency (UHF) bands. When you experiment with WebSDRs such as Hackgreen in the picture above, it’s useful to stick to frequencies which are fairly short range*. The 2 Meter band is a frequency range typically between 144-148Mhz (144000.00 kHz – 148000.00), and similiarly, 7cm is 430Mhz-440Mhz (430000.00-440000.00 kHz). You’ll want to start with FM mode – the same used on a car radio
I mention this as it’ll be quite helpful if you start to understand the eqiquette on the air. With a bit of luck, you’ve selected 144 on the WebSDR and found a chatty frequency. You’ll hear them converse with their callsigns and Q-Codes. We’ll learn more about those later.
Now you’ve got a taste of what’s around, we should discuss how to get your very own radio.
…Oh, but before you do. Don’t be shy, check out the other frequencies such as 20M (14Mhz-14.350mMhz or 14000kHz-14350kHz) – this reaches much further than 2m/70cm, all around the world infact!
My First Radio
Psst… Can you keep a secret? Radios are cheap! One of the best HF antennas can be made out of a couple of bits of long wire.
Your first foray into Amatuer Radio will give you an opportunity to discover your local amateurs, funnily enough I discovered a main repeater just up the road!
Just like the WebSDR, we want to get a feel for the activity in our local area – oh and by local, that could be anything from 1 mile to 30 miles, and if a “lift” is on, much further.
The Beofeng UV-5R costs between £18-22 from Amazon, or you can borrow one from your local club. This little radio, the result of decades of miniaturisation and mass-production is nothing short of amazing. The UV-5R will immediate allow you to listen and [once licenced] trasmit on 2m/70cm with a modest range.
While Beofeng carries a somewhat bitter-sweet sentiment with the Amatuer Radio community, the price alone blows away any competitor.
Now here’s the interesting part. The UV-5R can be easily, and cheaply upgraded. Furthermore, there is nothing stopping you using a full complement of professional equipment if you wanted. Actually, let’s start now.
Combined with a SMA-Female to SO239 Female (£2.50) adapter you are now able to use almost enable 2m and/or 70cm antenna on the market. Personally I own a Diamond Comet X50 (around £50) antenna which works perfectly with the UV-5R. Despite my distance from Danbury I was able to open and communicate GB3DA- a repeater in north Essex – just fine.
Now you’ll need some cable. There’s no need to spend a fortune, Rocket Radio will happily sell you a 20M cable for £12. That’s plenty of length for most homes. SO239 is the female variant of the PL239 and thankfully most antennas use PL259, however, if like the Diamond X50 above it uses a different connector, you can buy a cheap adapter for a few pounds.
Mounting that antenna can be as simple as you’d like. The fastest approach is to use a cheap lighting tripod. You can setup the tripod very quickly on most terriain, and clamp the antenna – which usually comes with a pole bracket – easily.
Interesting isn’t it? For less than £65 you can have a station which can hold it’s own. We could happily chop another £20-30 off that price if you’re in high ground.
Amateur radio is not expensive🙂
…But how do I get my licence?
Straight to the point. I like that!
In my experience there are two methods of getting your licence, a training course, or self taught. Personally I’d recommend self taught – if you’ve managed to get this far in the blog I suspect you’ll persevere – good work.
Depending on your location there will likely be a amatuer radio club which will either offer a course that is carried out over a few weekends, or a self taught A practical and written exam will be required in either case, make sure you get reading🙂
Most of not all exams are carried out by volunteers. They want to see how eager you are to get on the air, so make sure you show them your best.
Lets find your local club…
First up, let’s find your local club. Amatuer Radio is all about connecting people (excuse my BT cliché). There are Amatuer Radio clubs all over the UK, and it is quite literally in their interest to bring new licencees onboard.
These two “books” cover everything you need to know for the Foundation License. You could quite happily read these, nothing else and gain a solid pass. Mind you those clever Ladies & Gentlemen of Essex Ham have been busy creating Ham Tests.
Whilst the books are fantastic, Ham Tests will challenge you inside and outside of the syllabus. It also offers you the opportunity to study for the exam on your phone or laptop, no books required – actually, it’s a great place to start.
The RSBG have also been kind enough to publish several mock exams, these are also a great way to gauge your progress towards the licence
The rest is up to you
I’ve intentionally* left a few naughty gaps, this is the very beginning of amatuer radio – I look forward to hearing you on the air.