My Ham Shack

Being new to the hobby my “ham shack” is not big at all. It’s literally more like just my computer desk. It’s not much, but hey, it’s mine! 😊

So what sort of hardware am I working with?

  • Baofeng UV-5R
    • Signal Stick antenna
  • Kenwood TH-F6
  • RTL-SDR
  • EchoLink (on PC and iOS)

At this time I’m currently working with two handheld radios. My first radio was just a “cheapo” Baofeng. I know they aren’t considered great radios, but honestly, it’s the cheapest and thus the easiest way to start off in the hobby. Living on an island, it has no issues hitting the local repeaters and making contacts, especially when I pair it with a nicer antenna like the Signal Stick. This is the radio that I tend to take out with me when I’m mobile.

I inherited the Kenwood from my father. The radio, while older, is still a great radio. While I still need to get a new tri-band antenna for this one, I really like the range of bands that this radio can utilize. And the step-up in quality compared to my Baofeng is also instantly noticeable. Being my nicer radio, this one tends to be more of my home rig.

I had also inherited an RTL-SDR. I haven’t really gotten around to figuring out how to use it, but it’s on my list of projects to do. I think it’ll be neat to learn how to use it.

And the final thing in my shack is EchoLink. Think of it as voip-for-hams. It’s a great way to turn your computer or smartphone into your transceiver and connecting with other hams all over the world. I think it is a really neat digital means to get on the air. While analog radio is interesting, coming from an IT background I am really interested in learning more about these newer digital modes of radio.

ARRL training courses

The ARRL offers a few free training courses to HAM operations to help assist them to prepare for emergency situations. Just like the FEMA courses, these are self-paced online courses that you can work on. These are “nice to have” pieces of training that will greatly improve your abilities to operate.

However, these do not take the place of the required FEMA pieces of training needed to participate with your local ARES/RACES. And actually, the FEMA courses are prerequisites for the ARRL courses.

To take the ARRL training courses, you must first register with the ARRL: http://www.arrl.org/online-course-registration
(NOTE: Registration does NOT require becoming an ARRL member for these courses)


Basic

Advanced

FEMA training courses

As a licensed radio operator, learning how to be an effective and properly trained volunteer will allow you to be an essential communications asset during a response to any emergency. During exercises and emergencies, your local ARES/RACES must comply with the National Incident Management System (NIMS) because when activated, its operations would function under the Incident Command System (ICS). This means you will need to complete some official training if you want to volunteer with your local ARES/RACES organization.

To help you become “qualified”, FEMA offers a few self-paced training courses relating to Emergency Management that are beneficial to HAM radio operators. All of these FEMA training courses are offered for free, online, thru the FEMA website. They are self-paced courses that you are able to proceed at your own pace through. Each online course is presented as slides that you will click through, and additional course materials are also available for download on the webpage for each course.

Once you complete the course you are then able to take an online exam, for which you will receive a certificate of completion if you pass. In my experience, after taking an exam, I was emailed my pass/fail status and certificate (if passed) within five minutes of completing the exam.

To initially begin any of the FEMA courses you will need to have first created a FEMA Student ID to log in with: https://cdp.dhs.gov/femasid

Basic, required courses:


Advanced, optional courses:

Professional Development Series –
As an added perk to completing the courses I list above, you will receive a certificate from the FEMA Emergency Management Institute for finishing their Professional Development Series.


Optional but related courses:

GMRS License

So while I have my HAM license, I decided to go ahead and get a GMRS license too. My reasoning for getting it was twofold. The first reason was that I often spend time with family and friends that are not HAM radio operators. Since they aren’t HAMs, I can’t exactly hand them one of my handheld radios and then chat with them over the air when we are out someplace camping, traveling, hiking, or doing any other activity. Having the GMRS license will basically allow me to do just that, to stay connected and communicate with my friends and family when we are out somewhere having fun.

The second the FCC recently reduced the cost of the license. They cut the licensing fee from $70 down to $35. This fee reduction makes getting the license much more affordable, especially since it lasts for 10 years – just like a HAM license. With the FCC fee so low, getting it really has now become a non-issue. So ultimately, getting this license is only going to enrich the experiences that I have with friends and family. While some HAMs might consider GMRS a just ‘kiddie’ radio, that really makes no difference to me. It’s really more of a way to supplement my HAM hobby, and who knows, maybe it’ll even act as a gateway to convert a friend into a future HAM. Ha ha ha.

US Amateur Radio Bands

The ARRL has created a very nice infographic that shows a breakdown of the various bands and the permissions that each license class has on that band.

US Amateur Radio Bands - ARRL infographic

Source Link: ARRL Band Chart


The ARRL also has another really nice graphic that just displays all of the Technician privileges.

Tech-Band-Chart-ARRL

Source Link: ARRL Tech Bands

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Oahu Repeater Frequencies

DEM / HI-EMA Linked Repeaters:

PL Tone: 88.5PL Tone: 103.5PL Tone: None
146.680-   Waimanalo444.325+   Waimanalo146.760-  Peacock Flats
146.880-   Diamond Head444.350+   Diamond Head
147.060+   Diamond Head
146.980-   Downtown Honolulu
146.860-   Makakilo
146.900-   Kuhuku​

EARC Repeaters:

(Linked Repeaters)
PL Tone: 88.5
(Stand Alone Repeaters)
PL Tone: 88.5
146.800-   Makakilo444.150+   Olomana
146.660-   Olomana

ARES / RACES VHF Simplex:

146.550 MHzDistrict 1​
146.475 MHzDistrict 2 North
146.460 MHzDistrict 2 South
146.535 MHzDistrict 3
146.505 MHzDistrict 4
146.490 MHzDistrict 4 Alternate
146.550  MHzDistrict 5
146.565 MHzDistrict 6
146.565 MHzDistrict 7
146.445 MHzDistrict 8
146.580 MHzCity Hall
146.415 MHzAlternate
146.430 MHzAlternate
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Phonetic Alphabet

The phonetic alphabet is a commonly accepted way to pronounce letters in a way that is distinct as possible so as to be easily understood by those who exchanged voice messages by radio or telephone, regardless of language differences or the quality of the connection.

NATO phonetic alphabet image
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Q Signals

Q-signals are a type of radio shorthand that is based on old wireless and telegraph codes. By using these universal abbreviations, we can easily communicate with amateur operators who might speak a different language and share information with them.

While the full meanings of the Q-signals are listed below in a second table, they are often used casually and very informally in conversation. When listening, you hear them used to simply substitute or replace a word. Here is a list of those more common “short” meanings.

SignMeaning
QRAName
QRBDistance
QRGFrequency
QRKIntelligibility
QRLBusy
QRMInterference
QRNNoise
QROHigh power
QRPLow power
QRQHigh speed CW
QRSLow speed CW
QRSSVery low speed CW
QRTShut down the station
QRVReady
QRXStand by
QRZ?Who is calling me?
QSBFading
QSDDefective keying
QSKBreak in
QSLConfirmation or card to confirm contact
QSORadio contact
QSYChange frequency
QTCMessage
QTHLocation
QTRTime

The Q-signals that amateurs radios operators use are a subset of the larger collection of International Q-signals. While they are based on older systems, today we use them all the time in ham radio. Here is a more detailed “formal” list of commonly used Q-signals.

Note that the Q-signal is only considered a question if it is followed by a “?” character.

SignQuestionAnswer
QRAWhat is the name (or call sign) of your station?The name (or call sign) of my station is …
QRBHow far are you from my station?The distance between our stations is … nautical miles (or km).
QRGWill you tell me my exact frequency (or that of …)?Your exact frequency (or that of … ) is … kHz (or MHz).
QRHDoes my frequency vary?Your frequency varies.
QRIHow is the tone of my transmission?The tone of your transmission is (1: good, 2: variable 3: bad)
QRKWhat is the readability of my signals (or those of …)?The readability of your signals (or those of …) is … (1: bad .. 5: excellent).
QRLAre you busy?I am busy. (or I am busy with … ) Please do not interfere.
QRMDo you have interference?I have interference.
QRNAre you troubled by static noise?I am troubled by static noise.
QROShall I increase transmit power?Please increase transmit power.
QRPShall I decrease transmit power?Please decrease transmit power.
QRQShall I send faster?Please send faster (… words per minute).
QRSShall I send more slowly?Please send more slowly (… words per minute).
QRTShall I cease or suspend operation?I am suspending operation.
QRUHave you anything for me?I have nothing for you.
QRVAre you ready?I am ready.
QRXShall I standby? / When will you call me again?Please standby. / I will call you again at … (hours) on … kHz (or MHz).
QRZWho is calling me?You are being called by … (on … kHz (or MHz)).
QSAWhat is the strength of my signals (or those of … )?The strength of your signals (or those of …) is … (1: very weak .. 5: very strong).
QSBAre my signals fading?Your signals are fading.
QSDIs my keying defective?Your keying is defective.
QSKCan you hear me between your signals (while transmitting), and if so can I break in on your transmission?I can hear you between my signals (while transmitting); break in on my transmission.
QSLCan you acknowledge receipt?I am acknowledging receipt.
QSMShall I repeat the last telegram (message) which I sent you, or some previous telegram (message)?Repeat the last telegram (message) which you sent me (or telegram(s) (message(s)) numbers(s) …).
QSNDid you hear me (or …) on … kHz (or MHz)?I did hear you (or …) on … kHz (or MHz).
QSOCan you communicate with … direct or by relay?I can communicate with … direct (or by relay through …).
QSPWill you relay a message to …?I will relay a message to … .
QSSWhat working frequency will you use?I will use … kHz (or MHz).
QSUShall I send or reply on this frequency (or on … kHz (or MHz))?Please send or reply on this frequency (or on … kHz (or MHz)).
QSVShall I send a series of “V” on this frequency (or on … kHz (or MHz))?Please send a series of “V” on this frequency (or on … kHz (or MHz)).
QSXWill you listen to … on … kHz (or MHz)?I am listening to … on … kHz (or MHz).
QSYShall I change transmission frequency (to … kHz (or MHz))?Please change transmission frequency (to … kHz (or MHz)).
QSZShall I send each word or group more than once?Send each word or group twice (or … times).
QTCHow many telegrams (messages) have you to send?I have … telegrams (messages) for you (or for …).
QTHWhat is your position in latitude and longitude (or according to any other indication)?My position is … latitude, … longitude.
QTRWhat is the correct time?The correct time is … hours.

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Ham Radio Technician License

One of my 2022 goals was to get my amateur radio license. It’s been on my “to-do later” list for quite some time. This year, the excuses finally stopped and I put up at the top of my “priority” list. Truth be told, I actually found getting my license to be easier than I was expecting it to be.

The FCC has removed mandatory CW (that’s morse code) requirements from all of the classes of its Ham radio licenses, which makes it even easier to get your license today than ever before. The FCC wants you to earn your license. They just also want you to understand what your license allows you to do and not do. In order to pass you just need to score at least a 74% on a 35 question exam. The exam is all multiple-choice, and they provide you with the entire question pool and answers ahead of time to study. They are not trying to pull a fast one with surprise or trick questions. Simply by studying either the ARRL’s official manual or some other material [likely based on the official manual] you really shouldn’t have any problem preparing for the exam and passing it.

To study for my Technician exam, I took a look at quite a few different resources. But I really only used the three different sources listed below – a YouTube collection, an Audible audiobook, and a website with practice questions/tests.

  1. YouTube Series – ARRL’s Learning Center; Dave Casler (KE0OG) Technician Course
    • I found a link to this collection on the ARRL’s website. Dave brakes down all the information required for the Technician License into digestable segments as works his way down thru all of exam content. He has been in this hobby for some time and is quite knowledgeable about the subject matter – and it shows in with his stories he ties to the topics. He follows the ARRL official manual chapter by chapter, so if you have their book, it’ll be easy for you to follow along. Even if you don’t have the book though, it is still easy to follow along with him. The course collection is a series of 37 videos, and while it sounds like a lot, you can power thru this content pretty quickly.
  2. Audible audio book – The Fast Track to Your Technician Class Ham Radio License, By: Michael Brunette AF7KB
    • I want to start off by saying that I love audio books! If you are studying for your Technician, I feel like this book should be a must for you. Michael does an awesome job of presenting both all of the exam topics and reviewing all of the questions in the question pool. The one caveat to his book is that his content does not follow linearly thru the exam module or question pool. He groups similar topics together so he’ll cover all “like” material together. I found it really helpful. I waited to listen to this book until after I watched Dave’s YouTube series that I listed about. I found it easier to retain the content in the audio book in my head when it wasn’t the first time I was learning about it, hence why I turned to it second. To be honest, I actaully listened to this book twice. It was really easy to turn on and listen to while I drove to/from work or did errands. The author had a clear voice – almost like he was used to doing radio – and it was enjoyable to listen and learn to. I really look forward to using his book to study when I start working towards my General class license.
  3. Practice tests and question pool – HamStudy.org
    • This resource was Huge! This is a website that, in my honest opinion, really is the quinensenstial amateur radio study site. It’s a collection of the entire question & answer pool for your exam. It has a study mode, and a quiz mode. You can work thru the entire pool of questions and see all four hundred and something of them. I really liked that it had explainations for each question. It made it really easy to review questions I was having difficulty with. I also was a fan of the mobile app. The app made it super easy and conveninent to study and test and assess myself no matter where I was. The other thing about this using this site, is that it’s basically the same test engine that most the volunteer examiners use when you take your exam, so you’ll already be familiarized with the layout.

I did not use the ARRL’s official manual in my study materials, even though it is a good resource. I simply gave myself about a month to study for it and learn the content. I figured that a month would be more than enough time to study, especially if I was able to commit an hour or two each day.

After putting in the hours of studying, I booked an online exam session. The online sessions are administrated and proctored by at least three volunteer examiners thru the use of Zoom, webcams, and screen sharing so they can make sure that there is no cheating. If you use HamStudy.org to study then you are already ahead of the game as they provide the testing solution that the majority of clubs use to test folks. So you will already be used to the user interface and everything will look and feel very familar to you. Thankfully, my study materials did serve me well, and I was able to pass the Technician exam missing only a single question.

So, to wrap it all up… If you’ve ever thought about getting into Ham Radio, there is no better time than now! If you are interested in the hobby, please feel free to reach out to me and ask me any questions you might have. If you are already a licensed ham radio operator, then hopefully I will get to hear you on the air sometime! 73