Ham Radio or Amateur Radio, what is it?
Amateur radio has been my hobby for nearly 60 years and I’m now licensed both in the UK and in the USA as I live both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Amateur radio is often referred to as CB radio, which it most certainly is not. In order to operate on the amateur frequencies a level of competence is required in an attempt to have sufficient knowledge to operate safely and avoid interference to other services including emergency services. Amateur Radio has moved on significantly since the days that I first became interested in the hobby. Back then it was the normal practice to construct your own transmitter and receiver. That was before micro electronics and solid state equipment. The actual idea of amateur radio is for experimentation and developing skills and it is on that basis that a licence is granted. That aspect is now sadly in the past and most now just use as another communication channel.
My first receiver was an old ex military Marconi receiver with a 120 foot long wire strung up the length of my parents rear garden with the end 20 feet up in their pear tree. I still have the log book from those days proudly recording amateur radio stations in far distant locations, Tristan da Cunha in the South Atlantic Ocean, Bouvet Island an uninhabited island with the station being an expedition on the island. Numerous Russian (USSR) stations near to Europe and far into Asian USSR. I have dozens of confirmed contacts with far flung places.
QSL Cards: are a written confirmation of a two way communication or in the case of a short wave listener, a reception report sent to an amateur radio station received by the short wave listener. Most radio amateurs start life as short wave listeners and then get bitten by the bug and end up taking a course and a written examination in order to get a transmitting licence. Some countries require in addition to the theory examination an ability with morse code, usually to 12 words per minute.
There are still some older generation amateurs that still build their own equipment but it has now moved on to “ready to use” solid state black boxes. With automatic antenna tuning etc, it has made operation less technical. however the antenna system is always a major consideration. Your local situation and how deep your pocket is will often dictate what type of antenna can be erected.
The required knowledge before you can become a licensed amateur radio operator does include antenna construction and propagation which is the behaviour of radio waves as they travel, or are propagated, from one point to another or into various parts of the atmosphere. It is important to have some knowledge to minimise interference to other users, particularly emergency services land, air and sea based.
Not too many radio hams are fortunate enough to have such antenna systems as above, given space restrictions, local authority policies and costs. An antenna system as above could cost several thousand dollars for example. However, to get some success far simpler antennas can be used, such as long wire, dipoles, verticals also depending on chosen bands, such as the VHF spectrum usually requiring smaller antenna arrays.
Amateur radio isn’t just about fun or stimulating your mind, it’s a valuable service to the community in times of natural disasters. Frequently radio amateurs are the only source of communication to the outside world when local communications are no longer available in floods, hurricanes and tornadoes for example. In fact it is a requirement and is an obligation to provide such help if required. Many, if not all radio amateurs also have portable transceivers which of course are ideal during power cuts (outages).
There are national societies in most countries including the Radio Society of Great Britain (RSGB) and the American Radio Relay League (ARRL). These societies represent the amateur radio fraternity against the pressures from industry forever looking to take on more of the radio spectrum and infringing on amateur bands agreed in international law.
Most astronauts visiting the space station are licensed radio hams and in fact I have QSL card from a radio ham on board on one of the Space Shuttles, which was exciting. Many schools now include communication with the Space Station to stimulate interest in space and science in general.
There are amateur radio contests most weekends of the year and the competitive spirit is fierce. Those that can afford high power transceivers, linear amplifiers and high gain antennas at 60 foot or even much taller masts. By the sound of some amateurs operating in contests, it sounds as though they are using broadcast station power output!
Clipperton Island expedition confirmation of two way contact. It is an uninhabited Atoll in the Pacific Ocean
Part of the fun and reward of amateur radio is seeking out rare distant stations and some wealthy amateurs from Europe and the USA actually charter boats to rare often uninhabited islands in order to provide that rare amateur radio QSL card. These are called DX-peditions which is basically an expedition to an exotic place such as a rare island or location generally not having any operating amateurs. Usually due to remoteness, access restrictions. DX in amateur radio usually refers to a long distance contact.
There are many facets of amateur radio, from amateur television, yes, actually television, amateur satellites built or commissioned by radio amateurs which can be operated through using quite basic transceiving equipment enabling trans continental contacts. Currently there are dozens of amateur radio satellites and around 18 of them are active. Further and more up to date information can be obtained from AMSAT see below.
If you want further information on becoming a radio amateur contact one of these organisations:
Radio Society of Great Britain: http://www.rsgb.org
The American Radio Relay League: http://www.arrl.org
Amateur Radio Satellites http://www.amsat.org
Equipment – If you are looking to start check out eBay.
Main equipment manufacturers are YAESU, Icom, Kenwood