Why Ham Radio?


Scorpion SA-680 Screwdriver Antenna

Fred’s Truck with Antenna

Every so often, I drive Fred’s truck into work and people ask me what that big antenna on the back of the truck is for. I explain to them that it is for Ham Radio.  But the reply is usually, why ham radio – isn’t that outdated technology?  We have cell phones and IM, etc…what do we need Ham Radio for?  So I thought I would put down my thoughts as a relatively new Ham about why I enjoy spending so much of my time with Ham Radio.

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Amateur Radio for Public Service

Public Service

The number one reason we still need Ham Radio along with all the other technology we now have is for public service.  When there is a disaster and cell phones, television, etc are all not working, Ham Radio operators provide the critical communication.

Ham Radio operators help locally to keep hospitals and first responders in contact with each other to help those affected by the disaster.

Hams also use our ability to communicate around the world on HF bands to help family members around the world to get in touch with loved ones affected by a disaster.

Ham Radio operators have been on the scene helping in every disaster from the earthquakes in Nepal to the recent flooding in California.

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Amateur Radio Cube Satellites

Technology and the Maker Movement

I only became a Ham 5 years ago but many of my fellow Ham Radio operators got their license when they were in their early teens and used what they learned to launch their careers. Many have had very successful careers in STEM fields, all launched by their interest in Ham Radio at a young age.  As technology advances, so does the technology used in our hobby.   We even have a nobel laureate, Joe Taylor K1JT who is a ham. Joe has developed weak signal digital communication modes that let us communicate by bouncing signals off the moon!

As technology has advanced, so has the use of it in Ham Radio.   Most Ham Radio operators have one or more computers in their shack.  Many also have a software designed radio (SDR), where much of the radio functionality is implemented using Software, we use sound cards to run digital modes, which are a lot like texting over the radio, and we use the internet extensively as part of operating.  We can also make contacts through satellites orbiting the earth and even the International Space Station.

Most hams love do-it-yourself technical projects, including building a station, home brewing an antenna, building a radio or other station component.  In my day job, I am a program manager for software development projects, but its been a while since I have built anything. As a Ham I taught myself how to code in Python and about the Raspberry Pi and I built the DX Alarm Clock.

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QSL Card from VK6LC in Western Australia

International Camaraderie

One of the coolest things about being an amateur radio operator is that you can communicate with other hams all over the world. Ham Radio is an international community where we all have something in common to talk about – our stations and why we enjoy ham radio.    The QSL card above is from a memorable QSO with Mal, VK6LC, from Western Australia, who was the last contact that I needed for a Worked All Zones award.  I must have talked to him for 1/2 hour about his town in Australia and his pet kangaroos!

world-map

Amateur Radio Map of the World

Geography Lesson

I have learned much about geography from being on the air and trying to contact as many countries as I can.  There are 339 DX Entities, which are countries or other geographical entities and I have learned where each one is in order to understand where propagation will allow me make a contact.  I have learned a great deal about world geography. Through exchanging QSL cards often get to see photos from so many areas of the world.

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DXCC Challenge Award Plaque

Achievement – DXing and Contesting

DXing and Contesting provide a sense of achievement and exciting opportunity for competition. Many Hams work toward operating awards. You can get an operating award for contacting all 50 states, contacting 100 or more countries, contacting Islands, cities in Japan, countries in Asia, or anything else you can imagine.  Each of these operating awards provides a sense of accomplishment and helps to build skills.  Contesting builds skills through competition among Hams to see who can make the most contacts with the most places in 24 or 48 hours. Contesting also improves our operating skills and teaches us to copy callsigns and additional data accurately.

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Teaching a License Class

Teaching Licensing Classes – Passing it On

Recently I have joined a team of club members who teach license classes to others who want to get licensed or upgrade their existing Amateur Radio licenses.  Teaching provides a way to improve my presentation skills and also helps me to really understand the material that we teach about Amateur Radio.  It is always a thrill at the end of the class to see so many people earn their licenses or upgrades.

There are so many interesting aspects of Ham Radio which is what makes is such a great hobby.  Getting your license can open up a world of possibilities.  Upgrading to a new license class provides more opportunities to communicate over longer distances.  Ham Radio clubs, including our local club, the Nashua Area Radio Club,  provide many resources to help you get your first licenseupgrade to a new license class, and learn about the many aspects of our hobby.

Becoming A Great Elmer


Teaching Amateur Radio License Classes

Teaching Amateur Radio License Classes

There is much being said and written these days about the importance of bringing new people, especially young people, into our Hobby. There are many obvious reasons for this. As we all get older or get busy with other aspects of our lives, some will leave the hobby. Also, we have the use of many commercially valuable portions of the RF spectrum and there is always pressure to reallocate bands or segments of bands which are not fully utilized. In my mind, the most important reason to bring new HAMs into our hobby has to do with the energy and new ideas that these folks bring to Amateur Radio. Amateur Radio has always been a learning hobby and new folks help us to keep this important part of what makes our hobby so much fun vibrant.

Anita (AB1QB) and I putting a lot of time and energy into getting folks started in Amateur Radio and helping them to build their skills and progress. Our Amateur Radio License Classes and the youth outreach work that we’ve been doing are two good examples of this. To make these efforts as successful as they can be, it’s also very important to provide good opportunities for folks who are new to various aspects of Amateur Radio to learn and gain experience. This means becoming an “Elmer” or a HAM Radio mentor to people who are less experienced in some part of the hobby than you are.

Perhaps the most challenging part of Amateur Radio for many new HAMs is making the transition from getting their initial license or a license upgrade, to getting on the air with their new privileges. I think that this is equally true for newly licensed folks and for folks who have upgraded to a higher license class and are looking to get onto the HF bands. It’s impossible to teach everything that one needs to get the most from their Amateur License in classes alone.

Help A Young Person Learn To Operate From Your Shack

Help A Young Person Learn To Operate From Your Shack

So what does effective Elmer’ing look like? I think that the answer is different for every HAM. For a new Tech, it may be as simple as helping the person to pick their first radio and antenna along with some help getting it programmed for the local repeaters. For a person upgrading their license to gain HF privileges, it is often about helping to get a first HF antenna up along with helping them to select equipment for and assemble a first HF station. All of these folks will also benefit from help getting on the air and learning to operate. Most of all, a great Elmer is someone who is willing to give their time to help a person who is new to an aspect of Amateur Radio learn and get started doing what they want to do.

I have personally found that being an Elmer to be one of the most rewarding and enjoyable aspects of Amateur Radio. Every time that I help someone get on the air for the first time or help someone to build their first HF antenna or station, I get the same enjoyment as when I did these things for the first time in my Amateur Radio experience.

Elmer’ing is also a great opportunity for the “Elmer” to learn new things. Newer or less experienced folks will have different things that they want to try or learn about than those things that we “Elmers” consider our “tried and true” Amateur Radio activities. A great Elmer will help the less experienced HAM take on these projects and learn along with them. This gives the less experienced person the confidence and support that they need to try more difficult projects with confidence. The learning experience associated with being an Elmer has often been the best part of the experience for me.

So how does one get started with Elmer’ing? You could open your station to newer HAMs and offer them a chance to get on the air and learn to operate. There is always someone looking to put up a new antenna or to repair an existing one. These are all great opportunities for Elmer’ing. Also, you could consider creating a presentation that you can deliver at your local radio club meetings as a way to share specialized knowledge or experience that you may have. If you are new licensed, perhaps you could help someone who is studying for their license exam with some of the areas that they are finding difficult. Also, new folks tend to have experience with computers and the Internet that many of the folks who have been in the hobby for a while can benefit from. This can be a 2-way Elmer’ing opportunity.

I hope that all of our readers will consider becoming an Elmer in some way. Your efforts to help someone new or less experienced can provide you with the satisfaction that you helped to make Amateur Radio a better hobby for everyone.

– Fred (AB1OC)

An Introduction To Amateur Radio At The Academy For Science And Design


SPARK Day At The Academy For Science And Design

SPARK Day At The Academy For Science And Design

John Keslo, W1MBG and I (both members of the Nashua Area Radio Club) recently had the chance to visit the Academy for Science and Design (ASD) in Nashua, New Hampshire to provide an Introduction to Amateur Radio for the students there. ASD’s goal is to be a world-class school that specializes in science, engineering, mathematics and design for students in grades 6-12. ASD periodically holds SPARK (Symposium Promoting Advancement of Real-world Knowledge) conferences, which enable ASD students to learn about areas which might help them to develop careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and/or Math (STEM). The students at ASD are extremely bright and are highly motivated to develop STEM careers. We had about 45 students elect to attend the two sessions that John and I presented.

Introduction To Amateur Radio Video

Introduction To Amateur Radio Video

After some introductions and a little time spent by John and me to explain how Amateur Radio has led each of us to careers in Engineering, we showed the group a video entitled Discovering Amateur Radio. This video provides an excellent introduction to Amateur Radio and we have used it successfully in many settings include the Nashua Area Radio Club sponsored Technician License Training Classes that we have been doing.

Demonstration Station Setup

Demonstration Station Setup

John and I setup a portable HF Radio Station at the school to enable us to demonstrate Amateur Radio to the students. We used an Elecraft KX3 Transceiver with an outboard PX3 Pan Adapter and a KPA100 Amplifier (100W).

20m Vertical Antennas Using Buddi-pole Kit

20m Vertical Antennas Using Buddipole Kit

We also built a 20m Vertical Antenna with elevated radials outside the school. We used the Buddipole Antenna System to build this very effective antenna for the demonstration.

Amateur Radio Demonstration

Amateur Radio Demonstration

The students were very interested in the radio setup and antennas and asked quite a few questions about both the setup and how they could get involved in Amateur Radio. John and I were able to get on the air and make several contacts. The operators that we contacted spoke with some of the kids and shared their experiences with Amateur Radio which made the session great fun for everyone involved.

Maggie Hassan, NH State Governor, Visiting ASD SPARK

Maggie Hassan, NH State Governor, Visiting ASD SPARK

We were honored to have the Governor of the State of NH, Maggie Hassan visit our ASD SPARK session. The picture above shows John explaining  Amateur Radio and how we were using it to help forward the goals of ASD’s students.

It was very rewarding and a lot of fun for John and me to participate in SPARK day at the Nashua Academy for Science and Design. I hope the we’ll have a chance to do this again in the future.

– Fred (AB1OC)

Technician Licensing Class in Southern New Hampshire


Technician License Class Notice

Technician License Class Notice

The Nashua Area Radio Club in New Hampshire, USA is putting together Technician License Training Class and I’d like to encourage everyone to help us to sign up interested folks in the Nashua, NH area for the class. The class will be held at the Darmouth-Hitchcock Facility in Nashua, NH. The information on the class is listed above and pre-registration is required.

We will be teaching using ARRL’s Technician lesson plan which includes demos and video material to make the class interesting and a great learning experience for new HAMs. We will hold a License testing session at the end of the course so that folks can earn their Technician License. Folks in the Nashua, New Hampshire area can contact me using the information above to register.

Encouraging folks in your area to take a class such as this one is a great way to “give back” to our hobby.

– Fred (AB1OC)