Here’s a special MAKEZine.com article “This is not your grandfather’s HAM radio” – by Thomas Arey N2EI.
Many folks who read Make probably have an image of their grandfather, father, or kindly older neighbor heading down into their basement to talk to people around the world by way of amateur radio. This classic image of voice (and Morse code) communication is still played out every day in thousands of locations. HF radio communication has long been the mainstay of amateur radio.
In the world of modern electronics communication and experimentation, ham radio has gone well beyond the scope of the basic radio communication that might have been the hobby of your grandfather. Also, amateur radio is the only radio service remaining where participants are encouraged to build, modify and improve their equipment in pursuit of the radio art. This seems to fall right in line with the philosophy of Make.Modern hams routinely experiment with digital communication, computer/radio interfacing and remote control applications. Hams utilize GPS receivers to establish roving beacon stations using digital protocols. Amateur operators participate in advanced communication via satellite and even bounce signals off the Moon. Hams experiment with alternative power production. These activities go well beyond anything your grandfather ever dreamed of sitting in his basement, and they are ripe for further discovery at the hands of dedicated and tenacious members of the Make community.
Becoming a licensed amateur radio operator has never been easier.
Effective July 1, 2006, The F.C.C. made changes to the entry level Technician Class test to make it easier to study and pass. The test is 35 questions long, multiple-choice, covering very basic rules and electronic theory. There is no longer a code proficiency requirement for getting started in amateur radio. With the new test procedures, any Make reader could probably pass the current exam with a few hours of study each evening for about two weeks. I know of many folks who have even passed after study over a long weekend.
Unlike when your grandfather got his ham ticket, you no longer need to trek into a major city to find the F.C.C. offices to take your amateur exams. There is now a volunteer examination program run nationwide by trained hams who can administer the test, usually in a much more convenient location than in the past. Locations for these VE sessions can be found at several places on the Internet but I would recommend looking things up first at: http://www.arrl.org/arrlvec/examsearch.phtml
The American Radio Relay League (the national organization for hams, responsible for the above mentioned web site) produces an excellent study guide to get you started in ham radio.
The ARRL Ham Radio License Manual
Level 1 – Technician
By Ward Silver, N0AX, et al
The American Radio Relay League
225 Main Street
Newington, CT 06111-1494
This study guide not only takes you through all the study information you need to pass the test, it also gives you sound information on how to begin your amateur radio activities once you receive your license. The information needed to successfully pass the Technician Class test is presented in easy to read and understand modules. The ARRL has decades of experience in helping people join the amateur radio community, so their training tools are well respected in the ham radio world.
So you’ve studied and passed the test… Now what?
You can begin enjoying Ham Radio with a basic handheld transceiver.
Most folks begin their ham radio experience with a simple handheld transceiver that covers the 2 Meter Amateur Radio band (144 – 148 MHz) The bulk of this range of frequencies is devoted to repeater operation. By utilizing remotely controlled repeaters, located in high locations, a low power handheld transceiver has the ability to communicate over much greater distances, even around the world. Repeater stations are set up by individuals or groups of hams to extend radio communication that often serves to aid in emergencies and other important activities. Some ham repeater systems are operated as IRLP nodes. IRLP stands for Internet Radio Linking Project which is an application of the Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) applied to ham radio. Using these modern technologies, world wide communication far beyond anything your grandfather ever imagined, is possible.
Starting with the basics mentioned above, even the sky isn’t the limit. The most basic amateur radio license gives any ham the opportunity to set up equipment to communicate through any of a number of amateur radio satellites currently orbiting the earth. These satellites are designed and built by groups of hams around the world and are usually deployed during regular commercial satellite launches. There is even a ham radio station on the International Space Station. Many astronauts have their ham licenses (or get them during their training period) and operate from space, talking with ground based hams using very basic equipment.
But most appealing to people who read Make, hams can experiment, modify and construct transmitters, receivers, antennas and accessories. It is possible to build every piece of equipment you use to get on the air, often using parts recovered from other surplused or discarded electronics equipment. Amateur radio does not need to be an expensive hobby, especially for someone who reads and understands the ideas regularly presented in Make magazine.