Ham Radio – Beginners Guide For & By A Beginner

I recently attended a tech conference in Phoenix, Arizona and as is my usual modus operandi I took every freaking opportunity to show off my radio gear, strutting around the conference grounds with my Baofeng F8HP on full display. This is not out of the ordinary for me. Pretty much any time you see me in public – on a bus, in a coffee shop, in a park – I’ll be openly carrying.

Rocking the Anthuor horns next to my Baofeng HT radio.

Only in those moments where I require two hands do I resign myself to clipping the thing to my back pocket, letting the obnoxious Nagoya antenna flap around like Morrissey with a bouquet of flowers dangling from his jeans.

Bigmouth Strikes Again. Can’t stop, won’t stop talking about my radio….

I want people to ask me what the hell I’ve got there! I’m not afraid to admit I want to evangelize for the hobby. Just the other day some teenagers on the street asked me point blank what  I was doing with a device that looked like “something those guys used in Jurassic Park“. I couldn’t convince these youngsters that they should ditch their smartphones (and their $80/month data plans) for a Amateur Radio License, but you better believe I’ll be back to fight the good fight another day.

Though I’m having less than stellar success rates, I still believe that this approach at ham proselytization is worth the effort. And not like it’s all been for nothing – I have had several strangers reach out to me to get more information/indoctrination. For instance, after #RailsConf I had someone reach out on twitter:

Finally! Oh, how long my heart has yearned for this day….

So, in furtherance of our goal of helping to inspire #1000newhams, we here at SCAN THE PLANET  are going to offer some tips for how one can go about getting a license and start transmitting on the air.

Basic steps for getting your Amateur Radio license

1) There is no getting around this: If you want to be legal, you need a license. Being licensed will give you the authority to broadcast on the amateur radio bands. Also, it’s just cool to be able to have our own call letters for a station unto yourself. For instance: I am WI5HER. I get to fully embody that call sign and I can feel it beginning to merge with my identity…

With websites like ae7q.com you can even research to apply for a ‘vanity’ call sign (that’s what I did with WI5HER, and hint hint, as of this writing WO4HHH and WO0WOO are both totally still available!)

2) What does a license give you? Well, just like your favorite FM radio station has been granted authority via the FCC to broadcast on a frequency somewhere between 87.5 to 108.0 MHz, ham radio operators have been entrusted with a whole chunk of spectrum in which they can experiment with their communications. Within that allocated spectrum, there are conventions on the type of communications allowed (like these frequencies are for voice communication, these are CW / Morse code, those are for digital modes, etc). The key is that you need a license so that you hop on one of those allocated frequencies, identify yourself, and make contacts! There are also some rules that you need to know around what your transmissions should look like (no music, no ‘broadcasting’ like a shock jock to the public, regular identification every 10 minutes, etc).

3) Lucky for you, it’s remarkably easy to acquire a license! If you’re in the United States, you can use the ARRL website to look up where you can take an exam. If the thought of an exam gives you the cold sweats, you should relax knowing that there will only be 35 questions on the test and you can miss up to 9 of them and still qualify for a Technician class license. Though it’s a ‘closed book’ test,  every possible question and answer is available to you before taking the test so you have every opportunity to become familiar with the material.

4) The ARRL also has a book that is a good study guide with all the questions and answers and introductory explanations behind the answers. If you want to actually “know” what’s going on and not just pass the test with your incredibly sharp memory, this is a great resource. I also found the flash cards on http://hamstudy.org to be invaluable and my preferred way for learning the material.

That’s it.

Contrary to prior versions of the test, you no longer need to demonstrate even a small amount of proficiency in Morse Code (CW). I can’t imagine having to do that – it seems like a huge barrier to entry and I’m glad they got rid of that part of the test.

Photography of an old version of the test being administered …. probably

I personally think the examination should be made even more concise (a test focusing on the legal and basic technical aspects only). Wouldn’t it be great if more people could have a fast track to get licensed – something that would allow more people to transmit on the local “repeaters” in their region with an out-of-the-box solution like a $30 HT (handie-talkie). Something that would require no knowledge of antenna design, no futzing with knowing the details of the internal parts of a radio. Just getting on the air and feeling the magic of talking with strangers. If later someone wants to to learn about slightly more technical things, there could be a way to level up from there. But I digress…

Bottom line – if you are wondering if you should do this the answer IS YES RIGHT NOW DO IT PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE. That’s my pitch more or less.

Because really, I’ll think you’ll find it’s a lot easier than you expect. I know for me, it has opened up a whole world of fun and accessible technology and also some engagement with people, spectrum, and worlds that were always there swirling around me, but hitherto invisible.

And if you’re already involved in ham radio, what path did you take?                
Do you have any resources that might help someone who is just beginning?         
Let us know in the comments!

Alternative Phonetics – Modernizing The Amateur Radio Alphabet

Here is the traditional NATO Phonetic Alphabet.

It is often used when giving your call on the amateur bands to clarify letters that may sound alike (“b” and “d” for instance).



We here at the Anthourian Technoloyg Club are working on a more modern version of the alphabet that might appeal more to ‘millennials’ and other folks interested in the Ancient Spectrum Arts.

I know, for myself, I’d much much rather throw out: Wizard Internet 5 Hypogeum E-Meet Reiki on the local nets.

Here is our proposed list. If you would like to contribute to the public discussion and offer your own suggestions, you can comment on the pull request here

A – Anthuor 🦌
B – Broccoli 🌳
C – Coven 🍯
D – Dongle 📟
E – E-meet 📩
F – Frodo 🌋
G – Gazebo 🎪
H – Hypogeum ⛳
I – Internet 💻
J – Juicero 🍉
K – Kimchi 🔥
L – Lunar 🌓
M – Mystery ⚗
N – New Wave 😎
O – Oculus 🕶
P – Portal 🕳
Q – Quasi 〰️
R – Reiki 🙌
S – Sauerkraut 🥗
T – Tarot 🃏
U – UFO 👽
V – Vinegar 🍷
W – Wizard 🎩
X – X-Files 👩‍💼
Y – Yeti ☃️
Z – Zune 📱

Dude, who shot my repeater?

I noticed in a few videos online by preppers about HTs, especially Baofengs, there is a kind of military melodrama storyline being played. In one of the videos I watched, there’s actually someone who gets shot in the woods by some opposing force. That’s a tad much for my tastes. Does that really help sell the radio? I don’t know…

It’s funny in comparison, this dramatic head-game some people get into with radio, compared to what appears to the newcomer to be an utterly mundane and actually kind of boring routine of, for example, a nightly net check-in. I’m always hearing people say things like:

  • The weather
  • That they have to message
  • That they wish everyone a great weekend.

It’s totally not exciting.

I actually haven’t been able to check into a net yet for various reasons. My local repeater seems to have gone dark the day I got my license (conspiracy?).

I *suspect* the real thrill–beyond just listening, which I’m enjoying for its own sake–is the back and forth. The act of speaking, being heard, communicating. In other words, kind of the opposite of shooting people. But hey, maybe that’s just me. Everyone is entitled to their own fantasies.

Test scheduled

Since Industry Canada was not very welcoming about having me out to their place to take the exam, I scheduled my Basic Qualification (BQ) for next week with one of the volunteer accredited examiners here at the local radio club. I still have to pay $20 but that fee goes to the radio club instead, which seems more worthy anyway.

My Baofeng speaker mic, a longer Nagoya antenna and another mag mount antenna for the car arrived today (amazon.ca) but the mailman left a note at the door instead of delivering them for some reason. I didn’t go pick them up from the drop-off point though yet because I don’t have the actual radio on hand, so it seems sort of pointless, to as wi5her suggested, stand there with the antenna in one hand, the mic in the other and call CQ over OpenQNL. But then again, maybe not.