© Egbert Hertsen
EgbertHertsen

Amateur Radio

A short introduction to a magnificent hobby

Amateur radio... No, that's definitely not CB or broadcasting some music program on your transistor radio... Unfamiliar what amateur radio is all about? Amateur radio is a hobby that has been around almost as long as radio itself. Amateur radio operators, often referred to as “HAMs”, are people with an interest in radio design, electronics and communication. HAMs enjoy operating their own two-way radio station to talk to people all over the world or in their own community. In the early days of radio a century ago this was done using the "dits" and "dahs" of Morse code, but in this 21st century HAMs not also talk into a microphone but also use high tech digital techniques. HAMs can be found bouncing signals off the moon, using satellites or using the computer in their hobby. Many HAMs simply like to "ragchew", the HAM term for sitting back and having a long conversation with another HAM while others (like me) particularly enjoy contacting stations in as many different parts of the globe as they can on shortwave bands or to compete in one of the internationally organized contests. Amateur radio operators enjoy personal two-way communications with friends, family members, and complete strangers, all of whom must also be licensed. They support the larger public community with emergency and disaster communications. Increasing a person's knowledge of electronics and radio theory as well as radio contesting are also popular aspects of amateur radio. A housewife in Denmark makes friends over the radio with another HAM in Lithuania. A mine worker in Russia participating in a "DX contest" swaps his call sign and talks to hams in 100 different countries during a single weekend. In India, volunteers save lives as part of their involvement in an emergency response. And from his room in South Africa, a HAM's pocket-sized hand-held radio allows him to talk to friends in New Zealand. This unique mix of fun, public service and convenience is the distinguishing characteristic of Amateur Radio. Although HAMs get involved for many reasons, they all have in common a basic knowledge of radio technology and operating principles, and pass an examination for an amateur radio license to operate on radio frequencies known as the "Amateur Bands." These bands are radio frequencies reserved for use by hams at intervals from just above the AM broadcast band of your vintage car radio all the way up into extremely high microwave frequencies.

Who is the typical HAM?

Amateur Radio operators come from all walks of life -- movie stars, missionaries, doctors, students, politicians, truck drivers and just plain folks. They are all ages, sexes, income levels and nationalities. They say Hello to the world in many languages and many ways. But whether they prefer Morse code on an old brass telegraph key, voice communication or computerized messages transmitted via satellite, they all have an interest in what's happening in the world, and they use radio to reach out. Worlds most famous amateur radio operator probably was the late King Hussein from Jordan. Whenever his time permitted, he could be found talking to other HAMs all over the world.

What's the Appeal of HAM radio?

Some HAMs are attracted by the ability to communicate across the country, around the globe, or even with astronauts on space missions. Others may like to build and experiment with electronics. Computer hobbyists enjoy using Amateur Radio's digital communications opportunities. Those with a competitive streak enjoy "DX contests," where the object is to see how many HAMs in distant locations they can contact. Some like the convenience of a technology that gives them portable communication.

What does one need?

The necessary equipment consists of a transmitter and receiver, an antenna (which can be as simple as a piece of wire), a microphone and/or a Morse code key. For more complex communication specialized equipment is required. One can get on the air for as little as 200 with used equipment. The more elaborate one's amateur radio station the higher the financial cost. Using top of the notch radios together with directive antennas mounted on high towers and a high power amplifier will considerably skyrocket the financial burden. Remember however these items are not indispensable to have fun as a ham. Oh yeah... there's one extra thing you definitely need: an amateur radio license!

How to get a license ?

Many

people

become

started

in

amateur

radio

by

finding

a

local

club.

Clubs

can

provide

information

about

licensing

in

their

respective

area,

local

operating

practices

and

technical

advice.

In many countries, amateur licensing is a routine and civil administrative matter. Amateurs are required to pass an examination to demonstrate technical knowledge, operating competence and awareness of legal and regulatory requirements in order to avoid interference with other amateurs and other radio services. In the majority of countries, there are a series of exams available, each progressively more challenging and granting progressively more privileges in terms of frequency availability, power output, and permitted experimentation than previous exams. In many countries, it is no longer necessary to pass a morse code test (at the time of his examination, Egbert still needed to pass such a morse code test). In some countries, however, amateur radio licensing is either inordinately bureaucratic or challenging because some amateurs must undergo difficult security approval. A handful of countries, such as Yemen and North Korea, simply do not permit their citizens to operate amateur radio stations, although in both cases a limited number of foreign visitors have been permitted to obtain amateur licenses in the past decade. A further difficulty occurs in developing countries, where licensing structures are often copied from European countries and annual license fees can be prohibitive in terms of local incomes. This is a particular problem in Africa and to a lesser extent in poorer parts of Asia and Latin America. In Belgium, the licensing authority is the "Belgian Institute for Post and Telecommunications" BIPT . Currently, there are two license classes in Belgium: novice (with limited power output and other restrictions) and the "full" license. It's obvious that one has to pass the examination at the license authorities of one's own country. In Europe and a growing number of other countries one may operate his/her amateur radio station thanks to the CEPT license. One of the few countries which does not require someone to be a citizen is the United States of America. Most foreigners may take part in a test session to seek a stateside license. Although the USA recognizes a CEPT license, some people prefer to pass the american exam and seek a US license if they frequently want to operate from the United States. Besides my "regular" full belgian license, I also holds an Amateur Extra - the highest possible grade - amateur radio license issued by the FCC , the american licensing authority.

Want more information?

The vast majority of active amateur radio operators are member of their own national amateur radio society. National amateur radio clubs are grouped in the International Amateur Radio Union IARU. Most license authorities consult national amateur radio clubs regarding matters than concern the service. Please check this IARU webpage to find information about the national radio club of your country. Only one club may represent the ham community of a specific country at the IARU. Belgians should visit the webpage of their national radio club UBA for more information about amateur radio. There is no excuse for any belgian amateur radio operator not to become member of this organization.
SHACK
Radio rooms are often referred to as "shack". Some amateurs have their shack in the basement or attick, others in their living or even their sleeping room....
QSL
After a successful radio contact - called "QSO" in the radio language - most hams exchange QSL cards. These cards contain the most important data of the contact such as date, time, frequency band, transmission mode, strength report, etc. QSLs serve as proof of contacts.
CONTESTS & AWARDS
Contesting is a competitive activity pursued by amateur radio operators. In a contest, an amateur radio station, which may be operated by an individual or a team, seeks to contact as many other amateur radio stations as possible in a given period of time and exchange information. Contests come in several flavors: from fierce 48 hours competitions working as many stations around the world to smaller contests in which one needs to work as many stations in a single country or from a specific club. The contacts made during the contest contribute to a score by which stations are ranked. Contest sponsors publish the results in magazines and on web sites. As transoceanic communications with amateur radio became more common, competitions were formed to challenge stations to make as many contacts as possible with amateur radio stations in other countries. Over time, the number and variety of radio contests has increased, and some amateur radio operators today pursue the sport as their primary amateur radio activity. Operating awards are given to HAMs who contact (or "work") a certain number of stations. The most prestigous award is DXCC which is available for confirmed contacts with at least 100 countries of the world. The number of operating awards available is literally in the thousands. Awards are issued by both international and regional clubs for specific achievements (eg. working all provincies of Belgium, contacting all 50 states of the USA, working Russian Oblasts, working several members of a telegraphy club in Japan, etc). Award chasing can be very rewarding and for some - like me - it's a main motive for getting on the air day after day.
© Egbert hertsen
EgbertHertsen

Amateur Radio

A short introduction to a

magnificent hobby

Amateur radio... No, that's definitely not CB or broadcasting some music program on your transistor radio... Unfamiliar what amateur radio is all about? Amateur radio is a hobby that has been around almost as long as radio itself. Amateur radio operators, often referred to as “HAMs”, are people with an interest in radio design, electronics and communication. HAMs enjoy operating their own two-way radio station to talk to people all over the world or in their own community. In the early days of radio a century ago this was done using the "dits" and "dahs" of Morse code, but in this 21st century HAMs not also talk into a microphone but also use high tech digital techniques. HAMs can be found bouncing signals off the moon, using satellites or using the computer in their hobby. Many HAMs simply like to "ragchew", the HAM term for sitting back and having a long conversation with another HAM while others (like me) particularly enjoy contacting stations in as many different parts of the globe as they can on shortwave bands or to compete in one of the internationally organized contests. Amateur radio operators enjoy personal two-way communications with friends, family members, and complete strangers, all of whom must also be licensed. They support the larger public community with emergency and disaster communications. Increasing a person's knowledge of electronics and radio theory as well as radio contesting are also popular aspects of amateur radio. A housewife in Denmark makes friends over the radio with another HAM in Lithuania. A mine worker in Russia participating in a "DX contest" swaps his call sign and talks to hams in 100 different countries during a single weekend. In India, volunteers save lives as part of their involvement in an emergency response. And from his room in South Africa, a HAM's pocket- sized hand-held radio allows him to talk to friends in New Zealand. This unique mix of fun, public service and convenience is the distinguishing characteristic of Amateur Radio. Although HAMs get involved for many reasons, they all have in common a basic knowledge of radio technology and operating principles, and pass an examination for an amateur radio license to operate on radio frequencies known as the "Amateur Bands." These bands are radio frequencies reserved for use by hams at intervals from just above the AM broadcast band of your vintage car radio all the way up into extremely high microwave frequencies.

Who is the typical HAM?

Amateur Radio operators come from all walks of life -- movie stars, missionaries, doctors, students, politicians, truck drivers and just plain folks. They are all ages, sexes, income levels and nationalities. They say Hello to the world in many languages and many ways. But whether they prefer Morse code on an old brass telegraph key, voice communication or computerized messages transmitted via satellite, they all have an interest in what's happening in the world, and they use radio to reach out. Worlds most famous amateur radio operator probably was the late King Hussein from Jordan. Whenever his time permitted, he could be found talking to other HAMs all over the world.

What's the Appeal of HAM radio?

Some HAMs are attracted by the ability to communicate across the country, around the globe, or even with astronauts on space missions. Others may like to build and experiment with electronics. Computer hobbyists enjoy using Amateur Radio's digital communications opportunities. Those with a competitive streak enjoy "DX contests," where the object is to see how many HAMs in distant locations they can contact. Some like the convenience of a technology that gives them portable communication.

What does one need?

The necessary equipment consists of a transmitter and receiver, an antenna (which can be as simple as a piece of wire), a microphone and/or a Morse code key. For more complex communication specialized equipment is required. One can get on the air for as little as 200 with used equipment. The more elaborate one's amateur radio station the higher the financial cost. Using top of the notch radios together with directive antennas mounted on high towers and a high power amplifier will considerably skyrocket the financial burden. Remember however these items are not indispensable to have fun as a ham. Oh yeah... there's one extra thing you definitely need: an amateur radio license!

How to get a license ?

Many

people

become

started

in

amateur

radio

by

finding

a

local

club.

Clubs

can

provide

information

about

licensing

in

their

respective

area,

local operating practices and technical advice.

In many countries, amateur licensing is a routine and civil administrative matter. Amateurs are required to pass an examination to demonstrate technical knowledge, operating competence and awareness of legal and regulatory requirements in order to avoid interference with other amateurs and other radio services. In the majority of countries, there are a series of exams available, each progressively more challenging and granting progressively more privileges in terms of frequency availability, power output, and permitted experimentation than previous exams. In many countries, it is no longer necessary to pass a morse code test (at the time of his examination, Egbert still needed to pass such a morse code test). In some countries, however, amateur radio licensing is either inordinately bureaucratic or challenging because some amateurs must undergo difficult security approval. A handful of countries, such as Yemen and North Korea, simply do not permit their citizens to operate amateur radio stations, although in both cases a limited number of foreign visitors have been permitted to obtain amateur licenses in the past decade. A further difficulty occurs in developing countries, where licensing structures are often copied from European countries and annual license fees can be prohibitive in terms of local incomes. This is a particular problem in Africa and to a lesser extent in poorer parts of Asia and Latin America. In Belgium, the licensing authority is the "Belgian Institute for Post and Telecommunications" BIPT . Currently, there are two license classes in Belgium: novice (with limited power output and other restrictions) and the "full" license. It's obvious that one has to pass the examination at the license authorities of one's own country. In Europe and a growing number of other countries one may operate his/her amateur radio station thanks to the CEPT license. One of the few countries which does not require someone to be a citizen is the United States of America. Most foreigners may take part in a test session to seek a stateside license. Although the USA recognizes a CEPT license, some people prefer to pass the american exam and seek a US license if they frequently want to operate from the United States. Besides my "regular" full belgian license, I also holds an Amateur Extra - the highest possible grade - amateur radio license issued by the FCC , the american licensing authority.

Want more information?

The vast majority of active amateur radio operators are member of their own national amateur radio society. National amateur radio clubs are grouped in the International Amateur Radio Union IARU. Most license authorities consult national amateur radio clubs regarding matters than concern the service. Please check this IARU webpage to find information about the national radio club of your country. Only one club may represent the ham community of a specific country at the IARU. Belgians should visit the webpage of their national radio club UBA for more information about amateur radio. There is no excuse for any belgian amateur radio operator not to become member of this organization.