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Amateur Radio is a great hobby if you're interested in radio wave propagation, RF engineering, radiosport, digital modes, satellites, etc.

It's surprisingly easy to get a license, and you'll find that many of the older generation of radio amateurs are among the most young-at-heart oldsters you'll encounter.




If you are at all interested in Amateur Radio, next weekend (June 25-26) check out a Field Day site close by! http://www.arrl.org/field-day-locator

Field Day is meant to be a test of emergency communications preparedness, where the idea is that hams from all over (the US at least) set up operation off-the-grid, and attempt to make contact with as many stations as possible.

This is a great way to meet the local Ham community, as it is one of the biggest social/public events in Amateur Radio. It's too bad they didn't mention it in the article...


True! There are all sorts of ways people do field day. A few tips for someone planning to follow kbaker's advice:

- Check out a few field day setups, different groups have different goals and culture, and you may connect with one more than another.

- Stick around a while. Many hams will stop by the local field day and hang out for a bit. Someone who is interested in something that you want to learn about might stop by at any minute.

- Give it a try, you can operate the gear with permission from one of the licensed operators.

- Definitely check out CW (morse code). It's amazing that it's still in use but it's lots of fun.


> - Definitely check out CW (morse code). It's amazing that it's still in use but it's lots of fun.

Morse is one of those "unreasonably effective" technologies.

* Short of very advanced (and likewise constrained) digital methods, it's the king of long distance.

* You can whack together a radio out of $10 of scrap bits.

* You can't buy it. It's not a circuit or a thing. It's a skill that you need to learn and it takes way more than just learning the alphabet.


Yes, not to mention that doing it results in a very unique sort of flow/zen state. Highly addictive :)


Thanks for the info! I just got my license recently but have been getting a slow start. I'll have to check this out


I have the impression it's less developed in Europe. Am I wrong ?


It's just one part of amateur radio, but Europe's HAMNET (mentioned in the article https://www.tapr.org/pdf/DCC2014-TheEuropeanHAMNET-DG8NGN.pd... ) is a lot more developed than what we have in the US.


I think Field Day is more of a US thing. It is really setup around an official contest put on by the ARRL, which gives extra points for operating off-grid, or portable. There are no extra points for international (DX) contacts during Field Day operation though, as opposed to some other contests.

But for Amateur Radio in general, it is a very international organization, with widely different areas of interest.


Radiosport and High Speed Telegraphy competitions are very big in Europe, and the demographic in EU is a bit younger than in the US:

Some links:

http://www.rufzxp.net/toplist.htm

and

http://www.wwyc.net/?p=members


I am the type that would go and get a license to start messing around with something like packet radio, but the last time I looked into it I encountered two things that I thought were huge road blocks.

First, the study material and sample questions were way out of my league. I studied physics in college so I am not completely ignorant when it comes to things like frequency, phase, modulation, etc. However, I could not figure out what the hell I was reading in the study guide.

Second was the cost. I am ok with building my own equipment out of repurposed electronics, or spending a few bucks on some type of add on card, but the guides I found were talking about $500 beginner radios.

It is quite possible that I was looking at some very advanced type of ham license and communications equipment. If so, what is the best place to start. If not, then y'all must be some kind of rich geniuses!


I really liked using https://hamstudy.org. I didn't feel like there were any surprises when I took the test. I took practice tests on hamstudy until I was sure I'd pass Tech, then found out the test date was nearly a month out so I started flipping through the test for General and ended up passing it.

When you test you take the first, if you pass you can take the second - no extra charge. Same with the third level.

It is easy and inexpensive. For a starter radio, as low quality as they are, a Baofeng UV-82HP is the way to go. Find out if you like it, use it and have anyone in your area to to talk to before spending the big bucks. I went more than a year with the cheap radio, learned who is in the community and which repeaters I want to use and finally put down the money for a decent mobile radio.


I invested some time in understanding the syllabus and clearing the ARRL exams. You may want to take it one step at a time.

Also, radio needn't been too expensive. Check out the Baofeng hand held units that retail for about USD 30 on Amazon. These are only for UHF and VHF. For HF (international), you could either use repeaters, or Radio gateways on the Internet, or EchoLink. I use EchoLink on my mobile phone when I'm in countries where I don't have a license to operate.


What's nice about the Baofeng VHF/UHF handhelds is that they correspond with the frequencies available to an entry level ("technician") US amateur radio license. When combined with an online study guide, the test fees and radio combined are less than $75, providing an inexpensive introduction to learning a lot about RF systems and proper radio operating procedures.


True -- And this is just the very tip of the iceberg. Not bad if you want to spend $35 to get started, but far less amazing than if you spend $100 on some simple HF gear.


The tests are not as hard as the study guide would make you believe. And frankly (at least when I took them a few years ago) were not put together very well. I wasn't working through practice test apps very long before I picked up a lot patterns to the questions and answers.

If you passed college physics, you can study enough to pass technician and probably general in a weekend. I passed all 3 in one sitting on my first go.


Memorize the book, and then test, you honestly only need to understand about 1/3rd of it later, the rest you'll pick up as you need. Second, used land mobile gear is a great way to get started, I can help you find a radio too.


Check out The No-Nonsense Study Guides[1]. They are stripped down to just the essential knowledge for the exams. They won't help you master the material, but will give you more than enough information to pass the exams.

I used them with great success to pass all three tests on my first attempt.

[1] http://www.kb6nu.com/study-guides/


I am certainly a layman when it comes to the sciences, and I had no problem passing the cert. Best thing to do is to check with local clubs, often there will be weekend or evening classes (only a few hours total) that you can take which will speed you through the process immensely. It's definitely the kind of thing you can learn by rote and then figure out the 'why' later on.


- There is a lot of gear available at low cost. Many people will mentor you and loan you some gear to get started.

> y'all must be some kind of rich geniuses!

The issue is that it's actually a really fun hobby, so it ends up feeling reasonable to spend a fair bit on it, but you certainly don't have to in order to have fun.


Totally the truth. I got my technician license with about an hour of studying and the "experts" were great folks, and desperate for new blood. Young people aren't learning about radio as much these days.

One of the old guys took me out in his brand new Tesla Model S around the time the cars had just come out and I had never seen one. It was pretty neat and a good memory I have of the community.

There are some really nice and knowledgable people on the radio. Listen for me, KK4PPF!


At my license exam, I was the only one under 40 there. There's definitely room for hobbyist radio to expand, especially with the proliferation of SDR, arduino and other hobby electronics. But the stereotype of hams as old white men who use fancy radios to talk about the weather is pretty accurate in my experience.


I'm on the board of the amateur radio club at my university. It's incredibly difficult to attract students to the club. I think it's less a problem of an age gap and more a problem of the opportunity cost from tinkering with transceivers and not, say, strongly typed programming languages.


If my university had such a thing, I'd be the first person to sign up!

As it stands we don't, but a couple friends and I are working on a CTF team (the security competition kind) with weekly meetings. We have been meeting for almost two years now, but as we go on internships and even graduate, potential new members seem indeed more interested in drinking and Call of Duty...


You should start one. When I was a freshman my university had a faltering club and I sort of gave up on it but really wish I'd helped revitalize it.


The same could have been said about a lot of electronics not too long ago. I feel like the tide could swing back with the resurgence of hardware tinkering/Maker movement. It wouldn't take the form of cranky old vacuum tube radios though. More likely HackRF digital stuff controlling a wide area of IoT widgets or something.

I'm surprised we're not seeing more Amateur Radio style equipment used in drones but perhaps the FAA line of sight restrictions don't make range such a priority.


At my license exam, almost everyone was under 40.

But that was at DEFCON. In general you are right.

They don't only talk about weather though.... they also talk about their health problems and rant about Obama.


Is it a good crowd there? I didn't try and find where they were doing it at DC 23. I might try for my general at 24.


You're lucky if weather is the big topic in your area - usually all I hear are bowel problems.


> At my license exam, I was the only one under 40 there.

If they want more young blood, ham activist should seriously lobby to abolish the licensing requirements.


The licensing requirements in the US are largely guided by the American Radio Relay League, which is Amateur Radio's lobbying group.

The requirements are quite minimal. I was licensed as a pre-teen with no trouble, and many on HN describe passing after studying for a few hours.

The important thing about the license is that it is a knowledge-based test. Even though you can memorize the answers to the questions, you learn that there is theory behind it and it's not just magical technology.

There are also a lot of questions about band plans and operating procedure, which help keep things civil and organized (though we could use more FCC enforcement).


That may or may not be true (CB radio isn't licensed and there's still not much interest in it), but I think the cons far outweigh the pros there.


I'll probably get modded down for saying this, but I think the stereotype is true, and there's a good reason no one under 40 bothers with the hobby: why waste so much time and energy and money on a hobby where all you can do is talk to people? (Note, I'm not under 40, I'm just over it.) I can get a smartphone and use apps to text people, and see their photos, save the conversations, etc. I can get on the internet with a phone or laptop and participate in discussion forums like this one, and see people's thoughts in text form: it's much faster to read than to listen to someone drawl, plus I don't have to actually be here at the same time; I can read someone's response hours or days later and then compose my reply.

What exactly does ham radio offer than isn't done in a FAR superior manner with the internet?

I tried getting into ham radio when I was younger, but I quickly realized I had no interest in it beyond the technology itself (since I like electronics).

For my to get interested in a hobby, there has to be some real utility to it (such as car repair), or it has to bring me real enjoyment somehow (such as playing guitar). Ham does not offer this at all. There's no utility to it for me (I'm not really interested in being involved in emergency communications), and there's absolutely zero enjoyment in it (I have zero desire to "shoot the shit" with a bunch of random men and no women, and all of them in far-away places where I can't even see them).

It seems that the only real value the hobby has, once you have a working radio, is for socializing. But if I want to socialize, there's far better ways for me to do this using technology: dating apps, meetup.com events, or planning something with one of my existing friends in "meatspace". Jabbering with some random old guy 2000 miles away does not sound like fun to me.


Here are a few examples of things that are fun and are not conversation oriented:

- Radiosport: competitions involve completing short contacts with other stations, but the information exchanged is usually a serial number, location indicator, etc. This is fun because it's a flow activity that requires great strategy and knowledge of radio wave propagation, band conditions, etc. It requires no pleasantries or exchange of personal info whatsoever.

- Satellite stuff: Brief contacts are made during flyovers, but most of the energy goes into understanding the orbits, timing, doppler shift, antenna characteristics, etc.

- Low Power / experimental VLF bands: Some amateurs love to squeeze out the most from milliwatts.

- Designing / Building radios, circuits, filters, antennas, etc. There is always room to improve the state of the art, share designs, ideas, construction methods, etc. This is similar to hobby electronics however the communications use of the gear is a nice way to prove that your approach was solid (or superior to other engineering approaches used in the past).

I think for most who end up enjoying amateur radio, radio waves feel a bit like magic, and there is something very cool about understanding them and (relatively directly) manipulating them. If you don't feel a difference between communications on HF using gear you built or designed and using Skype, then I'm pretty sure you would not enjoy Amateur radio.

The same argument could be made about the other hobbies you mention. Why play your own instrument if you aren't better than whatever professional musician you like best? Why play casual sports if you aren't ready for the professional team?

If you look at the difference in band activity between popular radiosport events and casual conversation, there is about 1000x more activity during the radiosport competitions.

The nice thing is that many radio amateurs are fairly interesting to talk to and have interesting backgrounds and stories. Not all, but I'd say that compared to the people I typically meet at a meetup or random community event, amateur radio is a better predictor of someone being interesting, creative, successful, having good critical thinking skills, etc. There are always exceptions, but it is a pretty unique subculture.

If you don't find it a fit, that's completely fine, but it's likely to be your loss. I think your comment got downvotes because it comes off like a bro lamenting too many dudes at a bar.


Your examples still fail my "usefulness test" I mentioned before. It's basically just doing something technical for the fun of it. It's not different than writing some fancy program that does absolutely nothing useful, just so you can have fun programming. If you like to do that kind of thing, then more power to you; I personally don't like anything like that: I have to have a real purpose behind any project I spend time on, not just doing for the sake of doing.

As for the purpose behind playing an instrument, that's basically an enjoyment thing. If you're musically talented or inclined, you'll enjoy playing an instrument in a way you don't get just listening to someone else play. I don't think you even have to be musically inclined to understand the concept though: lots of people like driving cars, for instance; that doesn't mean they want to sit on their asses and watch someone else drive in circles. Having the experience yourself has a significant value, which you don't get by watching someone else have the experience.

The same partly goes for playing sports, except that playing sports also gives you exercise, develops your muscles and reflexes, etc. Sitting in front of the TV drinking beer and watching other people play sports just makes you fat.

I think my comment got downvotes because the people on this site are generally jerks who downvote anything that disagrees with their hivemind opinion. This place is far, far worse than Reddit that way, and this is usually a big complaint about Reddit. Reddit has nothing on the readership here. Because of this, I generally will upvote any comment I see here which shows up in gray, unless it's obviously a really bad comment that truly is worthy of downvoting. I see far too many comments downvoted here simply for expressing an opinion.


Your comment probably got downvotes because saying things like "This will probably get downvoted" is considered bad etiquette here.

Re: usefulness of HAM radio - it's not really 'useful' in the developed world, but it's a good system to have in place during times of disaster. It's not a hobby for everyone, which is understandable.


>it's not really 'useful' in the developed world, but it's a good system to have in place during times of disaster. It's not a hobby for everyone, which is understandable.

That's fine, but every time it comes up in circles like this one, people talk about it like it's such a great thing, and lament how there aren't enough people doing it these days.

Some things fade in popularity for various reasons; sitting around whining that they aren't as popular as they once were is pointless and unproductive, and just makes one sound like an old curmudgeon pining for the "good old days". How often do you hear people whine about big band or swing music not being popular any more? Or disco? Is it some huge travesty that they aren't? Are you going to downvote someone who says "I've listened to disco, and I really just don't care for it"?


Based on your comment, I'd assume that you listen to a lot of Drake and Rihanna.

Amateur Radio is just a hobby and does not need to be useful or to have a point. Like many hobby activities, it offers a way to learn lots of useful things.

I think your distinctions about music and "usefulness" are simply your own personal tastes. There is nothing superior about a Drake song to a Mozart concerto.

There is nothing superior about a satellite phone to an HF transceiver. Each has its own relative strengths which depend a lot on context. It has nothing to do with the present vs the past.

Amateur Radio is not a nostalgia hobby any more than cooking is. Just because you can buy pre-packaged food doesn't mean you wouldn't enjoy a less pre-packaged version now and then. I'd also argue that enjoying Jazz or Classical music can be done for its own sake, with no nostalgia at all, even though you might argue that Drake has learned all the lessons from previous composers and artists and is producing an overall superior product today than was available in decades past.


I don't know WTF "Drake" is, but I'll assume it's some kind of crap music since you mentioned it alongside Rihanna, which at least I've heard of somewhere. Where you got the idea that I would like crap music, I have no clue. A Mozart concerto is far, far superior to any kind of modern pop, though I'd also really like Bach, Handel, or Vivaldi.

But sorry, I completely disagree with you. Ham radio is absolutely a nostalgia hobby. It really offers nothing in usefulness over internet-based communications, unless you're one of those wackos who thinks civilization is about to collapse any day now. Normally, I wouldn't care much about it, because your second paragraph is mostly correct: a hobby doesn't necessarily need to be useful or have a point, and can offer a way to learn lots of useful things. My problem is that, for me, a hobby does need to be useful and have a point usually, and I don't see it here. I like electronics and all, but if I spend a bunch of time building a radio, WTF am I going to do with it? Chit-chat with a bunch of old men thousands of miles away? Yippee. I can't think of anything more dull. But what really annoys me are 1) expressing this opinion and being told I'm wrong (I'm not: it's an opinion), and 2) the constant whining I hear from ham radio enthusiasts about how the hobby has lost so much popularity, which is the only reason I even offer my opinion. I never hear disco fans whining about how discotheques playing 70s disco are all gone, but the hams are constantly whining about it. And then when someone explains from their perspective why they don't find it a worthwhile hobby, they get all defensive about it, as your post clearly illustrates.


> I hear from ham radio enthusiasts about how the hobby has lost so much popularity.

I'm not sure who you are talking to about this :) The hobby has actually gained tremendous popularity in recent years. There are more licensed radio amateurs now in the US than ever before.

FYI this is Drake: http://www.drakeofficial.com/

I mentioned him because of your assertion that only the most modern version of something is useful and non-nostalgic.

> being told I'm wrong

You made a variety of incorrect assertions. I am not trying to change your opinion, just help you avoid making embarrassing false statements. I also do not believe for a second that you are unfamiliar with Drake.


Out of curiosity, what (if any) online forum do you approve of?


They all have their plusses and minuses, like anything. There's no perfect forum, or else I wouldn't be here. Some sites have more interesting stories/articles, some sites have better comments from readers, some sites have better moderation systems, some sites are better depending on the subject matter you're looking for, etc. If I want to read discussion forums about a particular genre of music or a car, Reddit is easily the place to go (there's a subreddit for nearly anything). Slashdot still has good general-tech articles, but the commentary isn't that great any more (too many good people have bailed out, maybe things will turn around with the new ownership), and the moderation system sucks. SoylentNews basically copies Slashdot's articles with some extras, and has a smaller audience (mostly Slashdot refugees) but some of them are really extremist, but the moderation system is pretty decent there (like Slashdot's, but fixes the flaws mostly). This place has really good articles I don't find anywhere else, many about obscure programming stuff but others about other tech things, but the commentary is ridiculously dry and hivemind-ish and the moderation absolutely terrible, but there are comments from extremely knowledgeable people mixed in that are worth the read.


Why would you learn to program an arduino? Sure it has some practical uses, but in most cases what you can build yourself is not better or cheaper than commercially available products.


That's easy to answer: there's all kinds of things that you might want to do which can't be done exactly right with a commercial product. With an Arduino, you can program it to do exactly what you want.

If it's an extremely small niche application and there is a commercially-available product, it's likely far more expensive than the Arduino because of supply and demand. And it probably still doesn't do exactly what you want.


Some of the youngest guys in my class were Rally racers who competed on really long remote courses and needed some bulletproof communication devices for emergencies.


Or if you just want to screw around in the field, you can pick up RTL-SDR dongle for $10-20. One of the most fun things I've experimented with recently was trying to receive local police and bus radios, pretty interesting stuff. You can also use it to pick up amateur radio conversations on some bands and to learn some general radio stuff.


I'd also recommend SDRPlay as a great (and relatively inexpensive) SDR that lets you listen to a lot of interesting stuff. The SDRPlay also lets you listen to HF, which is where most of the interesting stuff is (in my opinion).

http://www.sdrplay.com/


If you're willing to pay that price though you might consider going to a more expensive device with transmit too like the HackRF, bladeRF or LimeSDR.




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