I know it sounds silly, but I suspect this is one of the huge features driving it's success. Amateur radio is plagued by bad actors and grumpy old men, along with the general age imbalance that makes it fairly unpleasant for young people and extremely unpleasant for anyone who sounds vaguely feminine...
I don't know exactly what i was expecting from getting the license but i will say that i didn't expect it to basically just be dominated by old conservative men who don't appreciate younger folk stepping in on their air space. I have yet to actually speak to anyone because i don't feel like there is anything i would want to say.
Part of me was excited to do things like decode ISS transmission or send digital packets around the world; but i wanted to ease into the higher cost HF equipment with a simple and cheap as chips baofeng UHF/VHF radio (i know, its garbage but i like i said i wanted to ease into the hobby) and when i discovered there was nothing to do but listen to old men rant i just shelved the radio.
I considered getting the bitX40 but never ended up doing it because i don't own the house i rent and putting an antenna up seems like a lot of work for a place i might move from soon. Admittedly maybe my problem was getting a baofeng UHF/VHF instead of something that i can plug into my computer and do digital modes with. But no one was really around to help me decide what to choose or give me insight into what i may want to do with my new AE powers.
Here's a fun talk at Defcon from Balint Seeber, a ham who focuses on security, to get you in the right headspace. I attended this and the group of 6 of us that hung out afterwards with Balint was some of the most impressive people I've met at Defcon. One had built a bug sniffer. Another was intercepting satellite comms over Iraq. And Balint had a prototype SDR board he shared with us. So much fun.
Yes, there is a community of rag chewers who use the voice bands, especially lower HF, to keep in touch with friends. That's a tiny part of the hobby and community.
Too many people get funneled into this trap by the ARRL who understandably push "get on the air today!" type articles which haven't been updated since the 80's and have people getting HF radios and hunting for repeaters on the 2M band. And the grumpy old guys who are pissed off it isn't the 80's (or 70's or 50's, few seem to be nostalgic for the 60's) anymore.
In the digital radio space its a lot more open, and just being able to work with radio has become pretty easy these days. I've got a bunch of SDRs now, and I agree the ADALM-PLUTO ($100) is the most cost effective way to get a nice xmit and receive SDR. The RSP2 from SDRPlay is another one that is good for the low bands through 2G (its like $200) then the next step up is the HackRF-1 ($300) or LimeSDR ($300) or LimeSDR Mini ($170). Above that you start getting into the Ettus/National USRP radios ($3000 and up).
Small WHSPR (whisper) radios like the article mentions are inexpensive to build and fun to play with as well, not a lot of chatting but tagging beacons and getting tagged. Or putting lightweight radios in a balloon and flying it around the world (https://www.mchsarc.com/?page_id=13)
When I point out the dozens of watts some HAMs are blasting in part of the 5Ghz band, these same asshats are all over that shit. It makes me want to have zero involvement with this toxic community, since many active members can't handle basic logic.
For now I'll stick to the ISM bands, Part 15 is good for many applications.
Another great group is Summits On The Air which basically involves hauling a radio up to the highest peaks and seeing how many people you can contact from the top of the mountain.
It's something you can do with just a simple 5w VHF handheld(yay line-of-sight) and the group is really welcoming. Last weekend I was up at about 6k ft and making direct line of sight contacts over 100mi away on 5 watts.
I really would like to hear from others, but I would look at getting an SDR that can handle HF frequencies down to at least 7Mhz if you want to have some serious DX fun.
I have a HackRF One, but it retails still at around $300 bucks. I have a feeling if you use the google and shop around, you may find a SDR and converter combo that'll get you down to 7Mhz with low power.
Then building your own antenna is trivial. Because you're using very low power, you can actually build a dipole antenna that doesn't even need a balun. I've used stealth antenna wire which is super slinky and nice to work with to create a low power antenna (in ham speak, we call low power 'QRP'). It's basically just coax that splits the core and shield into left and right branches. You use the stealth wire for the branches and you calculate the length based on frequency. So it's locked to a specific frequency like the 7Mhz band. But they're super effective as long as you string them in a tree. The whole kit can be bundled up into a backpack, taken for a hike and when you get to your destination, have a picnic, string up the antenna in a tree and make a few DX (long distance) QRP (low power) contacts on your laptop. Yeah, it's a geeky hobby. [insert joke about preparing for the end times]
But again, I'd love to hear from other hams on here re developments in low power low cost HF SDRs.
 - https://hobbypcb.com/rs-hfiq
 - https://www.pi-sdr.net/pi-sdr/index.php/pi-sdr-projects/pi-s...
I bought a ADALM-PLUTO from Arrow. $98 shipped. It's a SDR that goes from 325MHz-3.8GHz, and with a "hack" will go from 70 MHz to 6GHz. 7dBm (or 5 mW Tx).
You'll need amplifiers to go from 5mW to QRP (~1W). I did find one on Banggood for 1MHz-1GHz with up to 35dBm gain. I'll still need one for 2.4GHz and 5.8GHz, but that's a small price to pay for having nearly 6GHz of spectrum to read. ( https://www.banggood.com/1MHz-1000MHZ-35DB-3W-HF-VHF-UHF-FM-... )
I know with my ADALM-PLUTO hardware, it can receive from 70MHz to 6GHz, but at only 5mW. So if you want to start Tx-ing, you'll need a low noise amplifier for the band you want to transmit. Also, the antennas are for 325MHz-3.8GHz and are anemic stubby 1dBi. You will want better antennas. Ideally, for the respective bands you want to do stuff with.
I'm still piecing my software together. Right now in open-source land, there's lots of individual decoders and some encoders. I'm having good luck with SDRangel for handling Tx as well - there's some weirdness with encoding data for Tx with the plugins. But that's just growing pains of this being new.
The other problem you'll have, if you just don't pony up kilobucks for "ham radio hardware", is that going from 7dBm (5mW) to 30dBm (1w) is going to be weirdly expensive. And then that only gets you to 'QRP'. You'll then need a second stage amp to go from 1w to higher power.
If you do EME digital modes, you're amping up from 5mW to 1.5KW . $$$$$$$$ lies here. But I'm sure if you talk in freenode IRC in ##hamradio , there are EME hams there.
So to better answer your question, rather than give you a bunch of options, here's a general idea of cost breakdown:
Cost = laptop + ADALM-PLUTO (or relevant SDR for HF) + 30 dBi amplifier for band you want + antennas for band you want
My laptop is $500 and is Dell precision m4800. 4 cores/8 threads, 32GB ram. $500 from ebay. ADALM-PLUTO is $98 shipped from Arrow. I bought 2 1.35GHz-9.5GHz antennas for $13 each from Banggood. I'm looking for a 7dBm->20dBm 2.4GHz amplifier That would bring me up to 100mW output. I also bought a random assortment of SMA connectors for $12
That would leave my current total at $136 for the wireless hardware, or $636 if you want a dedicated laptop. RasPis won't work with SDRangel - it eats CPU for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
A lot of this probably has to do with where you are, or more specifically, where the people you're hearing are. I first got into ham in North Carolina. The people there were talking about hunting and meat preservation techniques.
Then I moved to San Francisco, and later to Seattle. The people in these places are more talking about things like high bandwidth microwave and forming mesh networks, making reliable contacts with man-portable rigs, antenna design, raspberry pi vs adruino, sending video from remote controlled aircraft, and dozens of other things that fascinate me.
It's not an age thing, it's an interest thing. And the types of things people are interested in is strongly correlated to their geographic area.
You can totally do this without spending more money! I've got my first award hanging on my wall for using my cheap as chips Baofeng to do this very thing. The award itself is really cool and has "INTERCOSMOS" across the top in English and Russian, along with an illustration of the Russian ISS module(s). The decoder I used was the free Robot36 app on my Android phone. I believe there is another SSTV event coming up on October 27.
If you don't want to speak to anyone, this kind of activity is awesome. Turn squelch off, TDR off, dial in 145.800 and hold your Baofeng next to your phone running Robot36. You can easily monitor the ham sats and other sats too; heck you can just sit on a park bench and do this really easily. If you want portable sat & ISS tracking, there are apps that do this really well.
Since I got my extra last year, I've volunteered at three events (1 ultramarathon and 2 public safety drills at local hospitals), joined a club I like (TheGuildGlobal.org), and talked to people all over the world. I haven't set up the outdoor antenna for my donated Swan HF rig yet (thanks to some super nice local hams) but Echolink is actually really fun; I didn't believe it until I tried it. And how else can you talk to someone in Japan and someone in Scotland within minutes of each other. I heard the guy in Japan dropping his jaw open when he found out I lived in the same city in Japan where his daughter lives, so you never know. (A day after that I talked with a guy up in Seattle, where I'm originally from, about the Green River Killer for a few minutes. Fun stuff. Haha.)
I haven't had a single old man conversation that I felt I couldn't politely and immediately end. Heck, I've had old timers cut out on me with "welp, I just arrived at my destination, have a nice day, K1ABC clear." It's that simple and normal.
Anyway, I hope you'll give it another chance. Find the stuff you like and build on that. Find people you don't mind talking to, and talk to them. Find nets you like and chime in. There are some really awesome people out there who aren't political and who would love to talk just about anything you see here on HN. I know because I'm one of 'em. Hope to hear you on the air sometime --KM6NHH
I don't think i "get" echolink. You hook up your radio to your computer (somehow? I don't know how i'd do this with a baofeng) and talk into it and then it uses the internet to send that across the world to other peoples radios who are also connected to their computer? It just feels like a discord voice chat with radios as the input/output device. Am i missing something?
I have it on my phone, and I also have the (Windows) app running in Wine on my Linux desktop. You can just use your built-in mic or a regular sound card mic. I have never even used my HT with it. But you can, if you want.
And that opens up one of the really neat aspects: You can end up talking to someone through their repeater. Just about every time I talk to somebody, they're on their HT out in the field somewhere and they have no idea that I just came in through Echolink. You might catch someone who's out on a hike, and get some pictures or a video on Twitter later. Or talk to someone in their shop.
There are also nets that you can listen into on Echolink. Check out dodropin.org to get started.
Finally, no non-hams are allowed to register. This is a huge pro if you're comparing with e.g. Skype or Chat Roulette. The sign-up process is pretty legit, a human is reviewing your license. So there's this automatic level of politeness and protocol which is refreshing. On Discord, you just have no idea, especially if you're chatting with random people. On Echolink, their account status is at stake and it's kind of like a big closed group.
Related to this, I like that TheGuildGlobal.org are branching out, not only onto SIP but also to platforms like Zello. The ham world actually brings a high level of discourse to communications, even if you figure in the occasional grump. There is always another mode to try.
As far as I understand, VoIP links for radio primarily adds a tool in the toolbox for expanding & linking repeater networks. Instead of beaming your local repeater over the mountain range to get to the next village, you can link two repeaters over VoIP.
Just google like any other technology. Answers are all out there. I never went to any amateur radio clubs. I paid up to do my exams, bought a radio and just wobbled into the bar like a drunk.
Also you don’t have to talk to someone past exchanging RST etc. If they start going off on one just tune away.
The other difference is interface. The QSX, and other SDR-based transceivers, work like other regular transceivers. They have USB port for computer control and sound card output. Some newer radios provide I-Q input and output which can be used for more advanced modes. But the bandwidth is limited compared to the SDRs which can monitor an entire band.
The SDR sure has utility but that comes at a compromise. I've done some professional RF stuff in the past and 99% of the problems are solved with very simple and way more precise gear compared to an SDR.
Have a look at http://websdr.org and have a play around with SDRs and then go look at a video for a Yaesu or Icom "rig" and see the difference in the usability. The QSX is more the Yaesu or Icom end of things.
If you can't afford it, go for the QSX! I may replace my commercial rig with one if it's any good.
That's true for many people. You don't need to use it to make a statement or to express your individuality, you can just participate in contests, enjoy propagation, etc.
There are some "scenes" in amateur radio that are dominated by older, somewhat conservative leaning discourse. Some VHF and UHF repeaters are like this, and there are many groups of people who chat with the same group every night on 80m SSB.
Some newcomers start out on VHF/UHF repeaters and if they live near one that is like this, it may turn them off to the entire hobby even though it's just a small part of it.
I recommend CW and FT8 as less conversational ways of getting on the air. If you are in the mood for a conversation, you can do so on CW, and there are conversational digital modes.
I personally like contests and experiencing propagation and band openings, but don't really need to have a long chat.
So my recommendation for a new licensee would be to jump right into MSK144 and then determine what to do next :)
I used to participate in the local club but quit after a few too many times hearing racist comments from the (not-octogenarian) club president with no reaction by other members, I decided to call it quits. That also means the tools and instruments I used to be able to borrow, or having a few extra sets of hands to help put up an antenna has gone away. And I won’t recommend the club to other people who have asked about getting into the hobby, at least not without telling them what to expect.
I still have a fellow ham I talk with who is a non-club member in the area, but he’s been in and out of the hobby as well for the last few years.
Sure this is one datapoint, but the value of having a local club with available knowledge, and tool and junk boxes to raid makes it a lot easier to stay active in the hobby.
You put it in the very kindest light. It is often simply appalling.
> I recommend CW and FT8 as less conversational ways of getting on the air.
Yes. I do slow speed CW a couple of nights a week, just as a way to relax. I can't speak to FT8 but CW people tend to pride themselves on manners.
Learning the code is a question of downloading an app, or listening to a graded set of steps in the car or while walking the dog, for a month. If you can do 5-10 wpm (which just means you recognize the letters, digits, and a few punctuation marks) then you will not have much trouble finding people interested in talking to you. Me, for one.
I'm not close to the hobby but it seems like newcomers are specifically recommended to start out with VHF/UHF voice, equipment being simple & inexpensive, and voice being intuitive.
And then those who are really interested in ham radio itself ... equipment, antennas, modes, propagation ... any of the endless opportunities to explore and trade ideas about new radio experiences with other people.
Those discussions are easiest to have without repeaters or HF QRM. Get to know who's technical in your area (they -do- pop up on repeaters now and then) and those discussions can endlessly fun without the bragging and the B.S.
There are thousands of things to try, and a never-ending range of new technical variations to combine. Possibilities these days are really endless.
Bad actors? There are a handful, but FCC has taken enforcement action against several. https://www.fcc.gov/general/amateur-radio-service-enforcemen...
Weak signal modes have been around for a while. And voice is a different part of the spectrum.
That said, the FCC in my experience has been pretty lax about policing the amateur bands. You can go to any online SDR and tune around to find obnoxious, toxic, and illegal behavior within minutes. I've also found that if you're lucky enough to find someone under 50 on the airwaves, there's a >25% chance they're a crazy prepper.
Ah, so 4chan for old people.
There’s less trash on 40/20m I find.
I stick to CW, FT8, WSPR. Not enough bandwidth for an opinion :)
On a positive note, nice to see lots of hams in here.
That said, there are plenty of hams who don't want to complain about politics, we just notice the curmudgeons more. I've had some great HF SSB QSO's lately that never touched on politics.
Some of the more technical modes tend to appeal to hams that are more interested in the technical side than the hams that frequent HF SSB or VHF FM.
There are many bands and many modes. If your VFO lands you on a QSO that you don't want to hear, QSY to another and call CQ.
Nobody "has" to do this on phone. Of course there are people predisposed to this but you don't have to talk to them or you can change the subject. For instance I still enjoy discussing radio stations and usually it's interesting to hear about someone's elaborate construction and what they are doing with it while they are willing to hear how I am getting over the equator and atlantic with no amplifier and a shitty piece of wire.
Digital modes are a godsend.
> What happened to take an esoteric mode designed for multi-hop E skip on VHF and overnight turn it into a worldwide phenomenon across all bands from 2200m through 70cm? In other words, what makes FT8 a killer app?
Indeed. What does make FT8 the killer app? Anyone care to break this down in layman's terms that an EE with basic radio knowledge can understand?
Edit: And contacts are basically how hams keep score. You used to send postcards to the people you'd talked to. Old hams have binders full of them.
So if I understand correctly this is a game hams play where you try to skip your signal as far as possible and see if you get a ping?
If I am understand this properly, this successful exchange earns you a point and the old timers used post cards as score keeping, as once the ping was established they could each mail each other.
I assume FT8 is text only?
The other special thing about FT8 is that it only does contacts, with binary messages for doing the exchange.
I'm a little surprised that FT8 is better S/N than conventional mode of morse code, but then I didn't think in terms of S/N back when I was active in the 70s/80s (btw: Straight key! I finally build a keyer after 5 years of straight key, and then went off to college and didn't have another QSO for many years. :(
Edit: Regard QSO, Do folks even use Q signals anymore?
In morse, the baud rate is low, but you get one chance at each symbol and that is it. With these new modes a small set of bits is sent in a highly redundant fashion such that you can recover the whole message even if you capture only, say, 30% of the bits, not necessarily contiguous.
Many of the popular protocols, like PSK31 and AX.25 are getting long in the tooth. There's a beauty to their simplicity, but it leaves much to be desired.
Though SDR is a bit of a misnomer, extracting data out of an audio signal with DSP on commodity hardware is becoming the new way to do radio. It certainly will never replace analog voice in terms of simplicity and availability, but it's definitely breathing life into the hobby!
It seems to be achieving the goal of global communications while making better use of limited spectrum to do so. I can't see that as being damaging as it really is an advancement in the state-of-the-art.
The typical CW QSO took about 5-10 minutes to complete. The FT-8 QSO (with essentially the same data payload) took one minute.
If anything, FT-8 represents a more efficient way of exchanging information than CW. It’s doubtful the “death” of ham radio will cone about at the bits of a more efficient mode than CW.
FT8 makes global communication achievable for beginner amateur radio folk.
Some amateur radio practitioners think if you want global communications without learning radio theory, use your ISP or SIM provider.
Similar to every other area of human activity thats ever existed and ever will, tiny sub-group Z will always trash talk everyone doing sub-group A thru Y as not enjoying the model railroading hobby the 'correct' way or not using the 'correct' editor/IDE or not doing the correct thing in the bedroom or whatevs.
So its discussing the usual collision of "whoa this new activity (fad?) is becoming super popular outta no where" with the usual "What I've been doing for 50 years is the only correct way to do it"
There's nothing inherently wrong or bad or incorrect about SSB analog voice modulation on wavelengths near 80 meters; but you can't expect life long aficionados of that particular sub-group to be excited about some rapidly growing subgroup they're not interested in. So thats the "FT8 is killing ham radio"
Now as for why any of this matters, the analog HF SSB crowd has cornered the national USA hobby club such that QST magazine etc promotes 80M SSB operation in the USA as being the "only real ham radio" and then the usual political fallout and drama.
Seems to me that, especially for EmComm, this could be a total game changer. Field radio with small antennas, low power requirements, and nearly worldwide reach.
As I understand it, the real go-to mode for EmComm is still CW. Which implies very experienced operators. At some point in the future, you'll have more operators experienced with digital modes than Morse code. So...
They are primarily asynchronous MFSK detectors with tons of symbols--pretty weird design and a work around of the 300 baud limit. We can't get cool stuff like QAM, high rate PSK, and other nice modes working because of this arbitrary old rule.
"DX" is an abbreviation for "distance", generally used in the sense of "making long-distance contacts." A "QSO" is a successful contact between stations, and "working" refers to the process of making / attempting to make contacts.
"Multi-hop Es" refers to this atmospheric effect using the E region of the ionosphere: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sporadic_E_propagation
"CW" (for "continuous wave") typically refers to the use of Morse code over a constant frequency wave that's just being turned on and off, which has historically been one of the most robust modes, although it requires skill in encoding/decoding Morse by hand.
"73" means "best regards" or similar; it's from very old telegraphy abbreviations.
In a nutshell, Joe Taylor (K1JT) created a program that features novel modulation schemes that solve a few problems that other modulations didn't, like fast meteor scatter modes, modes that are better for Earth-Moon-Earth communications, and modes that work better in very low-signal scenarios with a lot of signal fading due to the ionosphere.
The result are modes that are very slow - only sending something like 13 characters every 15 seconds for FT8 - but far more reliable than other keyboard modes like PSK31 or Olivia. The mechanization means QSOs are stripped to their bare necessities - callsign, location, signal report, and that's it. It's shifts the idea of a QSO by forcing quick, scripted, nearly automated contacts, which is a very well-received change since a lot of HF ops are only interested in the contact, and not the person.
The basic mode only allows you to make contact, it doesn't allow for discussions or data transfer. It's simply a “I'm here, and I can hear you” mode.
It's controversial because a) to some hams, conversation is the reason to be on the air; and/or b) hams can be opinionated and grumpy, and some feel like if you haven't spent $5k on your radio/built your radio from scratch/exclusively use Morse code/devoted five acres of land to a 200 foot tall tower with a Yagi antenna you aren't doing it right. DX (long-distance communications) is an exclusive club. FT8 makes it a lot less exclusive. There's always resistance to that.
I thought it was pretty cool that it worked at all, but it doesn't seem like a very exciting mode to pass the time other than maybe to fill the log book and impress all my hypothetical friends.
The resiliency might be useful for emergency communications in some way, but it would have to be a peculiar type of emergency.
With a low bandwidth mode like this, there is not much possibility of transmitting more than a few bits of data. So a grid square and callsign are about all that will fit.
Its a hobby...
They can. Sunspots can also greatly enhance radio communications. Outside of amateur radio this effect is rarely appreciated; ordinary radio service users usually only become aware of sunspots when they interfere with communication. Amateurs, however, operate on many different frequencies, and they achieve communication under unusual, rapidly changing conditions. They often use solar activity to their advantage.
The story mentions "10m DX." This is ham speak for the 10 meter or 30 megahertz band (the high end of the 3-30 MHz "high frequency" or HF band, which is extremely low frequency by today's standards) long range (DX; multiple "hop", frequently international) communication. Using traditional modes the 10 meter band is presently "closed" to long distance communication, meaning you get nothing but static when you listen and no one detects your transmissions. The lack of solar activity is the reason the band is closed. When solar activity is high (lots of sunspots) one can use a low cost transceiver, a small antenna and an easily obtained license and reach people thousands of miles away.
People have bounced signals off of the ion trails of meteorites, space shuttle reentry, and other absurd stuff :)
At other frequencies, sunspots may or may not be a good or bad thing, depending on your definition of "good" and "bad".
Now I’m going to lock myself in the basement with my guns and cans of beans.