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We're in a Golden Age for Amateur Radio (ke6mt.us)
558 points by resters 74 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 207 comments

I have a license because my high school teacher made us do it but I never quite understood what hobbyists do with it. I see how it can be a useful skill to have for people in a certain profession but as a hobbyist what do you do? Do people just talk to random people on the radio? I'm genuinely curious.

It's an incredibly broad hobby. I just got my first award by downloading digital images (SSTV) from the ISS using a $35 handheld radio, and that didn't require any talking at all.

There are tons of things you can do, so many that it's hard to sum up. It also combines well with other hobbies. Or it can be a symbol or inspiration of its own kind, an objective reminder that more science in your life is a good thing.

One of the biggest advantages is the practically free education. If you upgrade your license you'll learn a lot of really fascinating stuff. I really wish I knew about propagation and differences between the various bands and band schedules back when I was a kid, fooling around with my dad's Patrolman radio. I also learned how effective logging can be, and have applied that in just about every area of my life.

Finally, there's just something about breaking the silence and making that call when you're out in the middle of nowhere. Even if you're the world's biggest introvert, you might end up helping somebody by keeping your radio turned on and tuned in.


> I also learned how effective logging can be, and have applied that in just about every area of my life.

This statement really piqued my curiosity. Would you mind expanding on it?

Sure, as a radio operator, even just a listener-operator, you quickly find that A) you are expected to keep a log, and in many situations _must_ keep a log (contests are a good example), and B) a log easily runs circles around your memory. As it turns out, logs also provide a helpful context for bridging the gap between the subjective and objective lenses, both of which are helpful and needed for solving problems, reaching goals, etc. no matter the activity.

In many areas of life, I knew I was really far too subjective due to my research into my personal psychology (I'm a professional coach) and wondered about different ways I could be _more_ objective without actually becoming an external sensing-measuring device. :-) Reading about logging tools like SINPO[0] helped me intuitively identify new ways of logging & spreadsheeting my way through different activities and situations.

As an example, when I get sick, I now engage this logging skill rather than just feeling my way through the illness, and I get to see some really cool emergent properties of this new personal system. I usually monitor my vitals in addition to writing down some subjective 1-10 ratings of how I feel in terms of general wellbeing, nausea, depression, and anxiety as the day passes. I have an autoimmune condition and while I can't just take a pill and cure that, my logs have shown me the peaks and troughs of amplitude within every passing hour of severe illness, when those illnesses come. I discovered that as I watch this data I can be more nuanced about the way I treat my sick time, and ended up actually getting productive work done that I _wanted to get done_ while "sick", by recognizing the high points and patterns in rest and energy buildup. "Riding the waves" with more precision, so to speak. There is also the analytical side of this, where I'll occasionally look back through my logs and see icons like a circled "!!!" which means "wow you tried something new here and it worked amazingly well, please add this to your toolkit for this activity from now on."

Because you're effectively engaging more of your "sensor suite," you kind of feel more like the space ship that can navigate the asteroid field vs. the one that really gets banged up. When you fold in the analysis step, it's like you're now better able to approach even more treacherous asteroid fields--your machinery is getting upgrades over time.

Incidentally, when I meet up with a doctor, I can be much more accurate about what happened and when.

I do the same logging thing at work, and now keep logs as part of just about every project. In some cases this is a literal mini-blog on a web page, and in other cases it's a text file tucked somewhere 15 folders deep, and in still other cases it's a small mark in the margin of a paper journal page.

I also discovered that this helps with other hobbies. I run RPGs for my kids and develop my own table-top RPGs, and keeping a log is a huge tip for a really effective campaign. Later on the log can become a published, written narrative (e.g. Record of Lodoss War), or mined for new ideas.

I used to struggle to keep a personal journal, but I've since found that I can more easily approach the practice by starting from the "Stardate" mindset and being a tad more robotic regarding current circumstances than I can by trying to keep the personal history that used to come to mind when I'd consider journaling.

Another thing I've learned is that we are extremely brittle about this practice, as a society. Our thinking about keeping logs tends to be black & white (a common sign of lack of education on the matter) and we hesitate or think in terms like "OCD" when people around us really leverage this practice[1]. IMO this is really unfortunate.

Anyway I hope this expands on it a bit!

0. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SINPO_code

1. https://qz.com/507727/a-man-who-recorded-his-every-sneeze-fo... (example)

Just to chime in, I saw an old-timer keep a daily work log in a text file, and that appealed to me so I started it too. This was in 1998, and to this day I still keep writing new entries to that same text file pretty much every business day. Old test account credentials, notes on what got done, ticket numbers, ideas, unfinished todos, the works. It also helps with time sheets at the end of the month :-)

Consistently recording logs is the importannt factor. You don't need fancy tools, a simple text-editor is all you need to have.

In Emacs one has org-mode, in Vim, vimwiki, even for plain Notepad, one can easily create a time log by pressing the F5 key. It will fill in the time and date automatically. Create a text file like day_log.txt, open it at the start of your day and press F5 key to fill the date and time. Just add couple of words on what you want to note. Done.

Rather like back in the day people like Jefferson would keep a daily journal. Hand-written in a paper notebook of course, and still available 250 years later, without worrying about hardware and data conversion issues.

Let's not be too dramatic, ascii and utf8 will be readable in 250 years, that's a certainty.

As for the hardware issue, his notebook was kept because he was an important person. Average Joe's notebook had a much greater chance to go into the landfill.

That's the same for today persons' digital files: Average Joe laptop goes to landfill but I'm sure presidents and whatever's files are archived by State or their families, same as they did for the paper notebook back then.

How big is that file now, out of curiosity?

I used to do this but now I just review my git history

> Another thing I've learned is that we are extremely brittle about this practice, as a society. Our thinking about keeping logs tends to be black & white (a common sign of lack of education on the matter) and we hesitate or think in terms like "OCD" when people around us really leverage this practice[1]. IMO this is really unfortunate.

That's some wisdom

How does radio provide advantages for logging purposes? I log a bit, not as extensively as you seem to (but I'm always looking to incorporate more data and improved workflow ideas), but I can't clearly envision (due to my ignorance of radio, likely) the advantages radio would provide over just entering info into my laptop in a text file (including keeping clocked time, timestamps, etc).

The amateur radio community emphasizes logging all contacts. It builds a habit, especially since a lot of community interaction is around (friendly) competitions of who can make the most distant contacts, etc. All informal, but it teaches the habit through cultural acclimation.

Additionally the FCC mandates certain station records be maintained, so it's not entirely a community initiative.

I think you're on to something. I'd love to dig even deeper about this topic maybe with some examples of your logs, as well as the time commitment this practice requires.

Maybe not quite the same, but very similar, is the bullet journal fad that's going on right now. Lots of people have found bullet journaling (which is essentially logging) very useful in their daily life.

> Finally, there's just something about breaking the silence and making that call when you're out in the middle of nowhere. Even if you're the world's biggest introvert, you might end up helping somebody by keeping your radio turned on and tuned in.

Words to live by.

care to explain how to download from ISS via radio ?

Sure, when the ISS passes over (and is transmitting SSTV--check the ARISS blog or issfanclub.com), tune your radio to 145.800, turn squelch off, and hold up your speaker to (for example) your smartphone which is running a decoder like Robot36. That's just one specific way...the app will auto-save an image to your phone when it's done. Example video:


You can use an app like "ISS Detector" to get alerts when the ISS is over; that one also has an IAP that will show you any amateur radio satellite that's over your head, as well as the uplink and downlink frequencies. (Last time I was listening to cubesat AO-92, my social "nerd antenna" apparently went up to about 1 MW transmitting and I ended up pointing into the clear blue sky a lot while explaining to interested random passers-by why people still use ham radio. :-))

That's so cool, and single-handedly just convinced me to take the plunge and buy a radio to learn more. I've been tempted for a while but had no idea you could do this. I liked the idea of talking to people from far away, but being able to receive stuff from ISS is just next-level awesome.

Right on! You picked a great time in history, with a ham operator (Astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor) currently on the ISS and making contacts. It's exciting stuff. :-) Here's one operator's contact from this last Saturday:


(That amazing feeling post-contact...funny that he left in those clips, but I definitely identify with the adrenaline rush. :-))

Be sure to check out #hamradio and #hamr on Twitter, and /r/amateurradio on Reddit. Edit: And your local club, too! And welcome!

I can't figure out why, but that clip really made my day. Thanks for sharing it.

here's an example of the decoding process


Back in the 80’s, before there was Iridium satellite, my uncle would use HAM radio to keep in touch with us while sailing his boat between Hawaii and California.

Even though my household weren’t HAM’s at the time, he’d “call” us every few days through a “phone patch” to give status updates in the middle of the Pacific.

Basically, he’d make connections to various HAM’s somewhere, trying to find someone who could do a “phone patch”. That person would then connect the audio to their phone, call my house collect, and we could have a two-way conversation. Pretty cool stuff.

Back in the 90’s when I had my license I thought packet radio was cool as hell. Checking your email in the middle of a field? Amazing. Of course that’s all obsolete now.

And then just for the ultimate geek factor. You know what the very first communication satellite was, right? The moon! HAM’s still do “moonbounce” communications to talk to people on the opposite side of the planet by bouncing signals off the moon. Requires very directional antennae, and brings with it the ultimate latency. But that’s some serious geek cred there.

My good friend WA2AAX, now a silent key, told of a visit he once made to the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. During a lull in operation they let him traverse the catwalk spanning the 'dish' (a spherical mesh 1,000 ft diameter built inside a natural sinkhole) as the moon reached its zenith. Scanning his VHF HT he was able to hear many moonbouncing HAMs and even voice traffic from repeaters in the US. With a standard offset he was even able to make a brief contact with someone on a faraway VHF repeater before the celestial mechanics drifted out of alignment. A 2,000 mile QSO on VHF with a handheld, via the Moon. He considered it his finest Geek moment.

One of Arecebo's missions was to listen on Soviet and Sino transmissions, or nuke tests, via moon bounced transmissions.

(From Steve Blank's "Secret history of Silicon Valley" talk. https://api.spreaker.com/download/episode/10023411/steve_bla... )

Great story! That’s sort of the Ham equivalent of the XKCD with the “real programers use a butterfly”[1]

[1]: https://www.xkcd.com/378/

> Checking your email in the middle of a field?

Checking mail on the BBS on the MIR space station. Kids these days trying to get an extra 10m range out of their wifi...

I used mine for telemetry radios on very large model rockets at the rocketry club.

I was "the radio guy". Which was good because my attempt at being the "motor guy" didn't end so well.

There's a story here you need to write down for us somehwere. :)

Yes, please do: what did being “the radio guy” entail?

Was it more software or hardware? I write software for a living so that’s what I’m more interested in; don’t know about parent comment, though.

I can comment on this as I'm kinda that guy at my rocket club as well. Basically many RDF or GPS Trackers in the hobby rocketry community operate over 70cm and require a license for legal operation. Add to that many people buy trackers and yet don't fully familarise themselves with their operation. So you'll have someone with a GPS tracker that has no idea how to get coordinates "out" of the system or what to do with them when they have them. And GPS is the easier system to use as RDFing a tracker (foxhunting) is more readily described as a skill or even an art. It definitely takes practice to become proficient at these types of things. Add to that the fact that many GPS systems are different from an operating perspective and you have a bit of a steep learning curve.

My dad was an amateur radio operator. That's exactly what he did. If you can imagine, back in the 70's and 80's normal people didn't have access to the internet. So all of the discussions that we normally have with strangers (like this one!) were basically impossible, except by radio in publicly accessible bands. I'm not that familiar with the how things worked, but I remember my dad spending at least an hour or two a day, chatting in morse code with people. They even had a kind of news service (I guess a bit like Usenet, except by hand) where they would relay messages around the world. It looked like a cool hobby, but I got access to a computer at a very early age and was instantly obsessed by it ;-)

Another thing to remember about the 'old days' (80's and earlier) is that in addition to there being no public Internet for (most) people to hook into[1], was the expense of actually using the phone. Except for local calls (pretty much people in/near your city), everything was metered: we had zone calls where calling someone more than ~5-10 miles away incurred per-minute costs (iirc, $0.10-0.20/min), long distance calls (>30-50 miles) were more expensive (iirc, $0.30-0.50/min), and international (esp. overseas) calls were insane (you would typically try to keep conversations very short as the costs would start at $1-2/minute.)

So amateur radio was a very cost effective way to communicate with like-minded people with very rapid payback. That said, a lot of people just liked chatting with strangers from far away places.

[1] There were commercial services and BBS's but they were also relatively niche until the late 80's largely due to the actual cost of the phone call as described above.

Learning morse code well enough to be able to decode 25-30 word per minute code in your head is incredibly satisfying. Also since transmitting a narrow sine wave takes much less power than a wider bandwidth voice signal you can get much further or operate on a fraction of the power.

I've talked (in morse code) to people on the air that are former US Navy radio telegraphers, submariners, Air force mechanics etc. That generation is heading into their golden years and many of them will be gone in 10-20 years. It's interesting to hear about their lives in their own words.

I've made contacts to Moscow Russia on 100 watts, Asia, most of Europe and most of the States in the US.

I've also built the tiny QCX in that article by soldering and hand winding toroids. Fired it up and made a contact several hundred miles away on a tiny amount of power. I used an arduino to create a scratch built keyer with all my own circuts and code. Then I hooked it up to my paddles, set the speed and used it for tons of contacts.

In short, it can be a very satisfying hobby if you are nerdy enough.

I was fortunate and got licensed through a club that had a healthy mix of students, people in industry, and retirees. Some of the stuff that we were doing was amazing. Some of the stuff that we talked about was even more so.

Just after the turn of the century we had a fully functional station for long distance terrestrial communications (HF) and satellite communications (including amateur satellites and the ISS). Much of the station could be disassembled and relocated for operations in the field, specifically Field Day. Members had various technical projects ranging from building the station (antennas, feed lines, and radios), to software defined radio. Other people had tangential interests which fit in well with the group. In other words, there was a lot of experimentation.

Amateur radio is a lot like computers: there are those who build the tools and those who use the tools. Both groups serve a purpose (many of the users are involved in community service and emergency communications). What you choose to do largely depends upon what you are interested in.

You nerd out about radio technology, and you see what you can do with it (bigger ones, smaller ones, distance and quality of transmissions, etc).

It's a feeling of power and independence that is very lost with the Internet to me. With the internet - I'm connecting to something very very large. With ham - I'm building my own. I'd see it as the same draw as setting up your first website in the late 90's/early 2000's, with the visitor counters and comments sections. Each interaction is a treasure.

The license is only needed if you want to transmit. If you are not interested in talking to random people, there is a lot of fun to be had from just picking up signals and listening. There are hobbyists who enjoy picking up distant AM radio stations, listening to all kinds of voice or machine traffic on shortwave, tracking aircraft by their beacon signals, or just listening to local police on scanners.

As a listener myself ("SWLer") my next project is to make a radio to pick up telemetry from small cubesats.

One caveat: at least in some locales, a license is required to own (or perhaps carry) a police scanner.

Kentucky is one of those states -- if it's in your vehicle -- but, it's a "Secondary offense," and I've been told that they haven't cited anyone for that for 10+ years.

Scanners are legal in all 50 states. In some states its illegal to use a scanner while breaking the law ( this I find funny for some reason )


Recursive law-breaking. Using the scanner while breaking the law is breaking the law, so by breaking the law while using the scanner, you're also breaking the law...while using the scanner.

Kinda like using a gun in the commission of a felony...is a felony.

Or being arrested and the only charge is resisting arrest.

I think of it more as computing something in "two passes". First, decide if the person committed a crime not in that "tack-on" category. Then, evaluate which "tack-ons" are applicable and possibly make those charges.

Profit motive in the legal system is blatant isnt it ?

In Indiana it’s illegal to possess one while committing a crime, so even speeding with one installed, whether you’re using it or not, invites more legal difficulty.

pretty sure public service bands don't overlap with ham bands so a ham license wouldn't help even _if_ a license was required for this

It’s a state code question not a technical one.

See Indiana’s law: https://codes.findlaw.com/in/title-35-criminal-law-and-proce...

The hobbyists find many different kinds of satisfaction in amateur radio. In my early days, my knack was building antennas and chasing dx down on HF. Later, I was into VHF: more antennas, preamps, hacking FM limiter - detector circuits, chasing tropospheric dx. Radio math as better hardware.

That was all before the arrival of software defined radio. Radio math as computer code.

Some of my nerdy friends can't stand analog voice and CW, preferring instead to push bandwidth limits on the microwave bands, doing mesh networks, etc.

Hehe, we can't all be hardcore HF/AM godfathers like Timtron WA1HLR. Big signals from home, big signals from WBCQ :-)

> Do people just talk to random people on the radio?

Some do, just like the internet. You're random to me, and we're conversing. Remember "chat rooms" and similar (IRC)? Mostly anonymous people talking to each other. Yes you might have some people you "know" in there, but there are strangers as well.

My problem with ragchewing is that here, I can respond to random comments as they interest me, and I can carry on a short conversation if I wish to, but I’m really not interested in shooting the breeze with a random stranger. Or frankly, even people I know.

I don't ragchew - but the newer digital modes are great for seeing how far your signal can reach. And sites like PSK Reporter are great for having passive validation of how far your signal actually goes, without even having to make a two-way contact.

I got my license (KE0RYU) a few months ago partly out of curiosity and partly because I wanted to mess around with software-defined radio. So far I've volunteered for communications at a major half-marathon and done a little bit of storm spotting for the NWS.

It seems like the majority of serious amatuer radio hobbyists are retired man, many of whom have a background in military communications or electrical engineering.

I've fantacised that back before the web was ubiquitous, radio could serve a similar role. That feeling of pure joy and curiosity exploring beyond the city limits of your hometown. I remember wandering the internet as a young teen. Finding my way into IRC was eye opening (in amazing and terrifying ways). I wonder if having a radio was like the early version of that.

i'm a CERT member. I use it to help local police. I use it to help manage safety at running races (marathons, 5ks etc.) I would also use it to help if called out on a search an rescue. These frequently involve multiple police departments and they can rarely talk with each other on their radios, so Hams fill in between departments.

At marathons and such the Hams are the ones with the antennas and the frequencies to get around the physical terrain and help bridge police departments.

I can also use it for communication when the cell networks go after a few hours without power (new england ice storms).

When 911 happened we had massive communication network failures and the Hams were the ones that were desperately needed by emergency crews to get messages in and out.

I used to have a CB and it was fun to talk to mates on there and muck around. At the time I liked the idea of HAM radio because you could go longer distance, and the idea of speaking to someone in another country was really cool. However now with the internet etc. it may seem a little less cool. (The internet was around when I was young but was pretty expensive to get connected).

I remember a time when someone on the CB got 64kbps connection to the internet through packet radio, faster than dial up!

It's a bit like how mucking around with microcomputers was very cool back in the day, but now why would you bother when you can run a C64 in an emulator? But there is something nostalgic about it that makes me sometimes want to buy and old computer.

> but now why would you bother when you can run a C64 in an emulator?

Once you dive into Retro-computing, you'll find loads of us getting and keeping old kit running, with a whole host of strange old and new add-ons, with new bits of kit being designed and built everyday. It's a really fun (but expensive) hobby!

After I got my license I also got a Skywarn license (that has to be renewed every 2 years) so I can do storm spotting. It's basically a volunteer effort for the National Weather Service. Licensed spotters get called out to go spot severe weather and report back in on the ham bands to the Weather Net. I installed a ham radio in my car for this very purpose.

There are a million different areas in this hobby. Chatting with random people is just the most obvious (and boring) one.

voice reports over radio seems a rather strange way of collecting weather data? A text-based form on the web seems more practical?

Voice reports have a few major advantages:

They can be made while your hands are otherwise occupied (driving, flying, etc.)

They don't require web access (can be done while in the middle of a forest, or 10,000 feet above the ground)

They lessen the chance of being DDOSed by a bored teenager

Doing them while within range of the internet may be less efficient, but they're also not limited by the internet.

I required to get my technician's license before I could take the family truck when I was in high school. And not answering up on 2m when my dad called was a groundable offense.

Although I found it interesting, I never planned on getting a license until recently... I was looking at POV racing drones and one particular model required a HAM license for the video transmitter.

How about a grassroots Internet?


I know one person who volunteers at the local marathon as a radio operator. (Not sure why standards mobile stuff hasn't replaced it.)

I volunteer as a radio operator at some sport events. The main reason we use radios instead of cell phones is that it's faster to relay information and works well when you have many field stations talking to a single base station. There's quite a lot of overhead involved in making a cell phone call, and it doesn't work well when you need to relay lots of short messages without tying up the line for everybody else. With a radio you can key up and start talking immediately.

I'm curious about how this works - Do you personally own a stack of handheld radios that work with your radio operator rig? Does the sports event hire handheld radios and a base station that you operate? Presumably they need to be license-free if you're issuing them to unlicensed volunteers? How do you respond to reports distant stations aren't receiving messages?

in addition to what m4x said, radio has some HUGE benefits over cell in a marathon scenario. If the person you need to talk with is on the phone with someone else you can't get through. With a radio you can. Additionally, everyone (terrain permitting) hears what you have to say so the information propagates out much faster.

On a well run event you have "net control" which is basically a central point that you pass messages to and they pass them out. They're usually an experienced ham set up with a good antenna, and a reasonably powerful transmitter, at a location that can hear from and speak to everyone even if people with handhelds can't hear each other because of distance or terrain. There's a convention for getting permission to speak and how messages are conveyed and passed on.

In my particular case, we set up an antenna for ham frequencies and public service frequencies, officers from our town are deployed, and can talk to us on their police radios but frequently can't speak with each other because we're not in our home town and don't have our repeater (other towns use other frequencies). So I relay messages between officers and I relay messages to and from net command.

Also, if you think about what happens when an emergency (like the Boston Marathon Bombing) happens... imagine how much slower and more disorganized the response would be if all the departments had to make cell calls to each other and wait for each to get off teh line... the central point would call one police dept. Then they'd call the fire. Then they'd call.... and now people are dead because you can't communicate with more than one person at a time.

it's just WAY more efficient than cell phones.

We are all licensed amateur radio operators and just use our own gear. Not sure what you mean by a stack of radios - we all have our own radios in some form, and they are all interoperable by their nature (not much point in hams using radios that can't communicate with anybody else!).

We normally have somebody free who can travel to any field station if they have equipment problems etc.

Most events pay a small fee for our help, which goes to the local club.

Ah, I see. Thanks for your answer!

What I mean by "a stack of radios" is at the two races I've marshalled that had radios, they had half a dozen license-free walkie-talkies like [1] which they handed out. The "stack" was figurative, as they wouldn't have stacked up very well.

I assumed you'd be the only license holder and you'd somehow co-ordinate between the license-free radios. If you could get half a dozen license holders, obviously it's a different matter!

(The license-free radios didn't work at either race)

[1] https://www.radio-solutions.co.uk/motorola-walkie-talkie-xt1...

You don’t need a stack of radios, it’s usually 2 meter and everyone is licensed and operating on the same frequency. There is a net operator managing the traffic, probably with a base station, but it’s their equipment always, it’s purely volunteer.

Hopefully some young amateur radio hobbyists will become radio engineers dealing with GPS, 3G, 4G, satalite beams etc.

There is tremendous demand for people with RF engineering and SDR skills.

Which companies do you mean? Mobile network operators?

Broadcast memes to aliens obviously.

I have talking to people and we exchanged postal card (QSL card), that confirm each communication, quality, etc.

That was a lot of fun, each country contacted. The far you go, the more you are happy :)

Cell phones are laughable single points of failure. Everyone brought this upon themselves from decades of bad engineering choices, if you consider resilience an objective. Once upon a time there was a terrestrial network of small autonomous telephone exchanges. Your phone numbers were tied to geographical locations. It seemed 'inconvenient'. Now you or your signal often have to travel hundreds of miles (as the crow flies) to find a central office that is required for call completion, even between two phones 10 feet apart. Even so-called 'land line phones' are tied into this network now because cell phone providers have remade the old Bell system in their own image and require, of all things, Internet connectivity and utility power to boxes on poles all over the neighborhood to work.

Expect it to fail all at once. You will not be disappointed. What this means in terms of the value of amateur radio is not hard to figure out.

Thank you for posting this.

> Now you or your signal often have to travel hundreds of miles (as the crow flies) to find a central office that is required for call completion, even between two phones 10 feet apart.

And people generally think this is okay. Until something big happens and everyone reacts to it by trying to call other people, the central office gets overwhelmed, and the entire system stops working right when it's needed the most.

Then you get something like AWS or Azure outage. And you see engineers saying "it's fine, there are so many services down, no one expects out to work".

Then you get something like that big Oculus Rift shutdown. No big deal, right? But do you know that that some industrial control systems use certificate signing?

I've just finished reading The Machine Stops by E. M. Forster. If you think about it, the kind of systemic failure he describes is not as ridiculous as it might sound. Over time, people start taking large technical systems for granted, like forces of nature.

The Machine Stops was one of the first science fiction stories I ever read, and one I will never forget.

Cell phones also have some of the greatest capacity to route around failure. Cell phone hardware includes extremely capable, software-controlled radio antennas. Just because they are currently slaved to specific communication patterns doesn't mean that they have to be.

Mesh networking standards exist that can take good advantage of cell phone hardware. Several of the phone handset operating systems are already theoretically capable of supporting it (if they weren't so locked down).

At the very least, in emergencies, cell phones should be able to network point-to-point between each other.

The barriers to doing that currently today are more political and economic than technical. It would be great to try to tear those barriers down.

I know this post is a day old, so nobody probably will read it anymore, but I am still curious.

All this stuff sounds interesting to me (buying and learning new equipment/techniques/etc) and I can see the possible benefits of emergency preparedness. But what I don't see is how this is really a viable hobby (for me). It seems like the daily practice of it is... boring. If I want to talk with people, I can use the internet.

On the emergency preparedness front, hell, just buy a $50 handheld radio and learn how to use it, and throw the thing in a safe spot (along with the manual and extra batteries) and forget about it.

What are the real payoffs as a hobby that you practice frequently, I mean. I don't mean to be dismissive. Amateur radio clearly has utility in specific circumstances, but I just don't understand why, after a day of browsing reddit and HN (and working!), I'd want to sit down to the radio and try and do the same thing with an antiquated piece of equipment.

I mean, I'd love to be convinced. I love tech just as much as the next guy.

It is boring. I got into it because I did electronic warfare in the military. But it has its uses.

Plenty of other stuff is boring and mostly useless, e.g. most of the raspberry pi stuff I've done. A $20 Google Chromecast or Roku is wayy less of a PITA than a rPi media center but I did it anyway to learn to hack it together. Same thing with a lot of radio stuff.

And at like $30 bucks for a baofang and about a week or two of study for the technician license it's not a lot of cost or effort.

So what would I do with it? Aside from a backup when hunting, just talkin w/ folks -- I'm in central Canada, so it's a far apart place with spotty internet access -- and I consider messing with radar tracking and even something more like a look-down-shoot-down style of radar, mostly as a hack to see if I can do it.

Lot of demand for Radio Engineers if you want to do full-time cell phone or wifi stuff, too.

This is one of the things that got me into ham. If cell phones and internet go down, most people can only communicate as far as they can yell.

None of the other people I communicate with are hams, so if the grid goes away, I'm still pretty much limited to yelling.

I dunno... one part of ham radio is acting as a relay.

If there are two groups of folks, and they each have a ham in them at least the groups can relay messages to each other.

There's a lot of ifs to all that. I think if I were going to do something to prepare for disaster, I'd have a big store of water and shelf-stable foods on hand first.

I probably should do that...

Well, yeah, communication is so far down on the priority of needs that my county's disaster preparedness pamphlets don't even mention it.

But after we got hit with a hurricane it was pretty nifty to have ham radio friends who were able to exchange messages with hams near families in unaffected areas. I don't remember seeing any pragmatic uses for ham radio in that particular disaster, but those lines of communication was great for morale.

Don't underestimate the value of stocking the necessary hardware for short, medium and long range communication. Only part of the post-apocalypse equation is continued survival of you and your family. At the next level is, how useful are you to the community of people around you? There is a deficit these days, or you could call it an advantage -- that there are far more people skilled in computer technology, and even simple farming -- than radio.

Practical skill with communication technology also gets you an 'in' with those in charge of things, even if you were a nobody before.

My survival plan involves

- 12v systems from car batteries

- VHF/UHF short range communication - HF as money permits

- low power FM broadcast station - simple low current broadcast studio

- legacy PCs and notebook PCs, Linux & Windows 7 (custom mods for better/convective cooling, slower clocks, long life)

- massive libraries of ebooks, music, audiobooks and old radio shows

- selected paper reference works (now is a great time to buy!)

Note that solar panels do NOT make this list, not in any massive way. It's about available funds and priorities now.

Well, pragmatically, it only takes 2 folks with radios.

Historically, there is a whole lot of prescident for it's functionality.

By all means, though, having water and store-able food is an excellent thing to do regardless.

Just anecdotally, having a radio and knowing how to use it is way higher on my list of personal prep than owning a firearm and knowing how to use it.

I've always been curious about this hobby but never jumped in. The technology is an interesting curiosity to me but speaking bluntly what would probably give me the impetus to really spend time on it would be tapping into any kind of underground content or social experience that exists. For instance I read that Art Bell got started by broadcasting his show over shortwave bands, what a fascinating experience it would have been to be hanging out with those guys and listening to their conversations through amateur radio.

What is the easiest way for me to start listening in and discovering what's out there on the airwaves? Do I have to buy hardware or are there purely software/online options? Also I live in Thailand so most of the local chatter would probably be in Thai which is hard for me to follow.

Online SDR receivers are a great way to listen using other people's equipment:


Reverse Beacon Network and PSKreporter are excellent tools to see how people's signals are propagating:



Oh man. This is amazing. Going to require at least one full evening to figure out WTF I am looking at though :)

Check out the WSPRnet map to get a visual indicator of propagation conditions, by seeing which automated stations can hear which other automated stations.

Thailand has two "Personal Radio" services, one at VHF 78 MHz and another at VHF 245 MHz.

The 78 MHz transceivers must have a Yellow case, while the 245 MHz transceivers must have a Red case.

These radios are widely used by small businesses (taxis, guards, etc) right across Thailand. Once you start looking, you'll see them everywhere.

See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personal_radio_service#Thailan...

Thailand also has a very active Amateur Radio Community, with many expats licensed. see https://www.qsl.net/rast/

The previous King of Thailand was a Patron of Amateur radio, so access to licensing was taken very seriously by the authorities.

Search for rtl-sdr. It's a 10$ DVB dongle that can also work as generic RF front end. This plus GNU radio or gqrx and you can already receive some fm and ham radio signals

You could always use websdr to listen


Shortwave feels like an abandoned town unless you like religious radio.

Not so.

The HF Ham bands are as busy as ever, while the Shortwave Broadcast bands are chock full of mainly Chinese stations, who incidentally play some amazing music.

It is so.

I used to go camping in the 1970's and had a shortwave radio that I would listen to for hours. The variety of stuff I could hear was vastly greater than what I can hear today.

I'll also toss out that there is a great amateur radio community on Reddit... where you can avoid some of the more... seasoned radio operators, their opinions and health conditions ;)


The title of this piece is "HF Ham Radio on a Budget: QRP Labs, QRPGuys, CW Academy" and probably should at least just be the first part. The article doesn't really talk about being it a golden age for amateurs except for the existence of SOTA.

It's actually a pretty bad time for HF right now because of low solar activity; in fact, it's probably one of the worst times in recent memory to try doing HF beyond SOTA.

> pretty bad time for HF right now

Not true, the lower HF bands (80m through 20m) are excellent and there is worldwide communication happening all the time.

It's only bad if you recall periods of high sunspot activity with superb 10m and 15m conditions. Certainly something to look forward to in the next few years but not a show stopper in the least.

Also, there is now significantly more weak signal activity than in previous sunspot cycles thanks to FT8 (linked below) and MSK144.


And, FWIW, this HN post is titled in a way that makes it more useful/relevant to the general audience. The original title is aimed at existing enthusiasts.

Definitely. 17000km QSO the other day with CW on 6 watts out.

FT8 bores the crap out of me unfortunately.

I like both. FT8 is great when you want to multitask while getting on the air.

True. I do FT8 when I'm depressed from having no CW contacts. It's amazing the distance you can cover with it.

While i wouldn't call it a golden age, its definitely not a bad time if you want to do things like digital or satellite work.

New modes like FT8 really allow hams to work in at this crappy solar level. Pricing on HTs has gone down a lot due to the now illegal Chinese knockoffs, so Satellite work and local stuff is more accessible.

Personally I've only done FT8 for the last year and its great. I've been able to make contacts 8000mi+.

Got any links for getting started with SATCOM other than the SDR to weather satellite stuff you typically see?

We're certainly seeing a resurgence of audio content with podcasting. Mostly due to proliferation of mobile and ad spending rotation.

But WebSDR is pretty amazing technology. The ability for concurrent users to operate radio via internet could find broad adoption. I'm just not sure what drives it. It might be nice, in an autonomous vehicle future, for example. For idle passengers in neighboring cars to communicate with each other via voice.

University of Twente (Netherlands) Wide-band WebSDR


http://sdr.hu as well for even more locations

I have been using that to figure out what's on while I get my new (1982) HF rig up and running. :-)

Why is low solar activity bad for amateur radio?

HF signals need to bounce off the ionosphere to travel any distance. The more ionized the ionosphere is, the more effectively hf radio waves refract off it. High solar activity leads to higher ionization.

In ham terms, this is know as “band openings”, eg when ionospheric conditions allow hf at a given frequency to refract off the ionosphere.

Beyond the horizon transmission (radio propagation) is by bouncing signal off (refracting) the Ionosphere, which is more effective when Solar activity is at its maximum. At Solar minimum, about fifteen to 30 megahertz is screwed.

Low solar activity means that there is less EUV (extreme ultraviolet) radiation hitting the ionosphere. This leads to weaker plasma formation, as well as shifting geometries of the plasma layer. In general the lower and weaker plasma tends to restrict the range of HF transmissions attempting long distance communications via refraction through ionospheric plasma.

The problem is that many on the bands are miserable people. It can be discouraging.

The radio is a lot of fun. (I love Morse.) But a sizable percentage of the radio-ers make you want to do something else.

This is a big problem. I find CW to be populated with less annoying people.

This reminds me: has anyone done a survey of the relative Democrat/Republican/Other distribution of voice hams vs CW HAMS?

I would be interested in the results.

In hundreds of contacts on CW I've never once talked politics with anyone. I understand that isn't your question but the bandwidth is too low to waste on useless garbage. That and CW operators are a tighter community so an opposing political opinion isn't as divisive with that much common ground.

That’s a broad and inaccurate generalization. You just need to find a niche that is more socially appealing to you if you want to use it to socialize. Sounds like common sense but it’s easy to be weirded out by the “pig farmers” or by listening to a chat where one of the parties expresses conservative views.

But overall hams embody the best aspects of science and engineering culture and DIY/maker culture.

Most of the subgroups bave active online communities and are more focused in their on the air activities, and a bit less inclined to shoot the breeze about Fox News talking points.

CW tends to be nice and some of the “rag chewing” (casual conversation) is remarkably thoughtful and there are some really interesting people. Doing conversation well on Morse is a bit of an art form.

I don't think it's inaccurate, just subjective. Yes it's the 80m and 2m local rag chew I avoid and the people spewing contests all over 40 and 20. I spend most of my time doing CW and with a soldering iron in my hand. Life is good there for me.

My point was that it may be accurate about a small percentage of the ham population, but it's not accurate about the majority of the population.

part of why i'm a fan of digital modes, short message ones like FT8 in particular. plus i've been getting lots of dx too! i really need to learn CW.

Sked? I'm just 15 wpm but if you need a VT ...

Thanks for offer. Minus an antenna at the moment unfortunately due to a tree attack. Maybe in a couple of weeks :)


More like grumpy nerds or race-war-fearing survivalists?

I don't want to give entirely the wrong impression. I'm active in the local club (have been the treasurer in the past and have dinner once a month with a bunch of the members), I've met a number of great people, and I like the tech stuff.

But you often run across a lot of anger. Some of it is grumpiness-- I have other hobbies and in other hobbies it is not the case that the culture is that things are bad and sure to get worse-- but there is absolutely also an aspect of craziness. I have heard, for instance, a local ham with a UK accent being berated at length on a local repeater for being a foreigner.

I don't get the anger. If you have the leisure to do something that you say you enjoy, why are you mad all the time?

The most recent incident for me was that I was on voice during a Sunday morning making some calls and someone with max power starts talking over me. When I say the frequency is in use, I am told that everyone knows this is his frequency on Sundays, and then he goes back to spouting hateful stuff with what is, I presume, the same group he always spouts it with. That'll keep you off the radio for a while.

One of the things I like about Morse is that I find that the people pride themselves on their manners. But there are other things also, including just that I always thought it was neat, since I was a kid.

There are often old guys chatting on 75 meters in the evenings. Most of their contacts are a few dozen or a few hundred miles away at most. They typically park on the same frequency every night and shoot the breeze.

This is a very small part of ham radio, but sometimes people who are new to it encounter those signals first because of how strong the signals are (3.5 MHz signals are often extremely strong after dark over a distance of a few hundred miles).

If you are new to radio and you start tuning around the HF bands without much of antenna, these might be some of the only signals you are aware of, and because of this the uninitiated sometimes generalize that this is all that hams are/do.

And because of the high average age of amateurs, the data point of 75 meters seems to be a case in point that all hams are old/crotchety and/or survivalist/conservative.

But in reality, there are so many dimensions to the hobby that making the generalization about a few geezers is extremely off base. For some, the fun is in building the gear and then making a few contacts to test it out. For others it is radiosport contests or moonbounce, for others it's mountain tops or trail friendly setups, for others it's meteor scatter, restoring antique circuits, etc.

So if it were a book and had a cover, the cover might be the 75 meter pig farmers, but there is a lot more going on that is worth exploring if one has some innate interest in the subject.

I guess it might be of as old fashioned, but there's nrarely a "Resource Limit Reached. Error 508" with radio.

Shame, I was interested in reading about this.

Well, I once was operating from the Caribbean on 40m and had such a huge number of people calling me, I couldn't make any contacts for many minutes. I guest that would be a 508 error.

A question for the international crowd, I want to take the license exam. I live in France, and the closest exam center is like 300 Km away, exam dates always on weekday, so I'd need to take a day off for that. I live near Monaco, had a look but I can't find anything regarding exams, some people hold licenses but they don't answer to my emails asking about it. Is there a comfortable way to obtain the license around here?

Surprised nobody has responded. What entities have you tried reaching out to? I'm sure that if you find the right person your quest to get licensed will be greatly streamlined.

I agree we are in a golden age of ham tech but older hams than me (like my friend GI0LZR) talk about days when the radio bands were more open. This is ham speak for sending/receiving more frequent long distance calls. I think we may be in a season of bad radio weather. The Sun usually gets the blame.

I get a buzz out of the low power stuff and don’t see the fun in pumping out signals using 1 or 2kw of power. I have sent and recieved low power messages 6k miles using less than 5w.

Transmitting low power signals, like wspr, using a raspberry pi is great fun. And before anyone mentions it I do run my noisey signals through a low pass filter :-)


I'm almost 40 and never quite managed to get into amateur radio, but my kids are getting old enough that they might be interested. Reading articles like this gets me excited to finally give it a try.

do it! you can get started with some cheap SDR stuff to "see" whats out there. I you want to participate it is really a great hobby. I can't wait until my daughters can participate.

the average age of ham operators is well above 50s. You still have time for yourself! I'd love to get more involved, just don't have the time. Some of the best ways of getting kids involved is local DX events. -KE7BRP :)

Find a local club, there will be people there that will want to see you succeed.

I am interested in ham radio, but I’m uncomfortable with broadcasting my call sign around (as required by the FCC) since in the US it’s super easy to get someone’s name and home address from their callsign.

For currently operating hams: do you just deal with it, or is there something you can do to protect your privacy?

You can go to the FCC's website and get a list of every currently valid callsign, and then from there get the name and listed address associated with the callsign. Your information is already public if you're licensed, so it doesn't concern me at all.

You can get a PO Box or forwarding service as your FCC address.. doesn't have to be street address just mailing addy.

I thought the FCC wanted to know where your station was. Doesn't this defeat the purpose?

No, they only need to be able to contact you.

However, as far as I know, even if you change your listed address, your _past_ addresses are still published, unfortunately. There was some movement towards ending that, but I don't think it was successful.

I've just dealt with it (K4IMW), but, I use my PO Box for my FCC ULS information. If the FCC or anyone else wants to get in touch with me, it's probably quicker to email me, but, I understand that there are times where a paper letter is more "formal," (also, QSL cards).

Great read! Thanks for the website info! Taking my General Test on Tueday. I have picked out a Yaesu 818 as my first HF radio. Look forward to QRP and SOTA.

awesome! i need to get my butt up some of the summits around me and do some SOTA work myself. I've got all the stuff, just need to do it!

Submission is mistitled. Should be "HF Ham Radio on a Budget".

The title used is more descriptive of the intent of the article, which is clear if you RTFA.

I did RTA and I understand the reasoning. I just disagreed in this case because although the HN title was one of his main points, that wasn't the main point and the article wasn't structured around it.

If that had been the title and the main point, he'd be emphasizing a lot more than the great cheap HF gear that's now available. (There's a lot more that's really awesome in AR than what you can do with basic HF gear.)

No need for 'RTFA', just 'RTA', you'd been flagged/dead but I thought I'd resurrect you and explain why.

I would like to have a go at building a receiver for listening to CW with my kids. I don't want anything on the computer, just something I can solder that will work. Is there a kit that has a good success rate? I'm in the UK if that matters.

Check out the Pixie kits, they're extraordinarily cheap, like $5 on ebay cheap.


I'd recommend getting a couple different crystals, at least one at 7.030Mhz, which is likely going to be more popular than the typical 7.023Mhz they come with.

Not a pixie. They are super simple, but require considerable skill to use.

For example, they are morse code only.

He specifically asked for a CW device.

You just need a long piece of wire, diode, ferrite coil wth wire wrapped around, variable resistor and old style ear piece to pick up am radio. No batteries required. I can remember my son’s lack of interest while we made the venerable crystal radio and then his little fascinated face when we picked up some signals

No, not a variable resistor, but variable capacitor.

Do a google search on "Crystal Set", or go to http://theradioboard.com/rb/index.php

I suggest a simple direct conversion receiver such as the really simple one in the classic book EMRFD:


If you're a software engineer, and know even a little electronics ( V=IR, basic components, schematics , etc), you can get your technician's license with 2-4 hours study using https://hamstudy.org/tech2018 . There are many exams every month, and it's only $15 (use http://www.arrl.org/find-an-amateur-radio-license-exam-sessi... to find a local exam)

Think of your HAM license as a driver's license for radio communications, and you'll see it opens up a lot of opportunities & functionality. You can do voice simplex (radio-radio), chat on repeaters (bunny-hopping to reach distant stations), DMR (same as above, but digitally encoded), CW (morse code with low bandwidth & long range), APRS (digital beacons for GPS, weather, etc), and more.

Most people experience radio through a commercial (aka unlicensed) product like GSM/CDMA (cell phones), WiFI, FM-broadcast, FRS (walkie talkies), CB Radio (trucker's radios) etc. That's a great intro, but so restricted it's kind of like comparing bumper-cars to driving a car.

It's more than a just a hobby too. Most emergency response teams get licensed. The Red cross sent Hams to puerto rico when the network went down. Sailors still use radio to communicate.

Since your first radio is $30 and the technician's exam is $15, it's a very easy and rewarding hobby to get into.

These hobbyists may save our hide after an apocalypse that levels the Internet.

Are those cheap Baofeng radios decent? Was considering getting into this and using one of those as a starting point (to listen at first, obviously, not broadcast until I've got a licence.)

They're decent for their price... but you won't hear much, as they're stuck in 136-174 MHz (some AM airband, but the radio is FM) and 400-480MHz (local PMR446, some pager networks operate here).

Also no digital modes, and max bandwidth (25 KHz? don't remember) limits what you can postprocess in the computer.

Otherwise, they're fine for low bandwidth stuff. They work great as ghetto amplifier for 433MHz applications.

To get started I'd rather recommend a RTLSDR dongle, they're under $10 and you can listen (though not transmit) from 24 MHz to 1.7 GHz at 2MHz bandwidth: you can capture images from weather satellites at ~145MHz, scan for weather stations at 433 MHz, various telemetry at 868/915 MHz, airplane tracking, L-band satellites... for some of these things you'll need some sort of filtering and amplifying though.

Thanks for the reply, very useful. I have an SDR dongle around somewhere already I think.

Are there any entry-level (price wise) handhelds you'd recommend? It's not always hugely easy to carry my laptop around with me sometimes.

If you have a (rooted?) Android phone, you can use the dongle with an OTG cable.

Otherwise, a Baofeng DM-5R should do the job, it has digital modes compared to the cheaper and more popular models. Still limited to FM in analog, which is a pity for airband (where, by the way, you should never ever transmit in).

I want to get started with packet radio. I don't know anything about it. Where do I start?

APRS is an easy way to get started in packet radio:


If you already have a license/radio the mobilinkd[1] is a great way to get a TNC added to any radio.

It has a Bluetooth SSP that lets you write packets in KISS[2] protocol which gets bits on the air(APRS adds a lot more on top of this).

[1] http://www.mobilinkd.com/

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/KISS_(TNC)

Start with APRS --- a lot of people aren't even aware that there are packet radio networks that exist on VHF outside of 144.390M, but no matter where you are in the US, you probably will be able to get something going on APRS.

There are all sorts of ways that you can go with packet radio. Here are a couple ideas:

1. Start monitoring APRS traffic in your area.

I have a blog post that I wrote about repurposing a $5 scanner from a swapfest with a broken USB headset from a junk drawer, and turning it into a receive-only APRS igate. [1] I run that on a raspberry pi, you can see the current status of it here: [2]

You can do this with an RTLSDR, or a Baofeng into your laptop's microphone, etc. This is the easiest way to just listen and hear for yourself that there is traffic around you, and I think that will motivate you to get further into it.

2. Start putting cool packets onto APRS!

If you have a Baofeng, you can make a cheap TNC out of a USB soundcard, an appropriate break-out cable (available for ~$15 on Amazon), and any computer running soundcard TNC software. I strongly recommend Direwolf if you are playing with a Raspberry Pi (or just a laptop running linux), and APRSDroid if you have an old phone in a drawer. Something to watch out for is the quality of the signal that you put out, you need to tweak the volumes so that things aren't being overdriven. Nobody will hear you otherwise, and you'll be jamming the band for others.

A cool project idea is to put together a Baofeng-powered APRS security system in your car, with the radio stowed in the trunk and tied into the ignition switch. You could track your car at any time! (I started a project like this but never finished it --- the Baofengs use something weird like 7.4V, and my Raspberry Pi was powered at 5V, and I never could think of a proper solution for my ground loops, and how to put it together in a clean package. I have a TH-D72A with a built-in GPS and TNC that I use for APRS in my car on longer trips, for now.)

I bought a cheap weather station, and I was able to get wee_wx to start pulling data from it, and sometime over Christmas I'm hoping that I'll find the time to start putting that data onto APRS. The sky is really the limit, there are dozens of interesting data formats on APRS besides positional data and weather data.

3. Non-APRS packet radio!

This is where the real fun is. Here in Wisconsin I have the following site to see where traffic is [3].

One of the craziest things I've done in Ham radio is hooked my TH-D72A up to my laptop, connected via raw commands to a neighboring station speaking AX.25, left a message on his BBS, and then issued a command which had me hopping from his VHF receive to his HF rig, which forwarded me onto another BBS over HF. The connection was very broken up, but enough came through that I know it happened, and that was enough for it to put a wide smile on my face.

4. If you live in Seattle, check out HamWan.

Hams are allowed to run standard 2.4GHz Wi-Fi equipment at higher power than normal people, provided that we stick to the FCC requirements (station identification in the form of our SSID, no encryption, etc.) I really don't know much about this project, but it's cool stuff. Fun to see what WiFi is theoretically capable of. [4]

[1]: https://nsielicki.blogspot.com/2018/04/repurposing-old-radio...

[2]: https://aprs.fi/info/a/W9NLS-2

[3]: https://www.qsl.net/n9zia/wapr/bandplan.html

[4]: https://hamwan.org/

> Hams are allowed to run standard 2.4GHz Wi-Fi equipment at higher power than normal people, provided that we stick to the FCC requirements (station identification in the form of our SSID, no encryption, etc.)

Are you sure about that? It doesn't sound right to me, since 2.4GHz is not a ham band. But I would be happy to be corrected!


notably: 13 centimeters – 2300–2310 MHz (lower segment), 2390–2450 MHz (upper segment)

If you want to learn Morse Code I can recommend using these Anki decks:

- Easy start but without punctuation. You might want to add that https://ankiweb.net/shared/info/950182698

- Pretty good but hard to start with https://ankiweb.net/shared/info/3645353967

- There are a few more Decks: https://ankiweb.net/shared/decks/morse%20code

Sorry to be that guy but it is for good reason. Don't learn Morse Code visually. The time it takes to convert an audible signal into a visual representation is simply too long to be able to decode a real Morse Code signal.

I learned visually at first and the amount of effort it took to unlearn it was unbelievable. You have to learn by hearing the audible character and have your brain immediately translated it through shear practice and repetition.

If you have to convert it to a visual dot dash symbol in your head you will be too slow to ever have a conversation on the air.

https://lcwo.net is also quite a good tool.

I guess it's all relative. I am just getting into ham radio and I am shocked at how expendive HF rigs still are. The QCX kit is $50 sure and it's really well designed, but it takes hours to assemble and it's difficult to debug without already having a radio or other test equipment. If I want to get into Arduino, I can buy a fully built board on eBay for about $3. Other HF radios on the budget end are a couple hundred bucks. It's one of the few areas where you can save significant cash building kits, which is kind of cool.

I'm interested in getting into HAM radio to communicate with/via satellites (or the moon), what's a good resource to get started?

AmSat has some good articles for getting started with satellites:


Moonbounce is challenging even for experienced hams.

I was a HAM in the US, mostly just to get internet access via packet radio (and play with higher power wifi) back in early 2000's. I participated in a few field day's which were really awesome. The community was pretty cool.

I didn't take this hobby over to Europe when I moved, and let my license lapse. How's the community over here (specifically the Netherlands)?

Can't speak to it specifically - yet - but I've been in NL for a few years now and haven't converted my licence as it requires some paperwork hoops on the non-NL side that I haven't bothered to figure out all of yet. Probably easier than doing the exam in a tweede taal though.

But I was at SHA2017 where we had a temporary repeater hoisted up on a cherry-picker, and someone who had boated in was doing APRS (I brought my HackRF so could dabble on the edges of legality :)

But one of these days, soon I'm sure, I'll get my HAREC thing sorted and convert it over.

Remember that we used to have antennas in the our cellphones back in the 2000s? Well, where did it go? This is a pretty interesting history about an Amateur Radio hobbyist going to a Amateur Radio conference and Fractals!!!!


That's not where they went.

I'm interested in amateur radio but always feel that I can't get anything done without a big honking antenna?

For VHF and UHF , that's not generally true - e.g. a simple quarter-wavelength antenna (exactly what it says on the tin - a stick antenna that is 1/4 of the wavelength on which you intend to operate - so e.g. for VHF 2m band, we're talking ~20" long, and for UHF 70cm it's even shorter) is perfectly sufficient to work repeaters, and to communicate with others directly within the radio horizon.

For HF, you do need a large antenna, but it's not necessarily what people think of when they think "antenna" - i.e. not a tower with a giant vertical rod. An HF antenna can just be a piece of cable of the right length and type, properly arranged; and it's usually strung more horizontally than vertically. Using trees for that is pretty common, too. Something like this:


>For VHF and UHF,

For VHF and UHF it matters that your antenna is very high up (on a pole, roof, or whatever w/line of sight if you want more than a couple blocks) more than your antenna 'size'. So even VHF/UHF/Microwave you still need something "big" unless you're just communicating with your next door neighbor.

There's no magic in RF. The cell system for phones only works because they pay the big bucks to put cells on every high point they can.

If you hold the transceiver in front of your head while speaking (as you naturally would), that already gives you 2-3 miles of radio horizon, depending on your height. If the person you're talking to does the same, that range doubles. Of course, that's on flat ground, without hills etc getting in the way... but still, you're usually looking at a mile or two of range, at least.



And, of course, beyond that, you'd just use repeaters anyway. There's no shortage of VHF and UHF repeaters, and because they take care of antenna height on their side, it's not uncommon to hit one 10-15 miles away with a handheld.

I'm not a radio/antenna expert, so this might be a bit inaccurate.

You want your antenna length to be some fraction of the wavelength, e.g. 1/1, 1/2, 1/4, etc. As the antenna length fraction gets smaller, it will have a less signal and more noise.

Ham radio bands are much lower frequency than wifi, bluetooth, GPS, or cellular. The wavelength is equal to the speed of light divided by the frequency, so lower frequency bands need bigger antennas.

So for example, the wavelength for a 144 Mhz you might use for amateur radio voice is 2 meters, whereas the wavelength of 2.4 Ghz wifi is only 0.12 meters.

The advantage of lower frequencies is they travel farther. AM radio is a lower frequency than FM, so it travels farther than FM.

This was a barrier for me as well. There are options. I have a 65 foot wire that goes from my house to a tree. It's virtually invisible. I've had many people in my yard an nobody has ever noticed it. I've worked pretty much the whole world with it.

There are also "compromise" antennas that use inductors and other trickery to be shorter. Are they efficient? Not great, but people make contacts on them everyday. (I have a 4-5 foot antenna that can operated on the same bands as my 65 foot antenna although it's not super efficient.

There are loop antennas that are tiny and portable but they can get expensive.

Also their are people that use an antenna tuner to tune a random piece of wire or even their gutters to get a workable HF antenna.

HF (which is what this article talks about) works best with a big honking antenna, but if you build your own you can get pretty creative; my dad did 20m from a townhouse.

As far as VHF/UHF, there are compact handhelds[1] with an antenna less than 12 inches long.

1: For example https://www.yaesu.com/downloadFile.cfm?FileID=12831&FileCatI...

All situations end up being a compromise. Most HOAs abhor antennas. I have an Endfed Halfwave antenna (EFHW) strung up in a tree. I can operate 6meter to 40meter band with it pretty well.


Also magloops are fun but are also a compromise.

For reference, one time I had WSPR contact with Australia from the US with only 500mw and a 40' wire antenna strung into a nearby tree.

Big antennas are desirable but simple (and low) wire antennas work remarkably well, and are what most people use.

You can make loop antennas with parts from the hardware store.


I posted this the other day: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18375562 Amsat and Ariss fundraiser to support new infrastructure for the ham stuff in ISS.

This is great. I love that old things, old paced stuff comes back. We all need to take a break to re think how we do things that entertain us. Spotify, Netflix, Facebook, etc, are just making us more miserable and less social in real life.

What is a Toroid used for and why does it need to be winded differently for different bands? Is it what generates the signals that get transmitted by the antenna?

Basically a circular inductor with a ferrite core instead of air which allows it to be more compact, have a higher inductance per volume and a greater q factor (bandwidth). A different inductance (different number of wire turns) is needed depending upon several factors, especially if you are using them to make a resonant circuit (a circuit that responds to a particular frequency). It does not generate the signal. I hope I got that right.

Adding to what some others have said, a toroidal shape for an inductor has some particularly nice properties for RF applications. The magnetic field outside an ideal toroid is exactly zero, regardless of what's going on inside the toroid. Even for real toroids, the leakage is very low.

It's a coil when used in RF applications. Different windings give it different induction properties:


Ferrite and powdered iron toroids are used for winding transformers and inductors. For radio stuff they are usually used as impedance transformers or as inductors in LC bandpass filters.

What's the most lightweight, portable ham radio?

Is it comparable to a smartphone?

I guess it depends on what you mean by "ham radio". Here's a tiny surface mount transmitter that is barely more than a gram and operates on amateur frequencies.


Gerber file, bill of materials, etc are freely available. I'm looking at modifying the design into a beacon for a rocket radiolocation project.

More comparable to a raspberry pi. There are some UHF transceivers the size of thumb drives, and a couple beacon designs the size of lithium coin cells—the idea is you clip the coin cell on, then put this in your drone/rocket/balloon. Mass is a couple grams at most.

A typical low-power shortwave station will fit comfortably in my spare space in a backpack, as described at the link.

It's about as big as a book, but a popular choice is the Yaesu FT-817ND and its replacement FT-818ND. Both are low-powered radios, transmitting only a few watts, but they cover all of the ham high-frequency bands, as well as the popular 2-meter and 440 MHz VHF bands. You can also receive aviation traffic and the FM broadcast band.

If you don't need all-band coverage, there are smaller, lighter transceivers available.

Obligatory comment for new radio enthusiasts: "ham" is not an acronym. Ham not HAM :)

I'm curious, do hams ever troll one another as internet users frequently do?

Ohhh yes. That would occur on 14.313 MHz on the 20m band. Don't find yourself caught calling "CQ" on that frequency. It is where lots of bad language and name calling occurs.

The FCC occasionally does a sting operation to shut down someone doing malicious interference, but there are a few frequencies where a handful of griefers congregate. I suspect the reason the FCC ignores it is that they generally only bother each other and limit it to one or two frequencies.

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