Ham Radio Basics
HAM RADIO IS NOT COMPLICATED. If you know how to turn on a CB radio and adjust the volume, change channels, and push the button to talk without becoming confused, you can operate a ham radio. They work just like a CB radio, but with 100 times the distance and fantastic clarity. IT DOES NOT HAVE TO BE TECHNICAL UNLESS YOU WANT IT TO BE. It’s your choice.
In order to encourage the migration to ham radio, the Gotham City Land Cruisers will reimburse any current member for the cost of the exam.
For example, the term “simplex” is nothing more than basic radio to radio communications on a single frequency, EXACTLY the way a CB radio works.
When we pick a CB “channel” for a run, we’re doing nothing more than selecting the simplex transmit/receive frequency. On all CB radios those 40 available frequencies or channels are presets in the radio and can’t be changed. On a ham radio you set up your own presets. As long as you agree beforehand (same as picking a CB channel before the run) it’s identical to CB. So when your group picks CB channel 4, you’re actually telling everyone to tune to simplex 27.005 MHz. You just don’t know that because the information is “hidden”.
My point is, that in its most basic form, ham radios are nothing more than very advanced and powerful walkie-talkies and should not intimidate the novice user. They can do a lot of neat “stuff” that I am learning about, but the bottom line is, and when you cut through all the fluff, it’s just a radio. Albeit a really good radio that blows CB completely out of the water.
Once you decide to get your ham radio license, do a quick internet search for ham radio clubs in your area. They are EVERYWHERE and you’re bound to find at least 2 that are local to you. Contact them and find out if/when they offer exams. Most clubs do them every other month or so for a small fee.
Start studying for the “technician” exam. This is the first level of ham radio operator licensing and allows you operate on the frequencies we use. I used http://www.hamradiolicenseexam.com/ to study at my own pace online when I had time. Once you’re comfortable with the exam prep, take the exam. In 2 weeks the FCC mails you your ticket and you’re good for the next 10 years.
It’s important to keep in mind that any study guide you use will be using the EXACT SAME questions and answers that you will be asked on the actual exam. So with a bit of memorization, you already know the answers going in to take the test. It’s an easy 30 question multiple choice test. 12 year old kids pass and get their tickets.
You’ve heard the term “repeater” before.
What is it and how does it work?
I’m going to keep this as basic as I can while still getting the concept across. There are many different types of repeaters out there, but honestly I’ve never used anything other than the basic ones.
A repeater is simply a radio, usually a base station connected to a decent antenna. This radio is set to, you guessed it, repeater mode. What that means is it’s receiving on 1 frequency and transmitting on another (offset). To put that into CB radio terms, it’s listening to channel 4 and “repeating” whatever it hears out on channel 5 with no delay. Sort of like the guy in the middle of a trail ride relaying messages.
Why do I want that?
Well, if the guys’ CB radio in the middle of the trail ride was a repeater, then everyone in the group can communicate with everyone else regardless of their position. Now let’s put that into ham radio terms. Typically, the transmit distance of a 2m radio with a good antenna and feed line is about 15 to 20 miles point to point. Once you start adding differences in terrain and buildings and whatever, that distance decreases. Now a repeater is usually set up with a powerful base station into a very high antenna so the distance covered is usually within a 20-40 mile radius with some reaching a 50-60 mile radius. So that means that if you reach a repeater, you have now, at minimum, doubled or tripled the distance you can communicate.
For CMCC we were using the Pine Grove repeater to chat back and forth between GCLC staff out in the park and folks back at Twin Grove campground, again with crystal clear reception with 3 mountain peaks between us. And we were all using those little Chinacom $30 radios. It was pretty cool.
Even the least expensive ham radios are able to use repeaters, but only dual channel units can be set up as repeaters. However I have found that there are 2 meter and 70 cm repeaters EVERYWHERE. A great resource is www.repeaterbook.com. Poke around a bit and you’ll see how many repeaters are within your area. They also have a neat Android app to find repeaters when you’re traveling.
Most repeaters are set up and run by local ham clubs and are “open” which means they can be used by anyone who wishes to use it. Your radio needs to be programmed properly to take advantage of repeaters. That in itself can seem like a daunting task, but there’s lots of great free software out there that make it as easy as typing numbers into an Excel spreadsheet and pushing the “UPLOAD TO RADIO” button.