Those of you who have been reading for a while (or those that know me personally) understand how compulsive I can be when I am interested in a subject. When I was about 12 years old, it allowed my brother and I to drive ourselves to learn to juggle…rather well, and all without the assistance of Google or YouTube.
These days, with free will (ok, mostly free) to do what I please, I get to throw myself full-tilt into a project, pastime, or hobby, until I’ve either given up trying (rare), or, mastered it (more often), or gotten distracted by some other shiny object (SQUIRREL!).
That last one really gets mesidetracked sometimes…
…but not so with my Amateur Radio (HAM) infatuation. I’ve been a licensed Ham operator since Christmas Eve, the day my call sign was published by the FCC. While I had owned a VHF/FM programmable radio, the Bao Feng UV-5R+, since mid-November, I was unable to legally transmit on any of the Ham frequencies.
So I waited….like a kid a week before Christmas, ironically. And the day after Christmas, I called in to my first “Net”, or community ragchew and trader on-air gathering. Two days, and I was jumping in…nervous
I was nervous because I didn’t want to screw up. You see, everyone on the air hearing me would know I was new, they wouldn’t recognize my call sign, something you announce at the beginning and end of each conversation, as well as at least once every ten minutes while talking.
But I did it. And enjoyed listening to all of the banter. A “Net”, to me, is simply the same as a bunch of people sitting in front of of a barber shop, telling stories to each other, and/or catching up on how their day went. Only these folks talking with each other all are physically isolated from each other… sometime by hundreds or even thousands of miles. Ham brings people closer together
On my second Net, I recognized a woman that tested with me, who was also new to Amateur Radio. Her neighbor was a licensed Ham, and had helped her get set up with practice test material, as well as helping her choose and set up her radio. It turns out, her neighbor, John Amodeo, only lives in this area part time. He is a TV producer in California, on the show “Last Man Standing“, where Tim Allen plays a character that happens to be a Ham operator.
John Amodeo is a licensed Extra-Class ham radio operator, call-sign NN6JA. He has broadcasted live via ham radio on occasion from the “Last Man Standing” set, which includes an actual working ham radio station.
John’s actually logged into one of our local Nets via an internet/Ham merged technology, called EchoLink. While speaking on the Net, we found out that 29 of the cast and crew on the show have now become licensed Hams. Awesome!
I installed EchoLink for myself, I was so impressed with how well it worked. It is a rough equivalent to Voice Over IP communication, only with the end comms being Ham radios…or smartphones!
So, I installed EchoLink on my phone as well. Here is the Echolink page if you want to read more. Please note that it requires a valid call sign and identity verification before you can install it.
I have now have calendar reminders for every Net that is within range of my radios. I can also log in to several of the local Nets via my cell phone’s data connection to join in, if I am out of the area and away from my radios.
Speaking of my radios, I mentioned getting my Ham license on Facebook a couple months ago, and a friend contacted me, asking if I wanted the old dual channel radio out of his sailboat, a Yaesu FT-7900R. My friend was selling the sailboat, so no longer needed a Ham radio on it. This particular radio served as their sole means of communications many times while the spent a couple years sailing.
The radio was older and well used, and needed a little work cleaning it up, but fired right up when I hooked it to a 12volt battery as a test. It is a fantastic radio, and from the reviews I’ve read, it is considered the “Toyota Corolla” of the dual band Ham radios. It offers a large selection of bells and whistles not found on my little UV-5R+. Fantastic! (THANKS Mike & Brenda!!!)
Being a “portable” radio, looking like an old CB from my childhood, the FT-7900R requires 12 volt power. I swapped for a low voltage LED power supply with the proper amperage, something that I’ve learned since starting into the hobby. I ran wires to get the control head near my desk, while the base and antenna are sitting across the room. It is NOT pretty, but it is functional. (I know my wife will read this – Babe, I PROMISE to make it a more permanent setup that doesn’t look like it is thrown together, or acts like a trip hazard like it is now.)
Last week, I participated in a dry run for a Federal Nuclear Disaster Emergency Drill. All I did was check in, give a location report, and recheck at any point that I moved around. I believe I will be getting more involved with these types of things. I like to contribute to my community. I also like to have as much advance warning for anything bad that might be heading my way. Being part of the emergency communications in my area gives me an inside track to disaster information…this might be the one thing that saves my family from bad things. As Billy Idol said in Cyberpunk, “Information is power and currency“. In an emergency, this statement is absolutely true. (If you listen to the clip, he also goes on to say “mistrust authority”… also mighty accurate :P)
Amateur Radio Clubs
Over the last 30 days, I’ve met several dozen folks, and without exception, each and every one of them has offered to help me in some way, all I had to do was ask. Several have, with no strings attached, offered to lend me radios that are bigger/badder/stronger/better than what I currently use. I’ve had multiple offers to have a crew come over and “Tweak” my setup, if I needed it. I’ve declined all offers for help so far, wanting to gather information, as well as learn how to use what I already have. When the time comes, I’ll be happy to have all of these nice folks available to help.
Lesson in OpSec
One person in particular turned out to have a similar interest in Ham as I do, the “Prepper” angle. He was sitting across from me while we were listening to a speaker tell about his setup that included automatic generators, water purification, and ice machines all put together as a secondary emergency shelter and operation center for a county government ( the speaker owned multiple radio stations, an is a big player in the radio industry, both broadcast stations as well as Amateur Radio).
I muttered something about having almost as much water purification capabilities as this county setup included. Upon hearing me, my new found friend shushed me, and later told me not to talk too much about that kind of thing, else some of the other might label me as “One Of Them”.
I told him that I WAS one of “them”, but agreed to not rock the boat.
Sometimes I forget that I’m one of the few that considers 90 days of food a good investment, but home, health, and car insurance no more than government-enforced gambling. I did end up finding that many of the members of two clubs I am now am a part of are also “gun toting nut jobs” as one of them put it.
Good to know
Volunteering Yields Education
Last Saturday, I “assisted” in a tower climb for an antennae installation. Being the youngest member of the club (as far as I am aware, that is) at 44, I felt I was obligated to help. Plus I’m the new guy, I was fairly certain I needed to show both my enthusiasm, as well as be available for any hazing I might be required to be a part of (there was no hazing, thankfully). I learned a 5 gallon bucket full of things about radio, antenna construction, the local county Emergency Operations Center, and oddly enough, rare dog breeds (ever hear of a dog breed called “Canary Dogs?”)
I also got to spend time with my new acquaintance with the similar interests, learning more about Amateur Radio. My new friend spent several hours talking with me about options, methodology, tricks, techniques, personalities, education, and other Ham-related information, to the point that my eyes started to glaze over. I also helped clear out some old equipment, and was given one of the offset antennas that was being replaced.
I’ve learned more about what my equipment can and cannot accomplish. I have had great success with reaching all areas that I normally work, having spoken with Hams as far as 45 miles (straight line) away via a repeater.
I have sorted out several car mount issues I’ve had with my UV-5R+ handie- talkie. I now have a serviceable setup that goes with me whenever I leave my house. And I’ve found that talking to other Hams while driving is a great way to pass the time. With the forced polite nature of waiting for the other party to stop talking before you speak, it makes the communication far less distracting than a phone.
To sum it all up, I’ve really enjoyed participating in my local Ham community.
Yes, Amateur Radio is still new and shiny to me. Will the polish wear off eventually? Possibly. However, my license is good for ten years. Using the equipment in a live environment has shown me that “knowing” how to use it and actually USING it are far different.
For those that believe that they can buy one and put it away to be used in an emergency, you should know it simply won’t happen. The learning curve isn’t steep, but it IS there. Get the license, then practice, practice, practice. Then, when you NEED it, you have it, and KNOW how to use it.
Three more Things
- The test is NOT difficult.
- There is a fantastic support group for both getting licensed as well as improving your skills and understanding.
- Owning equipment is not the same as knowing how to use it. Being able to use gear is important when you are under pressure. Practice is the key. The only way to legally use Ham equipment is to get the license.
I’m actually a little annoyed that I didn’t do it sooner.
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