I recently passed the Technician exam and for the last few weeks have been having a lot of fun getting on the air, learning about digital modes and even tracking satellites. It took about 1 week for my call sign (KD2GNX) to be posted online. This post documents 10 things to do after you pass the Technician exam that will make the hobby more enjoyable and will help you get involved in different communication modes with a very small financial investment.
- Get an email Address with your Call Sign
Providing your email to the contacts you make is a common occurrence. An email in the format of firstname.lastname@example.org is easy to transmit since call signs will be exchanged early in the conversation.
- Learn the Phonetic Alphabet
Not knowing the phonetic alphabet gives away your novice status and makes communication more difficult. Spend a couple of afternoons learning the phonetic alphabet or print a cheat sheet and have it close to your radio.
- Join a Ham Radio Club
There is a great deal of knowledge about communications in local ham clubs. Even if you do not have an outgoing personality, you can join a club, attend meetings and start learning about the different topics ham clubs present. Most clubs have a one time membership fee or very low membership fees in order to keep up with maintenance of repeaters.
- Subscribe to Ham Radio Podcasts
Check http://arvideonews.com/hrn/ for a list of different sites presenting ham radio content. You can play these shows while doing yard work or while driving and get a good deal of information to keep you up to date with the latest news in the hobby.
- Get the General License
Put together a 3 month plan to get the General license. Besides the additional privileges provided by the General license, your will get more information on FCC rules and augment your knowledge about communication.
- Invest in a Cheap Handheld Radio.
My first Radio was a Baofeng GT-3 with an enhanced Nagoya 771 antenna. With an investment of US$60 for the radio and US$14 for the antenna, I am able to access repeaters in my area, track the International Space Station (ISS) and other satellites, use repeaters connected to WIRES, EchoLink, IRLP, etc. and monitor Fire, Ambulance and Police frequencies. The experience you get with these different communication modes, will help you solidify the requirements for your next radio.
- Drive Around with your Handheld Radio
You will be amazed at the amount of radio traffic you pick up while driving around. I used CHIRP to program in my handheld radio all repeaters and emergency service frequencies I can find from my house to work. After a few days you will identify which repeaters have traffic during commute hours, which ones have nets, etc. Using CHIRP is an efficient way to quickly change your radio frequencies to track repeaters in the areas you will be visiting.
- Get an EchoLink Account – Embrace Voice Over IP (VOIP)
There are multiple VOIP/Radio modes such as EchoLink, WIRES, IRLP, DSTAR, etc. EchoLink provides clients for Windows, Linux, IOS and Android that allow you to communicate with people all over the world using your computer/tablet/phone as a radio. Once you understand how EchoLink works, it is easy to understand how the other modes work. Embrace the marriage between Radio and VOIP and you will be able to experiment setting up your own gateways or reach out other hams from any location that has internet access. I was in the Caribbean recently and using my iPad and the WIFI signal from the hotel I could communicate with other hams in Argentina, England and Florida while drinking Mojitos by the pool.
- Get into Software Defined Radio
With a small investment of US$10 – US$20 you can configure a software defined receiver capable of receiving continuously between 25MHz-1700MHz (range varies depending models). With a SDR dongle and a program like SDRSharp you will be able to monitor multiple bands and get a visual representation of the communication spectrum in your area. Depending on your computer capabilities you can add multiple dongles and launch multiple instances of SDRSharp. Visit the RTL-SDR site for a crash course on Software Defined Radio.
- Monitor Digital Traffic
Once you have configured an SDR dongle, you can listen to other hams, police, fire, ambulance and Taxis. You can even configure a SDRSharp plug-in to use the receiver as a scanner. In addition you can decode different type of digital traffic. By using a program such as Virtual Cable or VB-Cable (free), you can feed the audio output from SDRSharp into programs like PDW to decode pager traffic. I am able to decode traffic from a hospital that is less than a mile from my house, as well as traffic from taxis and what appears to be my local Target store which is about 2 miles from my house. Besides pager traffic you can also monitor AIS (Automatic Identification System) for ships and Automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) for aircraft. The software and dongle can be installed in a laptop and provide additional listening capabilities while you are on the road.
With a small investment of about US$100 you can get exposure to a wide range of communication modes and learn a great deal about ham radio. In the process you will hopefully make a few new friends.