Why Should You Get a Ham Radio License?

Several of the authors you read on Hackaday are ham radio operators and we’ve often kicked around having a Hacker Chat about “Why be a ham today?” After all, you can talk to anyone in the world over the Internet or via phone, right? What’s the draw?

The Radio Society of Great Britain had the same thought, apparently, and produced a great video to answer the question. They mention the usual things: learning about technology, learning about people in other parts of the world, disaster communications, and radiosport (which seems to be more popular outside the United States; people compete to find hidden transmitters).

In addition, they talked a lot about how hams get involved with space communications, ranging from talking via satellites, to talking to people on the space station, to actually building small satellites. As the narrator says, there are “hundreds of ways to have techie fun” with ham radio.

One thing we noticed they showed but didn’t say a lot about, though, is the educational opportunities. You can learn a lot, and working with kids to help them learn is often very rewarding (and you usually learn something, too). Just to forestall the comments that this post isn’t hack related, we’ll note two things: there is a Raspberry Pi shown and just past the two-minute mark, there is a very clever hacked together Morse code key.

We talk a lot about ham radio, ranging from Arduino-based digital modes to putting together portable stations (you can see a similar one in the video, too). One other thing we noticed they don’t mention: it is generally much easier to get a license today than ever before. Most countries (including the United States) have abolished the Morse code requirements, so while some hams still enjoy CW (hamspeak for operating Morse code), it isn’t a requirement.

Video below.

86 thoughts on “Why Should You Get a Ham Radio License?

      1. That was going to be my reply, but you beat me to it. I understand how you might feel about not being “worthy”, but don’t let not knowing Morse Code stop you. One of the reasons to upgrade is to “further the radio art” as some of my mentors (Elmers) would say. I hold the Technician+ Class license, I got my Novice Class the day they announced the No Code change, but I still fully plan on upgrading all the way to Extra Class as soon as I can if only to help continue to encourage others to participate in Amateur Ratio. I would encourage you to do the same.

        73
        KC6PSH

        1. I agree. Don’t let the curmudgeons on QRZ.com make you feel bad about having not learned CW yet. All this nonsense about “no-code extras” and crap like that is just that: crap.
          The licensing is just the beginning of the journey. Get your General, and then your Extra if you want to, and don’t let anyone hold you back. Knowing CW is not a test of worthiness, it is simply a test of “I wanted to, so I did.” Besides, you’ll have a hard time using CW without having good access to the HF portion of the spectrum.

          1. @Ren: You are correct, but my point was that it’s easier to learn CW of you have someone on the other end of the conversation. That’s not to say that a practice key is a bad idea, but I think it’s easier to learn CW when you have someone to bounce it off of and get tips and hints from. If you have a radio that will do it, you can do CW on VHF and UHF, but there again it might be difficult finding another ham to talk to there.
            I’m working on learning CW myself, in case you’re wondering.

          2. “I wanted to, so I did”… that is the exact reason I just got my Technician license (KM4JAG) earlier this year after having been a professional electronics technician for over 25 years with 10 years of hobbyist status before that. I have no desire to talk to other people over ham radio (I actually find most hams arrogant – no offense intended for those who aren’t) but I wanted to do it just so that I could say that I did.

          3. CW is a form of communication that is more immune from interference than ANY other. A competent CW operator can take a message out of the ether where no other method can do it.

            But Ham Radio is a subject where it’s possible to do the most with the least – where else can you (potentially) communicate over vast distances with just ONE active device? Single tube (or transistor) transmitters AND receivers can be built by anyone.

            These days it’s too easy to do things – ham radio is all about the CHALLENGE of communications, not the simplicity (like the internet).

          4. But why does the operator need to know the codes? We live in an age of digital technology. Any microcontroller can take written text and send out the CW codes. Same on the other end, just have a microcontroller scanning for and decoding them. There is really no reason a person has to spend weeks/months/years learning to understand a system they will never actually have to use.

          5. @jayfehr: Because there might sometimes be so much noise that it’s hard for a micrcontroller fo filter out the content. Humans (especially a trained person) are fenomenal at picking out information over noise. And yes, of course we lvie in the digital age whre you could have a microcontroller converting from text to CW and back, but how are you interfacing with the microcontroller? The technical interface for CW is extremely simple (a contact in the most basic case) and can be improvised everywhere.

        2. My grandfather was a radio technician since the WWII era and maintained his amateur license proudly (the certificate hung on the wall above the heathkit radio that he assembled and maintained, N5BON). In his later years, even at 98 before his passing, he would “listen to the beeps” as his hearing was mostly gone. But he could sit in his chair and hear the beeps and could understand it perfectly well. That was his internet. Though I never tried to maintain my knowledge of morse code, I did learn about analogue and digital signaling thanks to the inspiration from my grandpa. (hint: You really can’t get on the internet without QAM in much of North America.) I guess my point is, in a roundabout form of demonstration, that the pursuit of knowledge requires only that you be curious enough to keep going. There’s no need to fuss about being worthy of something. The information is there, just reach out and take it! :D

      2. Radiosport, radio orienteering, fox hunting, amateur radio direction finding (ARDF).

        I don’t even know all the names in use today, and I’m a national representative in the IARU R1 ARDF workgroup :D

    1. Don’t let that get ya down!

      Honestly, I am a General class myself, and to me, understanding RF theory and bounce propagation makes you more worthy of it than being able to tap out an aging, but ultimately obsolete encoding scheme.

      so get out there, and pass that test! HF radio communications is super COOL, and definitely resparked my interest in ham radio.

      Next im going to study up for my extra class, im more interested in sattelite tech and stuff now.

    2. I went from 0 to Extra in the course of two months last year. Just do it, man. The HF privs are worth it. Well, except 75m voice LSB. Ignore those guys and work digital modes (FSK, PSK31) on 80m instead (or piss them off by doing USB SSTV).

      And don’t even bother with QRZ’s fora. They’re quite unhelpful. If they don’t feel you’re doing it “right” (as they perceive it), then they’ll just ignore any question you have. Hell, a lot of them won’t touch Echolink and digital voice as “not amateur radio”.

  1. I’ve been a ham for just over 30 years now and started at age 12. There’s a never-ending spectrum of things to try. CW was all I had as a Novice until the 10-meter expansion which let me taste SSB operation. After upgrading to General, I had fun during the heyday of AX.25 packet. About ten years ago, I got into HF contesting and also was ‘DX’ during a combat tour in Iraq.

    Now, I’m experimenting with satellite operation, EME using JT-65, and long-range 2.4 GHz networking. Who knows what the future might bring!

    1. That reminds me of something I often tell new hams: There are as many ways to do ham radio as there are licensed amateurs. Amateur radio is an extremely broad hobby that covers many different areas. There’s something for everyone.

    2. Long range 2.4ghz is a major interest of mine too. Prefer having a “chat” digital mode too with text on screen, but that makes all the “original” hams huff and puff.

      1. I really ‘puff up’ the old hams because I run a BPQ-32 node for EMCOMM. It has a VHF and UHF AX.25 packet port, BBHN (Broadband HamNet mesh node) connection, and a Winmor HF port for outgoing/incoming regional messages. The fact that a ham connected via the wireless mesh to the node can talk to an RF user blows the mind of the old timers who are stuck in their old habits. I’ve been told several times that “it’s not REAL ham radio”. Well, you could have fooled me!

        73,

        WA5RR

        1. Please don’t assume that all old hams think alike. Many of us are thrilled at all of the new transmission modes and opportunities for experimentation that didn’t exist when we entered the hobby years ago, and at the prospect of new hams entering our ranks.

          1. I should have said “old hard-case hams’. There are plenty of older guys who enjoy new technology. Of course, they are normally the ones who have embraced many changes in the past. We have a decent sized group of hams here in my area and there is a sub-group that loves to complain about the ‘appliance operators who don’t know CW’. I let them sit in their group and commiserate while I seek out guys like you who enjoy trying new things. It’s rewarding to see a newcomer, or old-timer, get excited while trying new things.

          2. For some reason I can’t reply to the comment below, so I apologize for presenting here.

            …but yes, not you. You are one of us. Adding onto the concept of hard-case hams, I prefer the term Bakelites. Their kits are classic and amazing, but they get shattered if you drop the new science on them.

        2. Quite the setup. I like CW actually, w/ a straight key too, not paddles, just find digital modes much more interesting. I don’t get it w/ some of the older hams commenting how “ham radio is dying” at hamfests when there’s some computers there, meh. I messed around a little on my dad’s shack (who has a much better radio than me, and is a much better ham). I’ve got a few projects dealing w/ short range radio and microcontrollers (my other love), but am going to use mic and speaker from a kenwood and connect to sound card and do the usual digital modes; plus I figure I better “do it right” and use audio transformers than the quick and dirty “works”.

          First contact was on 2m w/ my dad on a plane lol. I’m not much of an operator but like to learn and listen more (there’s so much…), and I’ll look for your callsign sometime.

          73’s

    1. Well, I read that shouting at the front panel of an old HP Signal Generator tuned to the frequency of a nearby two meter repeater would key the repeater and transmit the voice signal…

      1. As a ham you will learn how to make LC filters to allow you to make a clean signal with a Raspberry Pi. What a great hobby we still have and the amazing mentors that are available to us to find that area of the hobby that interests us most.

  2. Ham Radio is awesome, Got my ticket in 2010, still a tech but i have had fun on 10 meters vhf and uhf. my 7 year old son enjoys listing to the rag chews ( i do as well ). Yes there are so many different things to do with ham radio. I have been bitten by the bug to chase satellites and building hf receivers, have a few on 40 1 on 80 and 1 30 meter rx, really enjoy listing to cw ( still working on that ). I have built a few homebrew 10 meter beacons and have given some to other hams, currently using a HTX100 with a id-o-matic keyer running 24/7.

    its a fun hobby and will be even better once i get to general ( soon i hope!!)

  3. I’ve been a ham since ’82 starting with my novice, now I have my extra and love the hobby. I hear the curmudgeons with their ” you must learn code ” attitudes, and my reply is this: If I must learn code then you MUST learn ASCII and at least a proficiency in C or VB programming. You don’t have to know Morse to enjoy amateur radio, you don’t know have to know how to program, each is one facet of a very multifaceted hobby. Don’t let the buzzards get you down, pick something you like to do ( I like DX and project building being an engineer and all ) and GO DO IT.

    73″s!!!

  4. These days, why NOT get a ham radio license? There’s no morse code requirement and the multiple-choice tests aren’t difficult. The fee in the US is about $15.00, good for 10 years, with free renewals thereafter. Even the lowest class of US license gives you the authorization to bounce a kilowatt of RF power off the moon and back! If you already have some electronics background, the higher license class tests aren’t difficult (AC circuit theory is what many people find most difficult about the Extra class license). I know two nine-year-old kids with their Technician class licenses, if they can do it, so can you.

    There are many niches to ham radio, and quite a few of them are hacker-friendly. You can build and/or modify all of your transmitters, antennas, amplifiers, etc. You can invent new digital modulation schemes, and/or use DSP or other techniques to build your own gear that operates on existing modulation schemes. You can assemble gear from kits, or design your own. Or you can buy factory-made gear and plug it in.

    I’m a somewhat new ham, coming up on my three year anniversary. I’ve had a blast. Whether it’s talking across town on a tenth of a watt or talking across the Pacific Ocean on five watts, it’s amazing what an oscillator hooked to a wire is capable of. And it’s a way to meet other people, many of whom are interested in building electronics.

    1. Out of all the aspects of ham radio I’ve tried, I have a special fondness for QRP. I can carry a transceiver, battery, and antenna in my camera bag and talk around the world in a matter of minutes. Fascinating!

    1. Actually… with a ham license you can use that unlicensed ESP clone legally. Hams are allowed to use equipment that isn’t type certified. You just take on the responsibility for making sure it only transmits on frequency and doesn’t interfere with anyone. Of course that means you are operating under part 97 rather than part 15. To do that you need to transmit your ESP needs to transmit your call sign every 10 minutes, keep it on channels that fall within the ham band and don’t use it for monetary gain.

  5. Please hackers. Create a kit of parts that, when assembled, allows tablets and smartphones to communicate on 40 and 20 meter PSK. Add a coil of wire for an antenna, and hams could communicate anywhere in the world, whether they have Internet access or not, with gear that’d fit in a coat pocket.

    1. Interestingly all of this exists and is available.
      20m transceiver for PSK frequency:
      http://www.ebay.com/itm/JT65-PSK-BPSK-20-Meters-Band-QRP-Transceiver-PSK31-Radio-14-Mhz-14-076-/291589570566?hash=item43e417c006:g:vDYAAOSwgQ9VzdNb

      40m tranciever for PKS frequency http://www.ebay.com/itm/JT65-PSK-BPSK-40-Meters-Band-QRP-Transceiver-PSK31-Radio-7-Mhz-7-076-ham-/291539523815?hash=item43e11c18e7:g:EgQAAOSw~gRVzcwZ

      20m PKS31 transceiver kit:
      http://hamwaves.com/qrp/kits.html

      Software:
      DroidPSK
      https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.wolphi.psk31&hl=en

      All you need to do yourself is the interface cable between the tablet/cellphone and the transceiver.
      A simple 3.5mm TRRS –> 2x 3.5mm TRS cable should be enough.

      Complete standalone 40m CW & PSK31 transceiver:
      http://www.silentsystem.jp/handypsk.htm

      German PSK tranceiver kit:
      http://www.qrpproject.de/UK/digifun.htm
      http://www.qrp-shop.biz/epages/qrp-shop.sf/de_DE/?ObjectPath=/Shops/qrp-shop/Products/Vdf20mq

      Homebrew PSK31 transciever http://waarsenburg.com/index.php/the-news/57-a-alternative-psk31-transceiver
      Another homebrew design http://kd1jv.qrpradio.com/PSKV2/PSKV2.htm

      1. Amateur licence doesn’t help much for Wifi as your not permitted to use encryption, transmit 3rd party data, transmit commercial data or transmit music. So connecting to the internet is out. What is the point of long range wifi without internet? If you want to do long range wifi, ubquiti has all kinds of inexpensive unlicensed gear for long range links at 150mbps.

        If you want to do amateur long range microwave any number of low bandwidth digital modes are better than wifi.

        1. Encryption depends on your local laws. Here in Australia, it’s permitted for emergency communications and for control of a remote station in some circumstances.

          What use is WIFI? No, you can’t broadcast music, but you can broadcast a crapload of voice channels on that, which means if you can get good backbone links between repeaters at 2.4GHz, you can use them to link voice repeaters, relay AX.25 traffic and also provide software updates to repeater station computers without needing to step on-site. (I don’t fancy doing `apt-get update` over a 1200 baud AX.25 data link.)

          Without encryption, one just needs to be more creative in how they interact with the device. Nothing is said about digital signatures, just that the message must be sent in the clear. UUCP provides a means to shunt files and execute commands on a remote device, grunt is a tool that runs over UUCP and uses GPG to check signatures on commands before running them (as any user you like).

          Those files can also be sent around by the amateur community. Could be as simple as a photo of an antenna you built to show someone on the other side of town what you’re up to, or it could be as serious as details of tallies of how many properties need assistance with tarping damaged rooves after a storm to help co-ordinate emergency response efforts.

          The application is up to you, but such infrastructure definitely has its uses.

        2. In the US…

          “transmit 3rd party data”

          No. You cannot automatically transmit 3rd party data. If you are sending a request for a webpage or a request for your email list and something is sending it back that is not a problem. It is perfectly legal to transmit 3rd party data if you, the license holder are initiating the process.

          “transmit commercial data”

          You are not allowed to transmit data for which yourself or your employer have a pecuniary interest. Requesting a web page that happens to contain ‘punch the monkey’ probably is not making you any money.. unless you are the owner of that horrible marketing tool.

          “transmit music”

          Yup. That one’s out.

          “your not permitted to use encryption”

          You are not permitted to use codes or cyphers to obscure the meaning of your communication. So.. no SSL. No shopping. No banking. There’s still a lot you can do without encryption though. Also.. I don’t think signing something technically would violate that so long as you are also transmitting the public key. It doesn’t serve to obscure the meaning of your communications, it only proves you, the person who sends one message is the same person sending another. This might be a grey area though, I would like to see it further clarified officially.

          “So connecting to the internet is out. ”

          Yeah. Pretty much. Like I’ve explained, setting yourself up a long range web browsing link, not for commercial use should be technically ok. These things were forbidden for a reason though. Free use amateur bandwidth is limited. If everyone who likes to surf the web started using that bandwidth it would all get used up quickly. For this reason, even if you keep it legal that kind of use will probably make other hams not like you very much.

          OTOH… If your interest is more of an ‘Internet of Things’ you certainly can make a long rage internet link to connect devices. This kind of use plays right into the kind of experimentation and self-education that ham radio is supposed to be all about. You should be just fine doing that!

          “ubquiti has all kinds of inexpensive unlicensed gear for long range links at 150mbps. ”

          Inexpensive is relative. Not too many have Ubiquity in their homes. Linksys is everyhwere. I can get all sorts of hackable consumer wifi routers used at the local thrift shops for a couple bucks each. We do a lot of things here using what isn’t the best available equipment but is the most available.

  6. A quick survey for the experienced looking to help new entrants

    Who has the best, free, web-based practice exams on the Internet?

    Are the questions on the actual exams the same as those listed in the test bank publications, or are they just similar?

    What low-cost radios and antenna pairs would you recommend for a new entrant?

    1. The question pools are published and freely available. The questions are all multiple choice, and the questions, along with both the correct and incorrect answers, are all word-for-word identical on the actual exam as they are on the published question pools.

      There are several on-line practice exams that help drill you on the question pools. Some may keep track of questions you have answered correctly or incorrectly in the past, to help you drill your trouble spots a bit better. But any of them will get the job done, and I don’t know which I’d rate as “best”.

      As for what radio to start out with, it entirely depends on what you want to do. Most new licensees get a VHF/UHF HT (walkie-talkie). That strategy has the advantage that it’s cheap and doesn’t require installation, and in some areas, it will work reasonably well. Others, not so much. A 50 Watt mobile rig will work well in a lot more areas. My own first rig was a half-watt Rockmite CW-only 40m transceiver which I built from a kit for $30.00 and put into an Altoids Tin. One thing about ham radio: you can start almost anywhere (40m CW is available to technicians), and you don’t have to progress through various facets by following the masses.

      Since VHF/UHF activity varies quite a bit from one place to another, and the equipment required to reach various repeaters also varies by location, I’d suggest going to a ham radio club and asking quite a few people in your area about what first radio to get. You’ll get a bunch of answers, some good, some maybe not so good. You don’t need to wait to become licensed before going to a club meeting — clubs will welcome new aspiring hams.

      1. Thank you for your fast response.

        I am happy to hear about the q/a DB, because I threw together a test generator a few months back, but to me, it seemed like more of a crammers tool. Something about memorizing the answers did not seem as important as knowing how to derive the answer. However, if this is how entry is gained, maybe the rest can follow.

        1. KB6NU offers a free Technician class study guide (Technician is the entry-level license class).

          http://www.kb6nu.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/2014-no-nonsense-tech-study-guide-v20.pdf

          He also offers guides for the higher license classes, and while they aren’t free, they are modestly priced.

          Disclaimer: I have no financial interest in these guides, but do know people who have successfully used them to pass the tests. There are many other choices, as well.

  7. Unfortunately, you can now be “Extra” with zero operating experience. I’m fine with the removal of Morse Code, but I think it should be like a pilot’s license: You’ve gotta earn the higher ratings with hours in the seat before you can take the test.

    1. What would you consider “operating experience”? Some people don’t get their license to talk to other hams. Why not go for the highest level of you’re smart enough to pass the test?

    2. This assumes that Extra gives you better privileges. I’ve been an extra for over a decade and now with digital modes and the expansion of operation in the UHF and microwave data area I’m convinced the future of ham radio is actually largely to be enjoyed through a technician license alone.

      1. Those little slivers of Extra class spectrum on HF can make a difference when it comes to working some DX. I spent 15 years as a General and sometimes could only listen to a needed station camped out just a few kilohertz below my legal frequencies.

        I do agree that a lot of future experimentation will take place in the higher bands.

      2. I’m one of those “instant extras”. I’ve been licensed three years (extra since day 1). I’ve never actually transmitted on an Extra-only slice of spectrum, but I’ve used General portions of the bands many times. I’ve spent most of my operating time for the past year on the higher part of 40m CW, a band and mode that is available to technicians. It’s the most fun place to play on the ham bands, IMO. So yeah, I’d agree that the fun is mostly available to technicians, though I might quibble a little about exactly which technician privileges are most worth exercising.

        I do think it’s right to honor operating experience, but it’s hard to agree on the details of what privileges should be granted for what sort of experience. If the Extra portions of the bands were cluttered with people who obviously lacked the operating experience that should have been required before being allowed to transmit there, I’d advocate a change. But I don’t hear that on the bands.

        So I’m fine with honoring operating experience via various contests and awards, having your call sign published in QST, etc.

        1. The Extra Class exam will toughen up in June 2016 with a lot of new questions that may require some expertise in addition to book learning.

          The licenses are now a license to learn, jump in, get your feet wet, make mistakes, and learn from experience. We still have an amazing hobby and fortunately lots of old timers and “Elmers” who are just itching for a new ham to ask for their help. The Internet makes it possible for us to get that help from anyplace in the World, or even reach out to the creators of digital modes or other ham radio technology for the most direct help.

          I have been a ham since I was a young teen and am more fascinated by amateur radio now than I was in the past.

    1. Not sure what’s so appaling about a northern(-ish) English accent. I find it refreshing to hear something other than a US accent, which while there’s nothing wrong with Americans or their accents, on the television and in movies, it’s often all you hear. So it’s an accent we’ve become accostomed to hearing all the time. A change is good sometimes. :-)

      That said, they could’ve toned down the background music as it tended to drown out the voice and made it harder to hear what was being said.

  8. I know building your own receiver and transmitter is the “right of passage” and something I aspire to one day, but what kind of low end pre-made gear could a newbie like me expect to find?

    Difficulty: disabled, fixed income, not able to even save $2000 because of strange archaic state laws about disability payments.

      1. Honestly hadn’t thought of an HT style radio. I always picture my old neighbor’s radio room and giant antenna. Different transceiver for each band. I have to guess those are available to a ham after passing the first test? What kind of range would you expect to get from them before having to bounce off a repeater, lots of what google tells me says about 5 miles but that leads me to “who runs those repeaters”?

        I suppose one of my old PCs would make a decent receiver with a SDR, then I’d just need a transmitter for each band as I passed the tests and got access to them. And here I thought I had my winter research and summer building time all scheduled for existing projects, and now I have to fit in “become licensed ham” and “acquire radio” too.

        1. For under $60 plus shipping, you can get a HT kit, including extra battery, better antenna, and whatnot
          http://www.buytwowayradios.com/products/btwr-essentials/GSK-HAM-UV5R.aspx
          This will let you transmit on the 70cm and 2m bands.
          Like your research told you, you’re looking at maybe 5 miles under ideal conditions. 2-3 in standard conditions.
          And yes, you can increase that range with the use of a repeater. To answer your question about who runs those, from what I’ve seen, they are usually ran by a local ham radio club. You can find a local club (if one exists) by searching for it here: http://www.arrl.org/find-a-club < I'm guessing you're in the US. If you're not, your country should have a similar organization.

          I'm still studying for to get my ticket. The next exam in my area is in March. Can't wait.

    1. Depends on the bands and modes you’re interested in. $30.00 Chinese HTs are popular for short range VHF/UHF communications, usually through a repeater. Higher power dual band UHF/VHF mobile radios are available new for around $300 or so, used for significantly less. 2m-only radios are significantly cheaper. These can be used as home base stations with an appropriate antenna and power supply. HF radios are usually a bit more expensive, but something like an Icom 718 is available new for around $600, or used for less.

      Don’t forget to allocate some money for an antenna system, especially for HF. You can build your own, but you’ll at least need materials. A great radio hooked up to a lousy antenna becomes a lousy radio.

    2. Had alot of luck with the Chinese Baofeng UV-5R that is my daily throw around. can be had under 40 dollars, lots of upgrade parts, and good capabilities.

      its no Yaesu, or ICOM of course, but for a first radio on a budget, not too bad at all.

      My onle quibble is the god awful procedure for setting it up for a repeater offset. sent me spinning for the better part of a whole weekend.

    3. Used entry level HF rigs sell for around $400.

      I’ve built an Softrock Ensemble RXTX which will cover 3 HF bands for $89. Its only 1W but that is enough to make contacts around the world on digital modes like JT9. I’ve found a $20 50W amplifier kit on aliexpress. I’m currently working on building an attenuator, LPF and T/R relays to get it on the air.

    4. You can get a 100W HF transceiver brand-new like a Yaesu FT-857D for AU$1200. Throw in a tuner, and build a simple wire antenna and you’ll be on the air safely under that $2000 price range. Or you can go second-hand and get things even cheaper.

      As for physical space, you don’t necesarily need a big space to run a radio station:
      http://stuartl.longlandclan.id.au/blog/2013/06/09/vk4msl-bm/

      How well does it work? Well, this speaks for itself:
      http://stuartl.longlandclan.id.au/blog/2013/08/05/vk4mslbm-vk6kj/

      Albany is a long way from Brisbane. It’s easier for me to make contact into NZ. I’ve also had contacts into Colorado:

      http://stuartl.longlandclan.id.au/blog/contacting-me/comment-page-1/#comment-4736

      One amateur in the local area here, after seeing my set-up, got the welder out and made up an antenna mount on his electric wheelchair, and now operates portable from his wheelchair in the park with the same model radio transceiver, an automatic tuner and a commercial HF mobile whip.

      So give it a go. I’d suggest having a look and seeing if there’s a radio club in your local area. Usually they’ll be quite willing to assist. Disability is not a barrier: I’ve spoken to people with numerous physical disabilities on the air, and usually where they’re not able to do something for themselves, they know others on the band that will pitch in and help.

    5. AFAIK there are tons of schematics and guides for making any kind of radio you might imagine. You can make simple receiver for less than 10 dollars. And for 8 you can get an RTL-SDR dongle from China. Just start doing anything. First step is the hardest. I know, because I’m near-sighted, with one eye missing (and can’t save even equivalent of 200$, let alone 2000). Still I manage to build some electronics, even though parts smaller than 1208 are a bit beyond my sight.

      1. No, the hard part is getting to the local ham fests to meet up with people. Since I surrendered my drivers license, it’s not a simple process to go out to the swap meets and meet-and-greets. Also makes it a beast when I’d like to get to a hackerspace and solder my own radio together.

        To all other replies, thanks for the info. Doubt I want RX only (SDR dongle), where’s the fun in that?

  9. I think it should be made available as a subject at universities. The entry-level license requirements dovetail nicely with the first-year electrical engineering courses, and would provide valuable real-world experience.

    Second year often sees people learning about implementing digital modulation techniques, and so again, dovetails nicely with the higher licenses. It was great to learn about PSK in a university lecture, then to be able to literally go home, and *do* PSK31, and actually use it.

    Moreover, more and more of our new world is wireless. Until we get around the problem of light not penetrating walls or going around corners, radio is the only practical wireless link for many devices. Thus we NEED people who understand radio in the engineering industry. We NEED people who understand how to send bits across a radio link, and make sure they can be recovered at the other end. We NEED people who know what makes a good antenna, and what can stuff it up. (Original ASUS Transformer or Apple iPhone4 anyone?)

      1. Yes Joe, I have 6½ years of lecture notes from doing a double Electrical Engineering (Telecommunications)/IT (Software Engineering) degree. Queensland Univeristy of Technology, course code IF59 (it is now called IX59). I studied there between 2004-2009.

        We covered things like modulation schemes, Maxwell’s Equations, filter design, phase lock loops.

        Amateur radio was never mentioned once however.

  10. I agree. Everyone should become a HAM! This gives communicative powers to all of us (humans), it gives the possibility to communicate in case of emergency situations (help other countries in case of….). And the educational factor delivers more research/development then the average school.

    Due to the financial crisis our government (The Netherlands, where we invented the copper wire on “fighting over a cent”) started asking money for unmanned radio stations and call-signs from hobbyists (HAM’) while most of the spectrum-use is for commercial purposes. Instead of charging the people with money (commercial use, well…..). Seems they want to see money due to “Gaining Benefits” versus others (non-HAM’). I stopped learning all the laws (electronically I’ve learned a lot) and decided as a political statement to convince every Dutch guy to become a CB instead! To annoy the lawmakers for not making money over our asses.

    As a CB in The Netherlands you don’t need an ATOF and don’t need to pay annually for your registered Call-Sign due to the fact you’re not “Gaining Benefits” versus others.

  11. I’ve Been licensed since 1976. I’ve seen ham radio evolve from FM to packet, to digital communications. What’s needed now are open digital protocols which are accepted by builders/homebrewers and all the large manufacturer’s (Icom, Kenwood Yaesu, Alinco and others). Unfortunately each manufacturer’s marketing department insists on proprietary digital protocols. Until we get common open standards for digital gear, the market will remain fragmented. Common open standards led to the widespread adoption of SSB, and narrowband FM.

    We also need digital protocols which have audio quality as good or better than analogue modes of communication if analogue communication is going to be superseded by digital. Unfortunately, most codecs are patent-encumbered.

    Steve WA6ZFT

  12. There are too many hacks that can’t be done legally without a license.
    But to step back for a moment, there is so much good information to study, especially for general or extra, or at least if you have the basic EE it should be easy to pass the tests.
    For Science mavens, learning about propagation, the Ionosphere, meteorite scattering, or bouncing your signal off the moon should grab one’s interest.
    There are 5GHz video senders for my drone. But they are short range if you don’t have a license since the legal limit on power is very low.
    It is only $15 per session (one test or all three). If you study, for 1/2 the cost of a Pi…
    It doesn’t require any degrees, and you can study online at qrz.com or other places with the actual test questions (think Trivial Pursuit). So you can memorize the answers, but it is better to get the study guides to understand the answers.
    Hacking is understanding, so resonance, phase, and what RF does on wires and in the air should be interesting.
    Note: You can use “11 meter” CB Radio and FRS/MERS VHF radios to get a taste, and even transmit, but the more interesting stuff is in the other bands.
    Hams are social. I’m part of a local nightly net, so check-in while listening for the others up to 500 or more miles away. Contests where I’ve heard 2000+ miles away clearly – and more since you can talk across the oceans or to ships.
    Hams do digital – and did before the internet or the rest. RTTY, PSK31, and other things – fldigi has most of the codecs. Morse code – CW is digital, but there are sections reserved for digital, and you will learn so much by figuring out how to decode certain digital signals.
    What to do with your cheap or expensive SDR. My HackRF sees use scanning across the bands, then I tune my iCom, but SDR# and others just work well for the purpose.
    Radios can go mobile – maybe you have digital on your phone, but I’m in a very rural area, many I call the “zero-bar ranch” where there is NO cell phone service. Not even 911. But my ham radio can get through.
    You can talk to the International Space Station or use an Amateur satellite.
    And it isn’t expensive and you just need to study a bit. It will be the best investment you can make.

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