A Few Of My Favorite Things: Amateur Radio

Hackaday has among its staff a significant number of writers who also hold amateur radio licenses. We’re hardware folks at heart, so we like our radios homebrew, and we’re never happier than when we’re working at high frequencies.

Amateur radio is a multi-faceted hobby, there’s just so much that’s incredibly interesting about it. It’s a shame then that as a community we sometimes get bogged down with negativity when debating the minutia. So today let’s talk about a few of my favourite things about the hobby of amateur radio. I hope that you’ll find them interesting and entertaining, and in turn share your own favorite things in the comments below.

Homebrew Radios Of The Minimal Kind

This book was where it all started for me.
This book was where it all started for me.

Contesting and disaster preparedness may leave me cold, but there’s magic in the minimal when it comes to radio. My introduction to electronics sometime in the 1970s came in the form of the simplest of radios, when my dad bought me a copy of George Dobbs’ Making A Transistor Radio, and showed me how to build a crystal set. That so few parts could form a working radio that pulled a signal from the air and into my headphones without the need for batteries was enough magic to get a 9-year-old me hooked.

Upgrading it to a germanium transistor regenerative receiver set me on the path that led me through university to an electronic engineering degree, and ultimately to writing here at Hackaday. There is in a very literal sense a whole world out there to be unlocked using radios made with relatively small bills-of-material, and though I’ve at times fumed about the tendency for such designs to be a little stuck-in-the-mud there is no reason why minimalist radios can not move with the times. That a quadrature front end for a sound-card SDR can be made from little more than a pile of 74-series chips is a particularly appealing example.

Scrap Televisions As The Gateway To RF Design

A UHF construction kit in every dumpster
A UHF construction kit in every dumpster

I got my amateur radio licence back in the mists of time, when the UK’s Department of Trade and Industry only handed out two types of document. There was the class A licence or the Class B, with the difference being that for the former you had to pass a Morse test but got access to the HF bands while for the latter you had no Morse but were restricted to 144MHz and above. Thus the old men could talk in peace about The War on 80 metres, and the 2 metre band was a lively place.

I had zero interest in Morse so I had a Class B licence, and since radio construction was my passion then as now I set about building for the VHF and UHF bands. I didn’t have a grown-up’s budget so my component supply was limited to what I could pull from scrap consumer electronics, which meant abundant 1970s PAL TV sets and the occasional earlier-model video recorder. There were plentiful VHF-capable inductors and transistors, and every TV tuner and VCR modulator had a set of UHF-capable transistors, so both the 2 metre and 70 cm bands were within my grasp.

There’s a sensible point among all this reminiscing, and it came in a thorough grounding in RF design techniques. RF is seen as a Dark Art by many engineers, and while there are certainly elements of design at these frequencies that edge into the complex it remains true that once you have a feel for the basics it’s something that’s easily possible to master. When you learn about stripline circuits by assembling them from copper wire and tinplate you learn a lot about shielding, impedances, routing, and interactions between neighbouring circuitry. Sure, it’s easy to make mistakes, but in that medium with a soldering iron it’s equally easy to try alternative designs until performance improves. So much UHF and higher RF circuitry  is now packed into the silicon that the type of transistor circuits I was messing about with has become rather obsolete and your UHF work is much more likely to be on a PCB than a piece of tinplate, but the same principles apply. I miss those BF180 RF amplifier transistors from scrap 1970s TV sets.

The SDR As A Digital Playground

The age of the homebrew RF tinkerer may be at a close, at least in the manner in which I started it. Nobody at the cutting edge of radio is likely to be messing around with discrete transistor circuits in the 2020s, unless perhaps they are working with extremely exotic devices up in the millimetre wavelengths.It’s all software-defined radios, opaque black plastic boxes that deliver a useful radio experience on a computer but that’s it. No more homebrew, no more tinkering.

This would have taken a long time to build and get right as physical components.
This would have taken a long time to build and get right as physical components.

You might well agree with the previous paragraph, but SDRs provide me with another of my favourite things about radio, namely that using GNU Radio I now have a general purpose digital signal processing playground. Coupled with a dirt-cheap RTL-SDR stick it gives me the ability to play with all the same building blocks I used to with my soldering iron and many more, at lightning speed in my computer. I can make a radio in no time, and change its parameters at will! The best part is though that it’s not simply restricted to radio. GNU radio works at whatever frequency can be digitised by its input device, and if that happens to be an audio card then it can work with audio too. Most readers last April Fools’ day probably spotted my fake gold USB cable a mile away, but perhaps fewer understood that the simple audio analyser in GNU Radio was completely real. It was inspired by a Supercon talk from Mike Ossmann and Kate Temkin, and if you didn’t see that talk I suggest you give it a watch.

So yes, there’s plenty in amateur radio that interests other radio amateurs but has never interested me, and there are still some aspects of the hobby that can be justifiably criticised. But amateur radio is a very broad church indeed, and above you’ve seen some of the things that keep me interested in it. Now it’s your turn, tell us in the comments: what radios do it for you?

50 thoughts on “A Few Of My Favorite Things: Amateur Radio

  1. That book was evil, sends you to the dark side of OC44 and OC72 hoarding :-D I kid, but it was kinda 10 years out of date when published, and by the time it caught my attention a few years after that, crystal earpieces, germanium transistors and anything other than 350pf tuner caps were rather difficult to find. I know you can get them NOW, the internet, duh, but then, you had to be into radio to know the “usual suspect” obsolete part suppliers and sources of such for repair trades etc, so if you were not into radio, the “outward facing” types of high street component store the RS, the Tandy, were your go to and they did not by then have them. I think it took me 4 years to round up every last part for one of the circuits, but by then I’d come across something at least up to date for mid 70s and was making squeally things and bleepy things with BC109s.

  2. In 1970, age ten, I was already doing things in anticipation of getting a ham license. I’m not sure when I heard about the hobby, but almost immediately it was “I’ll do that”. But 1970, I got a telegraph set (bad choice) to.learn the code.

    But it was this month in 1971 that I found the hobby electronic magazines (and in April started getting QST). None of it made sense, and if there’d been no non-technical content, I likely would have given it up. But I stuck with the magazines, a bunch each month and cheap enough that even I could buy them.

    The projects varied, not all simple. With time I could understand the more complicated ones, maybe because they were there. They were something to look towards. Starting out was a continuum, not an eternal state.

    The first projects didn’t work, me carefully copying the parts list to take to the store. Lots of reasons why they failed, once I knew better.

    It was scrounging parts that made projects work. And really the onky way I couod afgord parts, after tge first two failed projects. I was learning enough to be able to tell what was an acceptable part. The first thing that worked was an audio oscillator, specifically a code practice oscillator. From scrounged parts. I just twisted the leads together. But it worked.

    At some point, I did “build” (not much required) a crystal oscillator), maybe twisting leads that time too. It was a necessary first step, but led to the rest. I might not have built complicated projects, too expensive if nothing else, but I worked at understanding them.

    That audio oscillator and that crystal oscillator had about as many parts each. Leads need to be short, but with scrounged parts off circuit boards, I didn’t have much lead length.

    For me, there was no distinction between “electronics” and “radio”. I read everything I could, and the license was over four years away, you had to be fifteen in Canada to get a ham license. That changed the next year, but all that reading helped.

  3. I love the technology, and been licensed since 1977. I own some radios too.

    I don’t actually like talking to people though.

    I just don’t know what to do with ham radio.

    1. Same here. I received my Extra when code was still a requirement, but I don’t work contests and it’s difficult to find anyone who doesn’t want to constantly rehash his latest surgery.

      1. First – get off 80m ;-) I’m likely close to your age. I picked up the extra while you still had to do a sending test, and the copy test had gone to multiple choice. However – I also was a Junior in Electronic Engineering at the time. I became an Electronic Engineer because of my entry into Ham radio about 5 years earlier. Since then I’ve played around all over the hobby. I’ve done 4 dxpeditions, I’ve done hundreds of T hunts, I’ve been an EC, and Section Manager for ARRL, I’ve done homebrewing first with kits, then my own designs (microprocessor Doppler DF unit, 3 different SDRs), I’ve played with antennas of all sorts – first real effort was just a 40m vertical on top of my house as a kid, then a 15m quad, then a 3 band quad that were all home brew. I’ve worked satellites, I build an early TNC-1 from Heathkit, then got a TNC-2 and was involved in packet radio during the 80s – still have a valid IP address for my call in ampr.org. I’ve done rag chewing – especially on VHF using repeaters, taken part in ARES stuff. Field Day with my local club. I’ve been the VP and President of the local club. I’ve taught ham classes 3 or 4 times, etc. I’m not trying to brag – I am just trying to point out that the hobby has a huge number of aspects that are fun to explore – I’ve been doing it for 46 years – and there is still new things to try out!

        73s KA6S

      2. If/when you find yourself in a LOCK-DOWN and all cell service is down or completely occupied, you’ll be glad that you can reach out, maybe pass along an important message to or for people that YOU DON’T KNOW! Learn about Faraday shields and the truth of EMPs.

    2. Me either, on the talking to people with the actual bits of flapping meat front, or knowing what to do with ham radio if I got licensed.

      Every so often there will be a news tidbit about new digital possibilities, and I’ll pay attention for the few months that takes to go nowhere.

      My theory is, that the release of Back To The Future in 1985, caused a temporal feedback loop that froze the progress of amateur digital capabilities in 1985…. anything you can do, you can still do on a Commodore 64.

      1. Amateur packet radio was designed to ride on existing 2M FM rigs. That limited speed. It was pretty hot for a while, probably the novelty.

        I was at the first public demonstration in May 1978. There was a Department of Communication official there, he was big on how ham radio needed to go digital. He had some experience with Alohanet in Hawaii. I’m not sure how that lined up with the demo, but very soon (maybe actually at that point), Canada had a digital license, no code and 220MHz and up.

        But it was about the technical apect. Speed was slow, but also a limit on what could be sent. So once the infrastructure was built, where could it go.

        Faster rigs were built, intended for digital use, but most people weren’t building, few wanted to spend money on commercial rigs, and what would you use it for.

        2M FM was like a parallel thing fifty years ago, something you did in addition to other ham things. Repeater building satisfied the builder types. In time, it became mainstream, but if talking on the radio was your thing,it wasn’t different from local AM, or too different from SSB.

        But packet was a bit different, but limited compared to the online world.

        1. Interesting. In Germany, Packet-Radio in that 1200 Baud AFSK took off on the CB band in 1994 and had its heyday around 2000. Mainly on channels 24/25 in FM initially. I myself was very active until~2004 or so. At the time, these TNC2s were still a novelty item and beginners just used BayCom/PC-Com compatible modems for the serial port. They also were sometimes modified for 2400 or 4800 Baud AFSK.

          Such users preferred MS-DOS, of course, often using Graphic Packet. This gave many 286-486 PCs a second life. Programs like WinStop or Flexnet also allowed the use of these modems on Windows 3.1/9x, but this was not as simple as loading the TFX/TFPCX TSR in DOS.
          By the way, these software implementations of AX.25 (“The Firmware”, aka TF) allowed to spread updates of the AX.25 specs easily, such as adding DAMA.

          By early 2000s, the first sound card solutions also appeared. No more expensive TNCs required, yay! ;)

          Isn’t it ironic, how PR in 9k6 did bite the dust, but 1k2/AFSK lives on in APRS?

          That was predictable. But that’s typical for hams. Faster, higher, further. And allways aiming for the newest gear (preferably being small and black). But not condidering minorities. FSK required highly frequency stable transceivers. And/or modifications of existing transceivers. Only the high-end models had an FSK port. AFSK was so simple, but was abandoned quickly..

    3. “I don’t actually like talking to people… I just don’t know what to do with ham radio.”

      QRP SDR using DX digital modes and minimum antenna. Dirt cheap and like fishing.

    4. Me too. I’ve worked with RF electronics for 45 years and didn’t want to continue all night after spending all day designing and building transmitters, receivers and antennas. I’ve bounced a signal off the moon, why would I want to do that again?

  4. https://www.qrz.com/lookup Type in KF4GGK
    I am still fascinated with the technology, especially antenna related subjects.
    My first radio used a Raytheon CK722 at the age of 12. In high school I took Radio Physics as a Junior and Build a receiver based on the “Grid Leak” principle and an AP72 Heath Hi Fi preamplifier.
    I understood transistors before vacuum tubes. My life’s work was always related to electronics. In My 20’s I used Burr Brown Op Amps to build many one of a kind electro/hydraulic/pneumatic closed loop control systems, including one to regulate the tank testing pressures using Helium for the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM). I wondered why no frost formed as Helium expanded after the regulator valve. So I touched the pipe and almost burned my fingers. The molecular friction of going through a restriction generated more heat than required for gas expansion.
    The above link has amusing recollections of my High School years as an adventurous science guy.

  5. I have had five calls since my first one in 1958. I would let one lapse, time would pass, id get interested again and take the test for another call. The latest is KC1CCG. Could be shorter on CW, but I live with it . I do love to build stuff. The first transmitters I built in the late 50’s could be made easily from junk TV sets. An old TV chassis had everything for a 50 or 75 watt crystal controlled HF transmitter. So there I was at twelve playing with high voltage. No helicopter parents. My dad was a ham first licensed in 1939, that helped. Learning to listen to electric and magnetic fields dance helped me make a good living and have interesting work. First job was spying on Russian shipping for the US Navy. Those operators were the best in the world at CW Morse. They coasted at 40 WPM and I got to know the “fists”, the idiosyncratic keying of different operators. Their transmitters had personalities too. We were able to “finger print” them. Now, with electronic keyers, the only unique fists are the really bad ones. Chirp and hum are almost unknown anymore. Far too many projects and interesting tech today for the time available. Computers are notorious for sucking up the hours. I have several. Time is the only resource that is scarce and non renewable.

  6. This is the book that did it for me when I was a kid back in the 1960’s: Using Electronics – a book of things to make by Harry Zarchy. It was a lot of fun – the book guides you through making simple radios. A perfect book for a kid in grade school and his father to work on. I’d be waiting for my dad to come home after work with some new parts he would purchase at the electronics store so we could do another project. Take a look at the book – even though it’s from another time, it’s still possible to build everything in the book. The book is available on archive.org and also here: https://worldradiohistory.com/BOOKSHELF-ARH/Author-Groups/Zarchy/Using-Electronics-Zarchy-1958.pdf

  7. With over 40 years of Class-A licence and a life in electronics (communications) I am now approaching retirement and time enough to revisit the simpler aspects of the hobby to the extent that I now aim to ‘achieve the most with the least’. I’m back to building a minimal tube station and tube linear using ‘scrap’ components. From satcom to tubecom!
    On the silicon side I’m building QRP sets in a similar manner but this time to achieve the greatest range with the least power.
    You don’t need the ‘most’ or the ‘best’ to enjoy this hobby – in fact it was created from a need to succeed with the limitation of a post-war environment.
    I have been particularly impressed with what Russia amateurs achieve with their limited resources (back ‘in the day’) and they continue to amaze me with their ingenuity. Check out ‘rod tubes’ for an interesting diversion.

  8. At age 9, my father (a ham himself) taught me how to solder and build a crystal radio out of junkbox parts. At age 12, I joined my Dad as he typed back and forth with a cosmonaut on the Mir space station via packet radio. That was also about the same time I made my first ever transmission into a repeater: A loud burp. I was so mature back then…
    The life happened, and I didn’t manage to find the time or interest in radio to get licensed until 13 years ago. Since then I have delved into a number of areas of the hobby, been part of a local community of really great people, and learned more than I ever thought possible.

  9. My first start was as an elemenatry school kid going to see my dad’s ex boss who had contracted polio and had spent his time hand-building a kilowatt AM station with 807s as the finals and hand wound inductors. Some of the other local hams had assisted in putting up a full size 80 meter horizontal dipole with telephone poles and a water well as a grounding system.

    I sat in his ham shack and watched him key the Astatic D-104 microphone, call CQ CQ CQ W0QQT, unkey the mic and hear a clear but somewhat noisy “QT” coming from the receiver, indicating that the signal was coming from the other side of the globe. That did it for me.

    My brother and I saved up a fortune that nobody could understand and bought a National NC 300 receiver. Gene gave us a Meissner “Signal Shifter” 5 watt CW transmitter and we were on our way. I still have the NC 300 and it works flawlessly. Started me onto a lifelong fascination and a career in broadcast engineering, IT and RF product development.

    So much of what is called electronics today is using patch cables to connect Chinese boxes together and sitting at a keyboard with command lines to make the boxes work together to feed other patch cables connecting to other Chinese boxes and patch cables (ad infinitum), which is all pretty boring. Amateur radio is really the roots to the Hackaday philosophy of independently designing, hand building and innovating completely unique stuff that the world has never seen before, some of which is useful.

    Never underestimate the impacts of mentoring kids and showing them cool stuff. It can change their lives.

    1. Please be aware that finding computer controlled radio boring, is not an opinion that everyone shares, nor one that everyone should share.
      I could say the same about people contesting, or running ‘boring’ black boxes from Yaewootec, but people still enjoy it and that is fine.

      Thanks to the affordable chinese stuff, we are finally back at the ‘grab a TV from the dump and build a transmitter out of it’ level of affordability. As a 14-18 year old person, you generally lack the experience to build sophisticated stuff from scratch, and a bare bones CW or AM rig may not interest you much. Anything else is out of your budget.
      It is a blessing that we’re seeing so many people who are not hardware tech predisposed experiment with SDR, and getting a leap in technology out of it to boot!
      You, being able to buy an expensive receiver in your youth, are an exception. You cannot assume that these days, a young person can just go to the shop and spend a couple hundred bucks on a new RX or TRX.

      To them, the digital aspect is much more interesting. And they have a good point. Every type of analog signal processing under the sun has already been invented and reinvented. Imagine everyone being able to have that, for free, just by pasting in a section of code!
      Furthermore, the stuff that once was easy to get, is now no longer in production. Crystals? Well, you can’t build the quintessential beginner transmitter with ft-243 crystals anymore cause they aren’t made anymore. The new ones can’t handle power like the old ones. Getting one made costs €30.
      Makes more sense to get a chinese DDS oscillator, right?!

      Now, this is not an argument to forget and discourage experimenting in the old way. Making a basic xtal controlled transmitter is incredibly educational and i encourage everyone to experiment with the basic stuff. Knowing the intimate working mechanisms of radios is very important if you wanna develop your own hardware.
      But for some, this is just not the thing that makes radio interesting. And that is fine.

      Writing code is no less technically involved than soldering components together.

      1. Hi,

        Great article…

        I would not discount those between 14 and 18 as not being able to do complex electronics projects, or other things that may be hard for most people…

        My personal example…

        Back in the late 70’s I passed the extra, 15 years old, had to ride a bus two hours to the big city,,, walked a few miles, though the combat zone to make it to the FCC…and took the exam. Way up in a skyscraper… 20 wpm. They counted the letters… by myself, had to follow a paper map…. no it was not snowing,,, it was in September…no gps, no cell phone… these were not even invented…

        My ham projects back in the day..,16… home brew 4-1000a, did everything from making the coils, out of copper tubing…to making the chassis using a break and sheet metal cutter… and modeling the fringe effects of the air variable caps at full open positions to figure out how to get the thing to work on 10 meters,,, to etching my own circuit boards for the diode bridge because the piv was an issue… I needed strings of the 1n4007… that I waited weeks at the door for these to arrive in the mail. .. cod. The first power supply was made with old mercury vapor tubes…then I switched to solid state…. the amp ..it would tune 80 and 20 no problem but nothing on 40… 15 and 10 ok. took me three months to figure out that the powernon 40 was going back to the power supply and not the antenna due to my winding the plate choke on a glass test tube form and it resonated at 7000 kc,,,, ok..this mess was my technical problem at 16 years old…eventually figured it out.,,well worth the time, and experiments…I eventuallymborrowed a grid dip oscillator… that did the trick.l,. everything was sourced from old timers at flee markets…. the 3000 vdc on the anode/plate, worked great… I switched from gg to a g2daf screen grid ckt which feeds the screen with rectified rf… lowered screen grid current except when the voice went up… this fed the home brew 7 element 20 meter yogi at 60 feet. 58 foot boom… Worked like a champ…. one wise ass ham radio geek – nerd teen age kid with a kw on 20 and and the biggest antenna one could imagaine..,, Only issue I really had was the tvi… and the neighbors kids were in first grade and liked to watch Sesame Street in the afternoon on channel 2….. haha…..that little girl is now like 50…and her father never let me forget this,,,, the 20 meter yagi broke a few times..but it worked great,,, my dad wasn’t a ham. And was not an EE. he did understand the logic if we didn’t have tvi, because ..maybe I could design and build filters, I built and designed a multi stage tee filter and outfitted the rca boob tube with it… that the neighbors tv had to be defective..it wasn’t our problem,,, the FCC pamphlet made this pretty clear…. but you can’t convince a 7 year old of this logic or her father.l. .I don’t know if I had too many watts coming out on the harmonics, or it was shear overload and caused high power blanking in some IF stage or other internal circuit…but the logic was, if my little sister could watch Sesame Street… and the neighbors couldn’t it wasn’t my fault…it was a cheap tv across the street. .. I was such a bad kid….I built a bunch of crazy complex things back then… the technical problems would challenge many today, even those with graduate degrees and many years of experience..I figured that out many years later,,,the education gained from this level of technical projects…clearly worth it in the long run. And it’s fun, interesting, captivating…educational..valuable experience… So I wouldn’t discount what any kid wants to do if they put their mind to it.

        The years of hamradio projects progressed to dsp sstv, auto tracking Morse code sw, home brew computer interfaces with a/d converters and switch cap filters…digital voice recorders, and early sdr development…with waterfall spectrum displays going back into the mid 80s… try making a waterfall with character graphics…leverything custom designed..everything was on the cutting edge of this technology… this moved to computer models of antennas and circuits..microcontrollers, multiprocessor dsps and fpgas… the enjoyment was, and is, the process of figuring things out… not downloading someone else’s program and running it..or building a kit, I don’t think i was alone in this crazy adventure.. a number of my friends had ham radios… and there were a bunch of us on 75 annoying the old timers who thought they owned 3895… maybe it was 3865…

        I realized recently that one of my teenage ham friends was still messing with 40 meter phased vertices and with greyline dx…he had his extra back then also,,,interesting thing is, today we can modle all this with numerical electromagnetic simulation sw… actually that is 30+ year old technology,,,the old timers on 75 with their wire beams didn’t need to, they just understood how the currents moved and the phases added,,,, but the effects of the mutual coupling… that was the next level and the only way to visualize the second order effects is modeling,,,

        It’s all really very very simple… understand maxwells equations..understand the physics,,, the math… Shannon… information theory, and a bunch of other things based on higher order math….it’s all actually very easy… and today’s kids can watch it from dozens of different instructors in YouTube …

        Fast forward 45 years,,, ham radio has progressed to maritime mobile from the yacht…and occasional I get a qsl card via the buero .. projects are still on the cutting edge…

        …The best thing today on YouTube is Martin working on his marble machine x.. (a few calculations might show that the marble feed is running at too low a rate of marbles and the return marble path could be modeled as a fifo that is too small… if he maxed out the rate of marbles dropping through the gates.., per second of the music being played.. it might have an issue….)

        Don’t discount what kids or young people or anyone for the matter can do… especially with technology… and between 14 and 18 the brain is growing and energy levels are huge,,, today’s kids, if they have ambition, drive, the right environment and encouragement can feed information into their brains at a rate the was not possible back in the day,

        The old kw amp is in the basement… it’s better off down there these days,,, with the 8 year old playing with scratch…no need to have the computer getting jammed up from a local high power amp putting out spurs…

        I would encourage anyone to do what they are interested in and to not let anyone slow them down… go for it.. design that widget. Make it… program it.,, understand it.. learn it. Teach it…

        Ham radio can still be fun…

        Regards, 73, 88,


        Say please,
        Say thank you
        Think before you speak
        Study all options.
        Over analyze everything.
        Don’t trust anything,
        Have fun,
        The more you learn the less you know

  10. Just came up from the basement where I was testing my “People’s receiver” with ECC82 (12AU7) and EL84 (6CW5?). Will be soldering it tomorrow, hopefully :) AM DX 800 km on 1st try. Could be useful after EMP blast :)

    Radio will never die.

  11. Ahhh crystal sets… that’s how I got into the hobby… dad showed me how to build a POW secret radio using a piece of coke as a crystal… was hooked! AG7BP, ex GM0DQR ex GM1GUJ

  12. Just wanted to shout a “thank you” at the awesome author for bringing up GNU Radio!

    Matter of fact: GNU Radio has gotten a monthly ham meetup, the next one is about hacking the (in)famous P25, so please do crash our call (but keep your mic off when joining: a muting a day keeps QRM away…) on Feb 27!


    The presentations from previous calls are on youtube, and there’s always a lot of Q&A and general discussion after the recording has turned off.

  13. I had that Ladybird book too, and still have the plank of wood with brass screws and screw cups in it.

    I now have a large jar of OC71’s too, because I can.

    It all lead to a degree in electronics & computing, a G6 license, and now I work in wireless comms.

    Back in the day, the dump TV’s, if they were working well enough, got converted into an oscilloscope, with the Y deflection coil connection brought out he back through the fibreboard. I still remember getting a 20kV bolt from the HT. Happy days!

  14. what got me hooked was the local Tandy shop. They used to have a Sw radio and a scanner on in the shop. I used to pop in to listen to the stations around the world. I was even a member of their Battery club. The basic books they used to have. those onses that had the squares in. to look like old school books. then came CB before 86 my grandad was a lorry driver. who has a stalker 9dx in the cab. talking to truckers on the road and calling DX in the evening when parked up at night.I was hooked. i finially took the novice exam and became a 2E1 and then took the RAE exam. my tutor on my course was a good friend. i used to work him on the local repeater. It was a first for him to work a student on air before passing the RAE as the Novice licence was still fairly new. Nowadays I’m building antennas from 3d printed parts for HF and satellite work (ocsar100) playing with SDR radios and proper radios with knobs and buttons on the front.
    need a bigger power supply build it. need a new 23cms antenna print and build it. new digi modes love them as well as SSB on topband. Keeping away from the 1933 geriatric net comparing illnesses or who’s linear amp is bigger.
    learning things to do with the weather. inversions chance of a bit of DX or a good high pressure. Sunspots, meteor showers. one must not forget the dark art of antenna design.
    helping fellow hams put up an antenna for the price of a mug of tea if its raining extra charge of a bacon butty.
    and one must not forget the infamous JUNK box . its anything but junk swapping and sharing parts or swapping junk for your latest project. I do so miss radio club auction nights. I must go now as ive got to solder a bc108 to my finger and step bare footed on to an upturned 555 ic in my dark shack.
    73’s and good DX

  15. I had an uncle who was a Ham. Unfortunately, he was killed in a small plane in 1946, the year before I was born. His brother rescued a Hallicrafters S19R from the 30’s out of the basement, had it refurbished and gave it to me in 1957. When I turned it on and heard all the signals, I was hooked forever. I got my novice the next year. Now an electronic engineer and Extra Class. I recently bought a S19R and cleaned it up and listen to it all the time. Despite my uncle’s demise, I am also an airplane nut and have been a pilot for 50 years. 73, Chris AA6MT

  16. I had this book too at around 12 years old. It was a complete eye-opener as the components and concepts were not everyday items. I remember being impressed at how a radio could use a wooden board and ‘normal’ screws as well as the repurposing of the cup washers ! In Ireland we were swamped by a very powerful transmitter (RTE Athlone 500 kW ?) which meant that my crystal radios could only pick that up. Since that started me, I spent much lunch money at Peats (Dublin) which was around the corner from my school buying components. My hobby (next Philips EE100 kit; ZN414, Sinclair…) and career progressed in parallel since then and I am now a Senior Analog IC designer at a major semiconductor company !

  17. Great Article, Jenny
    An incredible hobby that has lead many successfully into STEM professions.
    Amazing how many texts and papers list an ARRL publication in references. Doesn’t take much thought to determine why.
    –The Major

  18. I’ve been a ham since 1975. I started off with WA6MHD, and was one of the very last “take it at home Technicians”. A now-passed friend of mine, with a General ticket, administered my test. I eventually stumbled my way up to Amateur Extra.

    My present living circumstances preclude my having a station, but I hope to change that later this year. I will be moving from a condo to a place with my own yard and no restrictions.

    I’ve never been worth a darn for building radios and the like, but do well with antennas. I like to experiment with them; see what makes them tick. I want to return to this aspect of the hobby once moved. Nothing elaborate; just tinkering.

    73s to you all!


    1. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again.
      Joe Kim’s brilliant illustrations do for Hackaday what Robert Tinney’s did for BYTE magazine.
      I can’t think of how to phrase my accolade in any higher sense that this.

  19. For me it was listening to the MW bcb at night that got me hooked on radio. A family member rigged up a 12v power supply and an old car radio(which I still have) and a wire antenna that pulled in stations from all over the U.S. and Caribbean. Those TV tuners you mentioned, also allowed monitoring of the cellular telephones until they went digital.

  20. Nice writeup. Too bad “tinkerable” electronics have gone the way of the Dinosaurs. Now, all chips and silicon! I grew up similarly playing with radios found dead in a neighbor’s trash bin. If I knew how to solder when I was 8YO, I would be dangerous today.

    Wish I could spend time showing the kids of today how to make a simple AM receiver. Not like it was back in the 70’s…

  21. For my being an amateur radio, it is first and foremost to be a Maker coupled with a Hacker with a passion for amateur radio. Many of us manufacture our antennas, our transceivers, SDR or not, and use a good part of the technology related to DO IT YOURSELF. It is for this reason that I recently created an amateur radio community that comes together around 3D printing and CNCs. It’s called the “HAM-3D Project”. Whether you are an amateur, amateur radio, maker, hacker … you are all welcome to this new community which I hope will serve as a gateway to all these communities. You can find information on the HAM-3D project, here for example: https://www.leradioscope.fr/blog/570-projet-ham-3d-en-avant-l-aventure

  22. I also love SDR and Dan Tayloe’s quadrature sampling mixer which makes a sensitive front end for under £7. But there is still SDR homebrew, take a look at uSDX, a wonderfully flexible SDR HF rig designed by a handful of hams and coded on Arduino by Guido P1EINZ! 73, Rob, GW8RDI

  23. Yes, lots of hobbies within Amateur Radio. I was first licensed in 1967 but was inactive for many years although I worked in “the business”. I’m now back and it is QRP, kits and homebrew that got my attention. One aspect of the hobby that is fun is to go with the wife to yard sales and flea markets to pick up older electronics for pennies. I have bought working scanners, old transistor radios, clock radios, VCR’s, TV’s, etc. Some can be put to use and others are a source for components and the fun of the teardown. I love disecting these treasures for the components, hardware, wire, etc and to appreciate the design, technology and labor that went into the production of these products. These teardowns are an interesting part of my hobby. I have a stack of VCR’s and a couple of TV’s waiting to give up their secrets. Jim

  24. My dad “helped me” build a whisker crystal set in 1968, when I was 5. (Really I watched him build it.)

    I wasn’t interested in electronics until about age 12, when amateur radio caught my attention. The prospect of of building my own transmitter was cool—until I saw that Morse code was required to get a license. Nevermind.

    I majored in naval architecture instead, which lasted until I discovered the internet in about 1992, when I pivoted my career.

    I was thriving as an internet engineer at a big tech company in 2014 when I learned that, while I wasn’t looking, the code requirement had been lifted for all classes of license. I couldn’t *not* get licensed.

    After getting my Extra two months later, I realized that I had a superpower and must use it for good, so I joined my local ACS group and have been (minimally) active ever since.

    What appeals to me is experimenting with antennas and developing a capability for long range communications after The Big One hits the Cascadia Subduction Zone and knocks out all land lines and cell networks in the coastal areas of the Pacific Northwest.

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