Getting Started In Ham Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, June 7 at noon Pacific for the Getting Started in Ham Hack Chat with Mark Hughes and Beau Ambur!

If you were to scratch any random hacker from the last 100 years, chances are pretty good you’d find an amateur radio operator just beneath the surface. Radio is the first and foremost discipline where hacking was not only welcomed, but required. If you wanted to get on the air, you sat down with some coils of wire, a few random parts — as often as not themselves homemade — and a piece of an old breadboard, and you got to work. Build it yourself or do without, and when it broke down or you wanted to change bands or add features, that was all on you too.

Like everything else, amateur radio has changed dramatically over the decades, and rolling your own radio isn’t exactly a prerequisite for entry into the ham radio club anymore. Cheap but capable handheld radios are available for a pittance, better quality radios are well within most people’s budget, and commercially available antennas have reduced the need to dabble in that particular black art. The barrier to entry for amateur radio has never been lower; you don’t even have to learn Morse anymore! So why haven’t you gotten a license?

join-hack-chatWhatever your reason for putting off joining the club of licensed amateur radio operators, we’re going to do our best to change your mind. And to help us do that, we’ve asked Mark Hughes (KE6WOB) and Beau Ambur (K6EAU) to swing by the Chat and share their experiences with getting on the air. Both are relatively recent licensees, and they’ll do their best to answer your questions about getting on the air for the first time, to get on your way to building that first radio.

Our Hack Chats are live community events in the Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, June 7 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have you tied up, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

41 thoughts on “Getting Started In Ham Hack Chat

  1. There are other options besides legacy or traditional clubs in the US, the membership of which is almost always white men older than 70 who are primarily interested in socializing with each other. There’s nothing wrong with this. It’s fun for the members. It’s much less fun for people that do not fit in. If you don’t fit in, then here’s another option.

    Please drop by and check out the work going on there. This is a non-profit devoted to Open Source digital radio R&D. The work primarily benefits the amateur radio bands.

    Most recent roundup of volunteer opportunities is

    There’s 2000 people subscribed to the newsletter, a dozen or so projects, and a couple hundred active on ORI Slack. There’s ~60 repositories on GitHub.

    Everyone is welcome. There’s a code of conduct and developer’s guidelines. They can be found here:

    ORI was the organization that made it possible for amateur satellite volunteers to do open source work free of ITAR/EAR. Other regulatory work involves symbol rate, dynamic spectrum allocation, and AI/ML.

    Thank you to Hackaday for making it possible to get the word out about the organization and what it does.

    1. While the demographic of amateur radio does skew older, it’s arguable that clubs are ” almost always white men older than 70…” Check out your local club and see for yourself. And, if your local club isn’t welcoming, or doing things that you’re interested in doing, there’s nothing stopping you from starting your own.

    2. I’m 72, a White Male, and licensed as a Ham longer than I can remember. I started my journey around 1964 as a SWL. Today, I STILL build some accessories, and repair what I can including SMT devices. I’m also a WILLING Elmer to Anyone, young, middle aged, or old. Those I know in my area of Central Texas are mostly the same. My area covers about 130+ miles. We are always inviting folks to get onboard in whatever fashion they want. We inform and invite them to join Nets and ragchews on UHF/VHF/HF anytime they want. Two of those in the mix are middle schoolers, and they check in in regularly as well as attend meetings and breakfasts.
      Not all areas of the USA deny youth and above the opportunity to learn and have fun as well as prepare for emergencies.

    3. I am an old White guy and have been operating for 69 years. First homebrew was a 6V6 with a doorbell wire coil. Worked 38 states. Built on a wood chassis. Best years of the hobby for me. Dave. Northern Wisconsin.

    1. Bob Bruninga the original developer of APRS proposed 445.925 as a 70cm band APRS frequency. There it could use higher baud rates. I believe he was suggesting 9600. The usual 2M frequency is limited to 1200 baud I think.

      Anyway, what I remember was that it had never taken off. But.. I Googled it just now and found people talking about using it including one post from 2012 claiming that in some areas 445.925 is actually a busy frequency for APRS.

      I couldn’t find the text of the proposal but here someone mentions it so I don’t think I dreamed it.

      And here’s the forum where someone posts that 445.925 was actually busy in some areas.

      So.. yah. If you want to do APRS on the 70cm I’d go for it. It makes sense to me, more bandwidth available. But do it at 445.925, not 443. You may find a network to connect to or you may be all alone. But even in those areas where it is/was allegedly popular someone had to be first right?

    1. Hi John — just an FYI — HackChat’s aren’t really presentations — they are a bit more of an “Ask us questions and we’ll type furiously until the hour is up.” If you’re available tomorrow, drop by and plug away — it’ll be welcome information :)

  2. Those interested in getting a Technician Class amateur radio license–which is the license that most beginners start out with–can get a free study guide for the test by going to my website, KB6NU.Com/study-guides.

  3. As another older white guy in Central Texas, I would gladly help anyone get their license. Young, old or anywhere in between.

    Some may have the impression that the hobby centers around a bunch of old guys. But that is clearly not true. Just search for ham radio on youtube. You’ll find a bunch of younger guys. And gals!

    The younger crowd will take the hobby in new directions. That’s as it should be. We old farts will gladly pass on what we know to help the up coming generations.

  4. I’m an old (76) ham radio operator and while there are indeed some young people in the hobby, they tend not to hang around very long. The profile of hams in the U.S. is LOTS of us older folks who grew up with ham radio when it was exciting and stick with it mostly out of nostalgia, and a fair number of quite young people who find it interesting for a while but lose interest by the time they are 25. … or younger. Check out the pictures from any ham swap meet or ham convention and you will what I mean (the Dayton Hamvention is a good example and you can find hundreds of pictures from it on the internet).

    It used to be that there was a market for older gear as older hams upgraded to newer stuff. Now you literally can’t give away a decent rig of recent vintage. I’m not one of those that laments the situation as if it was the passing of something truly important … just pointing it out. Things are what they are. Until and if we have a true apocalypse to deal with, even the emergency communications side of ham radio is in my opinion pretty overstated. I listened for hours to the emergency nets during Hurricane Katrina and the great majority of it literally was people passing on the cell phone numbers of the applicable response teams (police, fire, FEMA) !

    It’s a bit different in some other countries, but the median age of the active amateur radio operators (there are LOTS of inactive licensees) in the U.S. has been estimated to now increase five to seven years every decade. There is an international ham radio contest sponsored in Japan where part of the exchange is to give your age. It’s pretty enlightening.

    1. ” The profile of hams in the U.S. is LOTS of us older folks who grew up with ham radio when it was exciting and stick with it mostly out of nostalgia, and a fair number of quite young people who find it interesting for a while but lose interest by the time they are 25. … or younger. ”

      I think the mistake we all do is assuming that we should fascinate young people at the same age we got into the hobby.
      But that kind of logic is nolonger true. In the 1950s-1970s, radio was still high-tech and people were aiming for a career in the field.

      Thus, “kids” at age 15 may still have been proud when starting radio tinkering at such a late age. That’s over. Since the 90s, at the most. That’s also when electronic construction sets were still widely known to the public.

      Kids these days start much earlier to process a flood of information. They also mature earlier. They stop playing in the sand pit at age 6, rather than 12.

      I mean, just look at how young they were when video games were making their way into the living rooms back in the 1970s.

      They didn’t start playing an Atari 2600 or NES at age 12 or 15, but rather 5 or 6.
      They thus should get into contact with the radio hobby at a similar age, thus. Heck, some children do get their entry class ham license at age 9!
      When I was little in the late 20th century, I built my first crystal radio set at age 5-6, too.

      The second best chance introducing them to radio is past puberty, in their late teens or early tweens. When they’re still energetic and enthusiastic, but also fairly reasonable and still open-minded. IMHO.
      vy73, Joshua

    2. Generally, it seems like the formula for pricing a secondhand piece of ham equipment is to take the original price, defined as the greater of MSRP or any listing you could find at any point in the history of the model, and adjust that for inflation. Take that number as the value of the core piece of said equipment no matter how many things are missing from the box and no matter what condition it’s in so long as it’s largely functional. Then add in the full price of any replacement/upgrades done, including labor charges if you can get away with it. If you print and laminate an infographic, that’s worth at least an extra ten dollars or ten percent, whichever is greater. Then add some extra to cover any conceivable tax, credit card fee, online sales fee, etc.

      1. This!
        The financial cost of entry is enormous for a teenager. Even $50-$60 for an entry level Baofeng (sp?), at least when I was a teenager and even for scaled dollars, was not an option. Let alone $1000 to get into HF. Honestly, even the “make it yourself then” isn’t really an option if you are starting from scratch- without someone with a junk pile, even getting (if you can get via amazon as, say a 14 year old?) a resistor assortment and cores for inductors and stuff is almost impossible.

        1. Plus, manufactured tech has grown apart from what you can do by hand with a bunch of plain components. Talking to someone far away, even with just CW, is too far behind the curve to impress someone as much now as it once did. And few to no people are going to be willing and able to build a good transceiver for DMR on UHF out of their family’s junk electronics the way someone might have built one for CW for HF previously. It’s not a ham-centric thing; no-one’s going around phreaking pay phones when their cell phone has unlimited calling to anywhere.

  5. It’s the government’s fault that young people can’t do practical hobbies anymore the government banned the sale of tools to under 18 year olds so young people can no longer buy tools to do practical hobby anymore when I was young at school in the 1970s I used to be able to buy tools and components from high street shops which led me to do electronics as a job young people are restricted to screens now I became interested in ham radio and used old policecradio converted to 2m band I took the exam at technical college now you have to go to classes at a club and modern electronic magazines just have microcontroller projects with very little actual electronics in them do people no longer learn the basics my radio club D far fewer members than when I joined in 1980 the ladybird books on electrical experiments and George Dobbs making a transistor radio book as well as philips electronics kit got me into electronics

    1. Um, so they can buy guns but no tools? Weird country. On the other hand, here in old Germany young people under 16 can’t buy a simple lighter anymore. They can’t even buy “Mon Cherie” (a chocolate praline with very low amount of alcohol) for mother’s day anymore (thanks, you crazy youth protection act). In the 90s and early 2000s, this was still completely fine. Just like getting dry ice from the super market (was popular for school projects). Imagine, kids can’t buy a box of matches anymore. They thus aren’t supposed to be capable to lit candles anymore, even, as far as the law is concerned. So no tea lights to them, essentially. This prudish, backwards attitude makes me really sad. 😢

      1. Looking at terms like “at technical college” (emphasis “at”), “high street shops”, and “phillips electronics kits” makes me think the writer is from the UK. Or is trying give that impression, anyway. So… probably not spending whole paychecks on guns month after month. Which is particularly good because the writing might be interesting for a mental health professional to analyze.

  6. Hi all, I’m 74 and got into radio at 15. Been teaching middle and high school age Scouts about radio since I was 40. A number of them have gone on to careers as engineers, scientists and doctors. Many are still active amateurs. I still hack everytime I feel the need to improve my equipment. Even after nearly 60 years it’s still fun. Even got some old guys interested in this hobby. Just last weekend I was tent camping with my Scouts and we were touring the world with a DMR HT from the woods talking with Hams from UK, Maldova, India, New South Wales and even the USA. The 11 yr olds got excited. Yeah, I’m old but I still give back. — Mike, N3GPE.

    1. That’s awesome Mike. I just got my Technician’s license a few months ago and acquired my late father’s callsign, aspiring to do what you are doing. It feels good to practice a “new” hobby at almost 50 years old, yet it feels familiar as I remembered watching/listening to my father make contacts back in the 80’s on 20 meters, mobile …. CQ CQ CQ … now I am doing it!

      -Josh, K2IQN

  7. I’ll be 60 this year. I’d like to see some really inexpensive APRS kits.
    Granted, my eyes aren’t the best for soldering but it would be nice to build a couple of trackers, one for the YL and one for me. She in the car, me on a bike or trike.I see all the little APRS kits from China but I don’t
    want to pay the $150+ a lot the ebay sellers are asking. I do remember the old Popular Electronics magazine and one article I remember was a morse decoder, it was was on the cover. I wish I could find that article again.

  8. A few years ago there was a fire that trapped a community on the side of Mt. Konocti. The fire took out the power lines, telephone lines, and cell towers. Roads were blocked with the fire burning on both sides. One of my friends lives up there. She was able to get a message to her son by walking to a neighbor’s house down the street. The neighbor used his ham radio to help get messages out that the people were safe. That started her interest in ham radio.
    I put a reminder for the hack chat on my calendar. Now to see if life gets in the way.

  9. I’m new-ish too, maybe 5 years. I’d say don’t let a bad apple spoil the bunch. The majority of people have been nice to me air but you will run into the occasional jerk which massively distorts your view of the community. in Houston one dude who maybe ran the repeater or something seemed to looovvveee coming on telling me how I had no idea what I was doing (I was operating legally and well within standards) he just seems to hate people using the repeater. After a couple of times I almost quit entirely.
    In 2023 there is a group for everyone and you can touch base online. Don’t need to struggle finding those with similar interests on the air. That’s borderline pointless. Because I’ve always been able to find help online I’ve never joined a club although I’m sure they are (or can be..) fine. A couple times I went to local clubs for field day and I was always the youngest haha.
    Finally, I personally have minimal interest in 2m/70cm (probably because of what I said above) and it’s unfortunate that with a tech license your choice is basically either local repeaters or very limited CW on HF. My advice: shoot for general ticket straight away.

    1. “very limited CW on HF”

      Don’t forget about 10 meters for SSB! Put up an EFHW antenna and you can practice making those DX contacts before going for General class.

      -Josh, K2IQN

  10. I’d love get on bigger bands . Been tech since 2001 kids and familIy work fast life . Makes hard get testing done :) maybe when kids are older and I’m in my 70s I can become general. But love the hobby :)

  11. The good news is you don’t need a fur hat or beard to be a ham.

    When I was a kid, there was all kinds of equipment available for free or very low prices. But it’s now become “collector’s items” and thus expensive. People coming into the hobby decide they need older gear, and buy it up.

    Fifty years ago it seemed like lots of kids came into the hobby. I read about it in a magazine for scouting, but there was also an article in Jack and Jill. In the US the Novice license made it easy. Though in Canada until May 1972, you needed to be old, at least 15 years old, to be licensed. There were also the hobby electronic magazines that had ham projects, and articles about ham radio. That started disappearing about mid-1971.

    But ham leadership was worried about lack of growth, so they tried to make things simpler. And I think that caters to older. Certainly the technical aspect has been downplayed, while everyone plays emergency communicator. It always seemed older that complained about morse code. And enough time has occurred that leadership comes from these newer but older hams, who didn’t enter as kids

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