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Foundations of Amateur Radio

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Starting in the wonderful hobby of Amateur or HAM Radio can be daunting and challenging but can be very rewarding. Every week I look at a different aspect of the hobby, how you might fit in and get the very best from the 1000 hobbies that Amateur Radio represents. Note that this podcast started in 2011 as "What use is an F-call?".

Starting in the wonderful hobby of Amateur or HAM Radio can be daunting and challenging but can be very rewarding. Every week I look at a different aspect of the hobby, how you might fit in and get the very best from the 1000 hobbies that Amateur Radio represents. Note that this podcast started in 2011 as "What use is an F-call?".


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Starting in the wonderful hobby of Amateur or HAM Radio can be daunting and challenging but can be very rewarding. Every week I look at a different aspect of the hobby, how you might fit in and get the very best from the 1000 hobbies that Amateur Radio represents. Note that this podcast started in 2011 as "What use is an F-call?".






When should I go on air?

Foundations of Amateur Radio When you obtain your license there's a whole lot of learning to be had before you even get started with your first transmission, but when you get there you'll discover that learning has just begun and the rest of your life will be beset with challenges, quests, discovery and dawning understanding. One of the early and recurring questions is around the best time to be on air. Before I get into the why, the answer is, right now. This interminable question will...


Augustin-Jean Fresnel, Zeppelins and a picket fence ...

Foundations of Amateur Radio In our hobby we regularly invoke line of sight when we discuss the VHF and higher bands. It's a simple concept to help describe when two transceivers can hear each other. The process evokes an image of a beam of light travelling unobstructed between the antennas at either end. Some might picture a laser, others a flashlight, both are useful to become familiar with some of the concepts. If there's a pole between the two, a laser beam, unless it's particularly...


The Science of Amateur Radio

Foundations of Amateur Radio The amateur radio community is as varied as humanity across the globe. It represents an endless supply of ideas and experiments that continue to attract people looking for something new and exiting. On the face of it, our hobby is about radio and electronics, about propagation and antennas, about modes and contacts, but if you limit your outlook to those topics you'll miss out on a vast expanse of opportunity that is only just beginning to emerge. Until quite...


The art of troubleshooting the digital world.

Foundations of Amateur Radio The lure of digital modes and the opportunities they bring are enough to tempt some amateurs to begin a journey into integrating their radio and computer to make a new world come to life. This isn't without pain or challenge, but the outcomes are so enticing that many embark on this adventure every day. As a person who has made this trip it's heart warming to see the joy writ large on the face of an amateur who makes their first FT8 contact on a home brew wire...


How far can you go?

Foundations of Amateur Radio Antennas and propagation are the two single most discussed topics in our hobby, that and how an FT8 contact isn't real. Not a day goes by without some conversation about what antenna is the best one and by how much? In my opinion it's a futile effort made all the worse by so called experts explaining in undeniable gobbledegook, or sometimes even using science, just how any particular antenna is a compromise. The truth is that most conductive materials radiate...


After the chaos ... building the ideal shack

Foundations of Amateur Radio One of the first questions a new amateur asks is "Which radio should I buy?" It's a topic I've discussed at length and the answer "It depends." is unhelpful without doing more research, but after you've done the work, you'll be able to answer it for yourself. A question that is just as important, but not asked nearly enough, frankly, I've not heard it in the decade I've been part of this community, is: "How should I build my shack?" The answer is just as...


In the beginning there was chaos...

Foundations of Amateur Radio Over the weekend I learnt to my chagrin that my shack was not ready for the contest I decided to participate in for an hour. Truth be told, it was probably me who wasn't ready, but I'm going to blame my shack, since it can't argue and besides this is my story. It started off with turning on the HF radio. That involved turning off my 10m WSPR beacon which is transmitting its little heart out 24 hours a day into the one vertical antenna it shares with my HF...


Planning for an emergency...

Foundations of Amateur Radio Identifying the problem is the first step in fixing it and with that I want to talk about emergencies. One of the very first things I was told about our amateur radio community was that we're here for when emergencies happen. Our purpose is to communicate, so in a crisis, we can assist by supplying communication to the situation. I've talked about some of this before. Preparedness in the way of on-air training by contesting, in getting gear ready and even...


Why do we communicate?

Foundations of Amateur Radio The art of amateur radio is many things to many people. For me it's a technological challenge, a learning, a way to broaden my experience, a way to be technically active away from my consultancy. The place that amateur radio takes in your life might be the same, or it might be completely different, as varied as the people I've encountered since I became an amateur. People from all walks of life with different experiences and vastly different stories. Truth be...


Introduction to the terms of contesting

Foundations of Amateur Radio One of my favourite activities is contesting. Essentially it's a time-limited activation of your station for the purposes of testing your skill and station against other participants. Contests are controlled by rules as varied as the amateur community itself. That said, there are common terms and concepts and if you're not familiar with them, they can lead to confusion and disappointment when you inadvertently break a rule and see your hard work vanish into...


It beeps!

Foundations of Amateur Radio After weeks of attempting to get some noise, any noise out of my PlutoSDR I have finally cracked it. Not sure if cracked it refers to my sanity or the outcome, but beeping was heard from the Pluto on my radio, so I'm doing victory laps around the house, all conquering hero type affair, complete with whooping and hand waving. In the end it all came down to serendipity and truth be told, I know it beeps, I've heard it beep, it does so on a predictable frequency,...


What happens when you plug it in?

Foundations of Amateur Radio The other day I took delivery of a shiny new circuit board populated with components and connectors. Knowing me, you'd assume that I'd been the recipient of some kind of software defined radio gadget and you'd be right. One of the connectors was a micro USB socket, intended to be used to plug the hardware into a computer and to drive the circuit board. The board came to me by way of a friend who saw it online, waxed lyrical about it and for less than $35, who...


How to compare radios

Foundations of Amateur Radio One of the topics I've been talking about lately is the idea that we might be able to measure the performance of your radio in some meaningful way using equipment that can be either obtained by any amateur, or by introducing a process that allows results to be compared, even if they have been generated differently. Recently I came up with a tool that automatically generates a spectrogram of an audio recording. That on its own isn't particularly interesting, but...


Pictures can say more than words

Foundations of Amateur Radio Recently I've spoken about measuring the frequency response of your radio and what the benefits of doing so might be. Today I've got some progress to report and some initial discoveries. Again, this is preliminary, but then all of this hobby is experimentation, so that should come as no surprise. Let's start with the mechanics of what I'm doing and a "duh" moment I need to confess. The aim of this process is to transmit a known audio signal, receive it, record...


Testing your radio's audio frequency response

Foundations of Amateur Radio During the week I was reading a comment from another amateur about digital modes. Tucked inside that comment was a phrase that could easily have been overlooked, but it reminded me that there is plenty to learn and test in the field of amateur radio. The phrase, "requires actual understanding of audio level paths" was uttered by Chris, VK2CJB and it prompted a brief conversation at the time, but I've been working on it ever since. Where I arrived at is an...


What's in a Dream?

Foundations of Amateur Radio On the 6th of June, 2004, two Brazilian amateurs Roland, PY4ZBZ and Arnaldo, PY4BL made a historic contact on 40m. The distance was not particularly significant, only 70 km, but the mode was. Using 2.1 kHz bandwidth, so it could fit within an amateur radio SSB transmission, they used software created by Swiss amateur Francesco, HB9TLK to make the very first HamDream exchange. This technological advancement represents the birth of what we now call HamDRM and...


Bringing an upconverter into your life

Foundations of Amateur Radio A couple of days ago, after months of anticipation, an unassuming little box arrived on my doorstep. Inside the box was a nondescript electronic device with two SMA connectors and a USB socket. Other than the branding, there were no markings on the device and it came without any instructions. It did come with a couple of SMA adaptors, which came in handy. A little research later determined which of the two SMA adaptors connected to an antenna and which...


When I said Parrot Repeater ... I likely had a different picture in mind.

Foundations of Amateur Radio A little while ago I mentioned in passing that I was considering implementing a parrot repeater to help determine how your radio is performing. Discussion afterwards revealed that not everyone had the same picture in mind, so I thought I'd share with you some of what I'm considering and why. Most of the modern radio landscape revolves around hooking a computer up to some type of radio frequency capable device. Commonly it's the audio and control signals that...


Products made from unobtainium

Foundations of Amateur Radio The other day I received an email from a fellow amateur, Elwood WB0OEW. We've been exchanging email for a little while and having been in the hobby since before I learnt to ride a bicycle, he's always got some interesting insight into something I've said and an encouraging word to share. This time he introduced me to a project he built and published a couple of years ago. It's a variable frequency standard, built from parts and, at the time, costing all of...


Leaving the hobby ...

Foundations of Amateur Radio The other day I came across a how to video on becoming a radio amateur. It's a recurring kind of publication, the kind that I've contributed to in the past. I wondered what it would take to leave the hobby. First of all, I'd have to let my callsign lapse. That's easy enough, but I paid for five years, so it's going to take a while. When it has finally ceased being mine, have I stopped being an amateur? For one, my qualifications would still be in the...