Within the last two years I’ve let my ham radio license expire. I’ve now decided that I want to become licensed once more. I was first licensed as an Amateur Radio Operator back in 2006, however my license is currently. After years of pressure from my father, I ultimately completed the test for the Technician class license. I had refused for years because I didn’t want to learn morse code and at the time that was required to pass the most basic license classification, which at the time I believe was Novice. Fast forward to 2006 and I finally decided to enter the exciting word of ham radio. Boy, what a let down that was!
As a child growing up in the late 80s and early 90s, I watch in amazement as my father produced some relatively impressive stuff with radio at the time. I distinctly recall the excitement I experienced the first time he called Pizza Hut and ordered a pizza over the radio while we were driving. That may seem like a mundane thing to today’s youth, but you have to keep in mind that cellphones were only a thing for the supper wealthy. How did he achieve this you may ask? Well, this was accomplished by contacting a ham radio repeater, a radio operating with more power capable of rebroadcasting much weaker signals, and using a little device called an Autopatch. The Autopatch allows a repeater to patch into the local telephone network. At the time it was the poor man’s cell phone. For a child who embraced technology, this was impressive as hell.
Once I passed the license exam and obtained my ham radio license, I was excited to recapture that feeling of wonder I had as a child. I quickly learned ham radio, from my experience hadn’t changed much at all and seemed an outdated form of communication. It was 2006, and everyone at present had cell phones, Pizza Hut accepted hundreds of orders over the phone from people driving home from work everyday. Worst of all the Amateur Radio Operators in the area had gotten old. For the most part they merely talked about emergency preparedness, diabetes and Viagra.
If you’re unfamiliar with all of the FCC’s rules regulating wireless communications, there’s a section buried in there about the role Amateur Radio Operations plays in regards to emergencies. Essentially, ham radio operators can tag along with the professionals and “help” in the midst of an emergency. They even have a cute slogan they love to toss around: “When all else fails… Amateur Radio.” When the last line of defense is confined to a rascal scooter, thank the FCC that Grandma can get the world out before we all suffer a horrible death.
Rejecting all of the hobby cops out there, let’s take a look at a couple of things that irritated me to no end. First off the cost of ham radio is too damn high! I get it. The demand for ham radios is modest, but the prices for ham radios are outrageous. Second you’re limited to what you can achieve as a novice in the hobby. Unless you’re prepared to dump thousands of dollars into equipment day one, you’re more than likely to start off with a hand held radio or a mobile radio. Ok, that’s refreshing, but look at all the things you can do with your new license… Not so fast. Thanks to all the emergency preparedness nerds out there most radios out there are suited for makebelieve. I could go into more detail as to what exactly I’m looking for in my first radio, but this blog post is already getting too long and I haven’t even gotten to my reasons as to why I’m getting back into ham radio. Suffice to say I wanted to explore the other aspects of the privileges my new license provided me, but I was limited on the price and features of available radios. I guess technically you can communicate via the various amateur satellites that are orbiting around the globe, but you still need a large sum of money to get started. To keep things in perspective, I was broke at the time, and $200 for a mobile radio was quit the investment for me, and $400 for a full-duplex dual-band handheld was out of the question.
Now that you know a little about my history with amateur radio, allow me explain why I’m returning to the hobby. The straightforward answer is I work with a guy that’s been a ham operator for twenty-five plus years. He introduced me a few different things he was performing with the higher frequencies utilizing some of the digital modes, and I was quite impressed. For staters I don’t have to talk to anyone, contacts are handled through a computer program. Second it doesn’t take much of a setup to begin communicating with the digital modes, so I could setup a modest antenna in my attic and not have to worry about people complaining. Lastly and most importantly I don’t have to deal with the local idiots playing weather cop. It’s truely a win-win situation for me.
To accomplish this, I’m going to need to pass two exams for the needed license classification. There are three license classes and I figured I’ll complete the exam for the first two and worry about the third one later. You don’t really gain many extra privileges, but it would be moderately cool to be licensed at the highest level. With that out of the way, I’m off to study for my exams. Now if only I could actually take these exams… stupid Covid19.