Primer for Ham radio part three

This guest post is by Michael C and entry in our non-fiction writing contest .

Frequencies

Since the start of radio, frequencies have been allocated for different purposes. There are over 10 thousand different frequencies for ham radio, starting with HF (high Frequency) and going into VHF (Very High Freq.) and UHF (Ultra High Frequency). Even higher bands in the gigi-Hertz range are open for use by ham operators.

The most common band is 2 meter (144-148 MHz), it is recognized around the world as a common band and radios can be bought for less than $100 (USD). The second most common band is 440 (70 cm) band, a little smaller then 1 meter. It is also common around the world. If you hear of “dual band” the radios will most likely have 2 meter/440 band reception. I should note here the difference of dual band and dual receive.

Dual receivers pick up 2 signals at once (you will have 2 volume controls) and you can transmit on either band, you can only listen to one band, at a time, on a dual band radio. Between just those 2 bands you have over 500 frequencies to transmit on – enough to give you frequency anxiety. Compare that to the 40 channel CB and you have a major incentive to “move up” to ham radio.

At one time the FCC was petitioned to open the 11 meter (CB band) to a hundred channels or more (not including the current 27) but figured that would wipe out ham radio – not very many people are trying get a ham license as it is now. That problem is mitigated (slightly) now by eliminating the Morse code requirement for a ham license.

The other problem is that people have to be responsible for their actions – you will have a call sign and declare it every time you connect with someone. Other ham operators will not tolerate CB’er like talk (or antics) and their calls to the FCC get action.

The FCC takes equipment away from power running CB’ers – they jail someone bothering ham radio operators. Also remember that you represent America – having a general license allows you to “call the world” on your radio – the FCC will be listening (and other ham’ers) so talk nice.

There are levels of class of ham radio operator, right now Technician, General, advanced and Extra. Most people start at Technician but passing the general, advanced and extra tests at the same sitting would get you an Extra license right out the door at day one.

The main difference between the ham classes are the frequencies that you are allowed to transmit. Anyone can buy a ham radio (or scanner) and listen to any frequency, even military or police frequencies. Transmission however is a different matter – you are only allowed to transmit on the frequencies that you are certified.

If military or police are transmitting (during a disaster they may “borrow” civilian equipment) on ham frequencies – they have the “right of way” and you have to find another frequency. Although, if you want to get help, using ham radio will give you an edge over other “needies” since you can talk to the aforementioned folks.

Tech – privileges start at 6 meter and go up to 1.24 gigahertz. There are frequencies above 1.24 GHz available but there are so few operators using or radios made that I won’t bother you with them. I won’t bore you with all the frequency numbers as I provided a chart (old) with a graphic view of each band including numbers. I will point out that there are different uses – even within each band – specified for ham operators. For instance, the 2 meter band has SSB (“no FM”) set aside on some frequencies.

Now, all those counting the 2 meter freq. count are going to say, “there is only about a hundred frequencies available for FM voice”, and I say (FCC agrees) if a frequency is not being used – it is available for use. Very few people are using digital modes so you could use one of those frequencies to talk to someone. Although, there are enough frequencies to go around for the few ham radio operators out there.

General – get all the bands that are available to Tech operators (VHF/UHF) and a lot of HF bands too. In fact going from Tech to General gets you the most bands of any class upgrade. The HF bands can be a door to the world. There are HF only rigs that cost hundreds just for talking to someone in another country. Consider yourself a true ham radio operator if you get your General license.

Advanced – gives you a “few” more HF band spots with the license. If you wanted to talk to your friend (in another state or country) and you both had advanced privileges you could find an almost never used frequency. There are a lot of advanced operators out there, when the code requirement was cut many Generals took Advanced tests and passed. At this class you can transmit on 95% of the ham spectrum.

Extra – anyone having an Extra license is an over achiever. This class is the end of the line, top of the heap, all bands open license. Of course, if you think that Extra’s are hanging around the 5% of the airwaves – they are talking to our neighbors around the globe on every band.

This contest will end on December 16 2012 – prizes include:

  • First Place winner will receive a Go Berkey Kit valued at $150.
  • Second Place: $100 Cash.
  • Third Place: $50 Cash.

Well what are you waiting for – email your entries today. But please read the rules first… thumbs up Primer for Ham radio part three

Comments

  1. Thanks again.

  2. awoodsman says:

    Actually, there are only 3 classes now days: Technician, General and Extra.

    • michael c says:

      Good catch, the Advanced class is not available any more.

      Same for TJ – I’m glad there are some real hams out there keeping me honest. I got the “advanced” from the old freq. chart and was a write-en fool for an hour.

      • Only three license classes are available for new or upgrade; however, all of the old classes like Novice (which my wife still has), Technician Plus, and Advanced still exist. If you already hold an Advanced class license, you can keep it, and renew it, and follow the frequencies and modes for that class.

  3. Mr. Creekmore,
    Thank you for the information on Ham Radios. Could you provide the least expensive and most reliable Ham Radio to purchase? I have been researching and trying to determine whether this is a must have item, and how/where do I learn the basics and get tested.

    • michael c says:

      I can answer that in reverse.

      You can learn the basics from the articles being presented now. You can also get books from ARRL about ham radio like Tech Class test questions & answers. The ARRL web site can also point out “VA test locations” for the area (state, city) that you are in. Becoming a Tech is the first step in being a ham radio operator. Your first license will last 10 years, giving you time to either become a ham or forget about it.

      Your choice of radios is only limited by what you would like to do. A mobile 2 meter rig can cost under a hundred USD’s and Kenwood is a dependable brand. Getting more frequencies on a radio will cost more. A ham radio that has a lot of the “most used” frequencies can cost less than separate radios for each band. Ham operators may have deals on equipment since they want to upgrade to a couple of new frequencies or better (more power) radio.

    • LiLBKP,
      This question is akin to which gun should I buy? The best thing to do is learn a little more about the equipment, the license classes, and the capabilities each will give you. Then decide what your communication needs are and work toward the appropriate license class and equipment. Finding and joining a local amateur radio club is also a good way to find out about equipment and capabilities, as well as getting training and testing, since most of the clubs have Volunteer Examiners (VE) that can do the testing. When we do testing here the total cost for the person being tested runs about $15.00. You can also tap into the local emergency community by joining ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Services), RACES (Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Services), and groups like Skywarn which handle severe weather reporting.

  4. The advanced level license is no longer issued. Those that earned an advanced license in the past, still retain that classification. Today, only Tech, General, and Extra can be earned.

  5. Again, great article.

  6. MountainSurvivor says:

    Michael C.,
    I heard every word, right down to the spectrum. Great! HAM really is the way to go and I know what you mean about this aspect of communication being cleaner. I have listened to both sides and I would take HAM any day, any time, any place. During a real survival situation, I know how full the other waves would be, as if they aren’t already, so I know which one I would shoot for. You know, if they do not require Morse any longer, it would still be a good idea to learn it because there might come a time when it will be needed, one way or the other. I would not feel comfortable if some evil-doers, here or there, were to decide to use it during or after tshtf and hardly a citizen understood it. Changing things is not always the right thing to do.

  7. Preparing to take technician class written in a few weeks. Thus far, it seems not much time/attention on antennas, especially portable ones.

    How are those Buddipoles? Even though they seem small, seems like in a bug out situation, it would be even nicer to have various antenna wires available all rolled up in spools in a sort of tackle box for different dipole lengths, plus an a small portable antenna tuner.

    Need portable battery and PV panel as well.

    As far as versatility, reliability, portability, how is the new Elecraft 3KX?

  8. Excellent info! Thanks for the primer. It is really great info to share.