Getting started in Ham Radio

by M.D. Creekmore on October 4, 2012 · 73 comments

This guest post is by Raybiker73 and entry in our non-fiction writing contest .

Not long ago, I read an excellent guest post on this site by Tom C titled “Understanding the Fundamentals of Radio Communication: Is Anybody Out There?” Tom pointed out the importance of understanding radio fundamentals, and provided some great starting points for anyone who wishes to obtain their amateur radio license.

As a recently-licensed ham, I understand how intimidating the idea of testing can be. I wanted to obtain a license for many years, but the test just seemed to be a bit too daunting. This past spring, I decided to finally jump in and give it a try… and I did it! Not only was I able to pass the entry-level Technician Class test, but I passed the mid-level General Class test as well. It took a bit of study, and it wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t impossible, either.

The other thing that I found intimidating was the Morse code requirement. Previously, each license level required an increasingly hard Morse code test in addition to the standard multiple choice test. However, the Morse code requirement is no longer part of the testing, which means getting your license is easier than ever before.

The hard part began after I passed the test. What radio should I get? Handheld or base station or portable? Should I build a dipole antenna or a beam antenna? Where do I get all this stuff, how do I put it together, and how do I get started actually USING it?

I’m sure I’m not the only one out there with questions, but I’m learning, and I’d like to share my experiences with those of you who want to learn as well. It’s not something we can complete overnight, but if we work together, I think we can figure it out. I’ll start with the first step in the process: preparing for the Technician-Class examination.

There are three levels of amateur radio license: Technician, General and Extra Class. The primary practical difference between the various license classes is access to frequencies. The FCC has established a series of amateur radio “bands,” or blocks of radio frequency to which amateurs have access. Technicians have limited access to some of these bands, Generals a bit more access, and Extras have full access to all bands.

So, you’ve decided that it’s worth a try, and you want to prepare for the Technician-class exam. The question is, where do we get started?

There are two books you will want to get before you do anything else. The first is the ARRL Handbook for Radio Communications (as mentioned in the previous article by Tom C). This is a book that will be on your shelf for many years to come, as it contains reference material and information useful to ham operators of every class. Think of it as your “Ham Bible” – if you’re looking for answers or inspiration, you’ll find it in here. This book is available from the ARRL at www.arrl.org.

The second book you will need is “Technician Class 2010-2014,” by Gordon West. West’s book provides the entire question pool for the Technician Class exam, all 394 of them (Don’t panic! Only 35 questions will be on the actual exam). Rather than just providing a list of questions and multiple-choice answers, West’s book organizes the pool into blocks of related questions, and provides the background information for each question. This book is invaluable in exam preparation in that it not only provides the entire question pool, but helps you to understand the rationale behind the answers. Where the ARRL book can be considered your Ham Bible, consider this book to be your Technician Class Textbook. You can find West’s book at Amazon or other retailers.

Finally, you’ll want to take some practice tests – nobody wants to go in cold, right? There are a couple ways to do this. Many sites offer online practice exams, but the best that I’ve found was the AA9PW site at http://aa9pw.com/radio/. There is a link on the main page there that will generate a practice test for any of the three exam classes, using questions randomized from the question pool. A practice test only takes about 5 or ten minutes, and I found that doing this a couple times a day when I had a moment to spare was a great help when it came time to take the real thing.

Practice test apps are also available for portable devices. The one that I found most useful was Amateur Radio Exam Prep: Technician, by Patrick J. Maloney LLC. This is available for iOS devices such as iPhone and iPad, and is available in the iTunes store. Exam apps exist for other platforms such as Android, but as I haven’t used them I don’t feel qualified to recommend any specific one. A simple online search will show a lot of apps for whatever platform you prefer.

With these three items in your arsenal – the ARRL book, the West book and a means of taking practice exams – you’re ready to take on the Technician Class exam! Again, it’s challenging but not impossible. If you study the materials a bit and take the practice exams, you’ll have no trouble at all.

Like most of you, I’m just starting on my ham radio adventure myself. In future articles, assuming the interest is there to support it, I’d like to go over the nuts-and-bolts of taking the exam, the basic electronic theories and components you’ll need to know, and preparing to upgrade your license if you so choose. I’d also like to take you all along as I jump into ham radio: choosing a radio, choosing and constructing antennas, and actually getting on the air to talk to people. I hope you’ll join me, and I hope to hear you all on the airwaves!

(disclaimer: any books or materials I recommend are ones that I’ve used. I don’t receive any compensation, nor am I in any way affiliated with any of the producers or publishers. I’m only stating what’s worked for me personally. Thanks!)

This contest will end on October 10 2012 – prizes include:

  • First Place : $100 Cash.
  • Second Place : $50 Cash.
  • Third Place : $25 Cash.

Contest ends on October 10 2012.

73 comments

DJV October 4, 2012 at 10:06 am

Raybiker73, thank you so much for this article! Dh and I have been wanting to look into HAM radio but haven’t yet. So your article is very timely for us. Good luck in the contest as well!

Homeinsteader October 4, 2012 at 10:37 am

This is an area of prepping that I think has been much overlooked, and definitely should not be. Ham Radio Operators may be our ONLY link to what’s going on in the world in the not-so-distant future.

Raybiker73 October 4, 2012 at 10:49 am

Hi DJV, thanks for the encouraging comments! I have been documenting my “ham radio journey” every step of the way in the hopes of being able to write a series of articles about it, if there is enough interest. So, if there are specific beginner questions you’d like to have answered, mention them here in the comments and I’ll try to include them in my next submission.

Warlock Sundance October 4, 2012 at 11:20 am

welcome aboard
kj41yu

Warlock Sundance October 4, 2012 at 11:21 am

KJ4IYU

Cliff in Douglasville October 4, 2012 at 12:49 pm

DE N5GWU
TKS FOR CONTACT OM
73
SK SK

Mike October 4, 2012 at 2:10 pm

Ouch Charles… so much for OPSEC

Mike October 4, 2012 at 2:18 pm

Back in the late 70′s early 80′s I held what was then referred to as my FCC First Class license with Radar Endorsement.. but I would not recommend posting my callsign on any blog.

OhioPrepper October 4, 2012 at 3:18 pm

Mike,
OPSEC indeed!!! I now know both Warlock Sundance & Cliff in Douglasville complete information as in complete name and full address. This is something worth considering, when you post what is essentially public information.

WARLOCK SUNDANCE October 4, 2012 at 7:00 pm

I am not worried….believe that. Everything about me is pretty much open book. Feel free to drop by for a cup of coffee if ever in the area.

Cliff in Douglasville October 4, 2012 at 7:12 pm

Mike,
No problem for me. There is http://www.qrz.com that list all the hams, their address, latitude and longitude, class of license and when they were licensed. Further, my county has a website where they list all the Hams and callsigns. There are other list of other license holders too. I don’t worry about OPSEC and will invite you to drop by for a cold bottle of water if you are in the area.
Cliff Cantrell
Douglasville, GA

Cliff in Douglasville October 4, 2012 at 7:14 pm

Oh, and if that’s not a give away enough, I no longer have it but did have a 40 foot tower with stacked yagi antennas for 20, 15 and 10 meters, a rotatable dipole for 40 meters and I could short one side and use it on 80 meter. Tornado took it all down but it could be seen for miles. I’m just too old and too tired to worry about hiding out. If they want it more than me then they’ll have to take it and accept the losses in the process. I’m running on borrowed time so there is very little in the world that can be scarier than a man on a mission and with really nothing to lose.

GA Red October 6, 2012 at 11:26 am

Cliff – I looked up the hubby’s call sign on that site and it requires login to access his details, so it appears some info is still kept private. Not 100% sure since the hubby even says all you need is someone’s call sign to find out who they are and where they live.

OhioPrepper October 7, 2012 at 2:31 pm

GA Red,
You do need to log in to QRZ to do the look up, but signing up for an account is a simple process. The data is all public record and can also be looked up (among many places) at the American Radio Relay League (http://www.arrl.org) website. The ARRL is to ham radio what the NRA is to firearms. Information, lobbying, training etc.

Raybiker73 October 7, 2012 at 5:35 pm

GA & Ohio

You can also get it right from the source at the FCC:

http://wireless2.fcc.gov/UlsApp/UlsSearch/searchLicense.jsp

SurvivorDan October 4, 2012 at 8:28 pm

Very good advice/warning about OPSEC.
Unless your ‘public’ information is actually disinformation….
You know who you are……and consequently, we don’t. ;)

Michele October 4, 2012 at 12:33 pm

Hey all, just because the tests no longer require code is no reason to not learn it – whether you have a HAM license or not.

My kids and I are all licensed – Techician class. However, my son and grandsons are starting to learn code – because it can be a very valuable way to communicate when TSHTF. That way, if someone is out watching at night, we can ‘talk’ to each other with flashlights without making a lot of noise.

OhioPrepper October 4, 2012 at 3:30 pm

Michele,
I absolutely agree. Although I can’t copy like I used to at 20 WPM, I can still keep up at 5-10, and it would definitely come back with practice. CW (Continuous Wave) which is ham speak for Morse code, is still the most efficient and reliable way to send and receive information. Efficiency in this case has to do with the actual distance you can communicate for the amount of power being used. All other things being equal, it is nearly 20 times more efficient than AM and at least 6 times more efficient than Sideband. Additionally, the fact that most new hams did not need to learn the code, and most will not, give yet one more small layer of OPSEC through obscurity.

Cliff in Douglasville October 4, 2012 at 4:23 pm

Michele,

I copied morse code in the Air Force for about 23 years. I can copy about any speed and any transmitter but knowing the code I can not copy or even grasp light signals. Using a flashlight is very different from listening to the code and it’s very, very difficult and unless you want to spend a whole lot of time learning and practicing I would find a different fall back communication than using morse with a flashlight.

Mike October 4, 2012 at 7:04 pm

LOL… Ditty-Bop at Keesler AFB

Cliff in Douglasville October 4, 2012 at 10:15 pm

You got it. I can still ditty-bop with the best of them. Came through Keesler in 1970, went from there to Elmendorf, Alaska, left there and went to the Philippines, went to England,did a tour up at Fort Meade at the puzzle palace, went to Crete, then to San Antonio at ESC Headquarters (now defunct) then 6 years in Misawa, Japan. Other than Hams very few folks are using CW any longer, it’s just easier to grab a sat phone and go encrypted.

Mike October 5, 2012 at 1:19 pm

I was at Keesler in 1976-77… so many people phased out of Ditty-bop due to stress… I was actually in radar… I then went to 33rd Comm at March, CA for the remainder of my hitch. I got my First Class while I was at March as we shared facility with the ‘dirt radio’ group.

MSgt October 7, 2012 at 7:54 am

Cliff and Mike,
I was at Misawa AB 74-77 and then at Ft Meade 77-81. I really wasn’t one of them but did hang out with them when they “deployed”. I got my ham license in 77 because of them. Crazy memories. MSgt

Tactical G-Ma October 7, 2012 at 9:02 am

I was at Misawa 73-76 on the hill. Got a real education. It was a totally different world.

MSgt October 7, 2012 at 12:44 pm

Tactical G-Ma,
It truely is a small world. The Hill and of course AP Alley.

Tactical G-Ma October 7, 2012 at 2:09 pm

Pachinko and maid service. Cherry blossoms and bath houses. Vietnam and all that crap.

Cliff in Douglasville October 7, 2012 at 7:45 pm

The hill has changed, the FLR-9 is gone and AP alley and the Yellow pole road are all gone. The HF antenna on the hill was replaced by a whole lot of golf ball looking things. I was on the hill from 86 to 92. I was at the fort from 76 – 81. It is, in fact, a small world. At Misawa I was senior morse on able flight and then went to DOMO and the to PR for the rest of my tour and then back to flight for my last 3 months before I retired. All the morse AFSCs went away I believe. It’s hell getting old.

MSgt October 7, 2012 at 9:26 pm

Cliff,
The first thing I asked when I arrived in July was what all the yellow poles were for. Everything changes. I don’t even remember what they called it then, maybe Operational Readiness Inspection but I had to guard the “elephant cage”. I couldn’t walk half way around it now. My GF always quotes Betty Davis who said “Growing old ain’t for sissies”.

Tactical G-Ma October 7, 2012 at 10:04 pm

No more elephant cage. Man, I can tell you a story or two that would curl your hair or worse. But that was a different time. The dollar was strong against the yen. Everything in Asia was dirt cheap. I should write a book.

OhioPrepper October 8, 2012 at 11:48 pm

I agree with Cliff on listening vs. watching code, and being good at one will not translate directly into the other. Some of the FRS radios have a tone sending key that can be used for Morse.
As you begin to learn the code (assuming you do), the ARRL radio station W1AW sends code practice sessions at various times, frequencies, and speeds. See the following: http://www.arrl.org/w1aw

Raybiker73 October 4, 2012 at 6:36 pm

Absolutely! Even though it isn’t required, communicating via CW is the most fun you can have in ham radio. With a little bit of effort, it’s not too hard to learn, and it’s worth the time to do.

Cliff in Douglasville October 4, 2012 at 7:19 pm

Also, when you get down in to the CW parts of the bands you will hear a lot of people using a computer to send and receive Morse. There are some really good programs out there. The sending part was easy as it just keys the transmitter and sends the letters as you type. The ability for the computer to pick up the code from the receiver and get good copy on it is the hard part. When I copied in the service (top speed about 50 wpm in burst but 40 to 45 wpm all day long) we had to dig out targets that would intentionally hide under other signals, or they would use directional antennas so their receiving party wouldn’t hear the additional signals but we had to dig them out of the mud and static (one of the reasons I’m pretty close to being Deaf now). Once you learn the code you never forget it and while learning you’ll start noticing sound patterns in music and any kind of noise. hint, when they are sending Morse in the military movies, what you are hearing is not even close to what they say they are receiving (artistic license). The big thing is that once you get your ticket (license) get on the air and talk to people. Have FUN!!!

JP in MT October 4, 2012 at 1:03 pm

Thanks for the article. Comms and Night vision are the 2 areas that we are really weak on. They have been coming up on the priority list.

Tactical G-Ma October 4, 2012 at 4:24 pm

Comms and night vision are sooooo expensive. I am really interested also but maybe will stumble on a good deal, somewhere, sometime.

Does a two meter radio require a license or is it just another name for ham radio?

WARLOCK SUNDANCE October 4, 2012 at 7:01 pm

requires minimum of technician class license.

Cliff in Douglasville October 4, 2012 at 7:20 pm

Two meter and 440 are both part of the ham bands and you need a license to use those frequencies.

Raybiker73 October 4, 2012 at 8:51 pm

Yes, 2 meter radios require a license. A Technician class license gives you full privileges on the 2-meter band. For unlicensed stuff, you’re limited to CB and FRS radios.

Red October 7, 2012 at 6:17 pm

MURS is license free, with a FCC approved, Part 95 type accepted transceiver of course.

D. Scott Brown October 4, 2012 at 1:05 pm

Great article! I’ve been studying for months, using an iPhone app and a print out of the question pool has made things pretty easy. Now the hard part….finding time to get tested, licensed, and get on the air.

I’m buying a Yeashu FT-817ND, I like the portable aspect and will put together a radio backpack that will include radio, battery, antennas, and a solar panel to keep everything charged. At 5 Watts the radio doesn’t suck power and a small solar panel will work in the event of SHTF and bugging in/out.

Here’s a couple of great links that I’ve found and I hope others will find useful!

USNERDOC YuuTube Channel – http://youtu.be/YihnXWsN6N8
http://www.hfpack.com/
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IsvPOyn0LeQ&feature=related

Stay safe! Stay prepared!

D. S. Brown

OhioPrepper October 4, 2012 at 3:40 pm

D. Scott Brown,
I’m running a mix of equipment from home brew through commercial equipment like Kenwood and Yaesu, but have been looking (actually more like lusting) at the Yaesu FT-817ND. It’s a radio that has coverage that we like to call DC to daylight, meaning it covers just about every frequency available to hams of any license class. Great little radio, and with addition of a small (perhaps 100 watt) external amplifier will perform just about anything you might want to do including FM and some digital modes. Good choice.

WARLOCK SUNDANCE October 4, 2012 at 7:09 pm

that is a beautiful little rig. I myself am partial to Yaesu, and carry my VX-3 with me everywhere. Though i have some Icom’s, Kenwoods, and a few older Realistic transceivers.

comingstorm October 4, 2012 at 1:07 pm

As the old saying goes, “In my next life my hobbies are going to be loose women and gambling, it’s gotta’ be cheaper than ham radio.”
Just kidding, some. It’s a great hobby and a necessary part of prepping.
Real easy to get licensed, had a 6 year old in our area get their tech license a few years ago, so no excuses.
Welcome to the airwaves.
73,
W4TXC

LoneWolf October 4, 2012 at 1:59 pm

Hi very good start I have the first 2 up-date manuals for Ham Radio, General, Techician License study guide which is free so if any one interested in them let me know I have no problem sending out a copy over the net…ED KC2UKU

Encourager October 4, 2012 at 2:05 pm

Thanks for the article, Raybiker73. I have been thinking for quite some time about learning Morse Code. I downloaded a program after reading your article at http://www.justlearnmorsecode.com It seems like an understandable program.

Do not have an Ham setup. We do know of a house about a mile or so away that has huge antennas on his property. Might need to go over and make his/her acquaintance before SHTF.

Red October 6, 2012 at 8:40 am

Find him/her here Encourager, in addition to any other hams near you:
http://hams.mapmash.com/hammap.php

GA Red October 6, 2012 at 12:39 pm

That works. I entered the call sign and it pulled him up right away.

Encourager October 13, 2012 at 1:18 pm

Thanks, Red. Not only did I find the one I was looking for, but four others in the area, all within 5 miles. Two are within a mile. Cool!!!

Ohio Surveyor October 4, 2012 at 2:43 pm

I’ts like you read my mind….Only yesterday I was looking at HAM radio’s on ebay and saying to myself……How can I get started, what do I need to know and what items do I need to buy?…..I’m looking forward to your additional posts and have one question…..I’f I buy a HAM radio and use it only after SHTF/WROL ….what info do I need to know now….as compaired to studing for the test and getting a license?…..DO i still need the 2 books? …or is it like a walkie talkie…after the crash of the goverment….just key the mic and talk?….I hope you understand my question….I.e. can i purchase the ham radio and never use it till the end of the world, then just start talking?……is that possible?

Cliff in Douglasville October 4, 2012 at 7:29 pm

If you get a radio and never use it, how will you know how to use it when the stuff hits? Many Hams and many rigs are set up to work on High Frequency (300kc to 32MHZ) and that’s great for long distance communication. Most frequencies put out a ground wave that is good for maybe a half mile depending on the atmosphere. So, being able to talk to Russia or Canada or South America is probably not going to help you that much. In this case 2 meter or 440 would be more applicable. But, the 2 meter at least depends on repeaters (automated receive on one freq and then retransmit with more power on another freq). But, if you don’t know what bands to use, what procedures to use, how to tune your antenna, how to sit and listen for a long time before jumping in, then you are setting yourself up for failure. The key is, if you want to be a Amateur Radio operator then get your license, learn at the feet of an Elmer (an older Ham that will take you under his wing and keep you from making the rookie mistakes) and then get on the air and have fun. If you are going to use it as backup communications in a grid down situation then you have to decide who it is you want to talk to, how far away they are, how discrete you need to be with your comms, and how to not draw attention to yourself. Questions only you can answer.

Raybiker73 October 4, 2012 at 7:40 pm

I know a lot of people say they plan to buy a radio and save it for “after SHTF when licenses don’t matter,” but I don’t think that’s wise. Unlike email or a cell phone, ham radio isn’t a “plug-and-play” kind of sport. It takes some experimentation, some practice, some antenna-building trial and error, and often a bit of help from others. My first week just messing around with a 2-meter VHF set had me pulling my hair out a couple times until I got some basic advice, and that was in a relatively stress-free situation. Trying to start from scratch and learn a new skill in an already-stressful SHTF situation would be, I would think, less than ideal. Plus, getting licensed only costs 15 bucks, it’s a lot of fun, and there are a lot of resources out there specifically for prepper hams. Check out the forums over at radiopreppers.com , for example. Get on the air now, talk to people, make friends and connections, and sharpen your skills. Learn morse code and do some CW, plug in your computer and do some digital. Make sure that when and if SHTF, that you are ALREADY ready, and that all the options open to you are already in your skill bank. That would be my advice.

OhioPrepper October 5, 2012 at 7:01 pm

Raybiker73,
Good advice not only for radio, but for prepping in general. A radio, a bag of wheat, a chainsaw, and most other prep items are just stuff. Stuff is good to have, but the most important thing in any prepping scenario is to have the skill to be able to use the stuff. Skills are inherently more important than any stuff you may have.

SurvivorDan October 4, 2012 at 10:08 pm

Raybiker73: Same questions as Ohio.

” Do I still need the 2 books? …or is it like a walkie talkie…after the crash of the government….just key the mic and talk?….I hope you understand my question….I.e. can i purchase the ham radio and never use it till the end of the world, then just start talking?……is that possible?”

I’ve served my country enough and I don’t want to be ‘drafted’ post-Collapse or have my equipment confiscated by some jack-booted Fed for the greater good.

SurvivorDan October 4, 2012 at 10:11 pm

Raybiker73/Ohio Prepper: And what about the 12 volt DC aspect? Does ham transmission require a lot of power to reach out a few dozen or hundreds of miles?

Cliff in Douglasville October 5, 2012 at 11:15 am

My 100 watt rig will plug into my cigarette lighter and put out 100 watts. My power supply takes 110 down to 12 v dc. You can realistically use milliwatts of power and with the proper equipment and the right antennas you can talk around the world. It’s more about a good signal, a really good antenna system, a good operator and good atmospherics/sun spot cycles than it is about lots of power or even big antennas. You can build a dipole and if tuned well and oriented right it’ll work just about as good as a 200 foot tower with stacked yagis.

OhioPrepper October 5, 2012 at 9:09 pm

SurvivorDan,
I agree with Cliff but will expand a bit since I’m basically a techie geek. A Hand held transceiver (HT) aka. walkie talkie generally operate in a narrow frequency range, which means that all of the tunable components from the transmitter output to the antenna can be essentially built as a fixed size. When however we use frequency agile equipment, we gain both advantages and disadvantages. The advantages are the fact that the multiple frequencies allow us to selectively talk all around the world, the local region, the state, or just the local neighborhood, by knowing the current propagation from things like sunspot cycles, and time of day (i.e., night, day, or somewhere in between at both points of communications). The disadvantages are knowing which frequencies and how much power to use for the conditions and the desired communications, and which antenna to use. A simple classic “dipole” antenna is roughly 1 wavelength in length, which means the typical HF transceiver running from 1.8 MHz (160 meters using a simple dipole about 525 feet long) to 28 MHz (10 meters using a simple dipole about 33 feet long) generally means that there is no simple antenna and push to talk button. There are ways around this using specialized antenna, like my trap vertical which covers most of the HF bands, or a single antennae and an adjustable antenna tuner. These all require practice to use effectively.

For a basic example of the frequencies available to hams, here is a very useful chart from ARRL, which has a minor bug, in that it still indicates old license classes that are no longer available. Keep in mind however that those who hold the older license classes (like my wife’s novice) still keep those licenses until they allow them to expire, or upgrade. The pdf chart link is here:http://www.arrl.org/files/file/Hambands_color.pdf

SurvivorDan October 5, 2012 at 10:59 pm

Thanks OhioPrepper, though you made my caveman brain hurt. Clearly I will have to get off my backside and do some serious reading. Evidently I can’t buy a ham dohickey and push a button. I worked with Motorola radios in LE and pictured the ham process to be the same sort of simple thing.

OhioPrepper October 9, 2012 at 12:12 am

Dan,
Actually you can buy a ham doohickey and push a button, with certain restrictions. For short range local communications you can get the technician class license and get either a handheld or 12V mobile/base system. These are generally made for 1-3 bands and with the appropriate antenna can be just a plug in and talk. These would operate on 2-meters and the 70 cm band, with some radios also working at 900 or 1296 MHz The upside here is that it’s really (mostly) just plug & play. The downside is the limited range of perhaps 1-25 miles without a repeater, and a lot more with a repeater, again depending on how the repeater is set up and what coverage it has.
As an example, for 2-meters I use Yaesu equipment with a vx-150 handheld (0.5, 2.0, & 5 watts output) and ft-2600 as a base station and mobile in the vehicle (5, 10, 25, and 60 watts output). Running the base to the mobile @ 60 watts “can” give fairly good distance between the stations depending on their relative height and the obstructions (like hills) between them.

Raybiker73 October 4, 2012 at 10:59 pm

Hi Dan,

See my response above. As far as getting “drafted post-collapse,” my theory is this: if the feds already know my internet surfing habits, what property I own through public record information, all my banking transactions through FINCEN, my police record through the FBI enforcement network, my education proficiencies through school and university records, my utility providers, my name, my address, my social security number, my medical records through Obamacare, Medicare, Medicaid, insurance companies and agreements with care providers, my service records through the DoD, my employment and financial information through the IRS, my vehicles through the DMV, the route I take to work through GPS, who I talked to and when through agreements with telephone companies and whatever else they might want through any of my neighbors who go Quisling post-collapse, well… if they also know I have a radio operator’s license, I don’t think it makes too much difference.

SurvivorDan October 5, 2012 at 11:01 pm

“… I don’t think it makes too much difference.”
Just so, Raybaker73. You’re probably right about that. Very few of us have real anonymity from the FEDs.

michael c October 4, 2012 at 2:48 pm

Raybiker73,

As someone who has been in ham radio more than a decade – you will buy one radio after another. Like guns they make all sizes and capabilities and you will feel like you are getting too big for just one radio. The one small piece of advice I can give you (from a prepper stand point) is to try to get radios that run on 12 volts DC.

Oh, and your article was great, it really offers inspiration. The only additional thought (I had) would be the “buddy system” of getting your license. Friends or husband and wife can test each other – so both can go in at the same time prepared, encouraging each other for the test.

Raybiker73 October 4, 2012 at 7:49 pm

Hi Michael,

You definitely speak the truth. I’ve only had my General a few months, but one radio was definitely not enough to cover what I like to do. I have a VHF/UHF rig in my Jeep, an HT for portable use, and an Icom HF rig in my shack at home. I’ve found that what I really love the most is morse code, especially QRP, so I’ve been using an old Heathkit HW-8 for CW. This coming week, I plan to get an Altoids tin and start building a Rock-Mite kit, so I can have some milliwatt CW on the go. :-)

Thomas The Tinker October 5, 2012 at 8:32 am

Good OPSEC on that last paragraph Raybiker…. Complete Greek :-) We have been pro-cras-ty- nat- ing for over a year. We.. I needed the bump…….. Thank You all.

OhioPrepper October 5, 2012 at 6:55 pm

Raybiker73,
The Heathkit HW-8 I built as a kit, was one of my first radios over 30 years ago when I was a novice. CW QRP (Morse code with low power) is one of those modes of operation that takes practice, but is inherently a great skill to have.
Unfortunately, we have too few people building from scratch anymore. I Built at least 7 different Heathkit kits, which not only gave you pride in building them, but more importantly, gave you the confidence to tear back into the equipment to make modifications or repairs, and this makes owning and operating the equipment much better for the self reliant prepper.

OhioPrepper October 4, 2012 at 3:51 pm

Raybiker73,

I agree that every ham should own at least one copy of the ARRL Handbook. I have 4 of them, purchased at approximately 10 year intervals. It’s good to look at these and see how the technology has changed. The latest one I have I received last Christmas as a hardback with an accompanying CD-ROM. Well worth the extra money IMO.

Along with the handbook, I would also recommend that everyone also has a copy of the ARRL Antenna Book, which not only explains theory of transmission lines and antennas, but has numerous plans and formulas for construction of your own. This is still one of the less expensive ways to get antennas, but some of the materials, like copper and aluminum tubing have made even the DIY antenna maker shudder at some of the costs. In any case, it’s still a must have.

Patriot Dave October 4, 2012 at 5:08 pm

Good article. Very encouraging. This is a very important topic, and, at the same time very neglected. Information and knowledge is power. especially since the potus has the kill switch on the internet now.
There is another online forum I belong to. They are trying to start a network of prepper ham operators.
Someone on the other forum mentioned that the local ham clubs may be willing to help with classes and tests. My local “Meetup” group is having classes this month. 13 of us are taking the class and exam. Our instructor is volunteering his time and efforts.
There is also this: Ham operators can take a loss of cellular, cable & internet access in stride. Beyond the “original digital” of Morse Code”, ham radio has a army of digital modes, and some freely available computer software, which allow us to send text, photo, video, and sound via RADIO!
http://www.americanpreppersnetworkradionet.com/2012/09/do-internet-without-internet.html

Raybiker73 October 4, 2012 at 8:49 pm

I really like the American Preppers radio page, it’s been in my bookmarks for a while. Another one you should check out is Radio Preppers, you can find it at http://radiopreppers.com

bill w October 4, 2012 at 7:16 pm

there is an online ham radio network called Hamsphere.com . they have a 5 day free trial to see if you like it and you can join for about $35 a yr.
No license needed. i tried i liked and joined. i talk all around the world and have bought a yaesu ft990 radio and antenna and am working on my general license

Raybiker73 October 4, 2012 at 11:03 pm

Bill, good luck on your General exam! It’s really not any harder than the Technician exam. After that, we can both start working on Extra Class. :)

WESTPAC October 5, 2012 at 12:59 am

In the event of a major All Hazards disaster and especially an EMP hit, HF sets that survive, or that can be put back together, will be the only comm that will be getting through. BPT get volunteered as the community CommO.

While comm should be as redundant as you can make it (Internet-land line & cell phones-Sat Phones, etc.) put that Ham HF Radio at the end of the line & BPT to dust it off as your last resort. Where I am currently at, monthly comm checks with ALL forms of comm is manadtory, regardless of percentage of use.

One cauion though: HF for the average Joe is in the clear & can be both easily RF (Radio Fixed or triangulated) if you are on too long & since operators have a tendency to ramble on, can give the bad guys enough info to home in on your location by not practicing good OPSEC.

GetReal October 5, 2012 at 10:31 am

As an Extra Class licensee for 20 years I would recommend amateur radio as a fine hobby to anyone.

However, in a SHTF situation the last thing I would do is get on the air using a callsign. There is little profit to get on HF to tell someone hundreds of miles away that things suck just to get the same report back.

Most people would be better off with a scanner and battery powered SW receiver to copy the mail. Communication between family members or a small group over a short distance is best left off ham bands because hams are very noisy.

A better option would be the cheap Chinese radios on eBay that TX/RX in the commercial UHF/VHF bands and changing the comm freq and band once or twice a day.

Rick October 7, 2012 at 12:09 am

Very good article, even if it did make my head hurt a bit with the jargon. I’ve given this matter some thought, but finances and the fact I don’t consider my current situation all that stable preclude me from making an investment of this magnitude. Are there decent, low-cost, portable units that would work for a rank amateur like myself?

Raybiker73 October 7, 2012 at 10:41 am

There are a lot, and you don’t need to break the bank, either. For local comms, there are pretty decent Chinese-built handhelds that sell new for less than $60. Even HF doesn’t have to be that expensive. Used transceivers can often be had fairly cheap, and you can build a perfectly serviceable antenna for little more than the cost of some wire.

Sunflower November 25, 2012 at 10:54 pm

Ray,
Wow. Great article. You are right about the practice test. It is helping with my fear and improving my memory. I missed the last Test date, but will try in Jan.

Great reading your comments on http://www.radiopreppers.com.
Thanks again,
TESS

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