Peeling back a corner of the universe to glimpse the utter chaos that lies behind.
Apr 26, 2012
A reader or two have picked up on some recent references to HAM radio and asked about that, so here's a bit of explanation on how I came to get a license...
I have always been a huge weather nerd; I love thunderstorms, secretly want my own weather station and have wanted to be a "trained spotter" for awhile now.
Last summer, figuring I had the time, I looked into spotter training. I was informed by the National Weather Service that I had missed all the training sessions and there would not be any more until next Spring. Minor set back, but I "friended" the NWS and waited for training season 2012.
Although it's not heavily publicized, the spotter reporting systems are run on amateur radio "nets". When severe weather is anticipated, the Skywarn ham radio net is activated. Trained spotters that observe something reportable transmit their Skywarn identification number and a brief (very brief) description of what they are seeing. If net control wants more information, then they will answer the observer's I.D. number and ask for more detail.
Here's the rub, though - one needs to obtain an FCC amateur radio license to push that PTT button on a radio. Once I figured this out, getting a HAM license became the next order of business. Just about anyone can get a HAM license provided they pass the test; in fact it's easier than ever to get a license right now - a few years ago we went from 5 levels of licenses to only three (Technician, General and Extra Class) and Morse is no longer required for at least Technician and General.
HAM radio study guides are available on-line and at radio stores, and there are classes around to help get you through the material. The content of the exam covers a lot of ground, ranging from how a radio transmits and receives, how antennas work, basic electronics (capacitance, resistance, inductance, etc.), operating practices, licensing requirements and regulations, etc. The test is only 35 questions for a Technician license, but the scope of the test is broad.
Like a lot of things, the more you learn, the more interesting things become. I found the radio (which had started as a necessary step to the larger goal of storm spotting) become a hobby in itself. Once you are in, the sky is the limit (no pun intended) in what you can do with it - some people get their jollys trying to make really long distance contacts with low power, others explore different bands and get into contests, still others experiment with making antennas and components. It's endless, it really is.
I just got my Technician license in late March and have already started studying to upgrade to General (more band privileges is the primary motivation here) have already lined up a few gigs doing radio event support. I am also planning to get into ARES once I have a little more experience under my belt and better radio set-up, but we'll have to wait and see on that.
My first gig is the Ironman Ride on May 6, so if you are riding that, keep an eye out for the radio nerds, because one them will be me.