Discover more from Ham Radio for Preppers
Lesson Two - Review the first posts
Lesson Two is really a recap of everything I’ve written up to this point. Review this, and if necessary, re-read all of the postings since the first one. We will get into electrical material soon. It will be intense, but not impossible. Find yourself a calculator, or use your phone, dig out your old slide rule if you like…. (Yes, I used one long ago) or bring one up on your computer.
You won’t need it for this “Lesson”, but this is a warning you will want one later.
What is Amateur Radio?
Amateur Radio, also known as Ham Radio is a hobby and a “Radio Service”. Ham Radio has been around as long as we’ve been able to transmit signals using things like Spark Gap Radio transmitters and later vacuum tubes. Tesla first demonstrated wireless transmissions during a lecture in 1891 during a closed-door meeting. In 1893, Nicola Tesla demonstrated for the public, the principles of radio frequency transmission. A year later, Marconi demonstrated the "first practical" radio system. Essentially, these radio systems consisted of tuned, high voltage circuits and a receiver with a detector called a "Coherer" which was used to "detect" the radio noise. These devices were called "Wireless Telegraphy".
Many history books will say Marconi invented radio, but he did not. It was actually Tesla and many others who put the theories into practice first. Marconi got the credit. However, whomever it was who "really did it first" is all rather irrelevant now, since we have a good understanding of light/radio waves and these theories can be put to practical use today by everything from wifi transmission systems, to cellular telephones and towers, to AM/FM radio, television, and various radio services found throughout the United States and the world.
Who uses Amateur Radio?
Well, Amateurs of course. An Amateur Radio Operator is an experimenter in the field of electronics and radio. Hams also become adept at weather, storm chasing sometimes, Skywarn, Radio Emergency procedures and message traffic handling. Some experiment with various digital modes, radio systems, radio frequencies all the way up the spectrum as high as you can go. Many Amateurs, like this author were Professional Radio operators at various points of their lives. My own Professional Experience was in the military as a radio repairman, and later operator for the White House Communications Agency. I held, at various times, a 3rd class, 2nd class and First Class Radio Telephone Operators license (the same license authorized one to run television broadcast stations or radio stations). Over time, I gravitated to engineering electronics equipment for the Missile Defense Agency, and went back into Radio as a Ham, no longer a paid pro. So, never let it be said that "Amateurs don't know what they are doing"!
Today, radio is used to give areas of the country coverage for the Hams through the use of repeater systems on VHF and UHF frequencies (more on that in a later lesson).
In the United States, we currently have three classes of operation permitted to Hams. Each class is licensed and various frequencies and modes of operation are authorized for each of the classes.
This is the lowest license class having the least privileges. In general, Technicians (aka Techs) can operate above 50 Mhz. (The standards change from time to time, so this is something you should look into as you begin your journey. Learn the bands, frequency ranges and modes of operation for each of the classes as you go!) Usually, new hams take their test and pass it on the first or second try and obtain their first call sign for Tech. They can then operate VHF or UHF handhelds, mobiles or base stations and talk to other Hams around the area. Using repeater systems (usually set up by clubs or enterprising Amateurs to fill gaps in the local radio coverage) you might extend your range from a mile or two to several dozens of miles depending on the quality of the repeater, antenna high, power out put and so forth.
Technicians can also do Packet Radio, a form of computer communication via the radio, instead of the internet. Packet radio comes in several versions or flavors, including simple message structures, or something as complex as a Bulletin Board Service (BBS) that you can log into and leave messages for other hams.
Technicians can actually make contact with the ISS at times, as there are usually Amateurs aboard at all times. There are satellites in space through which one may communicate to others in the same "footprint". The footprint is the circle of radio coverage as it beams down to Earth from space. As long as two Hams are on the correct up and down link frequencies, and both are in the same foot print, they can usually communicate.
General License Class:
The General License class gives you all the same privileges as Tech, but expands the frequency and band permissions, as well as modes. High Frequency (HF) radio operates between 1.2 Megahertz (Mhz) and 30 Mhz. These are very special frequencies that can be affected by the Earth's ionosphere, allowing the bouncing of signals off of the ionosphere, rather like a mirror, allowing you to send signals well over the visible horizon so that people in other countries can communicate with you.
Amateur Extra Class License:
Grants you a few more band privileges that the other classes may not use. This particular license class essentially grants all available privileges in Amateur Radio. These intrepid folks have to study hard, and learn a lot of extra material the other two classes do not usually worry about. Some engineering of antennas, and various physics equations might be found on the tests. Most people stop at General because this is the class that gives them the most for their effort. Those who go on to Extra like to help others, to teach the theories, and assist in getting others licensed.
Uses of Amateur Radio:
We have mentioned a few things, like Packet Radio, BBSes, and Emergency Radio communications. There are so many facets of Ham Radio that it is beyond the scope of these simple texts to explain it all, but computers are used, radios are used, antennas are designed and used, and there are dozens of videos on Youtube, Rumble and other video services explaining the details of different modes of operation, how to do various things, make and build antennas, built low power radios (QRP), and so.
Once you start studying for your test, you will discover something that is right for you to learn about.
There are still groups who do Morse Code, even though it is no longer a licensing requirement, it is still used, is the simplest and generally the ONLY mode that will get your signal out to someone in a noisy radio environment. Space storms can cause this, and electrical installations that aren’t done correctly. Morse Code (also called Continuous Wave, or CW) will almost always work when you can not get a voice signal through the noise levels.
There are organizations in most areas of the US who work together with other hams to create a network of trained Amateur Radio Message Handlers. You might want to get into that aspect of ham radio. ARES and RACES are two such organizations. (Hint: look those us with the phrase Amateur Radio to find out more)
Skywarn is active in many areas of the US where there are large, mesoscale storm systems, like the Midwest for instance.
Packet radio including the "Amateur Packet Reporting System", which sends out signals and plots you, your course and speed on maps, allows short unconnected packet messages to be sent and a few other pieces of data is common across the US.
Packet Radio with Nodes, BBSes, Keyboard-to-Keyboard chatting and radio bulletins are also available in most areas of the world.
Building small kits, learning Morse code, programming Raspberry Pi computers to do cool things are another branch of Ham Radio.
Learning electronics is just ONE of the many facets.
As in all things, the more one studies, the more one realizes that we simply don't know it all.
73 for now!