Amateur Radio

Introduction

The domain that this site utilises (g7kna.co.uk) may, at first glance or to those unfamiliar with Amateur Radio, seem a little random. The letters and numbers G7KNA are my Amateur Radio callsign, on the air it would be “Gee Seven Kay En Ay”, phonetically “Golf Seven Kilo November Alpha” or in CW (Morse code, which I haven’t mastered) “dah-dah-dit  dah-dah-di-di-dit  dah-di-dah  dah-dit  di-dah”. Actually at the time of writing it’s a pretty rare callsign since I spend very little time on air but that is a different matter.

I have been licensed since the end of 1991, at the time I obtained my licence I had to sit two multiple-choice exam papers governed by the City and Guilds organisation, although these days the exam process is different. Back in 1991 passing the Radio Amateurs Exam gained you a Full Class B licence that permitted operation on allocated Amateur Radio frequencies above 30MHz (below 10m) essentially restricting operation to the VHF (30MHz – 300MHz), UHF (300Mhz – 3GHz) and SHF (3GHz – 30GHz) spectrum. To get access to what would traditionally be described as “short wave” or the HF spectrum (3MHz – 30MHz) it was necessary to pass a 12 words/minute Morse test to prove that you could send and receive Morse code. I never mastered the key (or the paddle) however, salvation was at hand.

In November 2001 the speed requirement was reduced from 12 words/minute to 5 words/minute and subsequently, in July 2003, the requirement to demonstrate any proficiency in Morse code was removed entirely. At this point all the Full Class A licencees (those who had passed their Morse test) and all the Full Class B licencees (those who hadn’t got around to passing their Morse test) were merged into a single Full Licence category with equal access to all of the allocated Amateur Radio frequencies including the HF spectrum; effectively I was “grandfathered” onto the HF bands. Interestingly, the removal of a formal Morse test has not led to the demise of Morse code in Amateur Radio, it is still alive and well; but the activity in the VHF spectrum has reduced from the levels experienced in the 80’s and 90’s although there are a variety of possible reasons for this.

What is Amateur Radio

I sat and pondered this for quite a while. For some, the perception of Amateur Radio and an Amateur Radio operator is typified by the famous Tony Hancock in Hancock’s Half Hour Sketch ‘The Radio Ham’, but this is obviously comedy and I don’t think there’s a simple definition.

According to the RSGB Amateur Radio is:

… a popular technical hobby and volunteer public service that uses designated radio frequencies for non-commercial exchange of messages, wireless experimentation, self-training, and emergency communications.

The ARRL have a slightly different take on a succinct explanation of Amateur Radio:

Amateur Radio (ham radio) is a popular hobby and service that brings people, electronics and communication together. People use ham radio to talk across town, around the world, or even into space, all without the Internet or cell phones. It’s fun, social, educational, and can be a lifeline during times of need.

In truth, it is very difficult to succinctly summarise the hobby of Amateur Radio to someone not already invested in the hobby. It is probably equally difficult to produce a succinct summary of: Astronomy, Photography or Computing to someone not already involved in these hobbies.

Amateur Radio is a very broad subject, it is conceivable to gather 10 Amateur (Ham) Radio operators in a room and discover that beyond being licenced they have little in common in the way or the areas that they operate, for example:

  1. The Traditional Ham: Operating on HF this person spends their time chatting to other licensed operators around the world. They often have long lasting friendships with other operators in different countries and will have learnt about the culture and traditions of other countries
  2. The VHF Mobiler: Uses VHF/UHF equipment fitted within a vehicle as they drive around. Although not wedded to the use of Amateur Radio repeaters these provide a degree of simplicity and reliability that makes their life more straightforward
  3. The Antenna Tinkerer: For this person the fun or the challenge is in creating new or improved antenna installations, their on air operating is often limited to testing the antenna system eliciting signal reports for back-to-back comparisons or employing WSPR (pronounced whisper) to understand their propagation
  4. The ATV Operator: Believe it or not some Amateur Radio operators are active in Digital TV, this is a different mode to regular voice communications and usually occur on the higher frequencies where the Amateur Radio allocations are larger
  5. The CW (Morse) Operator: Makes all contacts with a key or paddle
  6. The Satellite Operator: Have equipped themselves to work through orbiting Amateur Radio satellites which typically operate in the VHF/UHF spectrum
  7. The FT8 (other digi-modes are available) Operator: Spend their time making “rubber stamp” contacts using keyboard to keyboard techniques
  8. The DX Chaser: Lives for the elusive long distance or unique contact, watching the DX Cluster they will compete with other stations to break into a “pile-up” and secure a brief exchange with a rare country, island, special event operation or person
  9. The Contester: Optimises their station to participate in contests looking to score as many points as possible in a given time, they typically operate mainly during contest periods and exchange only sufficient information (a contest exchange) to qualify the contact for inclusion in that contests log
  10. The Constructor: Uses the hobby as an extension of their electronics hobby, for these people the building is the interest, operating the built equipment afterwards is just something to do before the next project is started

Now, clearly it isn’t as simple as that and there really isn’t one type of typical operator but it gives an idea of the breadth of the hobby and there is more beyond this. The hobby of Amateur Radio is one that can take a person in a variety of directions at different times.

Which operator type am I? Well as I said, it isn’t quite so easy to pigeon-hole people. I’ve certainly been a “VHF Mobiler” in my time and I’ve done my fair share of “digi-modes”, although I have eschewed FT8 so far, but the truth is that I’ve not been blessed with a permanent “shack” and my personal involvement with both the South Bristol Amateur Radio Club and the RSGB tends to limit my time to operate, in fact I probably do more operating under the various Special Event callsigns and the Club Callsign than I do under my own!

Is Amateur Radio Expensive

Yes, and no. The truth is it depends. Amateur Radio is a technical hobby that requires you to equip yourself, in this way it is no different from: computer gaming, golf, astronomy, photography, fishing, caravanning and many other pass-times. Like most of the aforementioned hobbies it’s very much up to you how much you want to spend and what you want to buy. There are extremely expensive pieces of high quality kit, there are some bargain basement items with a quality to match and everything in between. Modern equipment, and by modern I’m talking about anything from the last 20 years or so, is well designed and perfectly serviceable. You don’t have to have the latest all-singing all-dancing piece of kit to enjoy and participate in the hobby.

How Can I Become a Radio Ham

Amateur Radio remains a technical hobby and is probably the only hobby that is governed by international treaty. Consequently entry to the hobby requires that you must demonstrate a level of technical competence through an exam. There are 3 levels: Foundation, Intermediate and Full which must be passed in order. Each exam level confers a greater level of operational privilege’s but there is no need to pass all of them and you are allowed to transmit as soon as you obtain your Foundation Licence.

For more details on the system and the training please have a look at the South Bristol Amateur Radio Club Website training pages. Contacting your local radio club would be a good course of action, you can find Clubs with a local training provision by using the RSGB Club Finder system.