Amateur Radio is an educational hobby about all things radio. While it is a hobby, it is also the home of many technical break throughs in radio technology.
Before we had the internet, satellites or mobile phones, radio was the way we communicated long distances.
Radio Amateurs enjoy various radio based activities, Analogue voice communications, Digital communications, Digital modes, Slow Scan Television, PSK31,RTTY, FT-8 and many many other modes of operation. Radio sport known as contests also exist, where radio operators can win trophies and core points based on the contacts they make.
Amateur radio allows you to enjoy and explore the wonders of radio, which we should never forget.
Not only that, if the internet is not available and your phones are down, radio is the way you would communicate. Radio is often used in the USA as emergency communications during hurricanes and other natural disasters.
Here in the UK we have the Radio Society of Great Britain, which is the supporting body and promoter for the hobby. The RSGB helps to organise and look after radio amateurs and consults with OFCOM (Office of communications) to ensure we continue to enjoy the use of the radio bands allocated to us.
What do radio amateurs do?
Community and Radio Clubs – Radio Amateurs join their local radio club where all of those interested in radio meet and learn, have fun and experiment with radio. Radio clubs often hold community events and special event stations. You also get to use the club equipment, which is often high power with large antennas. Radio clubs also help to provide the training for new comers to achieve their licenses.
Chatting – Often referred to as rag chewing – Most commonly on the 2 Meters (145 Mhz) and 70 Centimetres (433 Mhz) bands. Chatting about all sorts of things, including radio topics.
Digital Modes – There are many digital modes that allow you to interface your computer with radio and send messages across the world.
Single Side Band – Radio Amateurs use USB (Upper Side Band) and LSB (Lower Side Band) to communicate long distance on the HF (High Frequency) Bands 160 Meters (1,810 -2,000 Mhz), 80 Meters (3,500 Mhz -3,800Mhz), 40 Meters (7,025 Mhz -7,200 Mhz), 30 Meters (10,100 Mhz -10.150 Mhz), 20 Meters (14,000 Mhz -14,350 Mhz), 17 Meters (18,068 Mhz -18,168 Mhz), 15 Meters (21,000 Mhz -21,450 Mhz), 12 Meters (24,890 Mhz -24,990 Mhz), 10 Meters (28,000 Mhz -29,700 Mhz).
Due to the nature of these frequencies (signals can drift in and out due to the atmosphere) chatting is often kept to a minimum. Contacts are made and signal reports are exchanged.
Contests (Radio Sport) – Radio Amateurs try to make as many contacts around the world as they can and win points, rankings etc.
QRP / SOTA (Summits On The Air) – Radio Amateurs transmit at low powers and try to make contacts. Often going up hills and mountains using portable equipment.
Building equipment and antennas – Radio Amateurs build their own radios, tuners, power supplies and antennas. It is fun making antennas from house hold items and trying to see how far your signal can reach. One example of this is using a tape measure as a magnetic loop antenna.
So, how can I hear this radio fun?
You can buy radio scanners and listen to the above bands. However, thanks to the wonders of the internet you can listen without a radio by visiting http://hackgreensdr.org:8901/
So, how do I become a Radio Amateur?
There are currently three types of license in the UK:
Foundation – Entry level (Can transmit up to 10Watts)
Intermediate – Middle level (Can transmit up to 50Watts)
Full – Top Level (Can transmit 100Watts and operate on restricted bands)
You start by achieving your foundation license. Your local club will help to teach you how to use radio, how to operate and safety aspects of using radio. Once you are ready, you sit in a test, a bit like an exam but not as scary where you answer questions to show you understand how to use radio safely and correctly.
Once you pass this test, you will be issued with your license. You will usually pay a one off fee for it. Licenses last a lifetime.
At this point you can then go on to sit your Intermediate and then your full licenses.