Amateur Radio/Getting started

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So, you just passed your Foundation exam. What to do? This brief guide and reference is intended to provide just enough relevant info to get started with, as well as some links where to find out more.

Get a callsign

Around six days from your examination pass, you'll get a note in the mail with details that will allow you to register on the Ofcom website. Choose a callsign that is meaningful to you, such as your initials, something that sounds cool in NATO alphabet terminology, or perhaps something that is easy to enter in Morse Code.

It might be worthwhile to run a 'callsign scrape' of the Ofcom website using Mark Steward's code hosted on github.

Joining the Radio Society of Great Britain

The RSGB is the group that organises various events, publishes the official RadCom magazine for its members, and helps acts as a formal gateway between Ofcom and individual amateur radio enthusiasts. There is an online 'New Starters' newsletter and various other resources available. There are often promotions for new members and those that are aged 21 or under (or in full time education until 25) can get free membership.

London Hackspace is an official RSGB-affiliated club and several of our members are individual members as well.

First steps

  • Register with qrz.com
  • Start a log book. Use a spreadsheet with the columns shown on page 20 of the Foundation Licence Now! book. Otherwise there are applications for logging, with added features such as QSL management.

Bands

Freq. range Abbr. Name RSGB Bands
3–30 kHz VLF Very low frequencies
3–300 kHz LF Low frequencies, AM longwave broadcasting
300 kHz–3 MHz MF Medium frequencies, AM medium wave broadcasting 472 kHz (600 m), 1.8 MHz (160 m),
3 MHz–30 MHz HF High frequencies or HF band, Shortwave broadcasts 3.5 MHz (80 m), 5 MHz (60 m), 7 MHz (40 m), 10 MHz (30 m), 14 MHz (20 m), 18 MHz (17 m), 21 MHz (15 m), 24 MHz (12 m), 28 MHz (10 m)
30 MHz–300 MHz VHF Very high frequencies or VHF band, FM radio 50 MHz (6 m), 70 MHz (4 m), 144 MHz (2 m), 146-147 MHz (2 m extension)
300 MHz–3 GHz UHF Ultra high frequencies or UHF band, Television broadcasts, Microwave 430 MHz (70 cm), 1.3 GHz (23 cm), 2.3 GHz (13 cm)
3 GHz–30 GHz SHF Super high frequencies, mmWave 3.4 GHz (9 cm), 5.7 GHz (6 cm), 10 GHz (3 cm), 24 GHz (12 mm)
30 GHz–300 GHz EHF Extremely high frequencies 47 GHz (6 mm), 76 GHz (4 mm), 134 GHz (2 mm)
300 GHz–3 THz THz or THF Terahertz or Tremendously high frequency

Make that first QSO

Q codes

A few of the more common ones, (those that have to be learnt for the Intermediate Exam). There is a more thorough list at Wikipedia/Q code and at List of Q-codes. Q-Codes can either be a question or an answer. For example QRL? would mean Is this frequency in use? Whereas a response of QRL would mean The frequency is in use.

Q-Code Meaning
QRL The frequency is in use
QRM Interference from other stations (M = man made interference)
QRN Interference from static/thunderstorms (N = natural interference)
QRP Low Power
QRT Closing down my station
QRZ Who is calling me? (Who’Z calling?)
QSB Fading, usually signals going up and down in strength
QSL Transmission successfully received (as in QSL card)
QSO Contact with a station
QSY Change frequency
QTH Location, usually the nearest town (H = home)

Abbreviations

There are a handful of abbreviations that you need to be aware of.

Abbreviation Meaning
CQ General call, any station may reply (seek you)
DX Long Distance (on HF this normally means outside your own continent)
SIG Signals
UR Your
WX Weather
DE From
K Go Ahead (your turn to transmit)
R Roger (transmission received and understood)

RST reports

Often in a QSO the strength and quality of the signal is exchanged. For the reporting of strength and readability, and tone with Morse code the RST system is the de facto standard. a very strong totally readable signal would be described as RS59 or more commonly "5 and 9". Most rigs have a signal or S meter.

Value Readability Strength Tone
1 Unreadable Faint, barely perceptible Extremely Rough Note
2 Barely Readable Very Weak Very Rough Note
3 Readable with Difficulty Weak Rough Note
4 Readable with little difficulty Fair Fairly Rough note
5 Totally Readable Fairly Good Note Modulated with a Strong Ripple
6 Good Modulated Note
7 Moderately Strong Near DC Note but with a Smooth Ripple
8 Strong Good DC Note with a Trace of Ripple
9 Very Strong Pure DC Note

Phonetic alphabet

Giving your location

When giving out the location (QTH) of the Radio Equipment, use one of the following location identifiers:

  • The full postcode.
  • Latitude and longitude in degrees and minutes. - Click a location on the map for the latitude, longitude.
  • National Grid Reference correct to six figures. - Click a location on the map to find the British national grid reference.
  • International Amateur Radio Union (IARU) locator, also known as Maidenhead QTH Locator System, to six characters. - Click a location on the map for the IARU/Maidenhead Locator.
  • The address or other geographical description correct to 5 km (approx. 3.11 miles). - Enter location and specify 5 km, then click on the map to draw a radius around a point.

Repeaters

The recognised calling protocol is "This is (your callsign) listening through (repeater callsign)".

Bands and equipment

Some economical suggestions to help find you find your way.

2 m and 70 cm

  • VHF 144 to 148 MHz 2 m
  • UHF 440 MHz 70 cm

Get a Baofeng HT, change the antenna to a Nagoya NA-771 or a Tram 1185 mag mount with a PL259 female to SMA female pigtail. Use CHIRP with a Kenwood USB cable to program it. Note that the pre-amp on the UV-5R is fixed at very high. This makes it a very sensitive receiver but with poor selectivity. It will go deaf on a high gain external antenna, especially in an area with lots of RF sources. Spending more, e.g. on a Yaesu FT-60 (and Diamond SRH77CA antenna) will get you better features, such as intermodulation immunity/adjacent channel rejection and being able to sort memories into groups.

SDR

Get an economical RTL2832U as a software-defined receiver covering 24 MHz to 1.8 GHz. These are often marketed as Digital Television (DVB-T) receivers but can receive significantly more information, including airplane transponders and various other interesting signals. They can be purchased for as low as £10 off of ebay, but be prepared to make your own antenna as the stock one is usually quite bad for general receiver coverage. Some dongles like the NooElec NESDR Mini 2 USB cost a little more but seem to have less quality issues.

Shortwave/HF

Antennae

For a better signal experiment with different antennae.

  • J-Pole for 2m and 70 cm
  • For a Baofeng HT with a Nagoya antenna add a 19" for 2 m or 6.5" for 70 cm counterpoise. This then makes up the other half of a dipole for the radio, giving it a half-wave antenna.

Hackspace amateur radio club & radio shack

LHS membership counts as LHS Radio Club membership. The club call sign is M0HSL. Meetings of the amateur radio club are normally held monthly on the first Saturday at 14:00. The radio shack is available to members and stewarded guests 24 hours a day.

Useful software

Some of these are listed because of the difficulty with radio shadow in the urban environment.

  • Echo link – to contact other amateurs around the world via the Internet or smartphone
  • WebSDR - a Software-Defined Radio receiver connected to the internet.
  • APRS and APRSdroid – for reporting your position to the APRS network, displaying of nearby amateur radio stations and the exchange of APRS messages.
  • HamSphere - a virtual Ham Radio Transceiver.
  • GlobalTuners

See also

Further links

There are several online resources available to you. Our favourite is naturally our own conversations on IRC chat #lhs-radio on chat.freenode.net (via web browser) and mailing list but places like the reddit /r/amateurradio web groups can also be good.

Also on getting started