Amateur Radio/Getting started

From London Hackspace Wiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search

So, you just passed your Foundation exam. What to do? This is intended as brief guide, to provide just enough relevant info to get started with and 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.

Consider 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
  • Start a log book. Use a spreadsheet with the columns shown on page 20 of the Foundation Licence Now! book.


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)


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


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 UV-5R, change the antenna to a Nagoya NA-771 and use CHIRP with a Kenwood USB cable to program it.


Use a RTL2832U as a software-defined receiver covering 24 MHz to 1.8 GHz


Purchase the best quality shortwave radio with SSB you can afford.


Consider getting a Yagi-Uda antenna for the improved gain it provides.

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

Further links

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