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Ham Radio and Antennas
May 22, 2008 7:23 AM   Subscribe

It's no secret that amateur radio operators, or hams, often build their own equipment. Especially with the aid of antenna tuners, most anything can be used as an antenna. One group of hams took this to the extreme, using ladders and shopping carts as antennas as they started an annual competition that would eventually see trucks, train tracks, a tree, and even a pair of exercise machines and a football stadium used. I stumbled across the site last night, and it turns out that this year's competition is this weekend! Ham radio, by the way, no longer requires a Morse code exam, just a set of questions on electrical and operations theory. Those curious can take practice tests online, since the FCC releases the question pools.
posted by fogster (23 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

Sadly, most of the Ham Band links are 404 - but this youtube still works.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 8:02 AM on May 22, 2008

I'm disappointed.
posted by tellurian at 8:04 AM on May 22, 2008

My entire house is a ham radio antenna. The original owner threaded the concrete frame of two sides of the house, the studs in the attic floor, the entire roof, and framing of a huge garage with a massive network of ham radio wires that come to a single point in a weird and massively lockable basement office (to get to the spot, an intruder would have to bypass 6 separate deadbolts on three doors). The only visible evidence of what is inside is a single tall antenna hidden by massive pine trees coming from the peak of the roof. I still have the blueprints he made when he built the house, which show where the wires should be run. He was an electrical engineer of German descent who worked for NSA for 4 decades, and I often wonder what sort of messages came and went from under my roof from 1953 when he built the house until 1991 when he retired from NSA and moved out.

This thread may just be the incentive I need to get a Ham radio, plug my house in, and see what I can hear.
posted by Patapsco Mike at 8:16 AM on May 22, 2008 [8 favorites]

By the time you read this thread, Patapsco Mike may already be dead.
posted by DU at 8:28 AM on May 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Does this mean morse code is dead? If so, a suitable period of mourning should ensue.
posted by BrotherCaine at 8:39 AM on May 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

posted by BrotherCaine at 8:39 AM on May 22, 2008 [12 favorites]

I'd never heard of the Ham Band, great link!

Patapsco Mike, that's an awesome-sounding house, but definitely not anything like my ham setup, which is a radio on a table in my basement... Slightly less than six deadbolts. In fact, six less. Quite interesting, for sure! I think DU may be onto something.... ;)
posted by fogster at 8:41 AM on May 22, 2008

-- --- .-. ... . / -.-. --- -.. . / .. ... / -.. . .- -.. .-.-.- / .-.. --- -. --. / .-.. .. ...- . / -- --- .-. ... . / -.-. --- -.. . .-.-.-
posted by Floydd at 8:59 AM on May 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Patapsco Mike, you should get an antenna tuner. You can go through a bunch of different frequencies and see which ones the antenna responds to. That should give you a better idea of what the antenna may have been used for. I'd also recommend talking to the local ham club, they may have some info for you and will definitely get a kick out of it. You can usually find local contacts on

As for Morse Code, no, its not dead. You still need to pass code tests for more advanced licenses. The basic license, Technician, doesn't need code now but the others, like Advanced still do. And people still use code. Not me, but "people".

Ham radio can also be used for limited internet connectivity using packet radio setups as well as patching into the phone system. Also not things that I do, but I am not a big radio nerd. I just use it for doing event support.

Ham radio is also important for search and rescue and for disaster response coordination. After the flooding in the Northwest last fall, we didn't have cell, phone or internet coverage into a lot of the affected areas. Ham radio groups through the ARES really made a big difference until basic communications could be set up elsewhere.
posted by afflatus at 9:10 AM on May 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

And, once they get their shopping carts and ladders wired up, they'll use them to connect to the nearest two meter repeater, where they'll talk about their failing health, complain about no-code hams, and share Windows 3.1 tips.
posted by elmwood at 9:47 AM on May 22, 2008 [3 favorites]

Actually, you don't need to pass a code test for any license class anymore, at least in the US. (It was pretty controversial... Frankly, even as a ham that could never pass the code test, I was disappointed to see it go.)

That said, Morse code hasn't died at all, and probably isn't going anywhere anytime soon. (And it's spawned some curious modes based on it.)
posted by fogster at 9:54 AM on May 22, 2008

As for the Morse code part, there are three levels of Ham radio licences. There is just Technician which requires the question tests. This gives you access to certain bands. Technician with Morse is the same but with a Code exam and gives the licencee the ability to use the Morse Code frequencies. Then General (with or without Code) also has a question exam and gives more frequencies. Then finally the Extra License (with or without Code) is even more questions with even more privileges.

These are only the US License, not sure about other countries.
posted by Deflagro at 9:56 AM on May 22, 2008

My house is nothing to look at, really. I would never have found the array unless I did some work to the attic floor which led to the discovery. I initially thought it was merely odd that in the era of cheap wood the man made the house entirely of concrete, brick and steel with a weirdly tall garage next to it. Clearly, it was all designed to some extent to maximize the reception (it didn't occur to me until just now that it's probably no coincidence that my house sits on a hill in the highest spot for 100 miles in all directions). I bet he got amazing reception.

I would like to think it was some fancy secret underworld stuff, but probably the guy was just a nut.

Great idea about contacting a local club. I may have to do that.
posted by Patapsco Mike at 10:37 AM on May 22, 2008

-.-. --.- / -.-. --.-/-.-. --.-/-.. ./.-- ..... --. -. ..-./.-- ..... --. -. ..-./-.-
posted by drhydro at 1:35 PM on May 22, 2008

-.-- --- ..- / -- . .- -. / .. / .-.. . .- .-. -. . -.. / .- .-.. .-.. / - .... .. ... / -- --- .-. ... . / -.-. --- -.. . / ..-. --- .-. / -. --- - .... .. -. --. ..--.. / - .... .- - / ... ..- -.-. -.- ... .-.-.-
posted by Susurration at 2:45 PM on May 22, 2008

Find a ham radio club near you.

You no longer require a Morse Code test for any level of license in the United States, mirroring a similar change in IARU regulations.
posted by ArbiterOne at 4:29 PM on May 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

.-- ..... --. -. ..-. / -.. . / -. .---- --.. -.-- -.--

I got stuck with an awful callsign for someone trying to learn CW... :'(
posted by fogster at 5:38 PM on May 22, 2008

-.-. --.- -.-. --.- -.-. --.- -.. . -. .---- -.- -..- . -. .---- -.- -..- . --... ...-- -- . ..-. .. ... -.-
posted by rmd1023 at 6:15 PM on May 22, 2008

I stand by my earlier comment.
posted by dmd at 7:46 PM on May 22, 2008

Hmm, I should have RTFA. Some of this new stuff actually sounds pretty nifty...
posted by dmd at 7:47 PM on May 22, 2008

posted by OneOliveShort at 12:11 AM on May 23, 2008

Does this mean morse code is dead? If so, a suitable period of mourning should ensue.

Triple-pun with a backflip dismount. Huzzah, BrotherCaine. Huzzah.
posted by rokusan at 9:36 AM on May 23, 2008

Rokusan, one of the things I like about metafilter is that people get one's jokes, no matter how complicated or obscure, without having to spend five minutes explaining the punchline. What I like even better are those occasions when someone comes along and steals the joke and makes if five times funnier just 3 minutes later.
posted by BrotherCaine at 1:54 PM on May 23, 2008

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