My Life In Ham Radio
November 21, 2008 12:00 PM   Subscribe

"Ham Radio is a life long learning experience. You never stop learning." Don, W3RDF, is a CW enthusiast who shares with us his love of a hobby that has been a source of many friends from around the globe. With Solar Cycle 24 just beginning, the Ham Bands have been heating up with activity. Perhaps you might want to listen to what they are saying.
posted by jackspace (31 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
Thanks for posting this. I hope I'm still as interested in terrestrial radio when I'm burnin' as many candles as Mr. W3RDF.
posted by dhammond at 12:29 PM on November 21, 2008

Thanks for that last link especially.
posted by not_on_display at 12:36 PM on November 21, 2008

On that last link, there are currently two fellows talking on 7069.01 kHz.
posted by interrobang at 12:38 PM on November 21, 2008

What first got me into ham radio was my dad showing me how to make crystal radios, and I eventually got my Extra license when they still had the 20WPM code requirement - back when I was eleven.

I used to do a whole lot of 80 and 20 meter CW and I really wish I had stayed with it- I thought it was so cool, being a ten year old kid talking with one watt to someone in Venezuela!

I ended up doing a lot of 2 meter FM and that's where I was really put off ham radio: Almost everyone on the repeater was a grumpy conservative old fart. The hamfests keep getting smaller every year and it's the same old guys comparing their latest handy-talkie and talking about how hams will save the world one day, while their wives sell the doilies they make. Oh yes.

A lot of people aren't even building kits or using CW anymore.

The problem with the ham scene is that they're really having a hard time getting new people interested. A lot of the older hams I've met don't seem to want younger people like myself, they want Boy Scouts: Hell, last hamfest I was at, the ARRL was still handing out this ham radio-themed Archie comic book.

I would love to get back on, just as long as I didn't have to talk to those guys. Maybe I should try DX'ing again.
posted by dunkadunc at 12:44 PM on November 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

That last link is Best Of The Web.
posted by From Bklyn at 12:57 PM on November 21, 2008

Holy crap! I need to record the audio from the live shortwave feed, to be mangled toward musical ends. What's the best software for that under Windows XP?

This is incredibly serendipitous—I've been very close to buying a shortwave. Now I don't have to. Thanks, jackspace!
posted by greenie2600 at 1:05 PM on November 21, 2008

Greenie, I immediately thought the same thing. You can use Audacity.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 1:13 PM on November 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Cool—thanks, SLMTDaHCJM!
posted by greenie2600 at 1:19 PM on November 21, 2008

There's some sort of digital signal (I think) at 3579kHz right now...appears to be some kind of monitor beacon.

Yeah, I may as well make some popcorn and get a beer. I'm gonna be here for a while.
posted by greenie2600 at 1:43 PM on November 21, 2008

I started working on getting my ham license when I was in high school. I just earned my Technician in March. At age 50.
posted by tommasz at 1:45 PM on November 21, 2008

tommasz: congrats!
posted by rmd1023 at 1:47 PM on November 21, 2008

Actually there are a HUGE number of people who use CW now. In fact, never in my life have I heard so many stations on CW on 80m-15m a couple weekends ago for the ARRL Sweepstakes CW Weekend.

Also, there's a burgeoning QRP/kit building scene and let me tell you, the kids love it!!! And hey, I hear you on those Chicken Banders who think ham radio is only about yacking across time about kidney stones or how America is going down the tubes with the new President-Elect. These are often the same guys who eventually get caught jamming other stations or sometimes even worse! But they are few (but loud).

Give it a listen on the SDR link. I got out of ham radio when I went to college (started chasing girls instead of DX) and it took me fifteen years to get back. Along the way, I *DID* listen sometimes or, like you, I would simply be turned-off by all the cranky old guys who spent all their time telling people the earth is flat; I would turn the radio off for another five years.

But hey, life is 10% circumstance and 90% our reaction to it (the numbers vary, but you catch my frequency drift). Seize the day! Get back into ham radio! Don't let a few knuckleheads keep you from enjoying a great hobby.

Lastly, there's a Youth Skeds Database web site for young persons wishing to make contact schedules ('skeds') with each other.
posted by jackspace at 1:51 PM on November 21, 2008

Oh, congrats tommasz! What's your callsign, I'll look for you! 73 de K6JEB
posted by jackspace at 1:53 PM on November 21, 2008

Check out 3594kHz on the 80m band—apparently it's one of several Russian letter beacons which started broadcasting in the 1960s, and are still broadcasting today. Each station broadcasts the Morse code for a single letter, over and over and over. Nobody know what they're for.
posted by greenie2600 at 1:55 PM on November 21, 2008

Anybody remember the Russian Woodpecker?

That kept things interesting on HF in the late 1970s.

Radio, especially shortwave, used to be a kind of mysterious magic. Anything you've ever heard about someone's life being changed forever by hearing delta blues from 1000 miles away on an AM transistor radio could be magnified many times on shortwave and many more times by getting licensed to transmit and using a hand-made transmitter.

The almost random nature of what you would hear and who you could talk to. Mystery. The arcana of wavelengths and sunspot cycles and ground wave and sky wave, D- E-and F- layer 'skip. Magic. Just establishing contact at all could be an adventure.

I used to know a guy who did 'moonbounce' -- which is just what it sounds like.

Another guy put a tv camera in a helium balloon that popped at 100,000 ft and broadcast all the way down.

Good clean geeky fun.

The average age of hams in the US now is probably over 60. The average age. What with the ubiquity of mobile phones, VoIP, the web, video-conferencing, and 500 channels of poop on satellite TV, it's a bit hard to explain the pleasure of interpreting a few fuzzy bleeps and bloops and realizing it's some guy in Timbuktu or Kathmandu who'd like you to bleep and bloop back at him and later exchange QSL cards.

I dunno, maybe this 'steampunk' fad could be the hook for re-introducing young people to this kind of anachronistic technological adventure.

Or they could just download live SW audio from that site and slap some 'amen' drum breaks over it for their next album CD podcast braincast.

I guess what I'm saying is: YOU KIDS GET OFF MY FREQUENCY!
posted by Herodios at 2:09 PM on November 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Or no one know what will happen if they get turned off... Ingenious security by obscurity. Want to know a ham's address? Middle name? The FCC is worse than Facebook for exposing your personal info to the world if you get licensed. Thanks for the post jackspace.
posted by acro at 2:09 PM on November 21, 2008

hmm... That was interesting. I got licensed in Jan '07, and bought a 2m handheld.. I haven't talked on it yet.
posted by majikstreet at 2:34 PM on November 21, 2008

w/r/t letter beacons - see also numbers stations.

I got sort of interested in shortwave in college. Our 24-hour study room had a shortwave set with headsets, and being a night owl, I'd often pop a headset around and look for some interesting ambient sound to provide background to my studying. It was very cool feeling keyed in to these transmissions flying around the globe. I wouldn't mind having a set around the house.

Hell, if I got into it, I might be the rarest of the rare - a young(ish) female radio geek.

Good post! Thanks.
posted by Miko at 2:45 PM on November 21, 2008

I got my license when I was in high school, but lost interest by college. Right now, I'm thinking of studying up to reach a new license class (is it true that none of them require code now?). QRPing and handbuilding equipment really appeal to me. Thanks for the post jackspace!
posted by drezdn at 2:49 PM on November 21, 2008

Re: no code - it's true. I got my technician license this summer, but never really used the radio I bought until I volunteered for the local rally race as a starter/finish line radio guy.
posted by acro at 3:36 PM on November 21, 2008

Man, if they could make the live shortwave feed work on my iPhone, I think I would have a geekgasm.
posted by greenie2600 at 4:10 PM on November 21, 2008

The FCC database is nothing special. Check out your county assessor's site, or even your state's court records site.
posted by bensinc at 4:13 PM on November 21, 2008

Perhaps you might want to listen to what they are saying.

Aren't they mostly saying, "Hey, I have a Ham radio!"?

/just kidding
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:23 PM on November 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

That last link is one of the cooler things I have seen on the web in years. I could imagine dedicating an old laptop to that site alone.

I have a stack of ham gear in my closet waiting for the earthquake.

I passed my 5 wpm for my Tech+ in college but it went out the window shortly afterward. I keep thinking to relearn it to build some neurons back.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 4:34 PM on November 21, 2008

General class ham here - I originally was licensed back in high school as a Technician (back when that meant passing a 5wpm code exam and carried HF privileges). I upgraded sometime around 2002 or so after acquiring a old Heathkit HF rig at a yard sale. (I've since upgraded to an Icom IC718) I still fool around with it from time to time, but, like duncadunc and jackspace, I got tired of hearing about prostate trouble and the John Birch Society, and usually become discouraged after a while.

I've been getting the itch again lately, though, and will probably go out in my backyard soon and hang a wire in a few trees to see who's out there. I've been intrigued about the digital modes lately, and am going to try PSK31 if I can find a soundcard interface that doesn't cost an arm and a leg.

Great post, BTW.

73 de KG4ROh no I'm not going to tell you the rest.
posted by deadmessenger at 4:52 PM on November 21, 2008

Earlier this week I started reading Ham Radio for Dummies, which is pretty good. Any suggestions for a starter HF transceiver? A DIY kit would be fine (maybe preferable).
posted by exogenous at 4:58 PM on November 21, 2008

Try 7077.05 kHz using USB. Last link is so awesome. Thank you!
posted by Democritus at 5:09 PM on November 21, 2008

I'm KC2TCK, but I'm only on the local 2M/440 repeaters (Rochester, NY) until I get my General. Once that happens, I'm thinking of building my own Softrock-40. It's not quite a Heathkit but it'll do.
posted by tommasz at 5:43 PM on November 21, 2008

As part of my pre-Internet geeky childhood, I did the crystal-radio thing in public school, and built a kit 3-tube "All-Band" regenerative in high school. I didn't become a ham but I was always interested in shortwave listening, as well as building and servicing receivers.

(regenerative receivers are possibly the nerdiest receivers around. They have very elegant yet simple designs, and they take 3 hands to tune. Nonetheless they continue to fascinate me. I've built a few quickie ones, but i intend to do a fussy job building this one, soon)

Sadly, I can't see ham radio having the same appeal or the novelty that it once had. You can phone or skype or email to just about anywhere in the world, and it seems there's nothing in foreign broadcasts that you can't find on a website. (except of course for the nerd thrill of hearing same on a receiver you built yourself). Also, the abundance of wireless devices we now have create RF noise that makes reception of weak distant signals harder, and it's not going to get better as more of the RF spectrum is auctioned off.

I do hope more of today's youth give amateur radio a shot. It would be interesting to see what direction they'd take it.
posted by Artful Codger at 8:11 PM on November 21, 2008

I could listen for hours. What's missing is the faint glow of the vacuum tubes and being able to tap out to the world hello from KA3PVI.
posted by moonbird at 10:25 PM on November 21, 2008 is an attempt at an open hardware/open software SDR.
posted by rmd1023 at 1:48 PM on November 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

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