Newcomers Page - Sportsman's Paradise Amateur Radio Club K4WAK

Sportsman's Paradise Amateur Radio Club
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Newcomers Page
This page is dedicated to those who are new to the ham radio hobby and those who are considering joining in the fun. Our intent is to provide information concerning operating practices, station set-up, record keeping and other related topics. Most of the subjects below are related to HF (High Frequency) operating. If you have questions not addressed here, please let us know, others may have the same question and we would like to provide answers here.
Just what is Amateur Radio?
Amateur Radio is a multi-faceted hobby. Communicating with other licensed amateurs using the HF (High Frequency) radio spectrum with their own private equipment is fun. These signals, under the right conditions travel around the world. No infrastructure, such as the internet is required. Achieving goals such as making contacts in all 50 states or multiple countries around the world can both be challenging and exciting. Participating in Public Service and Emergency Preparedness on the VHF and UHF bands attract many. Building and experimenting antennas and equipment are great learning opportunities.  
What is a Call Sign?
In the USA, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) assigns each amateur radio operator a unique call sign after passing an examination. There are amateur radio operators in most countries of the world. Each country has their own licensing authority. An enjoyable facet of ham radio is talking to other amateurs around the world. Your call sign identifies your station and is used whenever you transmit a signal. It also gives you some idea as to what country the other station is located.
How do I get a license?
Many people take a class, which is designed to assist students in passing the amateur radio examination. While most study 'solo' via book or website.  The examination is given by volunteer examiners winthin the ranks of amateur radio. The Wakulla County Amateur Radio Club offers free testing, usually on the second Tuesday of the odd numbered months. There are many books and websites that offer help as well. You can click on these links for examples... books   websites
One is no longer required to learn Morse Code (CW)!  Visit our test session page for more testing information.
What are the different license levels?
Amateur radio has three levels currently available: Technician, General, and Extra class. The examinations are progressively more challenging and the operating privileges are greater at the higher levels.
The Technician class is generally limited to the VHF, UHF, and Microwave portion of the radio spectrum. VHF & UHF signals are usually used for local communication but there are interesting exceptions such as satellite communication.
The General class allows HF (High Frequency) communication in addition to VHF and UHF. HF signals can propagate around the world using the ionosphere and add greatly to the enjoyment of ham radio.
The Extra class has the maximum privileges including all amateur frequencies and all transmission modes.
Antennas
Antennas are a topic of endless discussion. Almost any material that can conduct electricity can be used as an antenna. It's just a matter of how well they work. Simple wire antennas at a proper height and cut to the appropriate length can radiate very well. Hams can and routinely do work DX (distant stations) with wire antennas that are difficult to spot among trees. Getting to know how they work and experimenting with them is a lot of fun. One of the best resources is the ARRL Antenna Book available for purchase online or through a ham radio store. Also, a web search for ham antennas will result in many hits.
Operating procedures
The Amateur's Code: Some simple, common sense guidelines about operating. Please see this site for the details.
Listening: This is one of the most important steps before beginning a transmission. Find out if the frequency is already in use! You can respond to others calling "CQ" or find a spot on the band not in use and call for other stations to respond to you.
Signal Reports: Signal reports are a very common exchange and follow a standard format. Readability [R](on a scale of 1 to 5), Strength [S](on a scale of 1 to 9) and Tone[T] (for morse code or CW mode). A common report is "5-9" meaning perfectly readable and extremely strong signal strength. Most HF radios have an S meter to provide a estimate of signal strength.
Nets: What is a net? This is an organized activity for some purpose such as relaying messages. Some nets are for working DX or for working counties. Nets meet at designated times on established frequencies. Nets have a net control station (NCS) who directs the activity on the net. Many have a web site that describes their purpose and schedule. A popular net in our area is the ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Service) net on the Tallahassee 147.030 repeater on Sunday evenings at 8pm.
Contesting: There are ham radio contests nearly every weekend. The hours, bands, modes vary. Different organizations sponsor them. All are a lot of fun and a great way to make a lot of contacts although they will be very brief. This is not the time for casual "rag chewing" at least with those who are calling "CQ CONTEST". Information about contest schedules, objectives, rules and awards can be found in QST magazine published by the ARRL.
Q Signals: These three letter codes were developed very early in the history of telegraphy as a form of shorthand. They are still widely used today. Some of the common ones are CQ (I am attempting to make contact), QSL (receipt for the message), QTH (my location is _____).
Don'ts: Avoid using CB slang, 10-x codes and profanity of any kind.
Record Keeping:
Logging: If you are operating on HF bands, most stations keep a record of their contacts (not required). This is useful for knowing which states, countries, counties you've contacted. Some operators keep track of "grid squares" as well. There are operating award certificates for achieving certain goals for both HF and VHF operating such as Worked All States (WAS) and DXCC (worked 100+ countries). This record is called a 'Log' which should record the station callsign you contacted (worked), the date and time (be sure to use Universal Time a.k.a. Zulu time or UT), the frequency or ham band, the mode of operation (CW, SSB, AM, PSK, FM, etc.), the signal report (RST) you gave and RST you received and any other information you would like to record (perhaps the other persons name, state, county, etc. Keeping your Log in Universal Time makes it very easy to compare your log with others in different time zones which is useful when filling out QSL cards or if you want to use the ARRL Logbook of the World.
QSLing: Exchanging a confirmation of a contact goes back to the earliest days of ham radio when operators would send each other a card affirming they had a contact at a particular time/date and frequency, etc. This tradition is still an important part of our hobby today although there have been some enhancements to do this confirmation process electronically. Confirmation is required for most awards: thus it is important should you receive a request for a QSL, that you reply with your QSL card promptly. QSL cards can be purchased from several vendors or you can make your own. There are some web sites that allow you to design your own custom card or you can use common software such as MS Excel to format a card and then print on heavier paper stock. Cards should always be mailed inside an envelope to protect them from wear in the mailing process. If requesting a card, it is recommended you include a SASE. Mailing addresses for most hams can be found at www.qrz.com.
Activities
Hamfest: an annual convention where hams gather to meet friends, buy/sell equipment and perhaps attend classes on various related topics. Hamfests vary in size and features but they are all fun events to attend.
Field Day: an annual event where hams are encouraged to set up their stations to operate "off the grid", simulating a disaster situation. This may be the largest, world-wide, on-the-air event on the calendar. Lots of fun to get out in the field. Many stations participate from home as well.
Fox Hunt: often a competitive event where a small, low-power transmitter (the fox) is hidden and participants use their radio-direction-finding skills to find it. Excellent training for those interested in Search & Rescue work.
Public Service Events: you can participate in local events such as marathons, bicycle races and other activities as a communications volunteer. Many of these rely on ham radio for event coordination and safety of the runners.
Disaster Preparedness Exercises: Simulated Emergency Tests (SET) are conducted by local Police/Fire/FEMA/hospitals and other agencies on a routine basis. Ham radio plays an important roll is providing communications when our infrastructure fails.
Organizations
The American Radio Relay League (ARRL): The ARRL is the national association of radio amateurs. Their monthly magazine, QST, if full of technical information and operating news. They are our voice in Washington DC. We encourage every ham to be a member.
Local ham clubs: Clubs are an excellent way to get help, learn more about the hobby and share in the fun of radio by getting to know others who share this common interest. You'll find the folks within the Wakulla club happy to help you get started and grow in the hobby, be it advice, tools, or a lending hand.  
ARES: Amateur Radio Emergency Service are hams who have volunteered to participate in and be trained for emergency communications.
MARS: The Army, Navy and Air Force sponsor Military Affiliate Radio System programs where licensed amateurs operate their equipment on specific military frequencies using military communications protocols for handling messages. Each service has their own qualification requirements which volunteers must meet, typically requiring a minimum number of hours of participation each month. Each service assigns unique military callsigns to their member stations.
Skywarn: Also a all volunteer group that assist the National Weather Service in meteorological events of concern. During severe weather, the Tallahassee NWS has a amateur radio station next to the meteorologist on duty to assist in spotting weather not otherwise noticed by RADAR. Hail, wind gust, rain amount, and tornadic activity are all items of interest and aid in any actions that may be taken.
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