Getting your Amateur Radio license is definitely an achievement. Maybe you had to study hard and got introduced to a lot of new stuff. Maybe you were already radio savvy and passing the test was not that hard. But no matter where you’re coming from, you did make the first step into a very exciting world of radio communications and its technical possibilities and its opportunities. But wait, it’s more than just that! You’re also entering a world of friendship and support. Not only local in your hometown, but in the whole country and even worldwide. No other hobby, activity or what not, has ever achieved such level of fellowship that Radio Amateurs share around the world. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Tech, a General or an Extra. You are a Ham! And therefore welcome to the Amateur Radio community.
So you got your license, now what?
We’ve all been there. Passed the test and got your call sign after a not too long wait. Now what? Some say “That’s the moment your bank account will never be the same again…” Yep, it sure can be that way. You can spend a fortune on radio gear, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Amateur Radio is such a wide area and there are ways for everybody with every budget to have fun with it and reach their goals. Goals? Yeah! I won’t say you can’t do everything that Amateur Radio has to offer, but it sure makes it a lot easier to know what you want and build from there. You’ll get to know fellow Hams that operate from a shack with many expensive antennas, towers, radios and even a whole lab of testing equipment. But you know what? That didn’t start from day one! On the other hand, I know a lot of Hams that own only one radio and a simple antenna setup and have the best time of their life.
Maybe you already know what you want to accomplish and how to get there. You’re well on your way, but if you ever run into a snag, don’t hesitate to talk it over with a fellow Ham. And if he or she doesn’t know, he or she will probably know someone who does. As a matter of fact, the one that helped me out making my very first antenna work efficiently, a VHF antenna for my motorbike, was a 14 year old girl. She knew more about mobile VHF antennas than any of the older HF guys at the club station, back in the days. So you see, age doesn’t matter. It is knowledge and experience in a certain part of Amateur Radio that counts. However I have yet to meet the guy that knows absolutely everything and is also able to explain in simple laymen terms. Anyway, just keep in mind that fellow Hams are your go-to-source to ask questions and that most Hams are truly interested in what you do or what you’re trying to accomplish.
Don’t know yet?
Amateur Radio is such a big thing it’s hard to sum up every direction you can go. I know some Hams that only got their license because they like “prepping and survival”. They got their license so they can practice operating a radio legally in times that society is not falling apart. I know Hams that got their license just so they can use more transmit power and operate their model aircraft at longer distances. I know Hams that only use a radio in their vehicle for emergencies because they get into remote areas with no cellphone coverage. Maybe you’re commuting to work and like to have a chat while driving. Maybe you don’t like to talk and you’re more interested in digital modes like APRS, Winlink, FT8, FT4, and what not. Maybe you’re a builder and like to assemble kits. Maybe you like to experiment with all kind of radios and antennas. Maybe you like to restore old radio gear. Maybe you like to design and try out radio circuits and antennas. Maybe you like to go out into a park and make contacts with a portable set up for an hour or two. Maybe you like contesting or go after the many awards that you can get. Maybe you’re interested in emergency communication on a more organized scale like ARES or RACES. Maybe just a day out with the family trying to find the “fox”. Maybe contact the International Space Station or make contacts using the many Amateur Radio Satellites. Maybe your goal is to support military radio communications with a program like MARS/CAP. Maybe you want to build or setup your own Wi-Fi network with higher power and longer range. Maybe you’re into telemetry and combine it with other hobbies like model rockets or balloons that touch the edge of space. Maybe you’re just looking to find a way to remotely control a camera deep in the woods…
Maybe you just like to learn and got your license just because you could.
Ham Radio is such a big thing that it’s hard to sum up every direction you can go. And even then… when you think of combinations with other activities. Storm chasing, Fishing, Hunting, you name it…
It helps to talk and find out what others are doing. Ask questions. Many questions! You might even find a buddy that’s trying to accomplish the very same thing as you are. You might get to talk with someone that sparks an idea of which you had not even thought it was actually possible.
Don’t get discouraged
I can tell you, “many have been standing in the very same shoes”, just an old folklore phrase meaning they have been in the same situation (so it’s not about the smell). You tune up a repeater and leave your call sign over and over and it looks like you’re the only Ham in the world. Don’t get discouraged, because it’s just a fact that repeaters are kind of quiet. However, it happened many times that I got to talk to fellow Hams who said “you’re the first one I hear all day long”… So, just put your call out every time you have a chance. It’s just like fishing. Cast and cast before the fun starts. Don’t forget about the National Simplex FM Calling Frequencies: 146.520 MHz or 446.000 MHz. Many hams are monitoring or have those in their scan sequence. But there are a whole bunch of other calling frequencies that are worth a try: http://ac6v.com/callfreq.php
“What gear should I get?”
It’s a question that has been asked countless times, but get not many answers. It all depends on what you want to accomplish and even then there’s also the budget. Your goals. Your budget. So, to get an answer to that question you need to look around and ask questions. Ask about someone’s experience with some certain piece of equipment. Read reviews e.g. on eHam or DXzone. Watch demonstration videos on YouTube, compare equipment features. There’s a very big world full of resources out there. Some promising golden eggs and magic, others more reliable and sometimes even scientific.
But like I said before, many Hams have been there in that very same situation. Ask questions of what works and what doesn’t. Ask questions of how important some features really are.
Ask around in your local Amateur Radio Club like the Sportsman’s Paradise Amateur Radio Club in Crawfordville FL, or on the Monday evening Club Net, for example: 7:30pm 145.45 MHz, PL 94.8 Hz.
I know, it’s a weird time and we don’t have many face to face meetings right now, but that is not going to last forever. We’re Hams, right? We’re communicators! There’s always the SPARC Elmers group “Wakullaham” at https://groups.io/g/Wakullaham to ask questions or look for answers.
As might have become clear to you above, Amateur Radio World is a wide world and I can hardly make a selection of interesting references that might help you starting out after you got your license. But I will point out a few…
Like you, I’m a member of the club and once in a while I write up some things that I come across which might also be interesting to fellow Hams. And this time it’s a little word to new Hams. If you come across something that you’d like to share or bring to the attention of fellow SPARC members, don’t hesitate to send an e-mail to Doug (K4GKJ) at firstname.lastname@example.org.