Becoming a Ham Operator, 20 Years Later

It is hard to believe that I just had my 20-year Amateur Radio Birthday in June 2019. I have always loved radio and radio technology. One early memory I have is when I lived in Kansas as a tiny tot, I had some of those toy walkie-talkies. I loved them. Years later my friend had a CB walkie-talkie, and I loved it too. Eventually, I was introduced to big boy CB by my [former] brother-in-law, which makes me laugh to say that… big boy CB… yeah right, there is nothing big boy about CB, but anyways. I had a Cobra 25 CB in my first vehicle attached to a 102“ stainless steel whip antenna outside. That thing would hit everything which looking back was obnoxious, but as a kid, you think it is hilarious.

Us ham’s love to tell our story of how we got started, and I am no exception. My former brother-in-law introduce me to the CB and helped me get my first equipment. It was installed and worked just fine, but I rarely used it to talk. I had it installed for months and mainly used it to listen. One Friday night, some friends and I were at a friend’s house, and it was time for one to leave. I followed him out to his car and saw this weird-looking CB installed. I asked him what kind of CB that was, and he said that it was 2-Meter ham radio. I wasn’t sure what that was, but it sure looked interesting and I knew I needed it.

I bought the Technician study book the next day at Radio Shack in Benton, AR, and shortly after a month of study, I took the test and passed with a 98%. It took about 3 weeks to have a callsign issued to me, and not long after that, I had my first radio, a Yaesu FT-2500M 2-meter FM mobile. Any ham can tell you that “mic fright” is a real thing that you must overcome. I found that easy. One of the first people I talked to on the air was both my future Elmer (mentor) and Tech test VE, Bobby, N5YLE. He sort of took me under his wing and showed me the ropes. He built me a J-Pole antenna, which I still have, and told me how to run cables properly. He taught me how to properly install a coax connector and how to solder and so on.

I was a Technician for four years and eventually decided to upgrade to a General. There are three levels of ham licenses:

  • Entry-Level – Technician – Teaches the basics of many subjects in radio. Mostly rules and how things are done, very simple electronic theory and breakdown.
  • Mid-Level – General – Builds on the Technician. Adds more HF theory, rules, and a higher level of electronic theory.
  • Top Level – Extra – Top-level adds more rules, college-level technical theory, college-level electronic theory, operational procedures, and VE testing, and overall is a very tough test. This test is on par with the commercial GROL examinations.

Experimentation is a normal part of ham radio, and I have done my fair share of experimentation. I take it all as a learning experience and try to share it forward with others. Currently, DMR is my favorite voice mode, and am going to get back into HF digital operations. I am interested in WSPR and FT-8, and I want to get my station set up for them.

An Elmer is something that I have taken too, and teaching technician and general classes are a favorite (yet exhausting) thing to do.

I hope to hear you on the air sometime.

Chris de KD5HIY