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Contributing to the Art of Amateur Radio

Most of us start off as a lone amateur radio, or ham radio, operator. I did. I studied the book, took the test, and earned my Technician license by myself all while not knowing anyone from our community. Afterwards, I tried to learn as much as possible on my own because I was excited, but eventually, you have to reach out to others individually or to a group to learn more. There is just too much learn individually, and we have to be shown how to do something, such as soldering as an example.

If you just “click” with amateur radio, you wonder how to help it grow. Many of us start as ham radio evangelist, but as the questions from others get harder, and the new wears off, some fall away, some grow stronger. I hope that I can consider myself one that has grown stronger. If you do also, I want to present some ideas to help grow our hobby.

Get involved

First, get involved with your local club to start. Build those relationships with others of common interest. You have to start somewhere, and being around other Hams is the way you start and keep your interest. Learn as much as you can. It is fun to learn new things, new skills, or new operating methods. You may even find others that want to help you upgrade your license.

Serve Your Community

Just how does ham radio serve the community? It is just a hobby, a technical hobby, but still a hobby. Amateur radio has uses outside of our own walls. We as ham know about the ways to contribute to the community. Outside of our ham community, many do not know that amateur radio has many, many uses to serve the community. Living in Tornado Alley, one of the huge ways we serve the community is through RACES. RACES is an acronym for Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service, which is an emergency communications tool used by majority, if not most, of the cities, towns, counties, states, and the US Government. If a city’s communications system goes down due to a tornado or other disaster, we have been called upon time and time again to provide official communications for emergency coordinators everywhere.

My club has a very tight relationship with the City. We are a recognized group by the City as being available to pass disaster information when called on. We provide emergency communications, and the City provides a means for us to have high and far reaching equipment.

Serve an Event

Many, if not most, events such as bike races, NASCAR races, marathons, etc., have amateur radio operators hidden in the background providing all the communications abilities. These are an amazing resource to teach yourself proper operating technique for those RACES nets that come up. These are also just fun to participate in too.

Join the ARRL

One of the most important organizations in amateur radio is the ARRL. The American Radio Relay League is the largest organization for amateur radio. We occupy some very VERY valuable RF spectrum, and it is always under threat. If this spectrum had a price tag, it could easily be in the billions of dollars. One of the main goals of the ARRL is spectrum defense. They also promote education and so much more.

Serve Your Club

You have joined the club and hopefully you enjoy it. I would encourage you to serve your local club. It is an incredible experience. I have had the pleasure of serving as president of my club here in Hurst, TX. It is a tough job, but a very rewarding one. Finding the strengths of people on your team is difficult, many will step up to help advance the clubs goals. If you do end up as president, be prepared for a lot of work, especially the first six months. You will find your rhythm and the pressure of running the business of the club will become more routine. Making sure you have a vice president that you trust is also a benefit too.

There will be things that you are called to do, so surround yourself with people that are smarter than you, and can rely on to help you accomplish club goals, and you will be fine.

Conclusion

These are just a few ideas I came up with to help with contributing and growing our hobby. We continue to grow in numbers, but when you are ready to take that role of contributor and no just being a consumer, find a way to do it. Find your niche and run with it. If you are strong in designing and building antennas, teach a class. I hope you will do it, it will be very rewarding.

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 I 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 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 a 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’s, 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, 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 learning experiences and try to share it forward to 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 it.

Elmering 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

Big Daddy, 2019

In Loving Memory of Albert Bruce Sparks Sr. Alt

Last week I buried my dad Bruce, affectionately called “Big Daddy”. While my real dad has always been absent and more concerned about other peoples kids, Bruce stepped up in 1990 and made the decision that he would raise Desty and I as his own.

He taught me to hunt, to fish, to drive, how to have a good work ethic, the importance of valuing your family more than anything else. When I was a teenager, he forced me to go to church and I hated it, but ultimately led to my faith in Christ, which is now my ultimate hope. He had such amazing patience.

Big Daddy stood with me when I had those weird teenager ideas. Dad I want to build and fly an R/C airplane, I want to _____. Dad I want to become an amateur radio operator, he supported me there also, and I am still going strong in it.

He may not have been my dad in blood, but he was in everything else. I would not be the person I am today without him and his leadership and guidance. If I could account for even half the person and father he was, I could be happy with life.

The hole in my heart will heal, but the scares will remain, reminding me of who he was, and who I have become because of him.