What is Ham Radio?

Getting Licensed from Tech to Extra!  (Taken from the March-2016 Newsletter)

OK, so you want to upgrade, or maybe you don't even have a license at all. Whats the next step? For many this can be a daunting exercise. Now before anyone asks me why is a ham club newsletter talking to someone that is not even a ham yet. Well, why not? If you are a ham and know someone who has an interest, this may just push them in the right direction. Please make copies and pass them out. When you come down to it, it is really up to all hams to keep our “hobby” alive, and protect our band allocations as well. “Use em or lose em”
    This month I want to cover what's involved and what resources are available to get started in ham radio as well as advance in the hobby. To me the term hobby as applied to amateur radio is a bit of a misnomer. It is one of the few disciplines out there that has so many varied aspects and directions for someone to take, that the term “hobby” does not really fit. To some it's a passion, to others it is a means of helping their community, for me, it's both. There are so many facets with amateur radio, in what you can do with it. Something for everyone!
    So your looking to get a ham license or looking to upgrade from Tech to General or beyond? Whats the next step? I don't pretend for a moment to know it all, nor am I an expert in what direction any one individual should take. I am looking at this from the prospective of what worked for me and what I have seen work for others. Maybe it will work for you as well, or at least get you interested enough to do your own research.
    So Joe Public comes up to me and says. “You know, I have always had an interest in ham radio. What is it really all about and how would I even start?” After pausing thoughtfully for a moment I look at him and start my basic spiel, what hams do in general, and what aspect of the hobby I do or in reality am doing at that particular moment in time. After talking for a few moments, Joe's eyes glaze over, and I can see right away that he is totally lost.
    I back up. “Look Joe, ham radio has so much going on, and what you can do, that in no way would I be able to cover it all. Heck, right now I could spend the rest of my life doing different things, and never accomplish all that can be done in the hobby. Currently a lot of folks get into it for the emergency communications aspect, and disaster relief. Once in, they start seeing other aspects and are drawn in that direction: Like talking with folks across the world, collecting states on different bands, getting involved with radio support for local events. There is something for everyone and many niches that just might spark your curiosity and take you into areas you did not even expect, when you first started.”
    Joe looks thoughtful then says. “Alright, that sounds very interesting, how do I start, do you have classes, what does it cost?” At this point I give him some info and get his contact information, and let him know that I will be touch.
    As Joe walks away, I am left thinking about others I have spoke with about ham radio. To be honest I take their info, and when we have enough folks interested, we try and get a class scheduled, folks to teach it, and place to hold it. As past history shows, this has not been that productive. I would have hoped to have at least one or two folks out of every ten to come back and commit. The past few years, we have been hitting maybe one out of twenty at best. We as a club need to do better, but again, the logistics can be daunting to overcome.
    We had scheduled a class back in Nov, with two 6 hour sessions. Emails went out and of the 20 or so folks that were contacted, only one or two were able to commit. Nowadays, folks have so many things going on, either with work, kids, other activities it becomes hard to nail down any free time. So some would say. “Set a date/time, advertise etc.” If you build it they will come scenario. The question then becomes, who teaches it, where, and when? A couple of other things need to be considered as well. Class size limit, min/max. Who wants to show up and teach a class of 2 or 3 students? On the reverse, do we have someone who can teach a class of 15 or 20 folks and be able to properly answer all their questions, and not get off track of the curriculum? All these are various issues and problems that HIDARG as a club has tried to address, but has not been very successful at. I have pondered solutions and thought of ideas. A few weeks ago, (by the time you read this) my sister was visiting from  Monument, OR. Sis and hubby, live on the North Fork of the John Day river, about 3 miles west of Monument. They are very active in their community. One of the issues that the whole community has is that cell service is almost non-existent, and land lines can be marginal at times. Since moving there a number of years ago, they have lost phone service more times than they care to think about. If a medical emergency comes up, it is over an hour to John Day, at best it can be a 20/30 min trip to find a high spot to get cell service. She was lamenting this fact, and was wondering how ham radio could help her and the community out. I let her about what some of the folks in Fossil were doing.
    After talking to her, and getting past her glazed looks, she is determined to get her license. However logistics with her location, and an available class, all are obstacles to overcome. The good news was that the folks in Fossil were gearing up for a class in March, and that was an option for her. However Fossil is almost an hour drive away from her location, and depending upon the class schedule and her schedule she may not make it to all of them.
    Her next question to me was. “How did you get yours?” I told her that there were no classes available at the time, so I got a book, went online, and did the practice tests, tracked the ones I missed, and read about them in the book, so I could understand the stuff I did not know. After about five weeks or so of reading, doing a few tests a day, I had become comfortable enough to feel I could pass the test. Since she was my sister, she knew all about my electronics hobby, playing with shortwave radio, building radios etc. “Easy for you, but what about me? How hard would it be for me to do that?” My response back was to tell her that she really did not have to know everything about electronics or ham radio in order to get licensed. The goal is to learn the basics in order to pass the test. Because once you get your ticket you will then be able to learn those things you “need” to know as you take on different aspects of the hobby.
    I felt that if she followed some basic steps, had the right materials, take the class in Fossil when she could, that she would have no trouble at all at exam time. “You send me what I need, and I will give it a shot.” With that comment I was determined to come up with a solution for her, on the plus side, after getting back home, she came across a few folks now taking an interest in getting their license.
    I was now in the position of getting some sort of procedure laid out for her. As I started to put things together and come up with a plan for her it suddenly dawned on me that others might find it of some use as well. Thus this article. As indicated earlier, this is by no means the best way, nor the right way for some folks. For others it just may be the ticket. No pun intended of course. And if your currently a Tech, looking to go General or Extra, I don't see why this would not work for you as well. This was basically how I did it, however I am adding a bit more info that in hindsight would have been an excellent resource for me at the time.
    First up, get a book, either Gordon West WB6NOA Technicians class or the ARRL Tech manual. (See resource box) In hindsight I should have gotten both. However you need to decide based on your budget. Anyway the Fossil group is using the ARRL manual and my sis has purchased that already. I gave her WB6NOA's when I went to visit her. I must admit that I have not seen any of the recent ARRL manuals. When I started I choose “Gordos” (as most folks call him), as my really old ARRL was very outdated. Gordo's would be something different to try, at least that was my reasoning at the time. Since I did not have a current copy of the ARRL manual. (shame) I will deal with “Gordo's” book here.
    Be sure to fully read the first 3 chapters of the book. Me, I normally read any kind of tech article twice. On chapter 4 you will be introduced to the question pool. As explained on page 30, “Gordo” has re-arranged them in order of the different aspects of ham radio for smarter learning. This may be cumbersome for some, but trust me, as you start to go through the material and understand more, its benefits will start to show.
    Second, start taking the practice tests online. My preferred site was www.hamexam.org, there are others but this one allows you to concentrate on your weak areas, by limiting questions to a particular area. This part of the site has a “FlashCards” menu and that in conjunction with the “Filters” section you can set the questions to the particular area of the book you have covered so far, and “Flash Card” through those questions. Tracking your sample test results will show you what areas need more work.
    When taking the practice exams on this site or any other site, note the question code, I won't explain that here, but when you get the book, you will know exactly what I am talking about. Anyway, note down the questions you missed. Then using the index on page 234 of the book you will be able to find the page number of the question and study up on it. If you also happen to have the ARRL book it will go into more detail on what is being taught in each section.
    When doing the practice exams, you will want to set aside an hour a day or more if you can spare it. Do at least 2 or 3 sessions. After a week or two of this, you will begin to understand most of the questions as well as what the correct answer is. Some folks may just remember the answer and not even understand what it is talking about. Please note their numbers down, and read up on them in the ARRL manual. Trust me, that will really start to pull things together. The next time you see that question or a similar one, you should be able to comprehend what it is asking and be able to determine the correct answer based on what you know. Which leads me into the actual questions themselves.
    All questions are multiple choice with four possible answers. However don't be fooled into remembering that question 27's correct answer is B, (for example) because that won't work. The actual position of the right answer on any one question could be different for each practice exam you take, and will be different than what is laid out in any of the books. The goal here is “NOT” to remember the answers to each question, but to know “why” it is the correct answer out of the other possible choices. If you recall anything about doing multiple choice questions, you can some times come up with the right answer by eliminating the obviously wrong ones. If you eliminate two, you have a 50/50 chance of getting it right. Something to keep in mind when taking the real exam.

  As with any learning system, you have to decide what works best for you and your schedule. Again if budget allows, get both the books.  I have since been able to look through the ARRL manual and it dives into a lot of detail, which may seem daunting to some, especially in the basic electronics aspect, but it will help fill in gaps, and help you make connections with the information as presented in the other materials. Gordo's book helps you refer to why a question is correct. The ARRL manual gives you the detail and concepts that will help you later on in the hobby, plus it will be a valuable resource in the future.
    I am sure I could have covered some things in more detail, but space is limited and trying to make this fit for all folks who have an interest in either getting their ticket or upgrading would require a book of it's own. If you take anything away from this information I have presented….it should be this. “Once you get your license, the real learning begins.”
    So to summarize a few key points. Study every day, keep it to an hour or two at most, or break it up into 30 minute chunks during the day. Note down the question code of the ones you missed, and read up on them. Try the different practice tests that are out there, mix them up. When you can consistently hit 80% to 90% you should be ready for the real test. Add an extra week or two of study, and you could get up to 100%. Do whats comfortable for your learning style.
    Budget: The thing about ham radio is that it can be as expensive as you want to make it. But nowadays it is extremely inexpensive to get into, if you first subtract the learning materials of course. If you do get both books, add in the cost for the test($15). In total this will be more than the cost of your first duel band HT with all the trimmings. With that your well on your way. We do hope to get at least two class sessions per year. We just have some logistics to iron out and the proper venue. Feel free to contact me if you have questions or need more help understanding this process.
                                                       = KF7MAX


Resources: “Books & Links”

Technician Class “Gordon West WB6NOA” (Amazon.com, he has books for General & Extra Class as well.)
ARRL Ham Radio License Manual (Amazon.com) ARRL has the General and Extra Class as well.
Ham Radio For Dummies (Amazon.com) I have perused this at Barns & Noble, it does explain the many facets of ham radio, etc. May be helpful for some. Keep in mind (if you are on a budget) that for the price of these 3 books, you would be able to by a nice duel band handy talkie radio. The upside is that investing in them, will help you commit to getting your license, plus provide you will the basic resource material to help answer future questions and move forward.

Practice Tests:
http://hamexam.org Very detailed in allowing you to fine tune the “Flash Card” area and concentrate on specific areas of study from the manuals.

http://aa9pw.com/radio/  Note that in the body of the main page description, you can visit the “Technician” area and toggle on and off certain sections for the practice exam.

http://www.qrz.com/hamtest As you take their practice exam, this site shows you all the questions in the pool and how you do on them. If you get a question wrong, you have to click the right answer to move forward. Some folks may find this a bit simpler to use than the hamexam.org site. It also allows you to study a specific area as well. 

http://www.arrl.org/exam-practice I have yet to check this one out. You do not have to be an ARRL member to use, but it does require you to log in with an account that you can setup on your first visit.

http://www.hamradiolicenseexam.com I can't speak about this one either. However it is an actual online study course as well. I include it because it might be ideal for some folks. To take the practice tests are free at least for the first 50 questions. Their technician course $24.95 and is good for two years. If you do not pass your exam, you get a full refund. They say you do not need a book as they supply all the learning content.