Ham Radio and communications

Years ago I started to study for my HAM radio license and never followed through with the test. Thats all I needed to do was test out and I would have been done. At the time I was still in the Navy and worked in a small command that did a lot of radio communications and computer “activities”. Being around some pretty neat and mobile radio equipment I would dial up the HAM bands and just listen. With the equipment on hand, I was able to “lurk” on all the RF spectrum’s from VLF to SHF (Very Low Frequency to Super High Frequency). We used to sit around and listen to cell phone conversations in the 900 mhz range while calibrating our radios. Not legal, but we were calibrating our equipment. Our government never eavesdrops on its citizens. Right. But this was before cell phones went digital and most phones were still transmitting on analog frequencies.

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My uncle who is a lifelong HAM operator, over 60 years now gave me a HF rig a couple weeks ago. Since I am not a licensed HAM I cannot transmit on any frequencies but that doesn’t preclude me or anyone from listening.

Bob Mayne over at todayssurvival.com has had a couple of PodCast’s covering HAM radio’s and adding one or more as another tool to your prepper toolbox.

Checking the ARRL website,  The National Association for Amateur Radio you can find tons of information on how to get started.  Now first let me tell you it is not that difficult to get a HAM license, and it is not an expensive hobby. But like anything it can get way out of hand if you let it. Just don’t get wrapped around the wheel and all freaked out thinking I have to know electronics, or Morse Code, or electricity, or the suns effect on radio waves during a solar eclipse in March while the moon is in it’s second phase of rotation during the migration of Canadian geese. Years ago the FCC did away with the Morse code requirement. There are currently three levels of licensing.

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Technician Technicians may operate on the 2, 80, 40 and 15 meter bands using CW, and on the 10 meter band using CW, voice and digital modes.

General General Class operators are authorized to operate on any frequency in the 160, 30, 17, 12 and 10 meter bands. They may also use significant segments of the 80, 40, 20 and 15 meter bands.

Amateur Extra Allows for utilization of all amateur bands without restriction.

Each require a separate test and each level requires you to have the previous levels license before testing to the next higher. So you need a Technician before you can receive a General license.

The lower bands or a Technician license are going to allow you to TX/RX (Transmit/Receive) out to a few few miles depending on the type of antenna you use, atmospherics, and if any repeaters are involved. This is a pretty cool thing. If you have ever picked up the cheaper GPMRS radios or the real cheapo’s you get at WalMart, the commercial handhelds, and we have all heard everyone and their kid talking on these, clogging the frequency with talk of Power Rangers, and where are you?, incessant beeping etc. I don’t know about you but it drives me insane! I quit using them years ago. These handhelds also advertise TX ranges out to 10 miles. Not even on a clear day after the apocalypse will they transmit that far. 1-2 miles max.

Having a HAM license allows you to transmit above all the noise and chatter. There are fewer users, more frequencies, and less outside interference from other electronic devices. As you move up the license classes you are able to use higher frequencies which allows you to transmit farther. When I was stationed in Hawaii, I listened to HAM’s in Texas talking to other HAM’s in Japan. I also heard guys and gals talking from Australia. This was all done off a Dipole antenna sitting on the roof of a aircraft hanger. No fancy equipment, we didn’t even know how old the antenna we were using was. It was left by the previous tenant and we just hooked out cable into it to see if it worked.

Many years ago, my uncles HAM shack was located in my Grandmothers garage. I was told to never touch anything when I went inside to get a garden tool or lawnmower. His equipment took a whole corner of the garage and was neatly stacked and taken care of. He had a cot and a gas heater for the cold times of the year. The cot was for when he participated in emergency exercises and needed to be available at odd times or for his shift monitoring the circuit.

My uncle tells a story of the Anchorage Alaska earthquake of 1964. A large earthquake and subsequent tsunami wiped out all communications to the state. The military even had a hard time communicating to the outside world. Uncle, warmed up his HAM shack and began calling any radio operators in Alaska asking for information. He was one of the few HAM’s that set up a “net” that relayed information back and forth between Anchorage and Washington DC that helped coordinate rescue and recovery efforts. He stayed in the garage for more than a week sleeping and eating out there as Gram brought him meals, until the authorities could reestablish their own communications. What a cool story huh?

HAM’s are also part of any emergency radio network and disaster plan for the civilian authorities.

For a couple hundred dollars, even less if you shop ebay you can enjoy a great hobby meet some great people and have a really solid communications tool in your vehicle, home or on your person. One of my 2013 goals while on deployment, is I am going to get my General license so that HF rig in the basement can be used for talking instead of listening.

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