The boys (16 and 12) and I are taking the “Technician License” class for amateur radio (commonly known as ham radio) right now. We are entering week 5 of our 6 week class and will take our test (Lord willing) on March 5th in the afternoon after church.
Ham radio is always one of those things that I’ve talked about doing for the homestead. It’s partly from a “prepper” mentality (a word which has been hijacked by the news media to mean some deranged nut) that I’ve always had and partly from my geeky side. I’ve read about it and just never could make the leap because the equipment was always confusing at a casual glance and downright confounding when you dive into a forum of Hams who begin to argue about which radio, power source and antenna you MUST buy and which ones you should never buy. It was always discouraging. The cost was high, the commitment to learn CW (commonly referred to as Morse Code) was a hurdle and noise around the hobby just kept me from pulling that trigger. One thing I’ve learned though, in my beginning journey into Amateur Radio is really a lesson that I’ve learned from homesteading and life in general. It’s this simple… take every forum discussion, email, personal opinion and even books about subjects as a guidance and then imagine that you came into a room of guys and asked all of them who made the best Pick Up Truck. That’s REALLY what Amateur Radio and homesteading is like.
You have to KNOW who you’re talking to as to whether you give their information or opinion more or less weight… and even then, outside of “hard science” (like simple physics, mathematics and breathing) what people really give you is their experience. I’m going to give more weight to the mechanics opinion… if he works on a lot of different vehicles. I’m going to give less weight to the guy who has an opinion about everything and has never owned a truck, much less driven or worked on one.
So, I want to be clear, I’m not licensed yet, I’m not giving you professional advice on Amateur Radio. I’m telling you why I’ve decided to jump in now in what always seemed like something that was confusing and required to much financial and intellectual commitment. We were at a recent outdoor sportsman show and one of the booths was the Boy Scouts and Amateur Radio combined. I talked with them for 5 minutes and all the years of doubt and hesitation disappeared and I signed the boys and I up for the class.
Why the sudden change? Well, frankly, things have changed… and in a great way. It’s really a convergence on all the different fronts of doubt and discouragement that I had. So here are my three reasons I’m getting into Ham Radio.
The intellectual hurdle has been minimized. Now, don’t think that you won’t still have to know the difference between a diode, a rectifier, a capacitor or how to calculate the amperage of 500W at 120V. But the big hurdle that was keeping a lot of people out was the requirement to learn CW (Morse Code). That’s Gone! That changed on Feb. 23, 2007. The license classes were simplified to 3 classes of license now also. You start at Technician and then go to General and then the highest level is Amateur Extra. You can read about it here.
- The high financial hurdle has been
minimizedeliminated. This is a big deal. It used to be that even a “cheap handset” was a couple of hundred dollars. Those prices have been gradually dropping but with the advent of the Chinese manufacturer into the market this has changed dramatically. You can now get a dual band (one that your new Technician class license will be able to operate) for $35.00 or less. The BaoFeng radios are cool little radios and GREAT to start with! You can get a tri-band (all still usable with your new Technician Class License). I bought this one and some accessories (more on that during a later post). Here’s what I’ve done… since I haven’t taken my test yet… I’ve found out how to program the radios with the local repeater stations, and I’m listening to it and learning (which going through my classes also).
- The FIRST HAND KNOWLEDGE hurdle has been eliminated. Ok, so admittedly for this one, this isn’t a new development this is actually one that I just didn’t know how to overcome in the past effectively, but this was overcome by finding (quite accidentally) someone local in a radio club who is helping to show me (and about 20 other people) how to pass the test, use the radios, what I really “need” to do it and to help me navigate the waters of amateur radio. This is INFINITELY more helpful than any forum or online group that I’ve been part of for this technical, real world knowledge. You can find a local club of people who will go out of their way to help you get into the hobby/passion. Here is a good page to start to do that, and even if there are no close local clubs listed these folks will be happy to tell you about ones they know that aren’t listed.
There will be more to come on our journey, but I am sure enjoying the classes, developing camaraderie and the live listening and learning I am doing right now. On the left you can see the radio that I bought (and am listening to as I type this). The world just got a little smaller, even if the electric goes out and the cell phone towers go off.
Maybe you should take a look at getting into Amateur Radio too!