Ham Radio

skullmask

Sparrow
So, anyone into Ham radio? I've been licensed for a few years now, won't share my callsign, for obvious reasons.

I'm mainly interested in building my own antennas. I have a few that I built for the HF bands. I'm not interested in contesting or any of the other stuff that interests the older hams. I just like the idea of being able to set up something built out of speaker wire and PVC and hearing people on the other side of the world. Though currently given the solar conditions it's more like someone on the other side of the USA...

If you're interested in technical hobbies, getting a ham license might be a good option. It came in handy too, when Hurricane Irma hit FL a few years back. I got some useful info listening to the Skywarn reports. These hams work with the National Weather Service to report severe weather conditions in real time. It also helped me out one time when I heard a guy ahead of me on the interstate report a huge accident that completely blocked southbound traffic. I was able to take the next exit and find an alternate route to avoid it.
 
Got a technician license a couple of years ago--mainly was just interested in how radios worked and passing the exam was incentive to read the book from ARRL. Have not gotten around to actually buying a radio yet, on the to-do list. Thinking about going for the general license next then getting something that would work on the additional frequencies.

Personally, I have no interest in contesting. And if I ever just want someone to talk to, well, there are three females in the house. But ever since I was a kid I have always had short wave, UHF, and VHF receivers -- always nice to know what is going on.

I think that of all the modern inventions, radio is right up there in the amazing category. Think about it: music and information without wires, and sometimes from the other side of the world. And it was figured out before transistors or microprocessors. Started fixing and refinishing old tube radio receivers as a hobby about a year ago -- so far have restored several old radios, including a Crosley tombstone from the 1930's. Just restored an old Heath Kit capacitor checker to test old mica capacitors for values and leakage. The idea of making a Ham radio from a kit is appealing, especially if I were to learn CW some day.
 

skullmask

Sparrow
Thinking about going for the general license next then getting something that would work on the additional frequencies.
I would definitely recommend going for general. HF is harder to set up, mainly because the antennas can be rather large, but operating on HF is far more interesting. Still, VHF/UHF is a good way to get your feet wet, and the radios themselves are relatively inexpensive. I'd recommend getting a dual band handheld radio and trying out talking on local repeaters. Depending on where you are there are often regularly scheduled nets you can call into to test out the radio and verify things are working well.

A lot of people recommend the baofeng UV-5r type radios for beginners. I've used such a radio successfully, but ended up switching to an ICOM portable. Though the Japanese radios are much more expensive, you do get a radio that is far more user friendly than the chinese stuff. I'd say "buy a-murrican" but the USA doesn't make amateur band radios much anymore, AFAIK.

There is one model from Baofeng I can recommend though. The BF-888s is very cheap. So cheap I have no idea how they make a profit on it. You can find 20 packs on Ebay with the chargers and batteries for less than the cost of a single mid tier Japanese dual band HT. They only do the UHF band though, and you need software and a cable to program them. Get the FTDI chipset cable, and install CHIRP, and you are good to go. What I find appealing about them, is that in an emergency you could outfit a large group of people in your neighborhood with a decent handheld radio that outperforms the crap they sell in walmart. The biggest problem I saw with the incident in Kenosha is that kid didn't have any comms to stay in touch with his group. If antifa shows up in my town, I will not allow that to happen here.

I'd say the biggest, most important invention in warfare in the past 500 years was not gunpowder, but the portable radio. Before this, coordinating an army was complicated by the fact that orders could reach no further than hearing distance. To coordinate longer distances you needed guys on horseback relaying messages, which was super unreliable and slow. Reading old WW1 memoirs, it became apparent that far from being a stalemate, attacks often broke through and made significant progress, but because they could not send word to HQ that they broke through, the other side would counterattack and push back the attackers before reinforcements could be sent. I would argue that it was widespread use of radio, rather than tanks, that made the blitzkrieg warfare of WW2 possible.
 
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A lot of people recommend the baofeng UV-5r type radios for beginners. I've used such a radio successfully, but ended up switching to an ICOM portable. Though the Japanese radios are much more expensive, you do get a radio that is far more user friendly than the chinese stuff. I'd say "buy a-murrican" but the USA doesn't make amateur band radios much anymore, AFAIK.

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I'd say the biggest, most important invention in warfare in the past 500 years was not gunpowder, but the portable radio. Before this, coordinating an army was complicated by the fact that orders could reach no further than hearing distance. To coordinate longer distances you needed guys on horseback relaying messages, which was super unreliable and slow. Reading old WW1 memoirs, it became apparent that far from being a stalemate, attacks often broke through and made significant progress, but because they could not send word to HQ that they broke through, the other side would counterattack and push back the attackers before reinforcements could be sent. I would argue that it was widespread use of radio, rather than tanks, that made the blitzkrieg warfare of WW2 possible.
Personally, I would rather stay away from the Chinese stuff, and have looked at ICOM's and Yaesu's before. More interested in HF, but may get something for the local repeaters anyway. Any suggestions would be welcome.

Good point on how big of a deal radio was (and is). I collect old how-to type books and a compilation of articles that Popular Science put out after WWII on military radios was interesting. The Germans made the most of what they had, but had a shortage of mica--presumably that caused a problem with making stable pf capacitors. The Japanese...well, they had bought some "distress" radios (what might go onto a yacht for emergency use only) from America before the war, and copied them for their work horse radios -- did not work out very well for them. I think in the movie Midway, a Navy PBY plane spots the Japanese fleet and radios back to base, but when a Japanese scout plane spots the American fleet they can't raise their base on the radio. Could have been something to that.
 

skullmask

Sparrow
Personally, I would rather stay away from the Chinese stuff, and have looked at ICOM's and Yaesu's before. More interested in HF, but may get something for the local repeaters anyway. Any suggestions would be welcome.
I would recommend the ICOM IC-T70A. It's what I use and feels a lot more solidly built than the baofeng. Too bad they don't make them anymore. I can't find any used ones on Ebay for sale. I guess nobody wants to give them up yet. They've since come out with an IC-V86 that only does VHF, but looks pretty similar. I don't like their fancy ID-51 type radios with the color display, personally.

I hear good things about the Yaesu radios, but have no personal experience with them myself. I normally have reservations about Chinese radios as you do, but for what it's worth, you can get 20 complete BF-888s kits for about 160, 180 USD on Ebay. That's about 8, 9 bucks per unit. Get a 20 dollar programming cable with the FTDI chip and you're ready to go. At that cost, you could equip an entire suburban neighborhood with a decent HT radio in a SHTF scenario. It's got no front panel to confuse people, just a 16 position knob, volume knob and three side buttons. This makes it much more suitable for people who lack training and knowledge to work a ham radio. The walmart blisterpack FRS/GMRS radios are complete hot garbage in comparison.
 
I've threatened to get my license over the years. Been into this stuff for 30 years or so, mostly HF, SSB stuff on the 27.5MHz "pirate band", as we called it, and VHF. I've built several antennas for both those bands; yagi, ground planes and simple dipoles. I build a couple of j-poles too just experimenting. Being big into long treks into the woods, and a (sane) prepper, I like to be able to establish off grid comms if needed. For local stuff between friends, it's hard to beat MURS. I've built a couple of small repeaters from two hand-helds, a simple ground plane, and one of those cheap duplexers from China. Built my own controller for it too.

Seeing this thread makes me want that license again...
 
@skullmask I've got a Yaesu FT-2900 mobile that's been pretty good. I've had it for 5 or 6 years and it's been in my Jeep which has a soft top, so it's not exactly the best environment for it. No trouble out of it at all. My friend has a Yaesu hand held with a similar track record.
 

skullmask

Sparrow
There are a lot of unlicensed operators out there @Sargon2112, which while the FCC frowns upon it, isn't that big a deal as long as you don't get caught, or piss off someone enough to try and DF you...

One common sight I saw back when I used to live further north was that a lot of guys who use radios in the woods were installing marine band radios in their trucks. Since they were inland and away from major waterways, nobody bothered them about it. All that was needed to make it work is just tweaking the VHF whip antenna a bit. They were much preferred to the CB radios because CB is restricted to 4 watts AM, while marine radios put out 25 watts FM and give much better audio quality. Yeah I know CBers can install dodgy illegal amplifiers but the former is a far cleaner solution. Illegal, yes, but who's gonna complain when you're hundreds of miles from any coastline? The coast guard?
 
Ha! Yep, they did that here too with the marine rigs in place of the old CBs. That Yaesu mobile I have covers that band. It covers 136MHz thru 172MHz. A simple mod opened it up with no gaps. It will put out 50watts on high. I don't transmit on anything but MURS freqs now, as they are legal and a few folks in the area use it. I listen in on the local repeaters now and then. Good stuff.

@skullmask As far as complaints, yeah I agree. I highly doubt anyone would even hear illegal transmissions on marine freqs, if you are a few hundred miles inland. Just stay off the local emergency channels, and you'd likely have nothing to worry about.
 
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Max Roscoe

Kingfisher
I'd say the biggest, most important invention in warfare in the past 500 years was not gunpowder, but the portable radio.
A combination of radio and the wristwatch. Many blitzkrieg attacks were simply time-coordinated attacks where air and ground forces, both carrying portable timekeepers on their wrists, would attack at a pre-determined time. I don't believe there was much communication during attacks, though the radio was indeed a huge factor in the Fireforce techniques used by the Rhodesians, which is probably the greatest military breakthrough since blitzkrieg.

HAM is indeed interesting. I used to be into SW radio. It's a lot more fun when you are out in the country, away from the electronic noise of the city, and many of the broadcasters have ceased operations, but I have a Sony 7600-GR that will receive HAM bands and USB/LSB transmissions. With all the banning and censorship online, it's probably time to get the radio out and tune in to what the old farts are saying freely on our public airwaves. I bet the censors and even most of the government have forgotten about them!
 
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With all the banning and censorship online, it's probably time to get the radio out and tune in to what the old farts are saying freely on our public airwaves. I bet the censors and even most of the government have forgotten about them!
HAM radio is more than voice and Morse Code these days. There are modes where data can be exchanged, from Radio Teletype to much more sophisticated modes. It would be possible to send out news letters in that way. Short of jamming radio waves, that can not be blocked. Worst case, FCC bans it, but then they would have to use radio direction finding on the ground to locate the senders. Stealth mobile operations would defeat that, as they would not be on long enough in one place to track.

Short wave did figure into the cold war--both sides transmitted to the people on the other side to try to bring them around to their view. There is a reason why invading armies would impound radio receivers.
 

skullmask

Sparrow
Short wave did figure into the cold war--both sides transmitted to the people on the other side to try to bring them around to their view. There is a reason why invading armies would impound radio receivers.
They were also used by spy agencies to send instructions to field agents. This was the source of the mysterious numbers stations you sometimes hear about from old timers. You would occasionally hear transmission of a random series of numbers that were actually coded messages.
 

PixelFree

Kingfisher
I bought a basic BaoFeng to get into HAM radio, but really don't have an idea on how to use it.

Can someone tell me what are some basic steps to get started?

Perhaps what are some fun, simple things to do. Do I need to find a mate 5km away to talk to or can I listen in on certain channels?
 
They were also used by spy agencies to send instructions to field agents. This was the source of the mysterious numbers stations you sometimes hear about from old timers. You would occasionally hear transmission of a random series of numbers that were actually coded messages.
I used to hear them, back in the late 1980's and into the 1990's. Always in Spanish. Never ended, never started, just went on and on every time you crossed that frequency on short wave. Presumably a one-time code where the real code started at some date and time and the rest of it was random numbers to thwart traffic intel. Probably from Cuba, but who knows.
 
I bought a basic BaoFeng to get into HAM radio, but really don't have an idea on how to use it.

Can someone tell me what are some basic steps to get started?

Perhaps what are some fun, simple things to do. Do I need to find a mate 5km away to talk to or can I listen in on certain channels?
It looks like you're in Australia, so take a look at the association for ham radio there: https://www.wia.org.au/licenses/foundation/about/

Seems sort of similar to how it works in the US, and probably much of the rest of the world, there are different levels of licenses which, among other things, determine what frequencies you can use and at what power levels. Usually an entry level that would cover things like the portable radio you just purchased, up to HF rigs that could go around the world when conditions are right. There is an exam to study for and pass for each license. If you live in a big city there may be a Ham radio group that teaches courses, or you can buy a book or borrow it from a library, or maybe take an on-line class to prepare for each exam.

Pretty sure you can listen all you want, but probably not legal there to transmit until you are licensed. For a UHF radio like what you have, you could do a web search on your area and see if there are any amateur radio repeaters in your area, then tune in to those frequencies to have a better chance at hearing local traffic.
 
Anyone play around with SDR? I've just bought a pair of RTL-SDR dongles. Going to run SDR Trunk. I made a quick little quarter wave 850MHz ground plane antenna for testing it.

If anyone else is playing around with SDR, I'd love to hear your thoughts, experiences, etc.
 

skullmask

Sparrow
I've messed around with the SDR dongle a bit. Mostly I've used it for monitoring local analog ham conversations. I need a better antenna setup than the crappy mag mount I have running right now.

Good luck with that SDR trunk program. How'd you build the quarterwave, by the way?
 
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