A Student’s Guide into Amateur Radio

Many young people go through life with a sense of needing to help with something. The urge to belong to something bigger than themselves, or maybe trying to correct an injustice becomes important. They see a need in the community or the world to try to do something to make the world a better place. Young people also seem very connected to the world through technology and many are very electronically savvy. The combination of the need to stay connected with friends and family, the will to help the out the community, their fellow man, and the skills in electronics makes this perfect recipe for young people to become amateur radio operators.
Young people can recognize a need, organize people, equipment, and resources, and accomplish great things. These are very important skills to have as an adult. The ham radio world desperately needs the energy and innovation of young people. Not only does ham radio need young people with skills in communication to help with emergencies in times of need, but the need to fill the ranks of the hobby is also important. The ham radio hobby needs young people as much as young need ham radio.
Ham radio had its beginnings at about the turn of the century. Where the name “ham” radio come from is still not confirmed, however, many adopt the theory that in the birth of ham radio there was no voice communication, just Morse code. As the operators would use their code “keys”, their fists would curl into fists in resemblance to the hoof of a pig as they communicated.
Emergency services are one of the biggest reasons why many people become involved with ham radio. On March 27th, 1964 Alaska suffered an earthquake that registered 8.2 to 8.7 on the Richter scale, (http://www.scribd.com/doc/33445064/CAP-Alaska-Earthquake-Report-1964). The earthquake had damaged all normal commutations, but within 90 minutes radio technicians, hams, and engineers got at least partial local communications going again. Within the first week the military ham radio system in Alaska received and delivered 3000 messages and sent out 2,800. Young people could play an excellent role in circumstances like this.
Bob Ringwald, (K6YBV), is a ham radio operator in California and remembers several days and night sending and receiving “health and welfare” messages from Alaska. (www.ringwald.com/ham.php).
During the events of September 11, ham radio played a crucial role in communications in the area. Most of the communications for the New York area was on top of the World Trade Centers. Ham radio became the backup system and helped the emergency responders handle their messages (usatoday30.usatoday.com/tech/news/2003-03-19-ham-crisis_x.htm) when the towers fell.
If young people want to help in the community with communications, but don’t want to be involved during storms or attacks, there are other ways to help. During adverse times and community volunteering there is a group that helps operators and the communities organize for nearly incident free activities. This group is the Amateur Radio Emergency Service, (ARES). There are hundreds, if not thousands of groups like these all over the county. The Linn County ARES group (www.qsl.net/lcares/) helps with the communication with numerous actives during the year, including the Albany Triathlon, square dances, the Pumpkin Run, and the Covered Bridge Bicycle Tour. It’s an Ideal activity for someone, young or old, who wants to help out in the community, but doesn’t always have the time or resources. The group is a wonderful resource and support for people
For the resourceful young person, ham radio operators can also build their own equipment. This will come in handy for the young person who chooses a career in electronic assembly or engineering. Anyone with the skills can build all their own equipment and make it work. This includes transceivers, antennas, and amplifiers. Although a license is need to operate any kind of ham radio, anyone with the technological know-how can build and one and just listen. That is how many hams got their start into the hobby. Many operators found that too many things in their youth were too slow and boring to them, so they would spend their allowance and lunch money on radio kits from the local electronics shop and built their own radios to listen to air waves from around the world. The young people who enjoy building their own computers or writing their own software would probably enjoy ham radio. Many of our modern conveniences were designed and/or built by hams. People with these skills usually have little trouble passing the test to obtain a license.
According to http://www.arrl.org/files/file/Scouting/AMATEUR%20RADIO%20IN%20SCOUTING%20Mel%20Goldberg.pdf, young people want to be shown how, not told how to enjoy the radio. Don’t tell them the benefits; let them find the benefits for themselves. Boy Scout, ARES groups and classes are great ways to show young people what ham radio can do for them.
Everyone who wishes to communicate via ham radio must be licensed by the FCC. There are three license classifications in amateur radio licensing; technician, general and extra class. Getting the technician class study book is recommended. These books are available from the ARRL website, the Gordon West School (www.gordonwestradioschool.com), or ham radio stores. The questions from the tech tests are pulled from a pool of about 300 questions; however, only 35 of those questions are on each individual test (www.arrl.org/getting-your-technician-license). The technician license is the entry level of ham radio. It is for beginners and allows operation on only on very high frequency (VHF), ultra high frequency (UHF) and small parts of the high frequency (HF) band.
The next level up is the general class. This class allows much more band usage, but the test is a little harder to pass. This test pulls 50 questions from the question pool. Once a person has earned a general class “ticket”, he or she will be able to use the high frequency bands and be able to communicate to farther places easer. Because radio waves can “skip” off the atmosphere in certain conditions, speaking to someone on the other side of the world can be more common.
Extra class is the last ham license available. The extra class exam also pulls 50 questions from the pool. This level allows privileges on all ham radio frequency bands, including microwave communication, but it goes beyond that. A person with this privilege can do everything the FCC allows on the amateur bands including amateur TV, Earth-Moon-Earth bounce and even talking to people through satellites and digital communications. There is a whole world of ham radio out there for anyone to explore, all that’s needed is the will to reach out and grab it.
There is no age limit for ham radio. Anyone who can past the tests can get a license and a call sign. In May of 2011 an 8 year old girl earned her license. (articles.orlandosentinel.com/2011-05-07/news/os-ham-radio-deltona-girl-20110507_1_youngest-ham-radio-national-ham-radio-group-ham-radio)
The worst part about ham radio is the cost of the equipment. The cost, however, is an investment, once you buy it, it’s yours. A handheld (HT) 2 meter radio can be purchased for as little as $80, on the other hand, some HT’s can cost more than $500. Mobile radios that go into vehicles can run from $140 to over $1000. A top of the line base unit radio can cost as much as $10,000. Those prices are just for the radios. There is also the added expense of power supplies, coax, masting, antennas, and anything else that is needed for operation.
The cost is not immediate. It has taken some hams many years to accumulate the equipment they have. Buying pieces at a time is usually the way many hams get their stuff. However, not all hams buy their equipment new. Many, (including myself) will go to “swap meets” known as hamfests to buy and sell used equipment at possibly greatly reduced prices.
The photo to the right is of my antennas. The one on the left is for 10 thru 80 meters and I got for free. The mast in the middle contains a 10 thru 12 meter vertical antenna and a VHF horizontal directional “beam” antenna. Both of there were very cheap, under $40 for both (used). The one on the right is for three different frequency bands, VHF, UHF and 6 meters. It was purchased at a reduced price from a friend. With this in mind, young people (or anyone) can obtain ham gear for not too much money.
The good part of ham radio is the people. With the right equipment and conditions it is possible to talk to people from all over the world and all walks of life. There are some remarkable people who are hams like kings, singers, actors, musicians, and members of state. Some of the people who are or were hams are King Hussein of Jordon; legendary news anchor Walter Cronkite; Singer Ronnie Millsap; singer, performer Lance Bass of N’SYNC; singer, musician Joe Walsh of the Eagles and the James Gang; Stephen G. “Steve” Wozniak, co-founder of Apple; Timothy Gaines bassist for the rock group Stryper; Art Bell, legendary radio talk show host; and even Oregon Congressman Greg Walden are some interesting people that you can talk to on the air as a ham. Ham radio was even featured on an episode of talk show host Glenn Beck’s TV program, “Blaze TV” (youtu.be/6uXT8zZbRFk).
Ham radio and ham radio related material has even made appearances in Hollywood with movies like Contact, We Were Soldiers, Frequency, and 8MM. In the ABC TV sitcom “Last Man Standing”, ham radio makes constant appearances. Even the main character in the show, Mike Baxter, is a ham.
People who are hams and hams who have non-hams in their life know that not all people have the will, patience or interest to sit in front of a radio or computer monitor for hours on end and listen to; or call “CQ DX”(calling long distance) or wait for a response from the computer as digital signal are broadcasted. I know not all young people will enjoy the hobby, but many who look into it find themselves drawn to it and it becomes passing phase with learning potential. With many, however, it becomes a life-long passion. The fact is most amateur radio operators are older gentlemen. These older people are passing away at an alarming rate, so the need to get “fresh blood” into the hobby is quite important. The target is to get young people in to ham radio. Young people have the will to learn and the ability to get out and get things done in the community. Many young people are becoming hams every day, but the hobby needs the intellect and energy of young people to continue ham radio communication for years to come.

For those who are interested in becoming a licensed amateur radio operator, one could either contact a friend or family member who is a ham or go to http://www.arrl.org, or contact the Gordon West Radio School at http://www.gordonwestradioschool.com and join the fascinating world for ham radio for a lifetime of fun, learning and community service.

About D.K. Hummel
I am a dis-placed Alaskan, Ham radio operator, Broadcaster/DJ, Seahawk fan, Alaska Aces fan, U.S. Army Vet, and a conservative; but not always in that order.

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