Tag: ham radio

My ham radio licensing journey is now over: M0ONP

A friend of my dad introduced me to ham radio when I was 7 years old. When I was 15 or so I passed my beginner’s exam and then I did nothing with it. I got my call sign when I was 24 years old and moving out of Argentina: LU5ARC. I never used it because Argentina is not part of CEPT (and I haven’t gone back except for short holidays).

To get that Argentinean license, I had to take three months of two evenings a week of lessons on theory, Morse code and operating a radio (just making QSOs on 80 meters). I actually collected about 10 QSLs from that time (I wish I knew where they are).

When I moved to the UK almost 7 years ago, I looked into transferring my license but I was told it was impossible. I wish they also told me how easy it was to get a license in the UK and I wouldn’t have waited so long to get started. Last year something else got me interested in radio and I decided to take the plunge and get licensed. I was delighted to see how easy it is.

The hardest part of getting licensed was waiting for the two day course to happen (at that point, I didn’t know about ML&S running them). Because of my previous experience with radio and the fact that I studied electronics and electromechanics in school, there was little to nothing that I didn’t know for the foundation level. Without too much effort I got my first British call sign: M6UON.

Then, I had to wait again and I was thrilled to find that ML&S run foundation and intermediate courses, as well as advanced exams so often. I took the course, pass the exam, and I got my intermediate license: 2E0GGE. A month after that, I took the advanced exam and I now have my full license M0ONP.

Oh… even before there was a foundation course available, I went to the RSGB convention and I took the three exams in a row for the FCC (American) license, so, even before managing to get M6UON, I got an extra (full) one for the US as AC1DM. So ironic!

2018-04-02-15-56-49.jpg

And now the fun begins. I lifted all possible restrictions. I can use the full 100W of my Icom IC-7300 as well as take my Icom ID-51E PLUS2 abroad and use it. I can also supervise unlicensed people so I’ve been introducing all my friends to ham radio. I either have friends that are genuinely interested in this technical hobby that’s going without them knowing about or very good friends that humor me when I spend hours explaining frequency, modulation, SWR, antennas, bandwidth, etc.

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Book Review: Advance! The Full Licence Book by Alan Betts, Steve Hartley

51Go0CzjPlL._SX346_BO1,204,203,200_This book felt of much lower quality than the previous two. There are many typos and editing errors and I noticed a few technical errors as well. I guess it makes sense the advanced saw less scrutiny than the beginner one as fewer people will ever get to this point. Or maybe it’s my bias because this is the first time I really need to learn from the book (the previous two were, mostly, revision of stuff I already knew).

What really annoyed me is that there were many explanations that felt it was missing definitions of terms of explanations of the most basic parts so, aside from memorizing the concepts, it was hard to learn from it.

I’m obviously still grateful that there’s a book that covers the syllabus of the test for the Full License. At the same time, I wish we, in the UK, had more and better material like in the US, where you have the Extra Class License Manual, a thick 496-pages long nice book, and the excellent Gordon West’s Extra Class 2012-2016, as well as one or two video courses on YouTube covering all the material.

Giving the the physics is the same for the US and the UK, and that the ham radio hobby is having trouble with not having enough people and resources, it would be nice to share more things across countries. I understand the regulations are different and complex, but still, the actual radio stuff could be exactly the same in the US, UK and many other countries.

★★☆☆☆

Buy Advance! The Full Licence Book

Book Review: Intermediate Licence – Building On The Foundation by Steve Hartley

s-l640I’m not a good person to judge this book because I not only have a technical background in electronics, I also got my American Extra-level license (AC1DM) before this one, so, I had to study all this material a few months ago. This feel like a revision.

Something that really surprises me about the book is that it says the ionosphere reflects radio waves. I understand we use that word in casual speech but I believe a book on ham radio should be more strict and use the correct term: refraction.

For whatever it matters, I passed the exam with a 43 out of 45 questions answered correctly.

★★★☆☆

Buy Intermediate Licence – Building On The Foundation

Book Review: General Class by Gordon West

I bought this book after watching a series of videos on YouTube that mentioned it:

61i+nE392VLThe book has a short introduction and then jumps straight into the question pool for the general class amateur radio exam. For each question, you have the four potential answers, followed by an explanation of the subject and the correct answer. Because the questions and the answer are so close, you might need to use a piece of paper to cover the answer while you think about the question without spoiling it.

I did my study mostly by watching the video and using https://hamstudy.org but the explanations on that website, sometimes, leave a lot to be desire. For quite a few questions, reading the explanations in this book helped a lot. It also has extra snippets of information spread throughout the book that are very nice.

Another positive thing about this book is that it’s full color. It has pictures but most importantly, diagrams and chart making use of the color range to make the information more accessible. Even though I know by heart some of that information, I find myself hopping they would make posters of these charts so I can hang them on my shack: they are beautiful and informative.

Oh… one more thing, I passed the test. Well, I passed the three tests in one sitting.

★★★☆☆

Buy 2015-2019 General Class in USA
Buy 2015-2019 General Class in UK
Buy 2015-2019 General Class in Canada

Trying to decide on a VHF/UHF radio

Next month, I’m taking my test to get a ham radio licence here in the UK. This is not my first licence. I’ve got LU5ARC years ago, as I was leaving Argentina, so, I never really got to use it. Years before that I’ve got a Yaesu FT411E, but I never transmitted with it due to lack of licence.

I don’t want that to happen again, so, as soon as I get my licence I want to hit the ground running and start using it. My plan right now is:

  1. Get a VHF/UHF hand held radio.
  2. Learn about antennas by reading:
  3. Get an antenna for VHF/UHF on my car (probably magnetic).
  4. Attempt to install a VHF/UHF vertical antenna in my house.
  5. Decide based on the information I have so far whether I can go for HF.
  6. Set up an HF base station.

Right now, I’m concerned about step 1. These are the things I’m after, in this order of preference:

  1. VHF
  2. UHF
  3. Ability to use a stationary vertical antenna
  4. Weather proofing
  5. D-Star (with GPS)
  6. APRS (with GPS)

I could try to get everything now, or maybe do it in stages. I’m not sure yet. I narrowed down my selection to these 5 radios:

  • Kenwood TH-D74
  • Icom ID-51 PLUS2
  • Icom IC-E91
  • Yaesu FT-60E
  • A Baofeng

Kenwood TH-D74

The ideal radio seems to exist and it’s the Kenwood TH-D74 (Buy: US). From what I’m seeing this piece of equipment is insane. It does everything and it does almost everything well (except maybe battery life). The price is also insane. If money was no object I would just get this radio and I’m done. I’d probably use it for many, many years.

Kenwood TH-D74

Icom ID-51 PLUS2

 

The runner up is the Icom ID-51 PLUS2 (Buy: US, UK). It’s more than 35% cheaper than the TH-D74 and it does everything but APRS. From this list it probably has the most bang for the buck since there are two ways of doing APRS: through D-Star repeaters that have it enabled or with an extra piece of kit that you plug to it. The audio quality seems not to be as good as the TH-D74 but it still is great. Like the TH-D74, this is a radio to buy, keep and don’t think about equipment for many years (at least not hand-helds).

Icom ID-51A PLUS2

After these two, we get into the get a radio now with the intention of upgrading later.

Icom IC-E91

Icom IC-E91The Icom IC-E91 cost less than half of the TH-D74 but I’m a bit puzzled by it. I cannot find a lot of reviews or information about it. It doesn’t seem to be a popular unit. It can do D-Star but to transmit GPS it requires an external GPS module that would put it close to the cost of an ID-51 PLUS2. When it comes to APRS, it’s the same story as for the other Icom on this list.

Yaesu FT-60

Yaesu FT-60The Yaesu FT-60 is a good solid radio. It cost about a sixth of the TH-D74 and it only ticks the VHF/UHF boxes on my requirements so this is definitely one to get started and upgrade later.

A Yaesu FT-411E was my first radio and I always had a soft spot for Yaesu, so it saddens me that they decided to make their own proprietary protocol for digital radio. This is why you don’t see any higher end Yaesu models, I don’t want to use nor support System Fusion. I really hope one day Yaesu will start producing equipment with D-Star, then I will consider again buying their higher end models.

A Baofeng

baofeng's messy product line in the uk

This would cost me the same as a pizza. It’s definitely in the buy something to get started and upgrade later. From a cost point of view, this is a no-brainier. I could just go ahead and buy one or two just for the lolz. I do have two issues with it:

The first is quality. Obviously I don’t expect high end quality, but I read some reports of horrible things. I don’t want to buy a paperweight.

The second issue is that I don’t know which one to get. Their line of products is a mess. In the UK they have a gazillion different models. They changed names three times (Pofang, Misuta). Their website is confusing and once I drill down on all the models, they seem to be all the same. If you look at their American presence, there they offer two radios with clear pros and cons, none of which are available in the UK.

Conclusion

Well, I don’t have one. I haven’t made a decision yet. I’d like to just buy a Baofeng now and upgrade later, but it sounds like I’m buying a problem. Getting the Yaesu seems a bit expensive for an upgrade-later path (but not too bad). Getting any of the high ends feel like throwing money for a toy instead of taking on a new hobby in a sensible manner.

Any word of advice?