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What is HAM Radio?

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NewSDScanner

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This may sound kinda basic/silly but I am serious. Currently, I listen to mainly public safety using a GRE PSR-500, Radio Shack Pro-106, and a Motorola XTS3000 at work. I use a conventional repeated system at work that also has a dispatch room and base station so I am not at all new to radio. I just don't know exactly what ham is and what it involves.

Is ham literally just a frequency range that citizens can broadcast on like CB? If so, what's the difference between it and CB? What kinds of things do people broadcast on ham frequencies and how do people discover each other's transmissions? Thank you.
 

stevelton

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I would like to elaborate a bit more than the links above offer.

Ham Radio (not HAM) is a hobby meant for people who like to tinker with radio communications equipment and see how they can use that equipment of various radio frequencies.

While CB is meant more for people who dont really care about the technical aspect (hence the reason for no license or test) and they just want or need to talk with there voice to a localized area for personal business (hence the reason CB only get a few channels).

Think of radio bands as different electric voltages, you have 12v that is in your car, 120v that runs your home TV, and 240v that probably runs your clothes drier. Yes they are all "electricity" but they are used for different things.

The ham radio bands are capable of doing different things, not just talking with your voice, but converting pictures into sounds and sending them bouncing across the world to someone in Japan, or transmitting computer data bits to an astronaut on the International Space Station. And only doing all this " just for the fun of it".
I would guess only an 1/8th of Ham Radio is picking up a mic and talking, you have to think about which band you want to use based on how you want the signal to propagate, once you know the band, which mode will work the best for the type of information you want to send. Then you have to know how to do all that without interfering with anyone else!

Personally, I use ham radio to assist with weather spotting activities, teach young kids and those young at heart the joys of this versatile hobby, and to keep in touch with my local ham buddies, and talk about the latest antenna or radio project.

Some people compete in on air contests, seeing how many unique stations they can contact in a give period of time. There is so must to do, and you would be suprised how easy it can be to apply ham radio to an already existing hobby or daily routine.

Steven KC9GMX
 

W9BU

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Is ham literally just a frequency range that citizens can broadcast on like CB?
The amateur radio service is allocated many frequency ranges all across the radio spectrum, while CB radio only has a small slice of spectrum in the 27 MHz range. Amateur radio has allocated bands ranging from 1.8 MHz (just above the AM broadcast band) up into the microwaves.

If so, what's the difference between it and CB?
Amateur radio, in the US, is allocated many different frequency bands, as mentioned above. Amateur radio can legally run as much as 1500 watts output power. Amateur radio can use many more different communications modes (voice, Morse code, image, various forms of data) than CB which can only use voice. Amateur radio encourages experimentation in all aspects of communications.

What kinds of things do people broadcast on ham frequencies and how do people discover each other's transmissions?
Hams carry on casual conversation, engage in contests, try to see how many distant stations they can talk to, support public services events (bike rides, marathons, etc.), and assist public safety. On most amateur radio bands, there are accepted and well-known band plans which help you find activity. As examples: most PSK31 digital communications on the 20 meter band is centered around 14.070 MHz; FM voice repeaters in the 2 meter band are assigned to specific channels in that band; long distance communications on the 6 meter band is found in the 50.1 to 50.125 MHz frequencies.

I've often said that if you are bored with amateur radio, you haven't looked around enough. There are so many different frequencies, modes, and activities to choose from that there's always something new to learn and enjoy.
 

krokus

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Amateur Radio is many things to many people.

I have been involved in storm spotting on VHF, Jamboree on the Air on HF, contests on many frequency ranges, supported bike rides on VHF, search and rescue training missions on VHF, parades on VHF and UHF, and helped various people understand technology better.
 

NewSDScanner

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Thanks for your explanations! Along with those links, I now have a much better picture of what ham is all about! Question, out of curiosity, in what ways is ham used to assist public safety? I know public safety have their own radios but do they also listen on ham?
 

W2NJS

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The essence of ham PS work is usually health and safety messaging, working for people such as the Red Cross and similar agencies. In many emergency situations the first comm system to fail is the cell phone network in a locality, so the hams (on a trained and pre-planned basis) step in and handle backup comms for local agencies. To try describe all of the variants of ham involvement in this kind of work would fill a book, there are that many of them. You could see if your local library carries copies of QST magazine which is published every month by ARRL (mentioned above) and has a public service report/column in each issue.
 

majoco

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Actually the amateur radio bands start at 136kHz and there is an application in to have an even lower frequency....

....and you don't actually have to transmit to be called a Ham. I haven't been on the air for 25 years or so, but still maintain an active interest.
 

NewSDScanner

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Gotcha. Is there anything special you have to do to transmit? Say I have a VHF or UHF radio and I tune to a frequency and hear chatter. Can I literally just queue up and start talking or what are the limitations on that? I know with CB, you just queue up. Is ham the same way? Do people do that often?
 

satosi

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You need to get a license to transmit on Ham bands. There is a whole subforum about getting your license, you can check there. You also need a transceiver and a good antenna. There are many people on this forum who are much more knowledgeable than me, they might know more.
 

satosi

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It depends on the kind of license you have. The most basic license only allows you access to VHF and above ham bands, if I recall correctly.
 

krokus

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The accepted procedures for getting on the air, and into a conversation, depend on the mode, and whether there is a net in progress, a contest or you are calling CQ.

The best thing to do is listen, for awhile, and hear how the conversations happen.
 

cellblock776

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NewSDscanner,
Try this. Take one of your scanners, say your Radio Shack Pro-106, and use the Service Search to scan the Ham bands. The most active band is the 2Meter VHF segment from 144-148MHz. Your Pro-106 has this preprogrammed into the Service Search menus. Scan this band for a few days. You will more than likely hear several repeaters in the SD area used by your local hams. Just listen for a while. Try regular drive times when many hams talk to each other on their commutes. Listen in the evenings around 7-9pm for "Nets" where hams will check in and pass messages and news to each other. On weekends you may hear hams talking to each other while supporting events like walk-a-thons or bike races. Do a Google search for SD area ham clubs. Here are just a few I found doing that-
San Diego County Amateur Radio Council, SANDARC
That page has links to many clubs in the SD area at San Diego County Amateur Radio Council, SANDARC .
Check out all of the info there and scan the repeaters those clubs use. Those webpages show alot of what the clubs do. Great resources. Enjoy.
 

newsphotog

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While CB is meant more for people who dont really care about the technical aspect (hence the reason for no license or test) and they just want or need to talk with there voice to a localized area for personal business (hence the reason CB only get a few channels).
I'll disagree with this one. I've seen some CB'ers that tinker more than some hams.
 

W2NJS

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Amateur radio is not about "tinkering" with radios. It's about learning and using electronic knowledge in both the theoretical and practical sense. If you read the posts on this board you'll soon get a feel for the difference between people who really want to know how stuff works and those who just want to turn on a radio and listen or, in some cases, just talk.
 

N8IAA

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California, especially San Diego, is overpopulated on 2m. Try the 220-225MHz range and 440-448MHz ranges too. Lots to monitor. It's been 7 years since I've been in the San Diego area, my son was stationed at Pendleton before being deployed to Iraq, but I brought the wrong HT along to talk to the hams in the area. Do find a club in your area that you feel comfortable with, and let them show you the way to having fun in the amateur radio service. It will more enjoyable that way:)
HTH,
Larry
 
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