(Relatively) younger guy interested in getting into ham radio

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VGSMC_8520

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I'm probably 20 years younger than than the average ham radio operator in the US, but I'm looking to get into the hobby. I've been listening to scanners for the last 15 years or so, and sometimes listen to the 2m and 70cm bands. I also have a CB in my truck that gets occasional use on the highway and off-road. I have a pretty good grasp on fundamental radio knowledge, and have taken several practice exams so I'm confident I can get licensed easily with a little more study.

Now please don't take offense to this next part, but much of what I hear in the ham bands is kind of..ummmm...boring... I'm less interested in shooting the breeze and jawing about whatever for hours on end, and more interested in the practical applications of ham radio: communications on the road, emergency/community service communications, building/fixing hardware, data transmission, etc.

So my question is this: what can I do with my technician license, particularly while mobile? I'm a computer programmer by day, and I'm also interested in how computers and ham radio overlap.
 

w2xq

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I encourage you to go through the ARRL web site. Lots of digital stuff in many directions. Contact the EOC in your county and explore ARES/RACES; see k2eoc.org as an example. Good luck. HTH.
 

AgentCOPP1

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Computers intertwine with ham radios much more than you think. With your technician license, it allows you to do things like normal repeater operations (obviously), Echolink, IRLP, packet communication (I'm sure you're familiar with that concept), D-Star, satellite communications (my personal favorite, very cheap to do), and a few portions of the 10m and 15m bands.

Since I know the most about satellites, I'll just focus on that. You seem like a very technically-inclined individual, so I think you would really want to look into satellites. Basically you have to understand how satellites orbit the earth and learn a fair amount about how space communication affects radio waves. More specifically, you have to understand concepts like radio polarization (exact same concept as polarized sunglasses), the Doppler effect etc and how those things affect the ability of your signal to be repeated from space. It's extremely exhilarating when you make your first contact using orbiting satellites. Not only can you do that, but you can listen in on pretty much ANY satellite out there that transmits in or around the ham bands, so you can hear lots of telemetry data (mainly Morse code). That in and of itself is exciting, knowing you're listening to signals from space.

If you want more information on it, I'd be glad to help you. We could even try to make a contact on the SO-50 satellite sometime if our schedules can work it out once you get your license. And by the way, don't even mention to me that you are a "younger" ham. I'm 17 years old so how do you think I feel? Haha.

Also about your comment on the other thread about having nothing in common with other people, you find a way to have something in common, trust me. More often than not, ham radio is one of the more popular topics among us hams (surprise surprise) because it's something we all have in common, so even if you're just starting out, you still have something in common with people. Most hams are friendly and it's really no different than conversing with the "normal" people of the world, so if I of all people can get over that generational gap, I'm positive you can too.
 
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N0IU

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Now please don't take offense to this next part, but much of what I hear in the ham bands is kind of..ummmm...boring...
None taken! If your scanning has been limited to 2m and 70cm, I would have to say that your assessment of amateur radio is correct for the most part.

If you found the Technician questions to be pretty easy, then I say continue with your studies and go for your General license. You don't have to do it at the same test session, but many do. The Technician class gives you a very small taste of the HF bands, but the General class gives you access to all of them (but not full bandwidth on all of them).

As far as data transmissions, this is one area where you will have a field day (pun intended?) since there are several very robust digital modes. With the General license, you will have access to the digital portions of all bands. One of the oldest, but still very popular modes is RTTY (Radio Teletype). That has pretty much been taken over by a mode called PSK31. The latest "craze" these days is called JT65. If you Google® "amateur radio digital modes". you will get tons of responses. Here is just one of many sites that gives a fairly comprehensive overview of some of the digital modes: Digital Modes

For most HF radios, you will need some sort of "sound card interface" to facilitate communications between your computer and your radio, but in the last few years, more and more radios are coming with USB ports which elimintes the need for an external interface. Amateur radio equipment is slowly catching up to the 20th century!

Good luck!
 

zz0468

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Phoenix has some interesting 70cm activity going on if you can find it, but all the good repeaters are private. Otherwise, both bands can be pretty dull.

With a Technician license, you get access to a sliver of the 10 meter band, cw privileges on a few other HF bands, and full privileges above 50 MHZ.

So... what to do?

VHF/UHF/microwave weak signal work while portable can be a huge amount of fun. A lot of it is done while contesting, but not all. Moonbounce is a severe technical challenge. There are some digital modes being used for that that enable very modest stations to work via the moon.

Building and operating repeaters and remote bases is fun, but is best left as a group effort. Repairing and restoring older equipment can be fun, and surprisingly low cost. A Technician license is perfect if you want to experiment with antennas.

The original purpose of the Technician license wasn't as an entry level license. It was intended for people who want to experiment and had no interest in traditional operating on the HF bands.

I just scratched the surface, but that's some of the stuff that I'm interested in.
 
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VGSMC_8520

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AgentCOPP1 - Thanks for mentioning satellites, that's a great example of the type of stuff I would like to explore and experiment with amateur radio. And if you're 17 and find it easy enough to fit in with the community, I shouldn't have any trouble getting started. (For the record, I'm 30).

More often than not, ham radio is one of the more popular topics among us hams (surprise surprise) because it's something we all have in common...
That's good, because none of my friends want to hear me talk about C# .NET or JQuery, let alone any of this radio stuff.
 
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VGSMC_8520

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Repairing and restoring older equipment can be fun, and surprisingly low cost. A Technician license is perfect if you want to experiment with antennas.
Great idea, old electronics are quite fascinating to me, especially those that are still working and in use. I love reading about and looking at pictures of all types of old tech.

A related question would be what sort of antenna options I would have for a base setup, as I live on the 16th floor of a high rise building in a downtown urban center. I have no (permitted) roof access for antennas, but I have two balconies, both north facing. They're concrete with a steel railing going around them that is 40" from the floor, the ceiling is 105". There are several tall buildings within close proximity as well. The owners' association is pretty lax with allowing people with south-facing units to have all sorts of satellite dish configurations, so I can't imagine they'd have any issue with a comparatively less obtrusive simple base antenna. I figured it could be clamped to the railing as people do with their dishes. Where would that leave me antenna-wise?
 

zz0468

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Great idea, old electronics are quite fascinating to me, especially those that are still working and in use. I love reading about and looking at pictures of all types of old tech.
There's a start. There are lots of clubs and groups dedicated to older technology.

A related question would be what sort of antenna options I would have for a base setup, as I live on the 16th floor of a high rise building in a downtown urban center. I have no (permitted) roof access for antennas, but I have two balconies, both north facing.
I'd start by determining what you're interested in participating in. You have a built in limitation to doing anything overly complex. A couple of simple antennas for repeater access might be a start, but that would likely get old real fast.

Over my ham career, I've made it a point to NOT live anywhere that I don't have the ability to put up at least some modest antennas. You might consider relocating to support your hobby better. That's always easier said than done.

Another option is to plan on doing some of the more interesting stuff while portable. Portable HF is a lot of fun, and so is portable satellite work. You really don't have to go too far out of Phoenix before you get into some clear uncluttered desert.

From 16 floors up, you'd do quite well on UHF and microwave weak signal stuff, at least in the directions you have a clear shot. A heavy duty tripod for various temporary antennas would work well both at home, and while portable, and no one could say anything about permanent mounts that could "damage" the building. A horizontal UHF yagi on a tripod could get you contacts 500 miles out, if the local clutter doesn't kill it.

So, think along those lines. Your imagination is the limit, if you really want to do this.
 

vagrant

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You could make a J-Pole antenna, or whatever for the bands you're interested in. As for store bought, there are various brands. For your situation I wonder how well a Diamond NR770HA (Vehicle Mobile) would compare to a Diamond X50A (Home base). Either would fit your specs/situation. I would be tempted to try both in your situation, but I enjoy testing. Those antennas would be your omni-directional options, or whatever flavor/brand you find. Obviously, your building will attenuate signals from the other side.

As previously mentioned you could also enjoy a directional antenna. Some PVC pipe in a tripod, or loosely clamped to the rail, and an Elk Log Periodic antenna would really shoot out and receive a good signal. You could also use it handheld for satellite work. Arrow also makes a dual band directional antenna. Having tried both I found the Elk to be not as focused as the Arrow. That can be good and bad. The Elk is my favorite for satellite work, but the Arrow is best for Fox hunts.

Get your General license right away. It opens up the world of HF to you and plenty of modes. It also opens up your wallet to more gear. Anyways, PSK31 is fun and doesn't require you to blast 100 watts.
 

AgentCOPP1

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AgentCOPP1 - Thanks for mentioning satellites, that's a great example of the type of stuff I would like to explore and experiment with amateur radio. And if you're 17 and find it easy enough to fit in with the community, I shouldn't have any trouble getting started. (For the record, I'm 30).



That's good, because none of my friends want to hear me talk about C# .NET or JQuery, let alone any of this radio stuff.
There are plenty of 20-40 year olds in the club where I live. I think the main reason behind the apparent generational gap is because most people today don't really know what ham radio is all about, and with an ever-increasing number of people becoming interested in computer programming and design (I'm going into computer engineering), I completely believe that many of them would like ham radio if they just knew the vast scope of it. I think that when the common person hears of ham radio, they just shrug it off because they think it's just a bunch of old people sitting around glowing tubes and listening to static, with the occasional talk of how terrible each other's health is. The problem is just that they don't know how technologically advanced ham radio is. I know that's how I was at first.

There is pretty much something for everyone in ham radio. There's digital modes, circuit building, antenna designing, social chit chat, contesting, solar science, Earth-moon-earth propagation, ISS communications, program scripting... I think you get the point haha. I'm just ranting though.

But back to your main point, you will have absolutely no trouble at all finding something in common with hams. The older hams are usually the ones who are more out and about because they're retired and have the time to do that kind of stuff. You don't really see the hams who have jobs as much because... they have jobs. That doesn't mean they aren't involved, you just don't see them as much so your initial perception of the ham community might be slightly false.
 

shortwaver

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Very interesting thread.

I'm just a bit older than you and getting ready to take the technicians exam. I have worked in computers/networking for years and found the radio hobby a natural fit for my spare time. I've been interested in shortwave listening and radios for years but never found a way, or need, to look further into ham radio - until I looked into satellites a bit more. As a big space buff, I am looking foward to connecting 3 of my favorite things together in one hobby.

Your initial post just struck me as if I wrote it myself. I felt that the hobby "seemed" stuck and I wasn't sure that I would find anyone that I would have anything in common, at least locally. Its refreshing to see the interest from others.
 
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VGSMC_8520

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Good to know there's more people like myself here. I've been busy with work and haven't made any plans to take the technician exam yet, but it's still on the to-do list. I never found the need to consider a ham license before either because, as I mentioned above, everything I heard on ham bands was boring. I was content goofing with scanners, but now I see that ham radio can be incorporated into my other computer hobbies and I've decided to give it a go.
 

LtDoc

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Until you've gotten a 'taste' of it I honestly don't think you can know how much fun this hobby can be. So, get a taste of it! Big difference between listening and participating.
The only other suggestion I'll make is that you should NOT stop at the Technician class license. Go at least for the General class license. The Tech limits you to certain bands, with the General you only limit your self. Another big difference...
- 'Doc
 

popnokick

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Here's another vote for Software Defined Radio (SDR). It is inexpensive to get started (read the SDR Forum posts here) and will fully engage both your computer and radio / antenna interests.
 

shortwaver

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Here's another vote for Software Defined Radio (SDR). It is inexpensive to get started (read the SDR Forum posts here) and will fully engage both your computer and radio / antenna interests.
I've been playing around with SDR for a while and I agree that it's a natural fit for someone comfortable with computers. I also bought a Commradio CR-1 a short time ago and can see that there is a bright future for SDR.
 

TheSpaceMan

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You could make a J-Pole antenna, or whatever for the bands you're interested in. As for store bought, there are various brands. For your situation I wonder how well a Diamond NR770HA (Vehicle Mobile) would compare to a Diamond X50A (Home base). Either would fit your specs/situation. I would be tempted to try both in your situation, but I enjoy testing. Those antennas would be your omni-directional options, or whatever flavor/brand you find. Obviously, your building will attenuate signals from the other side.

As previously mentioned you could also enjoy a directional antenna. Some PVC pipe in a tripod, or loosely clamped to the rail, and an Elk Log Periodic antenna would really shoot out and receive a good signal. You could also use it handheld for satellite work. Arrow also makes a dual band directional antenna. Having tried both I found the Elk to be not as focused as the Arrow. That can be good and bad. The Elk is my favorite for satellite work, but the Arrow is best for Fox hunts.

Get your General license right away. It opens up the world of HF to you and plenty of modes. It also opens up your wallet to more gear. Anyways, PSK31 is fun and doesn't require you to blast 100 watts.
I agree about that ELK 2m/440 beam antenna! I have one, and it's just amazing how far away I can reach with it.
 
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VGSMC_8520

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Been exploring SDR for a few weeks now, and it's been quite fun. I purchased the Nooelec SDR USB adapter, downloaded the files included on the product page and I was running SDRSharp on my Windows 8.1 machine in just a few minutes:

NooElec - NooElec NESDR Mini SDR & DVB-T USB Stick (R820T) w/ Antenna and Remote Control - Software Defined Radio

SDRSharp is of particular interest to me as C# is my pimary develpment language; I'm enjoying playing with the software as well as exploring the source code.
 

pinballwiz86

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Get your Technician's license.
Buy a Baofeng UV-5R or if you wanna spend a few more bucks Yaesu FT-60R.
Then look online for "repeaters" in your area.

That'll get you on the air as soon as the battery is charged.


Later, you can upgrade to a base with roof mounted antenna, etc. have fun!

Oh, and computers and ham radio overlap with "digital modes" like JT65.
 

khooke

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I got my tech last year and general the following month and went straight to HF. Like you I started with CB, did some SWL, had a couple of scanners. I also decided that the local chit chat on VHF repeaters wasn't that interesting, but the prospect of making DX contacts on HF was what got me interested. I'm a couple of months short of my first year and have logged almost 500 HF contacts, and have done voice and most of the digital modes too: PSK31, RTTY, JT65.

The digital modes really got my attention - being able to get a few thousand miles with just 10w and a wire dipole in the attic really amazes me every time :) Every country is a 'new one' right now so I'm having a lot of fun!

Kevin KK6DCT
 
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