Amateur Means Unpaid -

Not Unprofessional!

Why Amateur Radio?

One of the important aspects of disaster preparedness is communications. After a major earthquake or other disaster, it's very likely that our daily means of communication, land lines, cell phones, and the internet won't work. Of those, land lines are most likely to work, but, if history repeats itself, enough phones will get knocked "off the hook" that the system will quickly become overwhelmed. Add that to the fact that so many people use cordless phones that don't work without power, and communications surely will be a problem. This need lead me to Amateur Radio (often call Ham Radio.) It is very likely that Amateur Radio will be the most reliable, if not the only, means of communication after a major disaster. Because Amateur Radio equipment can communicate over long distances without relying on repeaters (radio re-transmitters that receive a local radio signal and retransmit it at higher power and usually from an advantageous high mountain peak), amateur radio operators can communicate both locally and over long distances. I belong to several amateur radio groups, including Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES), an affiliate of the American Radio Relay League (ARRL). ARES is a national group of amateur operators who train to provide emergency communications in an disaster. In Southern California, ARES works closely with the hospitals to provide back-up communications during a disaster. For example, following the 2010 Easter Day earthquake near the California and Mexican border, Spanish speaking Los Angeles area ARES members provided the first communications with the badly damaged areas in Mexico. In another example, during the devastating 2008 Sayre brush fire in northern Los Angeles, all communication with Olive View-UCLA County Hospital was lost as the fire burned uncomfortably close to the hospital. An ARES member, Marty Woll (N6VI), who still had his radio equipment loaded in his car from "The Great California Shake Out" training exercise less than two days earlier and who had significant experience training at Olive View., Despite roadblocks, fire, smoke, confusion and having to park a long way from the hospital and, therefore, having to carry as much equipment as he could, Marty responded quickly and established the communication necessary to expedite the hospitals evacuation. Ultimately, firefighters saved the hospital, but the fire burned right up to the parking lots. You can read Marty's account here. Scroll down to "Up Close and Personal: ARES Op Provides Sayre (California) Fire Communications."

Another amateur radio group I'm a member of is the Los Angeles Fire Department Auxiliary Communications Service (LAFD ACS). ACS is a group of volunteer amateur radio operators who train to supplement or replace the LAFDs radio system in a disaster. Should the LAFDs system fail, or be significantly limited, these volunteers will set up portable radio equipment at key sites throughout the City so that critical messages can be passed via amateur radio. We also volunteer

to provide radio services for special events such as the Hollywood Christmas Parade and the March Of Dimes March For Babies.

You want to get your ham license!

I've been interested in ham radio since I was a kid, but I never could muster the dedication to learn morse code. It wasn't until I became interested in disaster preparedness that I revisited the idea of getting my amateur radio license. There was some good news when I decided to give it a try.....the morse code requirement had been eliminated. I did some research and found that it was actually very easy to get my entry level license, called the "Technician" license. The internet offers a variety of assets to make studying easy.

First, let's talk about the test. The Technician test is a 35-question multiple-choice test. You have to correctly answer 74% of the questions, which means you can miss 9-questions. While there are a few technical questions, most are rules and regulations mixed with some common sense. The technical stuff is pretty easy to learn and there are some "tricks" to make it pretty easy. Most of the study aids I'll mention deal with learning just enough to pass the test, which is a valid way to study. You can learn more as you get more into radio. Of course, if you want to learn more than just enough to pass, there are multi-week courses and learning manuals available.

All levels of amateur radio tests are administered by amateur radio operators who volunteer to be test givers. These Volunteer Examiners give the tests, often in conjuction with local amateur radio clubs or emergency communications groups. The cost to take the test varies, but is usually in the $4.00 to $15.00 range. For the entry level "Technician" test, upon passing the test the documents are electronically forwarded to the FCC and your license becomes valid when your new call sign appears in the FCC Register, which can take as little as 7-days.

There a several ways to study, ranging from self study to multi-week classes. To self study, I recommend you either buy either the ARRL or Gordon West manuals, or download the free "No Nonsense" manual. Working with the manuals, you learn the materials at your pace. Once you feel comfortable with the materials, you can take practice tests at sites like QRZ.com. Once you consistently pass the practice test with 85% or better, you're ready to take the actual test.

Another option for self study is to take an online course, such as is offered by Ham Test Online. This is a paid study site that mixes learning content with practice tests. I'm currently using this service to study for my "Extra" license and find it works well for me. What I like most is that the software remembers the questions you answer incorrectly and offers them to again mixed in with the new content. By the time you get through the course, you should be more than ready to ace the exam.

If you're not the self-study type of learner, you can often find a test cram course. These classes are usually one or two days long and teach just enough to pass the test. If you're in the Los Angeles area, Norm and Naomi Goodkin offer an excellent one day cram course, taught once each quarter. They teach you to pass the test and offer the test at days end. They have an excellent passing percentage.

The last option is to take a more extensive course. If you can spare the time, this is the best way to really learn ham radio. These longer form courses often spread the learning over six to eight weeks and are offered in most larger cities. Check your local ham radio club or the ARRL Class finder to locate a class.

At the right edge of this page is a group of internet links to study materials and classes. Finally, your local radio club will likely have mentors, called "Elmers" in ham radio jargon, who can help you with your studies.

You earned your ticket, now what?

So you've passed your technician exam and finally have your ham radio license. Congratulations! But now what? What equipment should I buy, and once I have it, what should I do with it? Big questions, with a nearly unlimited number of answers. So let me help you sort it out. First, I'm going to assume that your primary focus will be emcomm, or emergency communications, although the equipment I'm going to recommend is applicable to most of the interests in amateur radio. First, let's talk equipment. Not too many years ago, amateur radio equipment was made by only a handful of companies. More recently, the Chinese have turned that all upside down. Offering everything from junk to some pretty high quality equipment, the Chinese have accomplished two things; They've added variety to the market and they've driven prices down on name brand equipment. So what should you buy? Most new hams start with a handheld radio. They're the least expensive option and offer significant flexibility. While a mobile radio offers more power, they cost more and aren't as flexible. So, for sake of argument, let assume you're going for a handheld. How much you're willing to spend makes a great difference. Higher price doesn't necessarily indicate better quality, but it may mean more features. Here are three radios on the lower end of the price range that are good starter radios. All three radios are dual band (2-meter VHF and 70-cm UHF), have similar features, and are software programmable. The least expensive option I'd recommend is the Baofeng UV-5 series. These are very inexpensive (under $50.00), but pretty good quality, dual band handheld rados. They're available in several variations, but are all essentially the same radio with only cosmetic differences. I own two of the UV-5r+ radios that I bought on Amazon.com. So far, I'm impressed with the quality and performance.
The next step up the line is the Wouxun KG-UVDx series. This is another Chinese radio that is also offered in several versions. The most recent version is the KG-UV8D and sells for about $130.00. This radio has several features not available in the Baofeng model, most notably crossband repeat capability, a larger display, and 999 memories. The Wouxun also features a larger speaker for improved audio quality. Other than purchase price, the other big advantage of these Chinese radios is that accessories are very inexpensive. There is a good freeware software program called Chirp that can be used to program the memories on both the Baofeng and Wouxun and many other popular radios. You can download the lastest version of Chirp here. Both radios are available at many internet retailers including Amazon.com.
The third radio I'd recommend is the Yaesu FT-60. Yaesu, although not a household name, is one of the leading brands in amateur radio. The FT-60 has most of the advantages of the Wouxun and the advantage that it has 1000-memories. It also has a wide receive range, allowing it to tune into the 800mhz. band so it can listen to the Los Angeles Fire Department radio transmissions. The radio and accessories are a bit more expensive than the Wouxun. The programming software is not free, although there are some free aftermarket programs that are pretty good. The radio is also available online, or at Ham Radio Outlet in Burbank or online. It sells for about $150.00 shipped. This radio sold for more than $250.00 18-months ago, so the price has really come down. I own both the Wouxun and Baofeng radios and am very happy with them. Although the Baofeng's are pretty new to me, I've had the Wouxun for more than four years and it's been a great radio. I think, though, if I was buying today I'd really have to consider the Yaesu at it's new, lower price.
Regardless of which radio you buy, I'd recommend you buy at least one extra rechargable battery, a battery case for throw-away batteries, and a programming cable. I'd also recommend you buy a magnetic mount antenna. Magnetic mount antennas are a versitile way to extend your transmission range without the trouble of permanently mounting an antenna. The base contains a powerful magnet that allows you to securely, but temporarly, mount the antenna on any metallic surface. The surface can be anything from the roof of your car to a cookie sheet on your patio. There are many types of magnetic mount antennas out there in a wide price range. Again, they're available online or at Ham Radio Outlet in Burbank.
OK, so you've got your license and you have a radio, what's next? The first thing to do is to get your radio programmed. This can be done by manually entering the information via the keypad or by using software and your PC. Although it's very important that you know how to manually program your radio, using your programming software will make the job quite simple. What frequencies you program depends on the ogranizations you join, etc. This is where you might call on an experienced ham (known as an Elmer in the hobby) to mentor you!
Lastly, you've got your license and a programmed radio, now what? The answer is, Get on the air. One of the best ways to do this is to visit a net, which is a meeting on the radio. Nets are held by organizations and clubs, and most are very accepting of visitors. You can find information on local nets online or at your local ham radio store. I've listed a few local nets in a box on the right side of this page. If you're in the San Fernando Valley, check in to the Lake Balboa Emergency Preparedenss net on Sunday mornings. I'm the net control operator (essentially the host)and it's a very friendly net for new hams. We start at 9 AM on 145.570 in simplex mode. When I call for check-ins, just give your call sign. I'll acknowlege you and probably ask your name and location. I may also ask what equipment you're using, as one of the purposes of the net is to learn how different equipment works in different areas. We typically have check-ins from all over the San Fernando Valley and occasionally from other areas.

Candygram for Mongo

Although it's probably been decades since you got a telegram, there is a related message system that's still alive and well. The system is called the National Traffic System (NTS). Although the NTS was formally started in 1949, it is based on a system dating back to 1914. The NTS is an amateur radio based message relaying system. Although archaic when compared to modern communications systens, the NTS has one big advantage, reliability. In fact, it's the simple nature of the NTS that makes it important. The NTS relies only on individual amateur radio operators to pass messages from one operator to the next as they pass a message from coast to coast. In an emergency, traditional communications systems may fail with power outages or damage to infrastructure. But individual amateur operators trained in the NTS will be able to continue to pass messages around the country via their battery operated radios. The similarity to telegrams comes in the form of the message. NTS "radiograms" (consist of short (usually 25-words, or less) formal messages. Amateur radio operators, myself included, practice passing messages weekly so we'll be ready when called upon.

2150 To Headquarters!

One of my favorite TV shows when I was a kid was Highway Patrol starring Broderick Crawford. In one episode, called Radioactive, Dan Mathews uses the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) to contact an amateur radio operator who unknowingly purchased a stolen electronic device containing radioactive beads. Mathews had to find the "ham" before he and his pregnant wife were exposed to the radioactivity!

. : Amateur Radio Training Resources

 
 

. : Amateur Radio Nets

 
  •   Lake Balboa Sunday Simplex Net -
      Sundays, 9:00 AM - 145.570   (Simplex)

  •    LAFD ACS Evening Net -
       Mondays, 7:30 PM - 147.30 MHz (+)    PL-110 -or- 224.68 MHz (-) PL-114

  •    LAFD ACS Afternoon Net -    Thursdays, 12:15 PM* - 147.30 MHz     (+) PL-110 -or- 224.68 MHz (-)       PL-114

  •     ARES-LAX N/W Net -
        Mondays, 9:00 PM - On TheDARN System

  •    SOCAL Mutual Aid Network -    Tuesdays, 7:00 PM - On TheMARS System

  •    *Net start time may vary by 5 or 10-minutes

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