HAM Radio 101

Five Mistakes I Made as a New Ham, Part 1: Going it Alone

Editor’s Note: Troy Blair, KE8DRR, DX Engineering customer/technical support specialist, enjoys sharing personal stories about his involvement in amateur radio so others can learn from his experiences in the true spirit of being an Elmer. Check out some of Troy’s other articles including, QRP Operation: How Low Can You Go” and Lightening Your Go Kit,” and look for more from his “Five Mistakes” series this month.

When I hear that a ham has abandoned the hobby, one of the most common reasons given is that it was “just too hard to get started.” Getting the license is the easy part. It is what you do with that license that can present a challenge. In this next series of articles, I will share the five biggest mistakes I made in hopes of saving new amateur operators the same agony I faced.

Mistake #1…Going it Alone

I’m a smart guy, right? I don’t need anyone to help me make this happen. So I went online and ordered not one but two radios for $35, including an upgraded antenna and battery. I received the radios and tried programming them. The provider offered no support and the suggested software bricked one of the radios, which the retailer refused to take care of because it was user-induced. But I am pretty hardheaded, so I moved forward in pursuit of enjoying my new hobby.

I found a local ham club. This became an invaluable resource—a collection of knowledge, wisdom, and experience all in one room. The club atmosphere fosters relationships where members invite you into their shack to see what is working for them. Additionally, they may offer to come to your shack and assist you in setting up your equipment properly.

I also found a reputable ham radio shop where I met some friendly hams and sales staff. They talked to me about features of different brands and models, both good and not so good. They also offered their opinions, and there was no short supply of those. We all chuckled about my first attempt at getting on the air and then they made sure I had a good QSO under my belt before leaving the store.

This final source of ham radio information I will list with tongue in cheek—the internet. The internet has a wealth of knowledge. Sometimes I feel I learn more weeding through all of the information to find the one or two articles that actually are spot on. My point is that everyone is an expert in their own mind. Take the time to sort out the facts from the conjecture and discover what aligns with good theory and practice. Many times in the early days I would take something I saw online and run it past an Elmer. Sometimes they would take what I found and build on it and other times they would just hang their head and sigh.

I lost a lot of time—and hair—trying to figure it all out on my own. Don’t be like I was. Find a club with an Elmer attitude where you can both give and receive of your time and talent. Develop a relationship with experienced ham radio providers who can help you make the right purchase and are known for delivering technical support and customer service. Finally, use the internet judiciously when you need to know something and can’t sleep in the wee hours of the night.

Take care and 73!

Leave a Reply