HAM Radio 101

Ham Radio 101: Five Types of Operators You Should Want to Be

Getting on the bands for the first time is one of the most exciting and memorable experiences for any amateur radio operator. But don’t stop there! Whether it’s golf, rock climbing, or ham radio, there’s always that desire to improve your game and become better than you already are.

What kind of amateur radio operator do you want to be? Here are five examples that you can aspire to. They only require a commitment to become a more accomplished operator through effort and experience.

Involved in the Community: Public service is a rewarding way to make a contribution. Start by asking your local radio club if you can pitch in at a fun run, parade, or sporting event. By lending a hand, you help everything run more smoothly and learn about participating in directed nets.

Also, find out what emergency groups are active in your areaSkywarn, ARES, RACES, and CERT are examples. Your ARRL Section Manager or District Emergency Coordinator is a good place to start. If a group is active, join it. If no group exists, find some like-minded hams and consider organizing one.

An Elmer: Now that you’re a full-fledged ham, why not give a hand to others just starting out? You were once a beginner and (hopefully) you found an experienced mentor to help you alongwhy not pay it forward? You are in a great position to understand what a newcomer needs to know.

Elmers are the unsung heroes of amateur radio. They can help provide the necessary support that’s essential to growing good ham radio operators. Having someone that will give advice and answer your questions, no matter how seemingly stupid, is invaluable.

Things have changed over the years. Often hams were engineers, worked in the radio industry, or had careers in technical fields. Nowadays there are more people entering the hobby who don’t necessarily have a background in those areas. Add to that the rapid advances in communications technologySDR, DMR, and digital communication modes such as FT8 and JT4and Elmers are needed now more than ever.

Courteous: The cardinal rule for a transmitting ham is “listen first.” Remember, a frequency may sound clear to you, but a weak distant station may be using the frequency. Always ask, “Is the frequency in use?” before calling CQ. Also, take care while tuning up your radio–do this quickly and use no more power than is necessary.

Remember, whatever band you are using, your conversation is not private. Hundreds of listeners could be hearing you. Behave in a way that doesn’t negatively affect your reputation or that of amateur radio. Don’t poke the bear–avoid conversations about politics, race, religion, sex, or any other matter which may be considered offensive or in poor taste.

Realize that ham frequencies are shared worldwide, and there’s going to be occasional interference–there’s no reason to pick a fight or become paranoid. No one “owns” a frequency, and occasionally tempers flare during contests and DX pileups. Keep calm and carry on. Established nets present an interesting dilemma. It’s not the policy of NTS (National Traffic System) nets to insist on a clear channel, but other nets might request that you move. You have a legal right to stay, but it’s a considerate gesture to yield the frequency if you’re not involved in critical or emergency communications.

Respect band plans because they make it possible for every mode to have a chance to operate. You wouldn’t want to interfere with SSTV on 14.230 MHZ, even if it’s in the middle of the phone band allocations. Having a QSO on the 50.125 SSB calling frequency would be considered poor operating practice. You can find the ARRL suggested band plan here.

Supporter of the Hobby: Enthusiasm is contagious. People who love what they do seem to have a certain charisma or energy about them. They’re simply more enjoyable to be around. Show your ham spirit.

Our local club had numerous programs with guest speakers on Zoom during the Covid 19 pandemic. It’s tough to really connect with an audience via teleconferencing, but there were a select few who captured your attention in a big way. They all had several things in common: enthusiasm about ham radio, knowledge of their topic, and the ability to draw you in and participate.

We spend a good deal of time connecting with other hams in person and on the air. Some ways we can show our support and enthusiasm of the hobby include:

  •    Promoting friendship and goodwill with on-the-air QSOs, especially DX stations. Look for ways to get to know each other rather than quickly exchanging signal reports and 73s. When in person, be sure to welcome new hams to club gatherings and events.
  •    Put yourself out there. Reply to a CQ or call CQ yourself. It helps keep the magic of ham radio alive–and you could become someone’s first contact on the air.
  •    Try to keep track of everyone in the QSO. Hopefully someone has assumed the role of “traffic director” to make sure everyone has a chance to contribute to the discussion. If not, don’t hesitate to do it yourself.
  •    Openly praise other hams when you observe them doing something that you feel is especially deserving, such as helping demonstrate ham radio to a group of scouts or providing new hams with help programming their handheld radios.
  •    Invite local hams to participate in amateur radio clubs and events. You’d be surprised how many licensed amateurs don’t get involved.           

Progressive: Both your operating skills and equipment should evolve as you continue to participate in the hobby. For example, if you become active in DXing, you need to master skills like operating split frequencies, utilizing a DX Cluster to spot DX, and “operating by the numbers.”

Keep your equipment relatively up-to-date and in working order. That doesn’t mean going out and buying the latest and greatest transceiver or antenna. However, you should be able to reliably get on the air on the bands and modes you regularly operate without causing interference to other hams or your neighbors.

Embrace technology–we have several “old-timers” in our club who don’t have an email address or Internet access. They’re missing out!

Doing the Right Thing: Good amateur practice follows the same basic tenets of the Golden Rule–the principle of treating others as one wants to be treated. Being a conscientious ham does require some practice and effort, but it’s well worth it to make the ham community a better place. Former FCC Special Counsel Riley Hollingsworth, K4ZDH, once said, “Good amateur practice means never having to say you’re sorry.”

Leave a Reply