Amateur Radio is a great hobby that brings people, radios and electronics together to form a big community. From the smallest chit-chat to life saving transmits, HAMs create a fun, social, educational, and life saving network.
What is HAM Radio?
Lot's may wonder, what in the world is HAM Radio? Isn't it just those "Walkie-Talkies" people carry for camping? Well the answer negative. Although in a nutshell, HAM radios work in a similar way to Walkie-Talkies, the scale and potential of this technology is far from your imagination.
It will help you understand this amazing new world if we get the first question clear? What are the similarities and differences between HAM radio and good old Walkie-Talkies? First of all, a walkie-talkie is a handheld radio transceiver, which means that it could both receive and transmit data, make sense right? You push the PTT(Push to Talk) button on your device and say the message you want the other side to receive. Your friend maybe 2km away receives your message and replies the same way. A HAM radio could work in this manner, however, this is because they are basically using the same core technologies. A walkie-talkie works on FMRS or CB etc. bands, which means these transceivers work on specific frequencies on the Electromagnetic Spectrum. HAM radios on the other hand, works on other dedicated bands of the spectrum.
You might wonder, what are the differences? Well, the short answer is restrictions. If you have ever operated a Walkie-Talkie before, you might have noticed the channels. Yes, FMRS* radios could only communicate on predefined frequencies. You might also notice, you probable can't remove the antenna, the stick that "sticks" out of the device. You often talk directly to another same device within at most, 5 km. Restrictions.
Don't get me wrong, HAM radios also have restrictions, quite a lot to be honest. Every radio operator has to pass an exam to operates these devices. And that's why we get much more privileges than Walkie-talkies. The restrictions are complicated but just see all the amazing stuff HAM radios can do.
HAM radios come if many different forms, receivers, transmitters, transceivers, handhelds, vehicle portables, base stations etc.. From a small Walkie-Talkie like radio, to massive 50 ft antennas attached to 1000 watt stations, HAM radios can do many different things. For starters, HAM radios could connect to local repeaters easily. This way, our weak 5 watt signal could be rebroadcasted all around the neighborhood and city. On longer bands, or lower frequencies HAM bands, Electromagnetic waves could bounce off the ionosphere, a part of the atmosphere, and you can transmit all over the world with little power. With a good antenna, contacting the ISS whenever it flies over your region is a common activity for HAM fans.
Of course, the best part of it is it's not dependent on any public service or infrastructure. This makes HAM radio one of the best life saving gadgets and skill when disasters come.
Enough about the facts, next I will talk about my plan and my journey on Amateur Radio.
The first thing to do is get licensed. In Canada, there are 4 different licenses you can get: Basic, Basic with Honors, Morse Code and Advanced. Obviously, these different licenses give you different privileges on the spectrum but the first goal for everyone is always the Basic Certificate.
The test consists of 100 multiple choice questions and you need to get at least 70% to pass and 80% for the honors. The questions bank is on the Industries Canada website and all the exam questions are chosen from the question bank.
For me, I join an local club and attended their Basics test course and I bought a book to study on my own. I also highly recommend purchasing a radio even before you get the license as it's just so helpful to listen to other HAMs communicate on air and learn the procedures.
For starters, a simple handheld radio would suffice, but my plan is to get the Basic with Honors license so that I could operate in the HF band where all the cool stuff is. This will be my second step and I will probable write something up when I get my license.
Updates and Future Visions
I will be posting updates about my journey on HAM radio on this blog. I will try to log every transmission I do after I get licensed and keep a record of all documents. I will attend field day events organized by the club and enter activities that allows HAMs to make special calls around the globe. I will try to bring a handheld radio to every place I travel to (if regulations allow) and make contact abroad.
One of my future goals is to attempt the Advanced certificate and the Morse Code one as this gives me the privileges to open up a club. This could also be done by cooperation with an existing club around the GTA. All in all, my final goal is to introduce a HAM radio club at UCC and teach more people about this amazing new technology and inspire more to pursue this hobby.
I live in a area where there are many HAMs, I also plan to create a Community Emergency Response Team to prepare for any emergencies to help serve the community and make it a safer place.
On a broader view, I plan to join ARES, which stands for Amateur Radio Emergency Service. This is a bigger organization consisting of many volunteers that would operate stations in a case of disaster where all regular communications are down.
These are my future visions about the big picture of my HAM journey and I will definitely add on to this list in the future.