Hello, my name is Dave, and welcome to another exciting episode of Hacker Public Radio. It's been a couple of years since my last episode, and I know that HPR is running low on shows. As I have had this one in planning for some time now, I though this was the right time to get it finished.
At the time of recording this, I've been an Amateur Radio licence holder for 6 months. I took the notion of studying and applying for my Foundation licence (the first of three stages to a Full licence) when I read a blog post by Jon Spriggs G7VRI, back in March, entitled Might Amateur Radio be a hobby for you? I saw a presentation by Jon at OggCamp in 2018 in Sheffield where he gave a whistle-stop tour of what Amateur Radio actually is, and how easy it is to get involved in it.
As a bit of background, I was quite involved in the CB Radio scene back in the late 80s and early 90s - I was introduced to CB by my dad, whose handle was "Screwball", in the 70s... he had a CB rig in his car since as far back as I can remember. I picked up the hobby from him, by actually liberating him of his rig when he stopped using it. Unfortunately it got stolen from my car. C'est la vie. Yes, my handle back then was "The Love Bug" - in fact, it was whilst looking for an alternative to "Kool Kat" as a handle that I first used the moniker "The Love Bug" - probably in the mid-80s - and it just stuck.
So, after reading Jon's blog post, and doing some research into Amateur Radio myself, a whole bunch of things happened at the same time: I bought my first radio - a Baofeng UV-5RTP [Amazon UK], I joined the Radio Society of Great Britain (not a requirement, but I would recommend it), signed up for Essex Ham's Foundation Training Course (not a requirement, but strongly recommended as it's geared around the examination, and it's free!)
The training took 3 weeks (in my own time), and I applied for my exam as soon as the training was complete. The exam was an hour long, under as close to exam conditions as an online exam would allow, and I was told by the online system that I'd passed as soon as I submitted my answers. It then took a few days to get the confirmation of passing (and a certificate) in the post, which then allowed me to apply to Ofcom (the authority for the radio spectrum here in the UK) for my licence and callsign. I was able to choose the suffix of my callsign, and - as BUG was taken - I opted for TLB (for The Love Bug), and thus my callsign is - currently - M7TLB (Mike Seven Tango Lima Bravo). I say "currently" - I'm not allowed to change my callsign, however the callsign is specific not only to me but also to the fact that I'm a Foundation Licence holder. Therefore, when I go for my Intermediate and then Full licence, I'll get new callsigns for each one, each superseding the previous.
Anyhoo, once I got my Foundation licence, I went out that Sunday to log some contacts, or QSOs. So I parked up at a high point near to here, put a small aerial on the roof of the car (so that I didn't warm up my head when transmitting), and started calling CQ - essentially a way of saying "I want to talk to somebody" - "Seek You". As part of the licence conditions, you are only permitted to make contact with other identifiable and identified amateurs... general broadcasts to whomever might be listening are prohibited. Except when calling CQ to initiate that contact.
So I'd call out something akin to "CQ, CQ, this station Mike Seven Tango Lima Bravo, Mike Seven Tango Lima Bravo Portable, calling CQ." The "Portable" indicates that I'm not at my home station location. It's also a good indication that my transmission might be variable due to the portable nature of the station.
I was transmitting using 8 watts of power, two watts fewer than the limit of my license, but significantly lower than the 400 watts that I could be using as a Full licence holder, so my hopes weren't high. My first contact was with a chap just outside Caistor, Lincolnshire... about 38 miles direct from where I was based. He was also using a portable station, but with a directional beam antenna, meaning that both transmission and reception from his end was able to focus on my direction. So yeah, impressed!
My second contact was also a portable station, located at a high-point by the Woodhead Pass, in Penistone, about 18 miles direct from where I was. This contact was the gift that kept on giving, as there were two other portable stations at the same location, so I got three contacts in the log for that one.
Things went quiet after that one, so after a further 5 calls out, I figured that was my lot. Still, I was happy with four QSOs on my first day!
Later the same day, I went out for my daily constitutional, so I figured I'd take the radio - with the standard short rubber-duck antenna, and an earpiece - with me. At least that way, I wouldn't look too silly, or a target to be fair. My intention was just to bounce around the frequencies and listen to conversations, rather than put out any CQs myself... I was in a residential area, so I didn't want to draw attention to myself.
Whilst listening, I heard someone calling CQ and inviting respondents to a different frequency, so I followed and listened. There were a couple of contacts already there that I couldn't hear, so I waited for the initial contact to finish working the first. When he put out a call for whomever originally responded, I jumped in with my callsign, thinking that there was no way he would hear me. Consider that I was walking around town, in a reasonably built-up area, with probably the worst antenna I could have chosen for distance, and he wasn't exactly coming through strong. He responded to me directly, asking me to standby whilst he worked the other station that responded. Well, I was shocked to hear him say to the other contact that he was in East Yorkshire, about 33 miles from here! He was using a directional beam antenna which was pointing due west... whereas I am south-west of his location, so when you consider the other things I mentioned, the fact that he was also not pointing his antenna directly at me I was completely amazed that I was able to hold this relatively decent quality conversation with someone that far away. Well pleased was I.
Cost-wise, I should warn that Amateur Radio can be an expensive hobby, but it absolutely doesn't have to be. At a bare minimum, to get me "on the air" I bought the Baofeng (£42.99), and paid for my Foundation examination (£27.50), so a little over £70 overall. I actually bought a number of accessories for the radio, and joined the RSGB, but these are in no way required expenses. The standard radio on its own is more than sufficient to gain some decent contacts, as I hope I've proven with the success from that Sunday.
Since then, I have bought an HF (or High Frequency) radio from India, it's a low-power model (or QRP) which is unlikely to get very far, but there are transmission modes that I can use that are specifically intended for low-power operation. My next big thing is to get an antenna up in the back garden along with a decent tuner so that I can actually use that radio!!
By the time this episode goes out, I will have started an intensive course with OARC (Online Amateur Radio Community) which is a UK-based club - a more fantastic bunch of people you are not likely to find - so I'll be able to change my callsign to one beginning 2E0 or 2E1, and be able to use up to 50W to transmit, even though I don't have any equipment capable to transmitting 50W - yet!
I point you to the excellent Ham radio, QSK series on HPR where a number of correspondents have recorded shows about Amateur Radio that you may find interesting. I'm putting this episode into the same series.
Are you an Amateur Radio operator? Let me know.
Call to action
Drop me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, I'm on Facebook and Twitter as thelovebug, or leave a comment on this episode, or record your own episode in response.
At the time of recording this, HPR is low on shows, if you have any shows in progress, or something burning in your mind, get it recorded. Find out more over at hackerpublicradio.org.
So, that's it for today... thanks for listening.
Wherever you are in the world, stay safe.
Come back again tomorrow for another exciting episode on Hacker Public Radio.
73 de M7TLB