This page has links to texts of topics suitable for hams to present on the air as-is, to help train each other
in various aspects of ham radio usage, best practices, emergency communication, and preparation. Feel free to
present any of the topics in any type of net or activity you think applies, regardless what heading they're
listed under here. Also, please feel free to change the wordage or word placement, especially if they seem
awkward for the way you normally speak.
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Radio-related training topics
Which radio to get [link
Let's cut to the chase, and then we'll start talking about options and possibililties.
You should purchase a
antenna, and an alkaline sled (battery case), then program it with the
frequencies you'll use most.
A handheld transceiver (HT)
When selecting a portable radio that you can quickly take with you when you need it, here
are some things to consider:
Will your choice of radio still be a good one if all the above criteria aren't met? Probably,
but there are some minor inconveniences you might have to live with.
It must be able to receive and transmit on 2 meters, which is where most local
communication takes place on repeaters and nets. Ideally, it should also be a
dual-band radio, supporting 70 cm, the second-most used frequency band.
It should be one for which you can purchase an alkaline sled for it, since many
models do not have that option. That is, an empty battery case that you can fill
with your own non-rechargeable batteries.
It should be one that many of your friends have. It's very convenient to have a
radio, for which you can ask for help from a friend, or compare notes, or bring
to club meetings and discuss.
It should be supported by
the free, online radio programming software, to get it programmed quickly, should you
need to add a new repeater or net frequency. (You'll need the programming cable that
goes to your particular radio model too.)
It should be able to receive FM broadcast radio, to allow you to hear news and
information from commercial radio stations during an incident.
It should be not only a dual-band radio, but also a dual-watch radio, which
can allow you to hear incoming communications on two different frequencies at the
It should be light-weight and small enough to slip onto your pocket or re-sealable
It should be inexpensive, to allow you to feel free enough to experiment with it and
wear it out, without the worry of replacement or repair cost. Some folks will purchase
an HT that's loaded with cool features, as their first radio, only to be too fearful
to take it hiking with them or do field experiments with it or involve it in events.
A mobile radio
For those looking to get something a little heftier, whether you install it in your vehicle,
set it on your desk, or (yikes!) pack it around on your back, a mobile unit might
be what you're looking for. Some of the above suggested criteria still apply, such as
dual-band, dual-watch, same model used by friends, CHIRP-supported, and low-cost. Obviously,
there are other things to consider when you get a mobile unit, such as:
There are other types of radios, such as portable and base units, but the
focus here is on training, and recommendations for reasonable deployment.
It needs a separate 13.8-volt power supply, such as a
It needs a good, portable antenna, such as a
mag-mount, or a
It needs 50-ohm coaxial cable that's long enough to reach from your radio to the
antenna, but of a model that minimizes the signal loss, such as RG-8X.
It should deliver (transmit) 25 watts on FM to make it worth your investment
Which antenna to get [link
Similar to those in the real estate business, we radio amateurs have three basic rules:
antenna, antenna, location. Being interpreted, your location will play a part in your
ability to get your signal out to others, but your antenna is the important focus by far.
And notice that radio is not mentioned in that mantra at all.
Obviously, without your radio, you won't be able to transmit any signals, but without
a doubt, your antenna is one of the most important components of your amateur station. An
appropriate antenna can connect you with the world, or render your station as useless as a
vehicle without fuel. But, which antenna is right for your particular application? Let's
categorize them by function and see.
When you first purchased your radio, it came with a stubby, little antenna we affectionately
call a rubber duck. That tiny creature wasn't really meant for you to use
seriously, but for testing your new transceiver, to make sure it works. And now that you're
sure, it's time to get a real antenna.
In the comfort of your residence, you're going to need an antenna that will get your signal
out of your walls and into the air. For that, you should get a
and either mount it on your roof outside or lean it up against the wall inside near a window.
To connect to the antenna, you're going to need some RG-8X coaxial cable (coax) terminated in
a PL-259 connector on the antenna end.
If you're using a mobile radio at home, you'll need the coax terminated in a PL-259 connector
on the radio end. If you're using an HT (handheld transceiver), you'll need to either terminate
the radio end of the coax with an SMA connector, or terminate the radio end with a PL-259
connector, plus a pigtail.
When you need to walk around with your radio either attached to your body or in your hand,
you should get hold of a whip-type antenna, either a
You might also find that your long antenna sometimes gets in the way. To help keep it out of
the way, you can purchase a
that has an antenna connection, which in most cases will keep your antenna up and away from
If you're out driving around, you'll need to use an antenna that's mounted on your vehicle;
that is, your antenna is installed on a mount, which is attached to your car
body. That could typically mean either a hole-mount, magnetic-mount, or lip-mount. A
hole-mount is one that requires you to drill a hole in your car's metal body. A
lip-mount attaches to the lip or edge of your flat body piece, such as your trunk or
hood. A magnetic-mount or *mag-mount* simply magnetically attaches to your car's metal
body. Glass mounts have not shown to be as effective as the other three types.
Is it possible to mix two of the above situations, like using a telescopic antenna while
you're driving? Sure it is, but that might take a little experimenting on your part, to see
what works for you. Any kind of antenna inside your vehicle will be shielded by some of your
car's metal body (for most vehicles), and so people outside your vehicle might not hear you
well. Then again, some hams use a mobile antenna, one that's made for a vehicle, but inside
the home, to get more of their signal out of the house. They often do this by getting an
antenna with a mag-mount, placing the mag-mount on a cookie sheet or the fridge, and adapt
the coax with a pigtail for their HT.
As a side note, it's alright to leave your radio powered on while you change your antenna;
just don't press your PTT button with your antenna removed.
What frequencies should be programmed in your radio [link
Most of today's radios are able to hold many frequencies in their memories, but should you
fill them, just because they're there? I recommend you only program into your radio what
you need, so that you won't get overwhelmed or confused if you find you need to communicate
right away. Ok, so which frequencies should you program? That'll depend on where you'll be
at the moment you need them.
Where you're likely to be
If you spend most of your awake time at home or at work, it'll be wise to take that proximity
into account, especially if you plan to communicate between home and work. But you might also
need to go downtown shopping, to the doctor's office, or visit a friend, and if those take
you far away from home, those locations might require some additional frequencies to think
Know what channel to change to, if necessary
If you have already programmed your radio with a number of useful frequencies, you're
probably prepared to talk on whichever one you need at the moment. But if you have them
programmed by name, are you familiar with what the names mean, as in which frequencies, or
at least which areas they cover? And when it comes time to switching frequencies, are you
able to do that on the spot?
Know how to manually change frequencies at a moment's notice
Be familiar enough with your radio that you can manually enter a new frequency at any
time. You might be required to manually enter a frequency you've not already programmed in,
because you need to get off a repeater or move off a simplex frequency that's already in use.
This'll require you to know how to enter the frequency (Frequency Mode), the offset
(OFFSET), the shift direction (SFT-D, plus or minus, or off for simplex), and
Programming your radio on-the-fly while you're traveling is very useful, but often quite
cumbersome. So, taking your laptop and an appropriate programming cable along for the ride
can prove indispensable. Do you know how to use the cable and the software to do the
programming? You can download charts of programming frequencies, listed by radio
model and general location from
Noji's programming page.
Request a signal report before starting [link
It doesn't help a whole lot if I attempt to get on the air, and nobody hears me. Even if I
have the very best equipment that money can buy, including a great antenna, and even though
I'm certain everybody this side of the Wasatch Front can hear me, it's still possible that
they can't. If I'm talking on simplex, my antenna could be oriented incorrectly, I might have a
loose connection, or a corroded connection, I might not be speaking close enough to the microphone,
or my battery is on its last breath. If I'm trying to talk through a repeater, maybe my tone
or offset isn't set, maybe I'm too far from the repeater to hold it open for proper communication,
or maybe I've bumped my button and I'm a little off-frequency, or maybe I just need to get out of
When you need to get on the air, especially in a hurry, it seems there are a number of obstacles
that could hinder your otherwise perfect transmission. For that reason, one of the first things
you should do before a net or a drill is to request a signal report. Maybe say,
This is KI7ABC. Could I please get a signal check?
and you'll likely find one or more listening hams who'll be happy to help you out by telling you
how you sound.
You're typically looking for three things as feedback to your transmission: the quality
of your sound, your loudness, and whether your audio is accompanied by any static or
other noise. A responding operator who can report these three sound properties is
probably the most helpful. By the same token, you can offer the most help by reporting these
same three qualities to people who are asking for a report. On the other hand, those who say,
"You sound fine" mean well, but might be just a bit too brief, and don't give you a lot to go on,
although it's still kind of them to try and give you some sort of feedback. The brief
exception is when a ham operator simply reports,
which, in a nutshell, means crystal clear audio, loud audio, and
no perceptible background noise.
Once you do this, you're relatively confident that the rest of your transmissions could easily
be heard by those who need to hear them. Even after that, your signal or audio could still become
less-than-perfect if you're moving around, changing your antenna direction, or your battery starts
failing. But, at least you've taken that initial step to ensure a smoothly running net or drill.
How to communicate through a repeater [link
First, you need to find out the four basic parameters and set them up in your radio. They are
Once you have these parameters, program them (manually or by computer) into your radio,
and you're ready to go. If the repeater is for 2 meters, the offset amount is 0.600 MHz
(600 kHz). If the 2-meter repeater has a nominal (output) frequency of 147.000 MHz or less,
the offset direction will be minus (-); otherwise, it will be plus (+). Set the tone for
all repeaters to 100.0 Hz, unless a particular repeater requires something different.
If the repeater is for 70 cm, the offset amount is 5.000 MHz, and the offset direction
will always be minus. 220 MHz repeaters are a different story.
Once you've determined the repeater's not in use, press the PTT button, wait a half-second,
then begin speaking. You can simply say one of the following:
If nobody responds, wait about ten seconds and repeat the announcement, because it often
takes time for a person to walk across the room, pick up the mic, and reply. If nobody
responds the second time, repeat it a third time before giving up.
This is KI7ABC, monitoring.
This is KI7ABC. Anybody want to talk with a new ham?
Once somebody answers you, go ahead and carry on a normal conversation, remembering to say
your call sign every ten minutes and at the end. If nobody answers, it might be helpful to
ask whether your signal is reaching the repeater, by asking
This is KI7ABC. May I please get a signal check?
But in response, you should only expect a signal check, and not engage the other person in
conversation. Simply thank him and end with your call sign. Luring another ham into a
conversation by requesting a signal check can leave a sour taste in the person's mouth.
Finally, after you finish speaking during your turn, continue holding down the PTT button for
a half second before releasing it. This will ensure your last syllable will be heard by the
other ham. Furthermore, if you're communicating by a linked repeater, like one on the
Intermountain Intertie or the Sinbad System, wait two whole seconds before begin speaking
and wait an entire second after your last syllable before releasing the PTT button.
When the other person has stopped transmitting, listen for the right time to press your PTT
button and begin speaking, to play well with the other hams. Here's what you're going
the other station stops transmitting
the repeater beeps (known as a courtesy tone)
after four seconds (known as the hang time), the repeater stops transmitting
you hear a short, loud crash (known as the squelch tail)
all goes quiet
The time you should press your PTT button is ideally about one or two seconds after step 2;
that is, after you hear the repeater beep. That gives others plenty of time to break into your
conversation to join it or announce an emergency. It also gives the repeater a break, so
that it doesn't wear out its relays to drop its carrier (step 4) before you key up. So,
once you hear the repeater beep, wait one or two seconds, then press your PTT. Every
repeater is different, so prepare to be flexible if the repeater you're communicating with
doesn't behave exactly this way.
Communicating on reverse [link
In our ever-charitable desire to be helpful to other hams, we sometimes encounter those who
have a difficult time getting into or even reaching the repeater. When we hear somebody
struggling like this, it might be worth our while to help out by communicating with the
person directly rather than through the repeater. But if he's tuned to the repeater, and you
don't know his cell number, how can you alert him, so that you can help him?
One way is to switch to what we call reverse mode, which most radios support.
The reverse function merely switches the repeater input and output frequencies on your radio.
Normally, when communicating through a repeater, you use your radio to talk into the repeater
input frequency and listen on the repeater output frequency. On reverse, you talk into the
repeater output frequency, so that your friend can hear you, and listen on the repeater input
frequency, so that you can hear him.
But communicating on reverse like this only works if the other person can reach you better
than he can reach the repeater, because the repeater is out of his range on one side (to the
north of him, for example), but you're within his range on the other side (to the south of him,
for example). Or this might work when your friend is being obstructed from the repeater because
of a mountain or tall building, but you have a clear shot of both him and the repeater.
So, how do you use this reverse function? Many mobile units and some HTs have a button labeled
REV. Just press that button once, and your radio switches its repeater input and
output frequencies, then press it again to get out of reverse, and back to normal repeater
communication. If you're on a Baofeng or Wouxun, simply press the
* (star) button for reverse. If you have a Yaesu
FT-60R or VX-7R, simply press
C. Then press the same key to exit reverse mode.
There's no need for your friend to go into reverse mode.
Once you're in communication with the other ham by reverse, kindly let him know that his signal
is not making it into the repeater. Offer helpful, non-critical suggestions on what he could do
to improve his transmission, like move to a different location, point his antenna straight up,
speak closer or louder into his microphone, increase his radio power output, and so forth.
It's possible that his battery is running low or that his antenna has come loose. I always
believe my signal sounds wonderful, but one time people were telling me I was sounding terrible,
even when I was staring right at the repeater antenna. Turns out I had forgotten to put my
antenna back on after cleaning it off. So obviously, installing an antenna might help some of us!
The last thing to keep in mind when communicating in reverse is that you might want to let
others know you're in reverse mode, since even though you're not technically using the repeater,
you're tying up the repeater, because you're preventing others from using the repeater output.
You might get a lot of you're not in the repeater reports from others. Another thing is
that switching to reverse is no guarantee that you can reach him better; in fact, it might be
worse, but it's something you can try, in your quest to be a helpful ham.
Baofeng radios are legal to use [link
There's been quite a lot of discussion and concern lately about certain
announcements made by the FCC
regarding some models of Chinese radios. Bottom line is that they are all legit, and can be
used legally by licensed amateurs, as long as you're using them on amateur frequencies.
The controversy arose because many Chinese radios have the ability to transmit on frequencies
outside amateur bands. Ok, that's not so bad, because we amateurs know the rules, so that notice
doesn't really bother us, because we follow the rules. Then along came some marketers who not
only advertised that these radios can transmit on those non-amateur frequencies, but encouraged
people to transmit on them without a license. That's what got them into trouble, and prompted
the FCC to make the announcements.
Because of the confusing wordage of the announcements, coupled with mis-interpretations by an
FCC attorney, many hams felt that they could no longer use their cheap, little handhelds legally.
But after a series of clarifications, prompted in part by objections from the ARRL, we have
been re-assured that our Baofengs and other Chinese radios are perfectly legal to use. And can
you sell them? Yes, you can, personally. That means to one ham from another.
So, I repeat: it's completely legal for you to use any Chinese, Japanese, Indian, or even Martian
radios, as long as you use them on ham frequencies.
More details are spelled out in the club newsletter, the
November 2018 issue of the UVARC Shack p. 22,
about the legality of using Chinese radios.
You might want to purchase a mobile radio some day [link
You might have discovered that your little handheld radio is a wonder of science, enabling you
to communicate with friends, loved ones, and others, for fun or in a moment of need. But if
you've used it enough, you've also discovered that the little guy has a few limitations. Some
of these limitations can be resolved by a change in your transmitting location or a better
antenna. But there are times when it would be nice to have a little more juice behind that
signal of yours. If this extra signal boost is on your mind, then purchasing a mobile
radio might just be what you're looking for.
A mobile radio is a transceiver that's typically larger in physical size than most HTs
(handheld transceivers), and normally has the ability to transmit on a higher power level than
most HTs. Most require an external power supply and an external antenna, and most come with an
external hand microphone. And most hams use mobile radios in any of three ways: in a vehicle,
at home, or portable.
In a vehicle
Because of its namesake, it's obvious that a mobile radio was designed to be installed and used
in your car, truck, or RV, which offers the convenience of having great communication ability
from the comfort of your vehicle. If your mobile radio and antenna are installed more or less
permanently, all you need to do is pick up your mic and push the PTT; no need to carry the radio,
fiddle with cords, or get poked by your antenna. Also, if your service is needed at a location
away from your home or work, your mobile can help you communicate and stay updated while you
Can you do this with an HT? Yes, you can, if you can work without the extra transmit power. In
fact, you can connect your HT to an outside-mounted antenna (mag-mount, lip-mount, or hole-mount)
and your signal will be heard much better and farther than it could with any whip or duck antenna.
Furthermore, unlike a true mobile radio, which is tethered by connections to the car's antenna
and battery, you can easily remove your HT and take it with you when you get out of your vehicle,
because it carries its own *power supply* and antenna.
Many hams have a mobile radio at home as their *base* unit; that is, their main home radio,
where they transmit for nets, for emergency, and for ragchewing. Keep in mind that a home
base like this requires an external power supply, an external antenna, and coaxial cable.
I highly recommend your power supply for this home mobile radio be able to supply 30 amps,
even though your radio specifications state that it requires much lower. For the antenna,
I recommend a Pockrus J-pole. For
coax, I recommend RG-8X, terminated on both ends with PL-259 connectors.
In the context of mobile radio, the term *portable* means the ability to quickly grab a radio
that's more powerful than an HT, but yet available enough for you to collect it (along with its
battery, antenna, and coaxial cable), and head out the door. Portable can also refer to the
ability to carry a radio more powerful than an HT (plus the battery, antenna, and coax) with
you on a hike or a bike trip.
Any way you use one, a mobile can provide you with a little more power, to get your signal
out farther, or at least stronger. Most HTs can transmit a maximum of 4 to 8 watts, depending
on the model. Most mobiles can transmit 5 watts at their lowest setting. There are times when
the extra power is helpful to get around those buildings (knife-edging), get down the
canyon, and be heard on that distant repeater, and a mobile can often do the trick.
Please understand that this training topic is not meant to tell you that you need to
rush out and spend your hard-earned cash on new hardware. It's only meant to offer you an
option, in case you're getting tired of bad signal reports and the need to constantly repeat
yourself over the air, in spite of having installed a superior antenna.
Let's hear your thoughts. Do you have any questions about mobile radios?
The Japanese language is interesting in more ways than one, and one of those ways
is that their words don't have emphasized syllables like we do in English. For example,
when I say the word collection,
instead of saying all three syllables monotonically, with the same emphasis and pitch,
as is done with a Japanese word, I emphasize the second syllable by raising the pitch
a little, as in col-LEK-shun.
This works well for us Americans, but emphasizing syllables comes at a price when we use
the same speaking pattern on the air.
Especially when we communicate in a noisy environment, or by single-sideband like we do on HF,
the background noise can hide important syllables if they're spoken quietly. If we ever find
ourselves needing to communicate when it's more critical to be heard well, we might learn quickly
that speaking normally might get in the way. Instead, try emphasizing all the syllables you
For example, if I try and say the call sign
K-I-7-A-B-C in phonetics,
it might sound like
to the person trying to hear me, because all my non-emphasized syllables might fall below
the noise level. Instead, try saying
emphasizing ALL the syllables equally. This might seem a little un-natural to you, but might also
prevent you from having to repeat yourself so often.
An easy way to practice equal syllabic emphasis is by starting with the number seven and
the letter november. Say SEH-VEN
and NO-VEM-BURR instead of
no-VEM-burr. I can't tell
you how many times I've heard people confuse
ZOO-loo. If instead
the person said ZOO-LOO,
that would have helped a lot.
So, this is yet another example of how you can be heard a little better, without raising
your voice or increasing your output power or microphone gain. It's more about sounding
How to use a microphone [link
People love hearing you when you come through sounding loud and clear. Sometimes, anything
less might be out of your control at the moment, such as your location or your radio power
level or a better antenna. But one thing that you usually have control of, to help you sound
better, is the way you speak into your microphone. And the way you speak into your 'mic'
(pronounced mike) often depends on the type you're using and its features.
A ham radio microphone is built a little differently than one for a cell phone, because it's
designed to pick up a somewhat different frequency set and sound quality than a cell mic is.
Locate your little microphone hole, if that's what your radio presents to you, like with most
built-in and hand mics. Most desk mics have a much more obvious interface.
A typical HT has a microphone implanted somewhere in its face. Get your mouth as close to the
mic hole as you can get it, then speak with a slightly louder-than normal volume. Also, speak
across the mic, instead of blowing directly into it, to prevent puffing. If you're using
a Baofeng radio and are feeling brave, remove the face of the HT body and drill out the mic
hole to about an eighth of an inch.
Keep your mouth one to three inches away from your mic, then speak with normal loudness. Speak
across the mic, instead of blowing directly into to. If you're using a Baofeng or TYT hand mic,
you might want to take the mic apart and drill out the mic hole to about an eighth of an inch,
then surround the little mic with a couple of cotton balls. Also, try and keep still while you
speak. It's easy to fidget while transmitting, which can result in sending everybody an annoying
crackling, crunching sound.
Keep your mouth one to three inches away from your mic, then speak with normal loudness. You're
free to speak directly into to the mic, because most have a built-in puff shield. Even so,
avoid blowing air into the mic as much as you can. Avoid picking up a desk mic while you're
transmitting, which can result in everybody hearing the annoying stretching and rubbing of your
Many microphones have settings and other features that let you control the quality of your audio,
but those are typically confined to hand and desk microphones. Here are some controls, along with
their suggested settings, that might apply to your mic:
VOX (voice-activated transmit) : turn it off, unless you're certain you want to
use it, and know how to
mic gain : keep it turned down below 35%
speech processor or compression : disable this feature unless you're on SSB
(single sideband) and know how to use it to your advantage
AGC (automatic gain control) : keep this control set to SLOW
volume control and squelch have no effect on how you sound to others
No matter what kind of mic you're using, there are ways to improve your sound quality by
remembering a few simple tips. Make sure you sound as good as you should, by requesting an
audio check on the air. Honest feedback on your audio will often provide the best results,
and might even contradict some of the guidelines just listed here. And get a second opinion;
two sets of objective ears are sometimes better than one from a biased friend. Just keep in
mind that their ears are not your ears, and so your own assessment or preferences might
differ from theirs.
Probably one of the best ways to know how you sound is for somebody to record your transmission,
then send you the audio file. Or you can get on the WebSDR and listen for yourself, although the
timing on that can be a bit tricky. Finally, don't talk with your mouth full or while shuffling
papers or with music playing in the background.
Handheld radio accessories [link
Whether you plan to use your radio for a family road trip or a local emergency, chances are,
you'll be using an HT (handheld transceiver) at one time or another. On one hand, these
little units can pack a real punch when you need them; on the other hand, their miniature
and portable nature often causes us to forget how limited they can be without extra added
gear they might need.
Let's list some of the accessories that can help your HT, or help you when operating your HT.
Since this training is meant to complement a handheld radio, I'm going to assume that
you've already got one, so these things are in addition to your HT. Also, these are
only suggestions, so some of them might not be as applicable to you, as for another ham:
A better antenna than the one that came with your HT, such as
A whip antenna
A telescopic whip
A Slim Jim antenna
A roll-up J-pole antenna
An external microphone
An earpiece or ear bud
Additional power sources, such as
An alkaline sled, which is a battery case filled with alkaline batteries
An extra rechargeable battery, like Li-ion, NiMH, LiFePO4, and
A charger, if you believe you'll be near an AC outlet, or a battery
eliminator, if you're in a vehicle
A portable solar panel and charge controller, with appropriate cabling
and DC connectors
A programming cable (and therefore, maybe even your laptop)
A belt clip (for the radio)
A lapel clip (for the microphone)
A chest strap or gear organizer
Spares for any of the above
And here are a few things not related to ham radio, that might help while you're using your HT:
A flashlight or desk light or headlamp
Pen and paper
A permanent marker
An umbrella, for either rain or sun
Finally, do you need to rush out and purchase all of these things this very week? Of course
not. You decide which accessories make the most sense for you to use, then gradually
build up your equipment arsenal as you have the means to do so. Also, with experience, you'll
find that your equipment wish list will mature, allowing you to pick the right gear
for your circumstances, and maybe others that we haven't listed.
Alright, let's hear your thoughts. Any accessories I haven't mentioned?
Just about every modern ham radio has two operating modes: Memory (also known as Channel)
mode and VFO (also known as Frequency) mode. Memory or Channel mode is merely a set of
memory channels that have a number of frequencies stored in them, along with the appropriate
settings for each, such as offset, tone, and power level. You select each by simply scrolling
through the stored channels. VFO or Frequency mode, however, doesn't quite work the same way,
and it's often convenient to understand how to work it.
VFO stands for variable-frequency oscillator, which simply means that this mode will
allow you to set your radio to almost any arbitrary frequency and other parameters needed for
any desired type of operation on that frequency. That's useful for manually tuning to a frequency,
setting the parameters, and testing it before you commit it to a memory channel. Even though
VFO mode is a kind of *scratch pad* location to get a frequency set up, most radios will
preserve those settings in VFO, so that, after you turn off your radio, and then power it up
again later, all the information you put into VFO will still be there.
Here are some of the parameters that can be set for a particular frequency:
Also, for HF radios:
repeater shift direction, such as plus, minus, or off
ARS, which stands for automatic repeater shift, when it's on, will automatically
set your frequency offset and shift direction for *standard* repeater frequencies
tone mode, such as TONE, TSQL, CSQ, DCS, and CTCSS
bandwidth, meaning wide or narrow
A number of other settings can be saved in memory, some can't, depending on the radio model,
but these are among the important ones.
signal mode, such as AM, FM, LSB, USB, CW, and RTTY
split, to indicate different transmit and receive frequencies
As you can see, it might be difficult to remember all of the necessary settings, so it'll
take a little time and practice on your part, to manually set up your VFO set correctly for a
given frequency on your particular radio. Once you get it set up right, you can then store the
frequency and all the details in a memory channel, so that you can retrieve it later in Memory
or Channel mode.
It's helpful to know how to manipulate and program your VFO when you need to, without needing
to rely on a manual or another person. Yes, it's one more thing to learn, about amateur radio,
but can be convenient, so that you're not always dependent on somebody else to program your radio
for you, especially when you're not near a computer.
Alright, let's hear from you. What are your thoughts or questions about working
You might want to install an outdoor antenna soon [link
If you're relatively new to ham, you probably use a handheld radio with a stock antenna that
we call a rubber duck, or a whip antenna, such as one by Nagoya, Signal Stuff, or even
ABBREE. That antenna might actually have served you well, for the most part, but once in
awhile, it seems you just aren't able to hit a repeater that others seem to reach easily. You
might also find that you need to either move to that sweet spot in your house, where you get
the best signal reports, or go outside.
There's nothing like an antenna that's sticking up over your roof, to get your little signal
out as far as your radio can throw it. An outdoor antenna is almost worth its weight in gold,
and has the ability to send your voice to distant lands, or at least out of the county. You've
no doubt noticed that you can hear others just fine, using your whip antenna indoors, but for
them to hear you is often a different story. Having that outdoor antenna can not only
improve your radio experience, it can be yet another step in your preparedness lifeline.
Type and care
There are many outdoor antennas to choose from, that you can connect to your handheld radio,
and most work very well. If you wonder which you should get, talk to other hams in your club
or your neighborhood, to see what they use and recommend. A Pockrus J-pole is probably the
best-performing antenna you can get for the price. It doesn't need to be tall or large to
serve you well, but in general, the taller the better. You're going to need a length of coax
and a pigtail or adapter, to connect your radio to that antenna.
Your outdoor antenna and coax will get wet, and chances are, they're made for rain and snow
and ice, so getting wet shouldn't be a problem. The part you don't want to get wet is your
connector, between your coax and your antenna. Most connectors aren't waterproof, and need
some sort of protection from inclement weather. If you wrap your connector tightly with
self-sealing silicone tape, it'll remain free from damaging moisture. Most modern coaxial
cable is outfitted with jackets that are protected from damaging ultraviolet radiation, so
that's not typically a concern today.
It's true that many people, for whatever reason, aren't able to install an antenna outside
their homes. Turns out, however, that there are alternatives, though not ideal, that can
still help get your signal out farther than an indoor whip antenna. One approach is to
install the Pockrus J-pole in your attic. If worse comes to worse, you can lean your Pockrus
J-pole antenna against a window or sliding glass door. Another alternative is to place a
stealth Ed Fong antenna on your roof, because it blends in with all the other pipes sticking
out up there. Another possibility is to mount a vertical antenna on a flagpole out in
your front or side yard.
So, there are ways to make your signal heard father away than what your little rubber duck
can do for you. Ideally, it's an outdoor antenna on your roof, but there are alternatives
for those who aren't able to put one out in public view.
Let's hear your thoughts. Do you have any questions or comments about installing or
using an outdoor antenna?
An antenna on your vehicle [link
Many hams enjoy the convenience of using ham radio in their vehicles, whether that means
holding a standalone HT, or a hand microphone attached to a mobile radio that's mounted
to the front console. In either case, the largest contributor to the success of your
transmissions will be your antenna.
It's very possible to use your handheld radio inside your vehicle, but if its antenna is
also inside the vehicle, you might find that your car's metal body will prevent much of
your radio's signal from getting out. Even placing your radio and its antenna near a window
is not a perfect solution, and can be a little awkward when you're driving.
Install an external antenna
Probably the best thing you can do, to improve your signal strength outside your vehicle
is to drill or punch a hole in your car's beautiful roof and install a through-hole
mount for an appropriate mobile antenna. But if it's not in your plans to blemish a good
paint job, there are alternatives that can work nearly as well. Some of these include a
magnetic mount (mag-mount for short), a trunk lip-mount, and a bracket mount. Many hams
have had a lot of success using these alternative vehicle mounts.
A mag-mount is possibly the simplest alternative that works well. You can temporarily place
it on your vehicle's metal body, then remove it when you need to. But there are a few
drawbacks to mag-mounted antennas you should be aware of. You still need to find a way
to route the coaxial cable into your cabin without damaging the coax jacket. One way to
do this is to slip it under the weatherstripping of a door. Another thing to be aware of,
is that, because the antenna does not have a direct metal-to-metal connection with the
vehicle body, its signal strength will be somewhat compromised, compared with one that
comes in direct contact. A third thing to take care of is the magnetic base movement on
the body surface, which can scratch the paint surface over time.
A trunk-lip mount uses set screws to pin its mounting bracket onto a trunk lid, rear hatch,
hood edge, or other places where the thin metal closes onto the vehicle body. This mount
can be quite secure, but is also subject to a little signal compromise, because its bracket
and set screws don't penetrate the paint enough to make a direct metal connection. A
bracket mount is possibly the best alternative to the through-hole mount, because its
mounting screws bore right into the metal body, under the hood or trunk of your vehicle.
With either of these mounts, you can route the coax inside the vehicle, instead of through
a door, but can be a little tricky, depending on your vehicle model.
Use any radio you want
Once you've installed your choice of external vehicle antenna, feel free to connect any
radio you want to it, whether that's a handheld or a mobile radio. You might find that
your external antenna will make your little HT sound like a big base station, and that
your listeners might not be able to tell you're talking on a small handheld.
Any questions or comments about installing or using an external vehicle antenna? Let's
hear from you.
The importance of antenna orientation [link
No matter what kind of radio or antenna you're using, one thing to keep in mind for an
effective communication is for you and your friend to send and receive radio waves that are
aligned the same way. This is known as signal polarization. In order for you
two to make your signal polarizations match, you both need to have the same antenna
orientation. Orientation is simply the physical alignment of your antenna
relative to the up-and-down pull of gravity, while polarization refers to the alignment
of a radio signal.
Most of our communication using HTs, and mobile radios, and through repeaters require a
vertical orientation of our antennas, meaning they are pointed either up or
down. This is because most repeater and vehicle-mounted antennas are fixed pointed upwards.
Then again, if you're talking with a friend on simplex, and his antenna is pointed horizontally,
or to the side, you'll need to point your antenna to the side as well, to allow for the best
If your antenna is not oriented the same as that of the repeater or your friend, only a
portion of your signals will be received by each other. It's a little like trying to melt
a popsicle in the sun shining through the blinds; you'll probably get the most coverage by
holding the popsicle sideways, rather than up-and-down, because it'll match the orientation
of the sun's rays through the blinds better. You might find that many hams using HTs will
suddenly sound better, as they turn their radios so that their antennas are pointed up.
One last thing about antenna orientation. Make sure you don't point your antenna at your
friend, or your signal might not he heard at all.
Let's hear from you. Any thoughts about antenna orientation?
VHF / UHF equipment FAQ [link
Many of us who are new to ham radio, get our start using the 2-meter band, which
is a subset of the VHF band. This means frequencies starting with 14, such
as 146.520, but this Q&A can be applied to the UHF band as well. Simply put,
this is a short list of many of the questions that you, as a new ham, might ask:
Do I need to get a better radio?
If your HT (handheld transceiver) has been working well for you, maybe not. But if you
believe a little extra power can help you get your signal out farther, then a mobile
radio, used as a desktop base, might be what you need. Then again, if your signal is
not reaching others as well as you hope it would, you might benefit by investing in a
Should I log my contacts?
You can, if you want to, but you might find that it'll become somewhat tedious, due to
the numerous contacts you'll make on VHF and UHF. Logging is an activity that’s typically
more appropriate on the HF bands, which tend to lend themselves better to making
international or rare contacts.
Do I need to get a tuner?
If you have a store-bought antenna, you will not need to purchase a tuner, unless there's
something wrong with your antenna, in which case you should just replace your antenna. If
you're using a home-built VHF / UHF antenna, you only need to install a home-made matching
device, if it needs tuning.
Do I need to get a watt meter or an SWR meter?
While it won't hurt to purchase a meter, you really won't need one. Typically, your radio's
power output is set to particular levels, and the only time you might need to monitor that
or your antenna system SWR, is when your antenna is not performing well, in which case it
might be more beneficial to purchase a better antenna.
Should I purchase an amplifier?
You could, if you want to, although a VHF amplifier is somewhat hard-to-find. But you'll
find that you're better off investing in a better antenna, if you need that extra punch
to reach a distant station.
Do I need to get a better antenna?
The answer is a thundering YES! If all you have is a stock antenna, in other
words, the antenna that came with your HT, you'll likely do much better with a whip antenna,
or even a rooftop antenna connected to your radio by coaxial cable.
Are you sensing a pattern here? As you can see, while not all your questions can be answered
by getting hold of a better antenna, purchasing or making one yourself is probably the best
first step toward improving your VHF / UHF station.
Ok, let's hear from you. What VHF or UHF equipment questions do you have?
Personal training topics
You might want to use an ear piece or head phones [link
Admit it...your spouse doesn't like it when she has to listen to your friends call out to you on
your little HT with that irritating, government-sounding audio. So you take it into the next
room, where the signal might be sketchy, or outside where it's freezing cold. But to communicate,
you need to hear the other person talk to you. And if that other person has a soft voice, is
talking too far from his microphone, or has a staticky signal, you find yourself turning up the
volume and running your family out of your house.
What you need is something that will let you hear the other person, but that silences your radio
so that your family can't hear the people on the other end. There are several things you can
purchase, that will fit the bill, like headphones, earphones, a head-piece, and earbuds.
Problem is, unlike regular stereo equipment, you can't always go to Walmart and purchase what
you need. More often than not, you need to get an ear piece that has a plug, maybe even a
double-plug, that fits only your radio model.
Ok, so if others don't want to hear you, simply take it outside, right? Well, if you're able to
brave the shivering cold, the better signal will help the other person hear you, but you might
have a more difficult time hearing him, because of all the outdoor noise, from cars on the street,
from people, and from the breeze. An ear piece can focus all the audio you want to hear from your
radio into your head, often in spite of surrounding noise, while still taking advantage of a
But just as importantly, you really should get an ear piece for your radio, to help free up your
hands if you're serving during an incident. With an ear piece, you can usually hear the other
person on the radio pretty well, without forcing you to get the unit close enough to your ear
to hear it, possibly dropping it on the sidewalk. Just attach your radio by a belt clip to your
pants, your vest, or backpack, and then you can move the weight of your unit from your hand to
Some ear piece options to consider include those with a speaker and microphone combination,
those with a handy PTT switch, maybe near your head, or those that support VOX, or voice-activated
transmit. One I like is a speaker-microphone that also has an antenna connection, placing my
antenna above my shoulders, and the speaker-microphone on my lapel. Of course, the drawback to
speaker-microphones is that people around you can still hear the other person, and you might
still be plagued by street noise if you take it outside.
Purchase an ear piece that has a plug or connector made for your particular radio. Clip your
radio to your clothing or vest. Route the ear piece wiring under your vest and over to your
radio, such that your head is able to move freely, and your hands can move around without
getting tangled in the wiring. Test it, then test it again. With this kind of setup, you'll
feel a little more free to help injured victims, while being able to communicate.
Ham radio best practices [link
The wide world of ham radio might still be somewhat new to you, and you want to jump into it
with both feet, so you're bound to make a few mistakes here and there, but that's alright.
Still, to play nicely with everybody else, here are a few tips, good habits, and even
unwritten rules, to help you avoid little pitfalls and maybe some embarrassment:
After pressing your PTT button, wait about ½ second before speaking, especially
if you're communicating through a repeater
When speaking into your microphone, try talking across its face, rather than blowing
directly into it (some call that puffing)
Place your hand microphone about two or three inches from your mouth when
transmitting, but stay within an inch of your built-in microphone
When using a handheld radio with a whip or rubber duck antenna, try and keep the
antenna pointed upward when you're transmitting
When announcing your call sign along with that of another ham, the rule is
to put yourself last, as in
KR5LYS, this is
KI7ABC if your call sign is KI7ABC
While it's customary to call out CQ on
on the 2-meter and 70-cm bands to announce your call sign instead, especially on a
If another ham points out a problem with your transmission ("you're sounding a
little scratchy"), always assume the problem is with you (location,
orientation, power too low, etc.) or your equipment first, and always
admit your mistakes
If you'd like to jump into an ongoing conversation,
avoid using the word break;
instead, say your call sign between their transmissions
After your contact releases his PTT button, allow one to two seconds before you press yours,
in case another person wants to join the conversation or has an emergency
Avoid kerchunking, which is repeatedly pressing and releasing your PTT
button without announcing your call sign; it's not only illegal, but irritating to
others, especially those listening on a repeater
When speaking through a repeater, try and keep your conversations to under a few
While it's not always possible, try and make your conversations positive and upbeat;
sounding positive attracts friends, while negative comments tend to turn other hams
away from you, even if you mean well
Don't react like you're offended just because another ham can't remember your name
or call sign
If another ham does offend you, let it go; don't retaliate or try and belittle
the other ham for it; be the adult in the encounter, even if you're a kid
Be considerate of your contact's time, and minimize
by at least thinking of what you're going to say before you key up; and while it's
fun to use your PTT button, don't forget that it's also an RTL (release-to-listen)
Avoid making insulting or disparaging remarks about others on the air; what people
hear you say about others, they'll also believe you'll say about them
Within reason, avoid burping, coughing, sniffing, clearing your throat, smacking your
lips, and making other bodily or disgusting noises on the air
When storing your HT for later use, like in a go-kit or bin, use alkaline instead
of rechargeable batteries, and keep the battery case removed from the radio until
you need to use it
Make sure your radio is programmed with an appropriate frequency list before you stash
it away, but be sure to accompany it with a card or sheet to remind you of what the
frequencies or channel names are for
Learn how to manually program your radio; you might not know when you need to travel
through a location where there is no cell signal available for your phone or tablet
A final word about these best practices: when you hear mistakes made by another ham, it's not
your job to jump on the air and correct the person. Just let it go. If you feel that he or
she really ought to know, however, try and reach out by cell or email, instead of
dressing the person down in front of three hundred others.
When you're approached by people who say something contrary to what you want to hear,
or do something that doesn't precisely meet your approval, it's often easier to point
out their seemingly incorrect thinking than to try and see things from their perspective.
Instead, agree with others at every opportunity. Avoid telling them they're wrong, if at
all possible. For example,
Person asks, Should I go to Center Street
to help them?
Rather than say, No, I need you over at
100 N instead.
Instead say, Yes, good idea.
I could use your help more on 100 N, if you can go there.
Person asks, Is my radio offset correct?
Rather than say, No, it needs to be on
Instead say, Try working it
on 600 kHz.
(Turn your answer into a positive comment by avoiding a Yes or No answer)
Person asks, Do you need any help?
Rather than say, No, but thanks for asking.
Instead say, Thanks for asking!
I believe I've got it under control.
(Be grateful for the help or idea and avoid using the word but to
point out additional facts. People are quick to pick up on your but exceptions,
as this next extreme and silly example illustrates)
Person asks, Do you like me?
Rather than say, I do, but you have
something in your teeth right here.
Instead say, I do like you!
By the way, you have something in your teeth right here.
(In this silly example, complete the affirmation without reservation,
I do like you!
Then, start another, unrelated topic if you need to,
You have something in your
Yes language seldom comes naturally,
and often takes some practice. Family members, friends, and hams, tend to be good,
well-meaning people who want to feel like their portion of the discussion or situation is
valuable and worthwhile. Your acknowledgment of that contribution can mean the difference
between them feeling very small and worthless, and them feeling motivated to further help
and improve, and contribute even more.
When we assume that people are intelligent, and recognize that they're trying to do
good things and mean well, it becomes a little easier to see their perspective and acknowledge
their contribution to the situation. This applies to emergency communication, radio
talk, and everyday conversation. The more non-negative you sound, the more others
are attracted to you and want to be around you or listen to you.
Help others improve their signal [link
There are times when you're running a net, or you're trying to communicate with somebody by radio,
and he's difficult to hear, for whatever reason. On one hand, you don't want to sound too
critical of the person; after all, he's a new ham, and at least he's trying to get his signal
out there. But, assuming he's open to ideas and help (most new hams are), what kinds of helpful
suggestions can you offer? Depends on what the issues are and other factors. Here's a list of
things you can pick-and-choose from, that might be helpful.
Things that can make his audio difficult-to-hear:
His little radio might not be set on high power
He might have a rubber duck or some other poor antenna
His batteries might be running low
Things you can help him with right now:
He's in a poor location — ask him to try moving a couple of feet to one side or
the other, or go outside or at least get out of the basement
He might be blocked by his house walls — ask him to move near a window
He might sound as though his signal is repeatedly strong and then scratchy —
ask him to not move around quite so much, if possible
His antenna orientation might be wrong — ask him to point it upward
He might sound garbled or distorted — ask him to back his mouth away from his
microphone an inch or two
He might sound too quiet — ask him to get as close to the microphone as possible,
then speak louder, clearer, and to not allow his voice volume to trail off at the end
of the sentence
He might be transmitting a loud alternator whine — if the whine is loud enough
to compete with his audio, ask him to turn off the engine, if possible
Does he know where his microphone hole is?
He might be puffing or blowing into his microphone — ask him to speak at the side
of the radio or microphone
He might sound as though he's got a loose connection — ask him to make sure his
antenna is securely connected
Things he can do later:
Get a better antenna
Get a better microphone
Install a tiger tail
Get a longer-lasting battery
If you believe another ham can hear him better than you can, you might want to ask for a relay
of his message. As they say in amateur radio, if you can't hear 'em, you can't work
'em, meaning you need to be heard by others, so that they can communicate with you. By
the way, asking people to modify their microphone gain will actually have little effect on making
them sound louder or better for several reasons, especially if they're on an HT.
Be brief when it's your turn [link
Let's face it...you probably love the sound of your own voice, and can listen to it for hours.
Unfortunately, not everybody shares your love for your voice. For many of us, it's easy to get
a bit long-winded and start rambling, especially when we're not sure what to say, how to say it,
or when to ask for some help on a thought. In short, be brief, but within reason.
Unlike with cell phones, when you're on the radio, you have a captive audience. I mean, as long
as you're talking, there's no way for the others listening to interrupt you or stop you. Are you
certain that what you have to say is that much more important than what the other
person is saying? Yes, you have a lot to share, but practice common courtesy, and allow others a
chance to speak their minds as well.
If you ever notice that the person (or the others in your group) you're talking with, take a
lot less time when it's their turn, than you do when it's
yours, chances are they're less interested in what you have
to say than you think they are. In other words, that might be your clue to either change
the subject or take less time when it's your turn.
This is not to say you need to limit your turn at the mic to two-word sentences; in fact, you should
feel free to speak. Just think about what you're going to say, then try and consolidate it to a
concise sentence, that's all. Sometimes it's just not practical to cut your statement shorter,
and that's alright too. The point is to use good judgment and be considerate
of other people's time.
Most radios include a feature known as a time-out timer (or transmit overtime on some
transceivers), often labeled TOT, and is typically set for 60 to 120 seconds. Its purpose is
to prevent your signal from being transmitted for longer than it should. One reason to limit your
transmission time is to prevent "timing out the repeater" or exceeding the repeater's own
time-out timer, which is typically set to between three and ten minutes.
If you should ever time out the repeater, the repeater will reset, and possibly reboot its
controller, which can take several minutes to revive, preventing everybody from accessing the
repeater during that time. If your station has a "stuck mic" or a microphone whose PTT does not
release, the repeater might reset repeatedly. If this should happen two or more times within a
short period, the repeater could remain "down" until the control operator can revive it remotely.
(A hand microphone PTT can get stuck in the "on" position if it's accidentally wedged between the
vehicle seat folds, for example.)
If you're involved in an emergency service, like ARES, it's good to practice being concise and to
the point anyway. During a callout or even a drill, your communication needs to pack more meaning
in a few words than the way you normally speak. People's lives can be at stake if you take too long
to make your point.
Here are a few tips that might help you to be brief on the radio:
Try and keep your transmissions down to about thirty seconds, give or take
If you think you're getting close to your thirty seconds, release the PTT for a second and resume
speaking, if you're telling a story or a long joke
If you can't think of what to say, release the PTT
Similar to the previous point, if you find yourself saying "and, uh..........um.........um....."
a lot, that's also a good time to release the PTT
By the way, here's a little-known fact: your PTT button doubles as an RTL button. RTL stands
for release to listen, so while you can press it to talk, you can also release it to
And from an old Chinese proverb,
He that speaketh little, thinketh much. And he that thinketh little, speaketh much.
We hold amateur radio licenses that are issued by the FCC, meaning the federal government.
That privilege is therefore accompanied by a degree of natural seriousness, and rightly so.
Yet, can an operator maintain a degree of professionalism on the radio, and still enjoy it?
It was our privilege to hear Riley Hollingsworth K4ZDH, former ARRL Chief Counsel and former
FCC Special Counsel on Amateur Radio Enforcement, speak to us in our monthly club meeting
recently. His message had multiple topics, but included a warning against taking radio so
seriously. He said, Lighten up.
Cut to the chase
We amateurs need to realize that we're not the police, we're not the military, and we don't
run tactical for the fire department, at least not while we're operating in an amateur capacity.
It's alright that you expect some strict discipline from yourself; just don't insist that others
follow the same way of operating.
Avoid correcting another ham on the air, unless it's important, and you can tactfully
and kindly help the person. If an operator happens to say broadcast instead of
transmit, or forgets to ID, remember that you're not the ham police, and more
than likely, he's not a ham criminal.
If alternate phonetics, military jargon, or a CB word rubs you the wrong way, let it go.
There's no need to repeat yourself, if you feel that you might have missed or mis-spoken
something. Your listeners want you to succeed.
It's alright to be light-hearted and joke around on the radio. Remember, however, that
sexual innuendo and suggestive remarks have no place on amateur airwaves.
Experience is key
With practice, you'll come to understand just how far to take humor, how far to look away from
a supposed offense, and the right words to use, when you help somebody on the air. Meanwhile,
it's alright to stumble and mess up. Acknowledge your mistakes, and all will be forgiven.
Many hams are humble enough to accept your unsolicited advice, but a few are not. Often, it's
more tactful and less embarrassing to offer to call the person on the phone, so you can work
on issues outside the earshot of others.
Furthermore, others listening to you give the unwanted advice might become silently irritated
at your counsel. It requires time and good judgment on your part to distinguish helpful guidance
(If you get near a window, your signal might get out better) and advice that's not as useful
(If I were you, I'd throw away that radio and get an Icom).
Let's have fun
Experiment, play with the radio, announce your name and call sign on the repeater, call out
on the radio for somebody to talk with, challenge another ham to get on and talk with you,
change frequencies, find some common ground to discuss. Very few on-air conversations are
about radio; they tend to be about family, work, school, sports, and the weather, making
radio the tool it was intended to be.
After all that's been said and done, let's enjoy the craft. Amateur radio might not be
everybody's definition of fun, but the more pleasant we make it, the more new folks are
apt to make the scary attempt and get on the air, and the more experienced folks are apt
to get on and ask questions or volunteer their time.
What do you think? Are we sometimes too serious? Any other thoughts about lightening up?
Let's hear from you.
The meaning of the word elmer is known to many hams as a mentor or tutor
who offers personal guidance, technical knowledge, assistance, and encouragement to ham
radio operators. Let me explain how you can be an elmer to others, or in other
words, how to elmer. By the way, the term “elmer” was coined almost by accident, in
a March 1971 QST article.
Above all other attributes, make kindness your guiding principle in every conversation.
If a new ham asks you a very basic question, or one that you're simply tired of repeatedly
answering, either answer the question politely, or tell him you'd rather answer at another
time. It's not kind to remind the person that he or she should have already known the answer
from the exam or study materials, because many of us have probably forgotten more than we
remember, and few of us passed the exam with a perfect score. Refrain from simply telling
people that they should have Googled it or read the manual, because they likely have already
done that. And criticism has no place in the conversation of an elmer.
You might not be aware that the person you're helping has a learning impairment, is highly
self-conscious, or is otherwise disabled in some way. Working with some can test your patience,
so try never to speak sharply or harshly to them; speak in a kind voice. Avoid correcting the
person's mistakes, if at all possible; instead, present another point of view. For example, if
the new ham states that a dipole is made of two half-wave length elements, simply state that
you tend to find better results when you cut them to quarter-wave lengths.
Every so often, turn on your radio and announce that you're monitoring, indicating that you're
willing to converse with whomever is listening. We live busy lives, and don't have time for
every person who wants our attention, but make time for, and befriend those you don't know,
as well as your close clique of ham buddies. Generosity with your time will pay off.
Set the example
Whether you're helpful or otherwise, people hear you and see you in action, and they look to
you for an example of what an experienced ham should say and do. As impossible as it might be
at times, try never to be negative on the radio; be positive. Never berate anybody or resort
to personal attacks or name-calling; instead, build them up. Be agreeable, even when you don't
agree with them. When you sense a pointless argument brewing, stand down.
You can tell by now that you don't need to know a lot, to elmer others; even the newest licensee
has something to teach and share with the rest of us. Still, none of us knows everything, and
there is no shame in saying that we weren't aware of a technical detail or a particular
situation. People tend to have greater respect for those who can admit that they're wrong.
Refer the ham to another who is better qualified to answer a question.
Does this describe you? Of course it does, and down deep you know that's true. You have a lot
that the rest of us can benefit from. Don't be afraid to take a person under your proverbial
wing, and kindly show him or her how to elmer.
Anything you'd like to add, about elmering? Let's hear from you.
It's ok to make mistakes [link
No matter how much of an expert we are, it seems like none of us is exempt from making mistakes
on the radio. In fact, we're bound to make mistakes, especially during times when we're trying
to help during a drill or even an emergency. But for some of us, the fear of slipping up is
crippling enough to prevent us from participating in nets or even get on the radio at all.
If you're one of those who are afraid of the embarrassment that comes with messing up over the
air, please understand that you're not alone. You realize that people, often complete strangers,
are listening to what you're saying, and that could be a scary thought. But I have some ideas
that could help you, not make fewer mistakes, but to feel more comfortable about making
the ones that you do.
First, when you're aware of your mess-up, simply apologize, and apologize simply. No need to
drag out a request for forgiveness; just admit to it, say you're sorry, and drop it. Your
listeners will be forgiving, and will hope that you move on quickly too.
Second, when you hear others make a mistake, it's often best to ignore it. If the mistake is
important, like the mis-spoken date of an event, or an incorrect website link, repeat it to
them and ask for a clarification. There's no need to criticize the person who made the error,
or to make a long, drawn-out deal about it. Let kindness be your guide to correcting others.
Finally, to err is human, but to forgive and overlook mistakes made by others is divine. Try
not to allow the fear of making them keep you from throwing your voice out into the airwaves.
As one person put it, there are no mistakes, only experience. Remember that
you're among friends, not enemies, and all of us are rooting for your success, and will quickly
overlook your little mess-ups.
Have you ever attended a recital, at which your young daughter is playing the violin? When
you did, were you sitting there, hoping that she would fail or even miss a note here or there?
Of course not. You were not only hoping for her successful performance, but maybe even praying
for her. While your listeners might not all be praying for you, they will definitely be
silently encouraging you.
Anything you'd like to add, about making mistakes? Let's hear from you.
Don't single out women [link
Some time ago I read online a ham talking about something that happened at one of his local
club meetings a few years ago. A new female ham had introduced herself in the meeting, and
right away one of the club leadership said something to the effect of, Wow, a lady ham!
It's been a while since we had a female join our ranks! I wish more of them would show up!
While the excited male ham probably had good intentions, and wanted to welcome the young
lady, the new ham felt so embarassed that she never returned.
It's true that the amateur radio world is populated largely by male operators, and it's also
true that we want more female operators to join the fun. But one thing I've discovered over
the years is that, for the most part, these good ladies don't want to be treated any differently
from anybody else. They want to become part of the communication solution, enjoy this craft,
and become good at it, but don't want to be highlighted simply because of their gender.
Occasionally, I'll be listening on HF, and every so often I'll hear a young lady ham calling
out, CQ! CQ! Right away, dozens of male hams will answer back all at the same time,
in hopes of making a contact with her. We refer to that as a pileup, and those tend
to happen most when the calling person is located in a rare location, or the caller has a
female voice. We often hear this during Field Day, and women do tend to attract the male
hams from far away. Honestly, if you're a lonely male ham, I suggest that the ham radio
airwaves is probably not the place to look for love.
The bottom line is, please try not to treat female hams any differently than you do male hams.
Yes, their often pleasing voices tend to be attractive, especially on our male-dominated
frequencies. But they're here to learn and become familiar with their equipment, to make
the best use of their new-found hobby. And our job is to help them, not in a condescending
or demeaning way, but through kindness and in the spirit of helpfulness, become an elmer to
these good folks without making a big deal about the fact that they are women.
Any thoughts about singling out women? Let's hear what you have to say.
Protocol training topics
Once in awhile people ask just how to properly run a net. There's no *correct* way to run
a net, within reason. For most nets, both new and experienced hams can organize and operate
a net by simply reading through a script. As the NCS (Net Control Station, or simply
Net Control) if you repeat the script a few times, you'll come to know it well enough
to engage a group of hams when a real net need arises. Still, every net is different, and we
might be able to outline the common ingredients that make up an effective net that any ham
can control without much training or special knowledge.
Before the net even begins, however, your group needs to decide on a 1) net day, 2) net
time, and 3) net frequency (especially whether the net should be held on a repeater or by
simplex.) Furthermore, it's appropriate to define the net boundaries, such as geographic
etc.), interest (as in hobby, vocation, ethnicity, political, etc.), and circle (who's
allowed to check in, like all hams, only women, under 18, any human being. etc.) Normally,
these have already been decided, and all that's left now is to hold and run the net.
Greeting and preamble
Announce to the world that you are starting a net, and briefly explain the net's purpose,
then tell everybody who you are. Welcome your listeners and participants. The term *QST*
is not necessary, but is a customary procedure to get the attention of hams who are scanning
for active signals. A net *preamble* is a short paragraph that explains the net participation
procedure, such as check in only when your residential area is called or
announce your call sign in phonetics, followed by your name.
Nets typically request operators to check in by either roll-call or at random. A roll-call
means that Net Control is reading off some list of operators who check in regularly or who
have registered with the net in some way. Random means that Net Control will ask anybody
to check in, with possibly some restrictions, such as all operators north of a particular city.
If your net is being held on simplex, it's a good habit to ask for relays every
Following the regular check-in, Net Control might ask for guest check-ins. It's also a courtesy
for Net Control to ask for late or missed check-ins about mid-net.
Net Control might announce upcoming events, amateur radio news, or other information of interest
to the group.
Nets often invite one of their participants to present a moment of appropriate training or
education, to help inform the group on a particular topic. It's good to invite group members
to ask questions or make comments following the training.
The term traffic refers to a rather formalized manner of conveying a message from
one ham to another. In the case of most nets, however, that message is communicated the same way
we do any other. So, when an operator announces that he or she has traffic for the net,
that's merely an indication that the person has a special announcement to make to the group.
Completely at the discretion of Net Control, net participants might be asked to optionally share
a personal thought or life happening with the net, often, but not necessarily related to the net
or training topic.
If there's enough time, Net Control might invite anybody who has a question, comment, or concern,
to address the net and engage everybody in a discussion or forum. This might be useful for asking
a difficult question regarding amateur radio, or for simply deciding who wants to volunteer the
dessert at the upcoming outdoor event.
It's often courteous to thank the repeater owners and trustees for the use of the repeater on the
net, if indeed you're using an actual repeater. After that, thank everybody who checked in or even
just listened. Say 73, you're returning the frequency to regular amateur
use, then end with your call sign.
And there you have it. Even though we've listed eight sections here, the local 6-meter Net, for
example, uses only the Greeting, Check-ins, Individual comments, and Closing, but they also add
a section for signal reports. Still other nets, such as the Information Net, add a section on
General announcements, which might involve or extend to folks outside the net or intended
At any rate, these are only guidelines, and it's up to Net Control to run his or her net any
way that's appropriate. One final thing: it's very easy to get caught up in the step-by-step
process, so remember to announce your call sign every ten minutes.
Any other thoughts? Let's hear from you.
Participating in a directed net
A ham radio net, or on-air gathering of licensed operators, can be both a fun and educational
way to inform your operators, while raising their radio skill levels in several ways. A net can be
casual and light-hearted, but it's a little easier to control, and wastes less time, when you can
keep the agenda flowing. Maintaining order during the net is often easier in a directed net.
Net control makes the rules
A directed net is one that's under the control of one radio operator, who dictates the format
of the net and the flow of communication. This Net Control Station, or NCS, determines
the rules that should be followed by all participants. At the start of the net, the NCS should take
a little time during the net preamble to briefly explain some of those rules; at least, some
of the important ones.
You as a participant should understand that, while the net is not meant to be very strict or formal,
you should follow all the instructions given you by Net Control. This means you should not say
anything during the net unless you're given permission to speak, and sometimes that takes a little
getting used to.
Principles that help the flow
Here are a few tips that can help the net run smoothly:
If Net Control asks everybody to check in phonetically, do so slowly. Also, Net Control
expects you to remain on the net the entire time, unless you ask for an early out,
If you have any sort of announcement that you'd like to make on the net, tell Net Control
that you have traffic, by saying
K-I-7-A-B-C, with traffic
Net Control will ask for your traffic at a later time during the net. And if Net Control
asks you to state whether you have any traffic for the net, yet you have none, say
If you want to ask or answer a question, or add your thoughts to an ongoing discussion,
give the suffix (all the letters after the digit) of your call sign, then un-key, waiting
for Net Control to acknowledge you, like this:
You say : ABC
In this case, a) you announced your call sign suffix, which is nothing more than a tactical
call sign, b) Net Control acknowledged and said that you were free to speak, and c) you
eventually returned the air to Net Control (abbreviated Net), and announced your full
legal call sign.
Net Control says : ABC, go ahead
You say : Yeah, I just
wanted to blab. Back to Net. KI7ABC.
There are times when Net Control might not want to turn the air over to you. When you hear
during the net, do not transmit until told otherwise, like this:
You say : ABC
This last example demonstrates how Net Control is able to maintain message flow during the
Net Control says : ABC, stand by
You don't key up at all, until Net Control comes back around and turns the air over
Remain on frequency (meaning you should leave your radio turned on and you should be
actively listening for instructions from Net Control) until you are released from the net.
On the other hand, if you've already informed Net Control when you checked in that you aren't
able to remain on frequency, you're free to leave the net at will.
The reason for remaining on frequency is that Net Control needs to know whether to count on
you being there if your help is needed, to relay a message, look up some information, or to
One of the problems that a directed net attempts to solve is the circumstance of more than one participant
transmitting at the same time, making it so nobody can hear either, which further adds to the confusion.
Under the control of a single operator, a net can run a little more smoothly, and even handle an urgent
situation quickly if one arises.
So, there's an order to how a directed net should run, and Net Control is in charge. The bottom
line is that you must be given permission by Net Control to speak on a directed net.
What do you think? Let's hear from you.
Spoken by you
When you need to pause your message or communication, you're probably used to saying
"Hold on" or "Hang on for just a minute," in the interest of using plain English. For
most communication, that's perfectly acceptable. However, I encourage you to get in the
habit of saying "Stand by" instead. This phrase is brief and is well-understood in many
circles, especially those that are part of emergency management, public safety, and
There are other phrases we use, to mean the same thing, such as "Please wait" or "Just a
sec." A popular one is "Let me reset," for those who are aware that they tend to talk
long enough to "time out" their radio, so they un-key momentarily to allow the radio
timeout timer to reset. Or worse yet, they simply un-key without saying anything, hoping
nobody hijacks the frequency while they've momentarily un-keyed to reset. Are any of these
phrases illegal or bad practice? Absolutely not, but it might be better to get in the habit
of saying "Stand by" because it's almost universally understood, and has a specific meaning.
Spoken by Net Control
When you hear the phrase "Stand by" from Net Control or an official, such as the Incident
Command shadow, it's telling you two things of importance, that should grab your attention:
When asked to "Stand by," we're often tempted to leave the net or go away long enough to
make ourselves a ham sandwich. An even less tactful action is to check-in, request a signal
check, or attempt to communicate with another person on the net after Net Control has
announced "Stand by." When you hear, "Stand by," do not transmit, but do listen closely for
the next thing that Net Control has to say.
you must not transmit during this time
you must listen closely for further instructions
During one of our training nets, we might ask operators to "Stand by" out of habit so often,
that its significance might get lost in sheer usage. But that's a good problem to have. It's
better to get used to saying and hearing the phrase than to use it so infrequently that we
forget what it means and how to respond to it.
What to say at the end of your QSO [link
If there's one thing that new hams find awkward, is what to say at the end of the QSO, or
conversation. The answer is, your call sign is all you need.
But most people find that rather impersonal or incomplete, and feel compelled to say things
like clear or over or something else that sounds official or police-like. For
example, the following is what some hams run into:
Ham 1 : Well, I've got to go now,
so I'll see you later.
Ham 2 : Ok, I'll catch you later.
Ham 1 : 7-3 KI7ABC from KI7DEF.
I'll be clear on your final.
Ham 2 : Ok, 7-3 KI7DEX, I mean
KI7DES. No, wait KI7DEF from KI7ABC, clear.
Ham 1 : Ok, KI7DEF, over and out.
These two hams are doing their best to follow the rules, but feel awkward simplifying their
closing, possibly believing the other ham will feel snubbed by his directness. Furthermore,
Ham 2 is struggling to remember Ham 1's call sign. To help this, I recommend two things at
the end of your QSO:
Don't worry about giving the other person's call sign
Say your own call sign when it's the only thing left to say, except maybe 7-3
These are not rules, but suggestions. Here's an example, using the same two hams above:
Ham 1 : Well, I've got to go now, so I'll see you later. 7-3.
Ham 2 : Ok, I'll catch you later. 7-3.
Ham 1 : KI7DEF.
Ham 2 : KI7ABC.
And they're done. Neither said any call signs until it was time to hang up the mic (pronounced
mike) and neither felt that the other ham was being offensive, because both experienced
hams understood the guidelines. You never need to remember or say another person's call sign
during your QSO. It's often customary to say the other person's call sign when calling for him,
but still not necessary. So, you can say either,
Hey, Jim, are you there? This is Tony
And if you say only call signs, it's understood whose call sign is which, because of the
gentlemen's agreement of putting yourself last, which means the person talking in this
case is most likely KI7DEF.
And no need to say clear or over or out or any similar military-sounding word.
Is it alright to say these extra words? Sure. Nobody's going to chastise you for saying them,
but these tips just might make it a bit easier to conclude your radio conversation.
Don't over-use phonetics [link
A few weeks ago I was driving up in Davis County, and had my mobile radio trained on an
Ogden repeater. I heard a ham get on clearly and with great audio, saying that he was mobile,
and announced his call sign something like
I decided to engage him and gave my
call sign, but then asked him to repeat his call sign. Once again, he repeated
and that his name is
or something. I asked him to say it once
more, but a little slower. By this time, he was getting a little upset, and asked whether
I was a new ham who had not quite mastered memorizing the Phonetic Alphabet.
So, what was my problem? Was my brain just not running as quickly as his mouth? Or am
I unknowingly dyslexic, requiring extra repetition to get incoming data straight? Well, I
know that I can understand A-B-C a little better than alfa-bravo-charlie,
because my native language is A-B-C, not alfa-bravo-charlie.
In fact, when I hear alfa-bravo-charlie, I have to stop for a millisecond and
mentally translate each word to its corresponding letter. And if the phonetic words are spoken
fast enough, by the time I get to the sixth letter, I've already forgotten the first two,
since my concentration was on the final one or two.
What it boils down to is this: if the other person could hear you reasonably well, there's
no reason to state your call sign, or anything else, using phonetics. The exception is when
you're on a net, and Net Control asks you to say your call sign or name that
way, even if he or she could hear you perfectly. When you're communicating within the noisy
environment of HF, you'll often be asked for your call sign in phonetics.
Other noisy situations that might require a more regular announcement of your name or call
sign phonetically include operating outdoors, or in a crowd, or near loud equipment or music.
To use phonetics when people can hear you clearly is not illegal by any means, but often makes
you appear somewhat elitist or just showing off. That being said, it's still good practice to
practice, so use good judgment too.
When you do give your call sign using the Phonetic Alphabet, slow down, even if you've
given it a hundred times:
More often than not on a repeater, however, people will understand K-I-7-A-B-C
and Dave much easier.
and the same with your name
So, please only use phonetics if asked, or if you know you're surrounded by a lot of noise.
Even when your signal is difficult to hear, because of your location or antenna, if people
want to hear your call sign or name phonetically, they'll often ask for it.
Using alternate phonetics [link
Late one night during a Field Day, an unlicensed young lady called CQ at the GOTA
(Get-On-The-Air) station while I sat next to her, logging her contacts. A club station located
in Boise, Idaho, was trying and re-trying to decipher the little girl's announcement of
gossara-leema, which was her way of pronouncing golf-sierra-leema,
but they just couldn't make out the call sign. After five or six frustrating tries, she was in
near-tears and ready to call it quits, so I whispered "great salt lake" to her, and into the
microphone she shouted, "great-salt-lake!" Immediately, the Boise station
acknowledged the GOTA station's call sign, made the proper exchange, and logged the entry.
The little lady was all grins after that.
The ITU (International Telecommunication Union) has devised the English version of the
ITU Phonetic Alphabet to help clarify communication between radio stations. Depending
on your communication mode or how noisy your environment is, some of the words in the Phonetic
Alphabet can be less than helpful. Also, it's sometimes difficult to hear some of the ITU
words from a person with a mild speech impediment or whose native language is not English.
For these reasons and more, it's often helpful to use phonetic words that are not part of
the ITU list in the interest of clarity. Here's a list of commonly used
alternate or substitute phonetic words:
Can you use phonetic words outside of this list? Of course, such as michigan or
mary, instead of mexico, if it helps with clarity. These are only
common substitutes. Just keep in mind that most hams are used to hearing the ITU phonetic words,
so you might need to slow down when using alternates. Also, there are times when it's appropriate
to speak multiple-word phonetics, for even further clarification. One often-used multi-word
phrase is king-henry for K-H, the first two letters in the call signs of many
Hawaiian hams. The one used in our above example, great-salt-lake is another.
Finally, be fore-warned that there are some older hams who berate those who use alternate
phonetics, out of some religious or otherwise fanatic allegiance to the ITU list. Please rest
assured that using alternate phonetics is not illegal, and is in fact highly encouraged
to promote clarity in communication. And the little girl at the GOTA station? Two months
after that Field Day, she became KI7RES, the youngest ham in Utah at the time.
While helping a new ham couple with their radio issues one day, I noticed that their HTs (handheld
transceivers) were set to 147.3325 MHz. I asked them why they chose that frequency, and they proudly
announced that it's well within the 2-meter band, as allocated by the FCC and displayed on the ARRL
band chart for Technician licensees, and that one seemed to work for them.
I told them they were correct in selecting a frequency within their Technician privileges, and
congratulated them on that. I then asked whether they were familiar with the Utah Band Plan,
and they said they weren't, but that they had heard there was such a thing. I explained that the band
plan further clarified which frequencies were permitted by amateurs on each band.
According to the ARRL band chart (which reflects the corresponding Part 97 rules), anybody with a
valid Technician license is indeed permitted to use any frequency in the 2-meter band, which spans
144.000 to 148.000 MHz. However, our local band plan states that certain sub-bands, or subsets of this
span, are allocated for specific types of usage. The Utah Band Plan is laid out online at
From the online list, you can see that the frequency the couple was using, 147.3325 MHz, falls within
one of the sections allocated to repeater operation, and so their selected frequency did not meet the
Utah Band Plan for simplex usage. They needed to choose a frequency from within one of the three
sub-bands designated for simplex operation to be compliant.
But wait, there's more. Further examination of the Utah Band Plan shows that simplex frequencies must
be selected by odd-numbered 20 kHz frequency separations in the 145.500 to 145.800 MHz
list, and even-numbered 20 kHz frequency separations in the other two. This means, for
example, you can use 145.510, 145.530, 145.550 MHz, etc., from the first list, and 146.480, 146.500,
146.520, etc., from the second list, and so forth. Therefore, a selection of 146.490 MHz for your
simplex operation, for example, goes contrary to the Band Plan, for example.
Finally, a band plan is not the law, but it is a set of strongly suggested
agreements that help us all play nicely with each other, in that they prevent chaos and minimize
interference between stations. The band plan is set in place by the Frequency Coordinator, and in
Utah is supported by the Utah VHF Society. Keep in mind that not all band plans betwen different
states follow the same guidelines. So, if you travel to another state, don't assume the band plan
there is the same as what you're used to; a little research can save you some heart ache.
How to handle a pileup [link
Whether you're running a net, engaged in a conversation, or calling CQ, there's always a possibility
that more than one person will transmit at the same time, in an attempt to communicate with you. We
typically refer to that as a pileup on single-sideband, or a double
on FM, although mode has little to do with the end result. When multiple people transmit on the
same frequency using single-sideband, you can often hear all the transmissions perfectly. But when
two people do the same using FM, you often hear a garbled sound instead, due to the multiple carrier
signals attempting to dominate the receiver simultaneously.
Regardless what we call it, how do you handle a situation like that, in which two or more transmissions
are reaching you at the same time? First, listen carefully for any words or portions of call
signs that can help distinguish one person from the rest. Second, acknowledge what you can hear.
But some times even those tips won't always solve the problem.
If you can easily tell one call sign from another, simply pick one, repeat it, and have
the person proceed:
If you can't easily tell them apart, try asking them to say it phonetically:
Could you please repeat that phonetically?
If you can only distinguish part of a call sign, you might try saying
The station ending in delta, please come again with your full call sign
One tip that seems to make one stand out over others is to ask them to repeat it slowly:
Could you please come back with your call sign, slowly?
This last one works because no two people seem to agree mentally on what slowly means,
and that disagreement will work in your favor.
There are times, especially on single-sideband, when you can hear two callers, but they aren't
able to hear each other. In that case, it's up to you to be the traffic cop:
KI7ABC, please stand by. KJ7XYZ, go ahead.
At that moment, KI7ABC might realize that somebody else is calling you too.
There are also times when the pileup or double takes place because an operator failed to
tell the others in the conversation who should speak next. You can avoid that situation by
passing the mic to the next person in the QSO:
After you pass the mic to Jim, everybody else in your QSO will know to stand by and allow Jim to
take his turn.
Finally, if you simply can't distinguish multiple callers, evan after a couple of repeated attempts,
start over, like you never heard any of them. Often, this will be enough to clear up the
confusion. However you try and tackle the situation, be sure to remain kind and polite, never
critical or demanding.
Third-party communication [link
There might come a time when you'll have to operate your station in behalf of another, possibly
unlicensed, person, such as a family member, a neighbor, or maybe even a church leader. Well,
it turns out that amateur radio provides a method for you to legally handle that kind of operation,
which we call third-party communication. However, many, if not most, ham radio operators
either don't really know how to perform third-party communication, or find it a little awkward,
since it's not an operating mode they use every day. I'm hoping that this short training might
help you feel a little more confident about handling third-party traffic.
In amateur radio, the term third-party communication originated from the need for a
telegraph operator to send a message to another telegraph operator in behalf of an unlicensed
person, such as a supervisor, or even a government official, especially during war, a crisis,
or other emergency. The first party is you, the licensed control operator making
the call. The second party is the operator you're contacting, who is the licensed
control operator answering the call. The third party is the unlicensed person
for whom the first party is making the call.
Today, US rules governing third-party communication have broadened and loosened since those
early days, so that the second-party operator never even needs to speak with the first-party
operator at all. There are three basic rules that govern third-party communication, although
there are other rules that also cover their details. The three are
You, the first party, are the licensed control operator, and must maintain control of
your station during the communication
You must be in close enough proximity to your station to take control of it, should
anything go wrong with it
You must be awake
The following example illustrates how to carry out a third-party communication, assuming
your call sign is
and you're trying to reach
You've turned on the radio, set it to the appropriate frequency, and handed the mic
to your unlicensed friend.
Your unlicensed friend calls out to the second party, giving your call sign; maybe
saying something like
KI7XYZ, this is KI7ABC.
The second party responds with
This is KI7XYZ, go ahead.
Your unlicensed friend and the second party are then free to talk back-and-forth on
the air at will.
Every ten minutes, your unlicensed friend says
and the second party says
At the conclusion of the conversation, the second party should
say something like
Nice talking with you. KI7XYZ.
and your unlicensed friend says something like
Yeah, nice talking with you, too! KI7ABC.
Your unlicensed friend turns the mic back to you, and you turn off your radio.
Notice that during this entire conversation, not once did you need to say anything, not your
call sign, no introduction, not the words "third-party", nothing. Your unlicensed friend
did all the talking at your station, and that's good enough. A few hams who are unfamiliar
with third-party communication might feel uneasy about this procedure, and will step in and
announce his or her call sign or say something to seemingly legitimize the communication,
such as "for third-party traffic," and that's alright too; it's just not necessary.
There is one small exception to what I just said, that you should probably be aware of. The
unlicensed person must not have been a ham who has had his or her licensed revoked or suspended.
How will you know whether the unlicensed person has ever had that happen? Likely, you won't
know, but if you happen to know that, just be aware of the rule.
I mentioned that one of the rules say that you must be present in case something goes wrong
with your station. Well, what can go wrong? Your station could get off-frequency, it can lose
battery power, its antenna could come loose, and a host of other possibilities. Also, the
unlicensed person could suffer a sudden health problem or unwittingly violate the rules, and
start singing or swearing. In those cases, it's up to you, the licensed control operator, to
take control of the situation.
Finally, I mentioned that you, the licensed control operator, must be awake. Ok, that makes
sense, but what if you're unconscious, due to an accident or health problem of your own? Well,
that's the definition of an emergency, and a different set of rules take over.
Ok, let's hear from you. What are your thoughts about third-party communication?
On many nets, you might hear Net Control say, "When you check in, please indicate whether you
have any traffic for the net." Or, even when Net Control doesn't ask for it, you might hear
net participants say, "KI7ABC, no traffic." So, exactly what is traffic?
The word traffic means, essentially, a message. But there are typically
three different kinds of messages that can be passed or aired: formal traffic,
emergency traffic, and informal traffic.
A national organization called NTS (National Traffic System) is a network of amateur
radio stations and others who are organized for the purpose of relaying formal traffic
messages. It was originally set up as a way to provide an amateur radio means of communication
between government officials (such as the governors of two states caught in a hurricane) who
are not licensed amateurs, while maintaining message integrity. Besides the conveyed text,
these messages include the name of the sender, the name of the recipient, the number of message
words, and more, much like a paper telegram. They're passed between one ham operator and
another in a very exact and procedural method. Again, the purpose of formal traffic is to pass
precisely worded messages.
Emergency traffic (also known as priority traffic)
An incident in our context is a situation the poses a threat to health, life, or
property. Any incident-related message that must be given to, or received by, an emergency
official, such as an Incident Commander, your doctor, the police, your religious leader, or
others engaged in an incident, is considered emergency traffic. The message might or
might not be very formal, but typically it's conveyed as a high-priority request or order.
An informal traffic message is not technically traffic in the sense of the original
definition, but is still referred to as traffic because it's a message delivered by a ham
radio operator to listening participants. It can be an announcement, a reminder, instruction,
or some other information intended for some or all of the listening audience. Unlike formal
or emergency traffic, an informal message can simply be informational, personal, or even funny.
Be sure to understand what kind of traffic is expected on a particular net or activity, before
offering a traffic message, since many emergency nets will not allow informal ones. Along the
same lines, be sure to listen to your net's preamble, to know how to respond to a call from Net
Control, whether any traffic announcement is expected from the participants. Then, you
can check in and say no traffic if you have none.
Well, what do you think...did I cover it all? Let's hear from you.
When you're on your cell phone, you typically talk only to one person. There are apps that
allow you to add another person into the conversation, but that's a rare exception. In ham
radio, however, having more than two people engage in a conversation together is quite
common, and we often refer to that as a group. Taking turns, in a group exchange
therefore, becomes important, so that you don't leave anybody out. It's a good problem to
have, because group communication is one of the strengths of ham radio.
When engaging in an on-air conversation with two or more people, after you've released your
PTT, it's helpful to indicate who should talk next. We call that passing the mic
(pronounced mike). Let's say you're in an auditorium, talking with two friends of
yours, Ron and Linda, and the many people sitting in the bleachers could only hear you
three when one of you talks into a single microphone, that you all share.
Naturally, when you've had a turn at the mic, you hand it to Linda, so she could talk and
be heard. Next, she hands the mic to Ron, to give him a turn, says his part, then hands it
right back to you, and so it goes, around again. By handing the physical microphone to Linda,
and Linda to Ron, you two have indicated who should talk next. Using the same technique, but
with radio, you have to verbally indicate who goes next, because if you simply stop
talking, neither Linda nor Ron will know who should talk next, and both might actually start
talking, stepping on each other.
When we pass the mic on the radio, we often say, Over to Linda or simply,
To Linda, and it becomes obvious to Ron that he should stand by and allow Linda
to speak. We might also say Back to Linda if we want to turn the mic back to
her instead of passing it to the next person who should get it. But it doesn't matter what
you say, as long as you indicate who should take a turn next.
There are times when it's important or convenient to momentarily confine the conversation
between two people in the group, even though more than two are talking with each other. For
example, after you pass the mic to Linda, she mentions something that catches Ron's interest,
then passes the mic to Ron. Ron suddenly has a question for Linda, and doesn't want to wait
for your turn before hearing from Linda, and so passes it right back to her, instead of you.
That occurs quite often, and is very appropriate, as long as Linda and Ron eventually remember
to include you back into the group. The following illustrates this:
You say : I was born in Ogden. How
about you? Over to Linda.
Linda says : I actually grew up in
Samoa. Over to Ron.
Ron says : Wait...Samoa? Did you ever
eat green bananas there? Back to Linda.
Linda says : Why yes, I practically
grew up on green bananas. Do you like them? Over to Ron.
Ron says : No, I can't stand them,
but I just had to ask. To Linda.
Linda says : Ok, that's funny. Over
to (whatever your name is).
You say : Wow, I had no idea you two
shared a Samoan heritage.
As illustrated, the conversation went back-and-forth between Linda and Ron for a short time,
but Linda was considerate enough to eventually allow you back into the group. Well, what if
you forget who to pass the mic to, or even who's in the group? It doesn't matter, as
long as you pass it to somebody and don't deliberately leave a person out of the
conversation. If you accidentally leave somebody out, just do your best, and all will be
Finally, when should these three say their call signs? Every ten minutes and at the end of
their conversation. They don't need to say any call signs as they pass the mic from one
person to the next. They could, if they want to, just not necessary.
What are your thoughts? Let's hear from you.
During a net, a regular on-air conversation, or even other moments, there are times when
you might want to interject something into the discussion. But you want to do so
appropriately, at the right time, and without interfering with anybody else's transmission.
Turns out you can do just that, by doing what some of us refer to as breaking into
an ongoing conversation.
When you were in elementary school, you learned the importance of raising your hand,
to help you take turns at talking, thereby maintaining order during a classroom lesson or
discussion. In ham radio, it's not that different. If you'd like to say something or add
something to the net, just raise your hand, by saying your call sign or the letters of your
call sign following the digit.
For example, if my call sign is KI7ABC, and I wanted to add something to the ongoing net,
I should wait until the current speaker is finished, then say,
ABC. If the Net Control
Station feels it's appropriate to allow my comment, he or she might then say,
ABC, go ahead. I will
then be free to speak my turn. Here's an example from Kelly, who wants to add something
to the net, and her call sign is KI7XYZ:
Net Control says : Good luck on your
doctor visit, Jim.
Jim says : Thanks. I believe
everything's going to be alright.
Net Control says : When will you
know the test results?
Jim says : Not until Friday.
You say : XYZ
Net Control says : Go ahead, XYZ.
You say : Thanks, Kelly here, KI7XYZ.
I had the same test done last week, and it was brutal.
Notice what took place in this example. First, Kelly heard Net Control and Jim talking, and
she had something to say, so she waited until Jim was finished, and had un-keyed. She then
announced her three-letters, but did not speak her turn until Net Control gave her
permission to speak. Kelly was experienced enough to know that simply saying the
three letters did not give her the go-ahead to talk, and so held off, until Net Control
told Kelly to proceed.
Finally, instead of using her three letters to raise her hand, Kelly could have said her
name, but Net Control had probably specified that if somebody wants to jump into the
conversation, he or she should say the last three letters of their call sign. None of these
need to be the full, legal call sign, because this name or set of letters is known as a
tactical call sign, which we'll leave for another training.
Anything else you'd like to add? Let's hear from you.
Ham radio words and phrases [link
Most of the time, we ham radio operators follow the guideline to use plain English
when we talk on the radio. Or plain Spanish, if that's your language of choice. But,
occasionally we get a bit confused about some of the terminology, so let's go over a few of
the common words and phrases that you might hear on the radio, what they mean, and maybe how
to respond to them.
Here are a few words and phrases that might be good to know:
When you hear an operator announce that he or she is testing, it means they're
running a test, and don't want to be interrupted. So, it's not appropriate
for you to respond with something like, Your audio sounds good or similar. You
should not respond at all.
The phrase stand by means, please wait, and the operator is
asking you to be patient while he or she addresses another operator, or takes care of
a possibly personal issue for just a moment.
There was a time when monitoring meant that the operator is attempting to
listen for rule violators, and record their conversations. Today, when an operator
announces that he or she is monitoring, it simply means they are available
for a casual conversation, and listening for anybody who might want to chat.
Our repeaters have a time-out timer, such that, if one operator is holding his
PTT down too long, the repeater's time-out timer will cause the repeater to reboot,
as a precaution against being stuck in transmit mode. To prevent the repeater from
timing out, it's wise to release your PTT every so often. Some operators do that
after saying something like, pause for reset or similar, although
it's not required that you say anything.
The word break is reserved for emergencies. When an operator says the word
break, it means, Attention everybody...I have an emergency. This word
was once commonly used, especially on HF, to break into conversations, and many older
hams still use that term out of habit. So, if you hear the term, and they're not
really announcing an emergency, just forgive them and move on.
When you're driving, walking, or otherwise moving around while talking on your radio,
your signal can get compromised by a number of things. Sometimes, the people listening
can tell you're moving around, because of the erratic, fluttery sounds
that are coming from your transmission, and we call that picket-fencing.
When you transmit at the same time as another ham, especially on FM, which is what we
use on our nets, and especially through repeaters, the act of that dual-transmission
is known as doubling. Often when you double with somebody, people
cannot understand either of you, because you both sound like you're talking under
If you ask for a signal report, and the other person tells you that you're
full-quieting, they mean that your audio sounds clear, with no
background noise or other interference. If your signal is going through a
repeater, they might tell you that you're full-quieting into the repeater
because the repeater will likely have a clear signal, but your signal going into
the repeater might not.
As mentioned, these are only guidelines, and not hard, fast rules. But they're more examples
of some things you might hear on the radio, and how to respond to them.
Are there other common ham phrases that we might get tripped up on? Let's hear from you.
Announcing your call sign [link
In light of a long history of old traditions and habits, it's no surprise that many hams,
especially newer ones, are a little confused about when it's appropriate to announce their
call signs on the radio. It seems most of us are aware of the basic rules of saying it
at the end of the communication and every ten minutes, but are
there other times when it's a good idea, or even necessary? For clarity, your assigned
call sign is the one that the FCC has assigned you, if you're an American. A
vanity call sign is also an assigned call sign, because it replaces your former
assigned call sign. Here are some tips for American amateurs:
It's a courtesy to announce your call sign at the start of your conversation, but
It's a courtesy to announce the other person's call sign, but again, not necessary,
not even when calling for them
If you do use both your call sign and the other person's call sign, the convention
(not a rule) is to say your own last
It's not necessary to wait until the repeater has completed announcing its ID, to
announce your call sign (they're typically designed so that your transmission will
override its ID announcement)
It's not necessary to say "for ID" when announcing your call sign, since that's
You must announce your call sign in English
A partial call sign is not a call sign at all, but is a tactical call
sign, which in fact does not need to even resemble your assigned call sign,
and so does not replace your assigned call sign
When using phonetics to announce your call sign, using one or more letters from an
alternate phonetic alphabet is perfectly acceptable, as long as you remember to slow
On a repeater, it's not necessary to announce your call sign using phonetics, unless
you're not being heard well, or the net control operator asks you to do so
Announcing your call sign with every transmission is unnecessary, and will likely
only irritate others
When you're operating in behalf of another station (like during Field Day, a special
event, or certain contests), be sure to announce your own assigned call sign
once every hour
When you announce your call sign at the end of your communication, it does not need
to be the very last thing you say
When you announce your call sign at the end of your communication, you don't even need
to say it in your final transmission
This short checklist is by no means comprehensive, but it's a start into helping us decipher
between rule and tradition. Are there other call sign tips you can think of? Let's hear from
Emergency training topics
How to help when you're on the road [link
While you're traveling by road, if you're interested in contacting local hams through their
repeaters, one thing you can do is download a list of repeaters along your route, and program
them into your radio ahead of time. Where can you get that list? From
Just look up the state or the interstate route, and you can see all the repeaters available.
Copy the repeater info to
and program your radio accordingly. Of course, that requires a laptop and an appropriate
cable to interface with your radio, to program it.
What you can do alternatively is download the app from RepeaterBook.com and activate it.
Then, while you're traveling, the app will display nearby repeaters, based on your GPS
location. You can then manually program the repeaters into your radio, or download it to
your laptop and program as you go. Of course, that can be a real pain, which is why knowing
how to program your radio manually is a good skill to learn.
So, if you travel, you're all set to go, but to do what? To help yourself and others.
Here are some possibilities:
You encounter an incident and want to help
If you travel in an area, and learn it's been struck by an incident, such as a tornado,
wildfire, chemical spill, or terrorist attack, turn to the 2-meter National Calling
Frequency (146.520 MHz simplex) and listen. If you don't hear anything, either call
out on that frequency every 15 minutes,
This is KI7ABC, monitoring
It's possible that somebody will respond, and ask for help, and you'll be there to answer the
call. Or start scanning (all frequencies, instead of just memory channels). And yes, scanning
is another good skill to learn.
You're the one who needs help
If you travel in an incident area, and find yourself in need of assistance, start
calling out on the National Calling Frequency every few minutes,
This is KI7ABC, and I need help
Hams who are familiar with the
will be monitoring for those in need of help, and might be able to give you the
help you need.
Start a conversation on a local repeater
Finally, you're not aware of any local incident, but you never know. So, strike up a conversation
with a complete stranger on a local repeater. Find out when he or she first got licensed. Ask
about their family, how many kids and dogs, their favorite foods, their hobbies, the breadwinner's
occupation, etc. But be sure to leave a one-second break between each un-key and key-up, to allow
those with an actual issue or emergency to break in. The mere constant chatter will help put other
listeners more at ease, and assure them that the amateur system is still available, should they
need help or have a question. Don't worry that you're tying up the repeater because that's
what it's there for.
For whom you will really be transmitting [link
Many of us have spent a great deal of effort, training to set up and operate our radios during
a time of emergency or disaster, and that's terrific. And if you're part of an emergency
radio team, such as ARES, RACES, or AUXCOMM, you might find yourself getting called out or
activated during an incident, to help out with communication, as part of an organized
team of radio volunteers. In spite of your training, however, during an actual emergency, you
might discover that your radio skills will be needed much less in an official capacity than
you might like to believe. So, for whom will you be doing all that radio communicating?
The answer is, for yourself or your family. If an earthquake should hit, it's
alright to believe that you're prepared to pull out your radio, start a net, and save the world.
But it's much more likely that you'll be listening in on a net that's already in progress,
then checking in or staying in touch on behalf of your own family. And that's alright too,
because being self-sufficient is one of the reasons you got into ham radio.
In the event of a disaster, and both you and your family are safe, and maybe not directly
affected by the incident, you can still help with communication without being an official
relay or shadow. First, listen to multiple frequencies on your dual-watch radio. Next, check
into any net in progress you believe is appropriate, such as a local area net (often organized
by a neighborhood ore nearby religious collective) or city net or ARES net. This way, you can
make your radio services available, if they become needed, especially as a relay.
So, as you continue to improve your skills and gather your equipment to prepare for a possible
emergency, keep in mind that you're putting these together primarily for you and your family.
That's because during a true incident, your primary goal is the safety of your family. And
if help is unavailable, unreachable, or otherwise occupied by an ongoing relief effort, it's
a little peace of mind to know that you might have some sort of communication
line to a listening ear.
You might want to upgrade your license [link
I know a nearby ham who's a wonderful and competent radio operator, and she's completely content
with her Technician license, and has no plans to upgrade. That's perfectly fine, since her skills
will be the ones most sought for, in our family, our neighborhood, and our area, should they be
needed. In other words, in any given emergency, all the communication operation and equipment
likely to be required, can be performed by somebody with a Technician license.
In the event of a much more catastrophic or large-scale emergency, such as an earthquake or
terrorist strike, the power, cell towers, and other parts of our infrastructure could suddenly
become unavailable for a rather large geographic area. In that case, transmitting by your mobile
unit, and especially your handheld, can only get you so far. And if you need to reach outside,
say, 200 miles, to get help, you'll need to rely on HF. It's possible to transmit this far by
tropospheric ducting, by 6-meter single-sideband, or sporadic E, all of which require only a
Tech license, but the likelihood of getting anybody's attention this way is very slim.
So, that leaves HF. It's true that a Technician licensee can use a 200-kHz section of the 10-meter
band on HF, so they have that much going for them, if they have the equipment and know how to use
it. But wait a minute, you ask, Isn't it true that, during a true emergency, any means of
communication necessary can be used in the protection of life or property? Yes, that's true,
but there's a catch.
Let's say that you and a friend, both Tech licensees, are driving across the Utah desert, transporting
some belongings to a third friend. Among your cargo is an HF station, complete with antenna and
coax. While you're driving, your car breaks down, outside the reach of any cell towers or even ham
radio repeaters. And while walking around looking for signs, your passenger falls and impales an
artery on a sage branch. This sure sounds like an emergency to me. Since it dawns on you that you
have a complete HF setup, you conclude that you can save your friend's life and call for help on
any frequency you need. Well, I believe you're right, but I have a few questions for you.
Do you know how to set up an HF station and turn it on? Alright, it's not rocket science,
and you're pretty smart, so you manage to figure it out. Will you know how to use it? On what
band? On which frequencies? Using what mode? What's the protocol? And what's that awful noise
you're hearing, and how do you make it go away? Do you know whether your setup is going to
need a tuner? You'd know the answer to those questions if you had trained and practiced using HF.
And you won't have been able to get that training and practice without a General license.
Yes, it's possible for a Technician licensee to get *some* training and practice on HF, but I just
don't know many who can justify getting an expensive HF rig, just for a small, 200-kHz section of
the spectrum. And at this point in the sunspot cycle, nobody will hear you there anyway.
Finally, if you've already got a General class or higher license, you won't need to upgrade.
Instead, why not mentor, or at least encourage, Technician licensees to upgrade, by explaining
the benefits you heard here. Just keep in mind that, after you explain the reasons to them,
and they don't care to upgrade, that's their choice, there's no need to hound them, and they're
free to pursue ham radio they way they see fit.
Please tell me your thoughts. I hope nobody will feel truly pressured to upgrade their Tech license
to a General, just because of a training item. But I did want to give you some food for thought.
Are there things I might have missed? Let's hear from you.
What frequency to monitor for a nearby
Once in a while an incident occurs, but in another county, or is not large enough to label it
a local emergency or to disrupt cell phone operation. These can include an earthquake, chemical
spill, a large storm, and out-of-area flood. Although they might not affect you very much right
away, or at your current location, the disaster potential might be real enough to worry you,
especially if a loved one lives in the affected zone.
Essentially, you're in a non-life-threatening situation. Everybody near you seems alright, they
haven't lost consciousness, aren't bleeding much or have minor injuries, they seem emotionally
stable, and there's simply no need to call an ambulance. At times like that, we tend to want
information, like how big the nearby incident is, how you should respond, if at all, where you
should go, and how to best reassure others.
Similar to what happened during the last earthquake, because we were not in a truly emergent
situation, yet somewhat involved in a relatively minor way, there was not really a need to
activate emergency protocols; just had to collect a few reports. As a result, the emergency
frequencies we had mentioned in previous trainings were fairly irrelevant to the situation.
Alright, so, what should or can we listen to?
We recommend that you tune to local ragchew repeater frequencies, plus a locally accessible
repeater system. Often, when an incident occurs, a previously designated operator will
start a net going on one of them, and ask for people from all over to check in and report
conditions at their locations. In spite of the mis-information potential, they might just
give you the most information from those who are experiencing the incident first-hand.
When the recent earthquake hit, one person assumed Net Control on the Intertie, started a net,
and asked for reports from all over Utah. Many people checked in, reported the conditions at
their locations, and gradually helped paint us a large mental map of what was or was not
happening where, as a result of the earthquake. It was a good and quick way to get a little
peace-of-mind, when the broadcast news agencies could not say anything more than what was
officially released to them, which was sparse at first.
Here are some recommended ham radio frequencies:
Officially designated emergency broadcast radio channels:
Any or all of several police, sheriff, fire, and EMS (emergency medical services)
frequencies, which include, but are not limited to, the following:
147.120+ (100.0 Hz) repeater
Salt Lake County
147.120+ (100.0 Hz) repeater
154.860 MHz : North Utah County Sheriff
156.135 MHz : South Utah County Sheriff
155.235 MHz : Utah County Search and Rescue
851.600 MHz : Utah Public Safety (all services)
Search out and find the same or similar kinds of frequencies where you live, including
popular repeaters and statewide repeater systems, if you have them.
Are there others you know of? Let's hear from you.
Join a local faith-based net [link
Throughout the US, many counties and cities have established emergency service nets,
to give you the opportunity to check in, get trained, and get involved with the local emergency
service. They're excellent sources of emergency preparedness information, especially when
it comes to communication. However, most of these groups do not have the bandwidth to serve
every neighborhood and every household individually, in the event of a disaster.
It just so happens that the predominant religious organizations of many locations in the US
have divided their geographic locations into local regions they can serve in meaningful ways.
This results in neighborhood and other community areas whose boundaries are conveniently drawn
for suitable emergency communication. As a result, many of these areas hold weekly local nets,
known as faith-based nets. Regardless of the title, religion is rarely
discussed on their nets, because their purpose is preparedness, not religious.
In many California cities, for example, Catholic dioceses have subdivided their communities
into parishes, each of which might hold its own ham radio net and drill schedule. In Illinois,
religious leaders have organized ham radio nets to serve their members by synagogues. In Utah,
many LDS stakes have subdivided their neighborhoods into wards, and hold appropriate nets to
serve their emergency communication needs as well.
Whether you're a member of the local predominant religious organization, or not affiliated
with any religious group at all, it's in your best interest to join a local faith-based net
that's hosted by one of them in your area. This involvement will serve your family by giving
you a neighborhood-level emergency communication network, while allowing others in your area
to get to know you and your family and build trust. This can be important, because during a
disaster, people tend to turn first to those they know, for basic help and information.
And if those people live in the same neighborhood, then all the better.
If your area does not have a faith-based net, or other neighborhood net, you are fully
authorized to start one, even if you aren't a member of the local predominant faith, or do
not, for some reason, have their blessing to start one. Instead of working at odds with them,
however, do your best to work with them. If you do start an area net, and at some future
time they would like to take it over, feel free to let them do so, if that's conducive to
your plans. Your common goal should be to train area and neighborhood citizens on how to
quickly set up an effective net, being ready to communicate needs and information to both
church and civic leaders, and between each other.
What are your thoughts on this? Let's hear from you.
What to keep in your vehicle [link
When we're traveling, whether it's on a road trip, or just a drive to the store, it's good
to be prepared with a few common-sense basics that can help us and others when we're temporarily
away from home. This short list might be a good start:
You can likely keep all these things in a single backpack in your vehicle, but be sure to check
it periodically. If your vehicle does not have a ham radio permanently installed in it, you can
keep or take a portable station temporarily inside your vehicle, and it should include
Headlamp or flashlight
Programmed handheld ham radio, antenna, and extra battery (get an HT that can receive
Food and water
Hygiene items (toothbrush / toothpaste, floss, comb, feminine needs, shaving, etc.)
Medicine (prescription, OTC, and vitamins)
pen, paper, permanent marker
Here are some larger or extra items you might want to consider:
Coax and/or pigtail
Ground plane (if appropriate and possible, like a pizza pie tin or cookie sheet or
Power supply (batteries, solar panel, charge controller, cabling)
Programming cable and repeater list
Finally, whether you keep these in your vehicle full-time or grab them when you head out,
will be up to your needs and your judgment.
Sunscreen and insect repellent
Small, collapsible wagon
Other things (garbage bags, Ziploc bags, duct tape, cash)
Are there other important things to keep in your vehicle, just in case? Let's hear from
Learn how to use the MONITOR function [link
Squelch is a wonderful thing, and its purpose is to turn off the sound on your HT when it's
not receiving a valid signal. If we didn't have squelch, the constant and staticky hissing
sound coming from the radio might turn away many new hams. Most modern HTs enable the squelch
by default, so you never hear the noise unless you want to. But would you ever want
to hear the noise? You might, if the signal you're trying to hear is so weak that your squelch
has turned off the audio, making it so you can't hear it.
Turns out your HT has a button called MONITOR, whose purpose is to turn off the squelch,
allowing the loud, staticky noise to come through. It's labeled differently for different
HT models, some with the letters MONI or simply the letter M or something else.
Your HT's manual should describe how your MONITOR button is labeled. When you're attempting
to communicate using your HT with another person by simplex, and your friend's audio cuts on
and off, press and hold the MONITOR button, and you might be able to hear him better, since
he's no longer cutting in and out.
As I had mentioned, the MONITOR button works primarily when you're communicating by simplex,
but there are a few times it can work when communicating through a repeater too. If the
repeater you're trying to reach is far away, using the MONITOR button can help, as long as
you keep in mind it's the repeater's signal you're trying to hear, and not that of your
friend. Also, a person in need of help might be trying to reach somebody on the repeater
frequency using the repeater output, hoping you can hear him. In that case, just like with
simplex, you might be able to pick him out better by pressing your MONITOR button.
The MONITOR button on your HT won't solve all your difficult communication issues, but it might
help on occasion, especially when it's important to hear the other person's weak signal. Won't
simply turning down your squelch do the same thing? Sure it will, but it's not as quick or
convenient as the MONITOR button.
Any other thoughts or questions about the MONITOR function?
For emergency service nets
Radio-related training topics
Tactical call signs [link
One thing hams, as well as police, fire, military, government, and EMS personnel find useful
while communicating during an incident is the use of tactical call signs. A tactical
call sign represents a group name, function, or geographical location, such as Medical 3,
Lookout Point, or Grid 27. It's not the same as your FCC-issued call sign, and
does not replace it, but can be used as a shortcut or abbreviation during an exercise or
They help keep things simple
During an actual call-out it can get really tedious, if not confusing and frustrating, for all
parties involved, if you had to remember or read back a series of call signs, fumbling with
dyslexic numerals and letters as you try and get some important information to a far-away team.
Team 2, this is Incident Command
and then whomever is Incident Command replies with,
Incident Command, go ahead
That's a little easier easier than,
KG7ZSC, I mean KC7ZSZ, this is KB7BVP
only to have the other party say,
Was that KC7ZSZ or KC7ZFZ?
and then you say,
Kilo-charlie-seven-zulu-sierra-zulu, this is kilo-bravo-seven-bravo-victor-papa
By the time you've figured out the call sign, the patient has died.
They keep station locations organized
Another advantage to tactical call signs is that there is no need to keep track of which call
sign is where. Imagine Incident Command needing to get an update on a forest fire line advance.
with a reply of,
This is N7YHU, KC7ZSZ had to leave
Incident Command then asks,
with a reply of,
Incident Command then says,
Well, who's still there, who can give me an update?
What a time-wasting mess! Instead, try this:
Hilltop Overlook, this is Incident Command
with a reply from Hilltop Overlook of,
Hilltop Overlook, go ahead
Could you please give me a fire-line status?
In this case, Incident Command doesn't know, but more importantly doesn't care,
who's at Hilltop Overlook; he just wants an update from somebody there who's qualified to
deliver the update.
They're assigned by NCS
So, whose job is it to assign tactical call signs? It's the responsibility of Incident Command.
If IC doesn't care, or has delegated it, it's the responsibility of Net Control, who is typically
the Incident Command shadow, but Net Control must then communicate them to IC, so that IC
can keep an overall picture of the incident by location or group name. If IC starts calling a
group Hospital Deck, that might be a good clue that you should also call it by that name,
because that's familiar to him. And if you're the person making up these tactical call signs,
please make them as short as you meaningfully can. Instead of giving one team a name of Samuel
Thornton Fluke Memorial Site 3 maybe simply Site 3 is good enough.
Now, all that being said, every ham is still required to transmit the FCC-issued call sign every
ten minutes and at the end of the communication, regardless of tactical call signs. One way to do
this during a drill, exercise, or incident, is by adding to the confusion and stating your actual
call sign every time you speak, which is not recommended, because you need to say less, not more.
The recommended approach is for Net Control to ask everybody to say their call signs every ten
minutes, all at the same time. Yes, you'll be doubling with thirty other people, but you've
satisfied the rule, to transmit your call sign; there is no requirement that anybody actually
hear your call sign.
Setting up a relay station [link
During an actual incident, what's often needed is a relay station to transfer messages between
two stations who couldn't reach each other by repeater (because it's down or unavailable) or
by simplex (too many obstructions). You can accomplish this several ways, but probably the two
most common ways is by local control and automatic control.
Local control means you're the relay station, and you need to travel to a location
between the two most critical communication stations that are having trouble hearing each other.
All three of your stations are using the same simplex frequency. You hear messages from one
station, then repeat the same message on the same frequency, so that both stations can hear you.
You then hear responses from the other station, and once again repeat the responses on the same
frequency, so that both stations can hear you.
Automatic control means you're responsible for setting up a repeater station, possibly a
cross-band repeater (XBR),
between the two most critical communication stations that are having trouble hearing each other.
You set your XBR to a 2-meter simplex and a 70-cm frequency, then ask one of the two distant
stations to set their frequency to the 2-meter frequency and the other distant station to the
Things to take into account with either method include location, power needs, and access. The
location of your relay station could be in your home, a school, or out in a field if the weather
is cooperating, as long as your surroundings don't obstruct your signal, making your relays
worthless. If you're away from home, you're going to need to plug into an outlet if the power
is on and reachable.
If AC power is not available, you might need a trusty battery, whose size will depend on your
radio and usage. If you're going to be out for long, setting up a solar panel might be a good
idea, if you have one. Finally, make sure you have immediate access to your station if at all
possible, especially if you're running an XBR, in case the battery dies or if the station
frequencies needs to readjusted, to avoid interference, for example.
How to relay messages [link
There are times when you're on a net, and it seems that Net Control just couldn't hear
the check-in from a weak or distant station, even if you're holding the net by repeater. (Maybe
the unheard station is not in the repeater because his radio isn't programmed properly
or isn't programmed with this particular repeater.) In that case, if you're able to hear the
distant station, cut into the check-ins between transmissions by saying relay,
and Net Control will know that you're hearing somebody he or she isn't, and say, Go ahead,
relay. You then say, keelo-bravo station go ahead, if you heard "KB" from
the distant station in the midst of giving its call sign, for example.
After that, your responsibility is to relay the check-in, including call sign, name, location,
and any message (traffic) that the distant station needs you to pass along to Net Control.
As you might guess, this is good practice, because during an incident, you might need to relay
for an injured operator who's trapped in a basement, when Net Control is unable to hear him or
Relaying a message between an unheard station and Net Control is not the time to give long-winded
descriptions or explanations, even in the interest of accuracy. Relay the information as
completely as you heard it, but allow Net Control to dictate just how much and how accurate
your information should be. And being brief does not mean repeating everything in rapid-fire
speech. If you normally take three seconds to say something, but compress it into two seconds,
you might need to repeat it, requiring six seconds, including the time it requires for Net
Control to ask you to repeat it. So, slow down and say it in four seconds the first time.
A relay between radio operators means official A is asking operator A to relay a message to
official B. Operator B then communicates the relayed message to official B. This ham-to-ham
(more correctly station-to-station) communication involves only licensed amateur radio
operators using the radio equipment, with the officials simply giving and receiving orders.
A relay between an official and a radio operator means operator A has handed his or her
microphone to official A, allowing the official to communicate directly to operator B, due
to the complexity or urgency of the situation or the need at the moment. And even though
official A is not a licensed ham radio operator, by third-party rules, operator A can legally
allow that, provided operator A is awake and remains in the same room as official A for the
duration of the communication.
In either case, you become more or less a piece of furniture that simply passes messages between
one party and another. But that's alright, because thet's what you signed up for, by offering
your radio station in the service of others.
Radio equipment for shadowing [link
The equipment you're going to need for shadowing an official during an incident can
be summed up for two situations: stationary or on foot. And in each case, you have radio equipment
and support equipment to consider. It'll be up to your good judgment which of these
items you should actually use, but here are my recommendations.
Being stationary gives you two advantages: you have a place where you might actually be able
to sit down, and you don't have to lug all your radio equipment around. Also, people find comfort
in being able to refer or resort to a particular location for communication needs.
When you're shadowing an official (or even when you're alone during an incident), it's often
necessary to move quickly from one place to another on foot, because of uneven or obstructed terrain,
building entry for light search-and-rescue, or a disaster that covers a wide area.
Know how to manually operate your radio [link
One day, before the time of GPS technology, a man was driving all over an upscale section of
New York City, until he decided to stop for directions. He flagged down a pedestrian and rolled
down his window. "Excuse me, sir, could you please tell me how to get to Carnegie Hall?"
The pedestrian answered, "Practice, practice, practice."
You've got your ham radio license, you might have taken a
course, and now you have a nice, little radio that you've grown to like. In fact, to take your
readiness a step further, you had your little unit programmed with 200 channels of something
or other. Furthermore, you use your radio by participating in several local nets. Terrific!
But if worse comes to worse, there's one more thing that might help you become a little more
radio-ready for an actual incident.
During an emergency, do you know what frequencies to use? Because of the nets you participate
in, maybe so. But what if your programmed frequencies are busy, and you need to move to a
frequency that's not programmed in your radio? Will you know how to manually set that? At
a moment's notice, you might need to find a simplex frequency, or change to one that your
net control has dictated. Will you know how to do that manually, within seconds? How about
if Net Control asks you to change to a repeater that you don't have set in your radio? Will
you know how to set the offset, tone, and direction?
Assuming you have all of that, depending on the emergency, your hands should also be free
enough to help people, instead of being tied up by a handheld radio. It might be wise to put
a belt clip on the back of your radio, then attach it to your belt or pants pocket. On top
of that, it might be convenient to attach a speaker-microphone from your radio to your lapel.
Then your hands will be free, except when one hand is pressing the microphone button.
And after doing all of that, suddenly your battery dies. It would be convenient to have a
freshly charged battery, or a sled of alkalines that you can slide onto your radio. And what
if people complain that they couldn't hear you very well? It would help if you have an extra
antenna, either a flexible
or a telescopic one,
or at least a whip, that you can replace your stock rubber duck with.
Finally, use your net as your personal "emergency" by practicing these things during the net.
While your net is going, 1) switch to VFO Mode ("Frequency Mode") and punch in your net frequency
manually, 2) clip your radio to your pants pocket and attach your speaker-mic to the radio,
3) turn off your radio and replace the battery, and 4) replace your antenna with a better one.
Now, repeat that during the net again next week.
Getting your license was a great first step, but now it's time to do more than just stash your
radio away until there's an emergency. Because when an incident arises, and you aren't used to
using your radio effectively, you'll suddenly create your own emergency, rendering your license
useless. For real estate agents, the motto is "Location, location, location." For those of us
trying to prepare for the unthinkable and yet be helpful, it's "Practice, practice, practice."
Use simplex for your net [link
It's definitely convenient to have a repeater to rely on for communication, especially for a net.
Just as easily, however, a repeater can also be a crutch, which can become a handicap if it should
ever become unavailable. Repeaters, like cell towers, the internet, and any other communication
systems that require an infrastructure, can go down due to damage by weather or vandalism, or
because it somehow lost commercial power.
If you're thinking of establishing a regular net, it's wise to consider using simplex for your
net, instead of a repeater, especially if the net is a faith-based or city emergency net.
This way, none of your net participants will become completely reliant on the clean, clear
signal of a repeater, at least during your nets.
If your net already uses a repeater, there's no need to abandon the use of that repeater for your
net. Instead, hold your net on the repeater like you usually do; only, use a simplex frquency for
your net one week out of the month, if you hold a weekly net, for instance. But you'll need to
decide whether to use your repeater frequency as your simplex frequency, or a completely different
Using your repeater frequency for a simplex frequency can be complicated, especially for those
who are relatively new to amateur radio. This is because their radios must be manually switched
to simplex mode, since most radios recognize a repeater frequency as an actual duplex frequency,
and set the appropriate offset and shift direction automatically. Probably the easiest way to
get around this is to program the simplex version of your repeater frequency on a different
channel from your regular net repeater frequency.
There are two big reasons for holding your net on simplex, at least for part of the time. First,
they help you and your net members learn how to use simplex, something that will become vital
if you should ever find yourself in a disaster situation. Second, holding a simplex net will
encourage your net members to find ways to improve their antennas.
Communicating by a simplex frequency takes a little getting used to. Repeaters offer us a lot
of feedback and assurance that our signals are getting through like they should, even when we
use less-than-perfect antennas. When we communicate by simplex, however, it becomes apparent
that the regular antennas we normally use might need an upgrade. It's easy to feel that a
rubber duck is sufficient for your net needs, until the net goes simplex.
In amateur radio, we all know that nobody truly owns a frequency. Nobody. But when you
select a simplex frequency to use, keep in mind that most are being used by nets and regular
rag-chewers, or are coordinated for particular purposes or services. Simply tuning
up on a simplex frequency that doesn't seem to be in use, is no guarantee that you won't be
interfering with another scheduled net or activity. If you need a simplex frequency to use, and
want to be sure, please get hold of a member of the club leadership, and that person should be
able to get you to the right resource.
What are your thoughts on holding a simplex net? Let's hear what you have to say.
Have alternate simplex frequencies at your disposal [link
During an incident, your local (area, neighborhood, city) net will likely be operated over a
simplex frequency. That's good, because dependency on a repeater or the internet can cripple
you during a widespread incident, which you're training to prepare for. However, there might
be times when your agreed-upon frequency will be unavailable, like when it's already in use
by another group, when it causes interference to a group outside your county, or when you're
asked to vacate the frequency for some reason. In those cases, it's convenient to have two or
three alternate simplex frequencies you can quickly move to.
Given the demand and the population, finding a few alternate frequencies might not always be
easy, so here are some suggestions. These ideas are based on using simplex frequencies within
the 2-meter band and the 70-centimeter band, which means you need to have a radio that supports
those bands. It also means that you need to have your radio pre-programmed with those simplex
frequencies, and be familiar enough with your radio to turn to them at a moment's notice.
You need to purchase a dual-band radio
Your radio must support both the 2-meter band and the 70-centimeter band at a minimum. That
is, 144 to 148 MHz, and 420 to 450 MHz. This makes a whole range of little-known or seldom-used
simplex operation available to you. (Keep in mind that a few dual-band radios support
1.25 meters [220 MHz] instead of 70 cm, but you're going to need 70 cm.) Also, please understand
that, even though your license gives you transmit privileges on most of the frequencies covered
by these bands, your state or region
dictates which frequencies you can actually use on simplex, and how, as in mode, bandwidth,
separation, and tones.
You should have available two or three alternate simplex frequencies you can use
In one Orem area, those folks have agreed on four simplex frequencies that they've
researched, and plan to use for emergency nets. Their primary frequency is 147.480 MHz, which
they use each Sunday night on an area training net. Their main backup frequency is 147.440
MHz, which is the frequency used by their neighboring area, whose net they can join if they
need to vacate their primary frequency. That same Orem area has also decided on 439.225 MHz
as an alternate if they aren't able to use either of the above 2-meter frequencies. Finally,
they've decided on 439.425 as yet another alternate, should all the others become unavailable.
Program your radio with these simplex frequencies
Store all of these simplex frequencies in your radio memory, then make a note of which
channel contains which frequency, so that you can quickly turn to any one of them. In the case
of many Chinese VHF / UHF radios, change to Channel mode and select the channel number.
For other radios, change to Memory to access the channels in which you stored your
Know how to manually change to them at a moment's notice
Be familiar enough with your radio that you know how to change to one of the alternate
frequencies. For many Chinese VHF / UHF radios, if they're not stored in your radio's memory,
change to Frequency mode, then punch in the frequency by hand, remembering to set the
shift direction (SFT-D) to OFF. For most non-Chinese VHF / UHF radios, change to
VFO, then enter the frequency.
During chaotic moments, it might be necessary to establish or check into a net or other
communication using a frequency that you don't use regularly. Having some alternate
frequencies can be a life-saver, and knowing how to turn to them can be a time-saver.
Remember that nobody owns a frequency, and it shouldn't surprise you if another
group is using your frequency when you need it, so being flexible enough to have
options goes a long way.
How about you? Let's hear what you have to say.
Ensure your gear is ready [link
Recently during the local ARES Net, the assigned Net Control Station at the last minute could
not fill the NCS role, and asked a friend to step in, and the friend happily accepted. Well,
three or four minutes into the net, the handheld battery of the Net Control Station ran out. He
then attempted to switch over to a power supply, but discovered that it had a different adapter
than what his handheld required. He then switched to his mobile unit, and the ARES frequency was
not programmed into the rig, and we all stood by as he fiddled with the manual, to get it on
frequency, including the proper tone.
At any time, regardless of the crisis-of-the-day, we might be getting closer to the point where
we'll need to rely on amateur radio to communicate. In all probability, our electrical grid will
be fully functional. But, I'm not so sure we should wait until the very moment we truly need our
communication gear to be available, to check whether it's actually ready. During an actual incident
is probably not the best time to check your equipment.
I realize we all live busy lives, and we can't spend a lot of time playing radio. But during the
next few days, why not take this time to make sure the radios we rely on, and our backup radios,
are in good shape? Use them during a net like this one. Use them during a social net. Use them to
casually call up a friend. Use a repeater, ask your friend to switch to another repeater. Go to a
simplex frequency, like the 2-meter National Calling Frequency, and chat if you're
within range of each other.
A simple check list
Check your batteries
Examine them for leaking and radio damage
Make sure your rechargeable batteries are fully charged
Plug in your non-rechargeable backups and make sure they're ready for use
Check your radios
Make sure you know how to assemble both your main radio and your backup radio,
as in, install the battery, the antenna, and coaxial cable, if applicable
Know how to change channels in your radio memory, and how to manually punch in a
frequency that's not in your radio memory, including the offset and tone
Check your radios for damage, and make sure the displays are clean and readable
Check your antenna system
Make sure your antenna is not bent or broken
Check your connectors by inserting, tugging on them, and removing them a couple
Make sure your antennas are adequate, so that people can hear you well, and not
constantly asking you to repeat things
Check other radio equipment
Check your power supplies
Check your coaxial cable and connectors
Get on the air and ask for a report on several simplex and repeater frequencies;
simply turning them on will not tell you whether you have the correct tone set,
whether your offset is correct, whether your antenna is connected properly, and
whether your battery charge can handle an actual communication
The three rules of radio readiness: test, test, test
Get on the air with a minimal combination of your gear
Get on the air with another or unusual (connectors, adapters, antenna, power, etc.)
Ask for signal reports from somebody farther away than your own neighborhood
Ok, what do you think? Is there anything else we should be checking at this time? The above list
is missing a lot of detail, but was made to be a quick and simple set of tests, to make sure your
basics are in place and ready to go. Let's hear from you.
Exercise: changing your radio on demand [link
[Note to the trainer: before your net starts, be sure you have two different ham radios
that you can use for this training; be sure their batteries are charged, if they're on
battery power, or that their power supplies are working if they're not; also, be sure
that each radio has an easily accessible antenna you can attach quickly]
During our check-ins today, I'd like you to also report the make and model your radio you're
using to check in. There are no right or wrong or better or worse answers; I'm just trying
to find out what you're using right now, ahead of our training topic. Let's go ahead and take
your check-ins now.
[Take check-ins in the usual manner, but also ask for radio make and model from each
operator; you do not need to take note of their radio models]
You might find out one day that you need to swap out your radio, for whatever reason. Its
battery might have run out of charge, or maybe you accidentally pressed a button that put your
radio into a state that you can't quickly figure your way out of, or the radio itself might have
malfunctioned in some way. It's also possible that you're radio is still working, but that you
suddenly need to turn on another one, to work multiple frequencies. For these and other reasons,
it's good practice to know how to manually change radios or at least quickly activate an
Now that check-ins have been taken on this net, I'm going to ask everybody to turn off their
radios and check in again, this time using a different radio, if you have one, and report the
make and model of that second radio. If you aren't able to check in using a different
radio, there's no shame in simply reporting the same radio model. Let me now go back over the
roll and ask for your check-ins again.
[Take check-ins by roll call, according to the check-ins you received the first time
around, and once again ask for each operator's radio make and model]
At this time, you're free to remain on the radio you've ended up with, or switch back to
you original radio. I'll give a minute to those who want to switch back. Please stand by.
Thanks to everybody for your participation in this brief training. It was not meant to put
you on the spot or embarrass you, but to demonstrate one more point of readiness we might
be able to improve on.
Get a dual-watch radio [link
When I first served in the Provo Freedom Festival parade, it was recommended that I purchase
a particular model of HT (handheld) radio, which was sturdy and reliable, yet reasonably priced.
It was about halfway through the parade, however, that I realized what I needed was a way to
monitor both Primary Net Control and our Local Net Control. I could then be informed about
issues both locally and in general, and even relay information between them. But doing so with
my HT became cumbersome, because it's a single-watch radio, which forced me to
keep switching between the two frequencies to stay informed on both nets.
During subsequent parades, drills, and nets I became wise and invested in a dual-watch
radio, one that allowed me to listen to two different frequencies at the same time. Dual-watch
radios often display two different frequencies on their faces. Many handheld units are
dual-watch, but that feature must be enabled on some models.
The dual-watch feature shouldn't be confused with the dual-band feature. Dual-band
means that the radio can transmit on two different bands, like 2 meters and 70 centimeters,
where dual-watch means that it can pick up signals from two different frequencies,
whether those frequencies are in the same band or on different bands. So, you can have a
dual-watch radio that's single-band, or a dual-band radio that's single-watch, or one that's
both dual-band and dual-watch.
When you purchase an HT, and you plan to use it for emergencies or drills, I recommend that
you get a dual-watch HT. And dual-watch isn't limited to handheld radios; many mobile radios
have the same convenient dual-watch feature.
What are your thoughts on dual-watch radios? Let's hear what you have to say.
Personal training topics
Helping somebody in distress [link
We've talked previously about how to aid somebody who's calling for help. That is, how to
discern their needs, whom you should call, and how you can personally assist in the way of
equipment or relaying emergency messages. But there's another side to helping a person who
is calling for anybody out there to come to their aid, and that's the personal side. In
other words, is there something helpful you can actually say to them on the radio?
During an actual crisis, not only will your caller be frantic, but believe it or not, you're
going to start freaking out too. The caller will be in great danger, or will be calling for
a loved one who's screaming out in pain, and that person will most likely not have his or her
mind together during the communication. And in spite of all your training, your bloodstream
will be flowing with a half-gallon of adrenaline, causing you to speak very quickly, in a
high-pitched voice, and begin to hyperventilate.
So, what can you say to somebody who desperately needs your help, when your own heart is
racing? First, let's mention a few things you should NOT say:
Ok, so you know a few things you should not say. So, what could you say to
this person who is under such stress? First, take a deep breath before speaking. Second, slow
down and lower your pitch. Here are a few things you can say:
Do not lie to them by telling them that you understand how they feel,
or that help is on the way, or that they're going to be alright. Yes, you've called
911, and police dispatch has assured you they'll get there soon, but you really have
no idea if or when. And you have no clue as to how they feel or whether they'll be
Don't tell them to stay calm or to not worry. It's alright to worry.
We're human and are born to worry, as a defense mechanism.
Don't tell them not to cry or that they shouldn't feel bad. They have
every right to feel bad, and that bad feeling, especially crying, can actually be
their own mind's way of dealing with the situation.
Do not tell them it's God's will that these things happened the way
they did. You have no idea that's true, and it's often insulting to arbitrarily
assign some sort of religious meaning to the situation, and can anger them.
Don't tell them that they're strong and that they'll get through this.
You don't know they're strong, and many will seriously question whether they'll actually
survive the event.
Ask them their name. As much as you can, refer to them by their name. That's their
most favorite word and sound in the world. It's calming and reassuring, and tells
them that you're listening and are interested. Avoid using "Mr. or "Mrs."
Don't overwhelm them with a hundred questions, but ask questions as you would in a
regular conversation. Find out what happened, who is injured, and how severe the
injuries are. Often, people are looking more for a listening ear than an ambulance.
Assure them that you're doing whatever you can to help. Tell them you're not a doctor
or a policeman, but that you know how to work a radio, and will try and get them the
help they need.
Keep them talking. Again, not to overwhelm them, but ask them about their family,
where they live, what their parent does for a living. They want to talk about
themselves, and it helps distract them from the problem at hand for a little while.
The best way to keep them calm is by you setting the tone and the example, hard as it might be.
It's ok to be surprised, but keep your cool, even when the other person says something shocking
or unexpected. Don't get angry or upset, don't raise your voice unless you're in a noisy environment,
and don't use profanity. Use a calm and deliberate voice, and before long, they'll subconsciously
start imitating your tone.
Wear a vest during training or an incident [link
A couple of years ago, I was called out to an activation by UCARES (Utah County Amateur Radio
Emergency Service) to help out with communication during the Tank Hollow fire up in Spanish
Fork Canyon. As is my habit, I grabbed my go-kit, my helmet, and my bright yellow vest. I
tossed my go-kit and helmet in the front seat passenger side, but put my vest on, figuring
that was one less thing I needed to carry in my hand. Soon, I arrived at the command post,
where other hams were communicating with one fire team or another.
After about ten minutes, a fireman rushed into the command post, came up to me, and started
asking questions about locations and status, and of course I had no idea how to answer him.
The team leader, another ham friend at the command post, told the fireman he was in charge
of giving status updates, and proceeded to help the officer. The fire fighter was a bit
confused at first, but turned his full attention to the team leader. About an hour later,
four of us went outside the command post during a break in the day, and right away I was
accosted by a Utah County Sheriff deputy with questions. Once again, I had to defer all
questions to our team leader, who was still inside our command post.
In just over an hour, these two gentlemen had taught me something valuable. They both
assumed that I, the only person wearing an official-looking vest, was in charge. The fact
was just the opposite, but the point is, the vest meant something to them, and it got me
thinking that these vests likely mean something to a lot of people, like ordinary citizens.
It turns out that, on one hand, vests might portray a facade (fake view) of who I really am.
On the other hand, it tells people that the situation is (at least a little) under control,
and that people who know what they're doing, are helping to make a bad situation more tolerable
for the rest of us, whether those are facts or not. It offers them a small peace of mind, and
helps to calm otherwise frantic folks who are worried or in shock.
So, who is authorized to wear one of these official-looking things? You are, if you're helping
with communication, first-aid, or another incident-related exercise, drill, or actual emergency.
The next time you participate in an ARES or RACES net, volunteer at an ultra-marathon aid station,
or help out in a city drill, wear your vest proudly, and make your presence known. At first, you
might feel like you're pretending to be somebody or something you're not, but the more experienced
among us will congratulate you for taking the initiative to make yourself visible to the public,
as part of your training.
If you're interested in getting hold of an amateur radio vest, for example, you can purchase one
for $16 from ARRL.
Once you get it, I encourage you to wear it during drills, training, and other radio communication
exercises, to get accustomed to wearing one. Yes, they might look a little pretentious, and maybe
even a bit silly. But if you can overcome those feelings by using your vest periodically, you might
also come to realize that people will view you as somebody who has some answers, and can help them
in their hour of need.
The most important person in the world [link
Who IS the most important person in the world?
You personally might not feel you're all that important, especially compared with, say, the
President of the United States, or the leader of a highly respected religious organization,
or even your daughter. But if your immediate task is to keep any of those people safe, and
your own safety has been compromised to the point where you're injured, unconscious, or
deceased, how will you accomplish that task? You're not going to do them much good if you've
placed your own health or life in danger.
As difficult as it might be for many of us to face, our own safety is our first priority,
above that of everybody else. Most of us are born with an internal moral compass that seems
to contradict that priority, out of duty or love, and we might even secretly tell ourselves
that we intend to obey that compass, no matter the circumstances. But remember that you might
also do so at the peril of the very ones you're hoping to protect.
Even though you likely have a lot of radio skill in your back pocket, be sure that it's safe
for you to climb the stairs following an earthquake, or to help an unconscious person lying
near a downed power line, or enter a room full of coughing people. Be alert for danger signs
that warn you of an unsafe situation, so that you don't become one of the victims, possibly
rendering your aid and skills useless. Look for standing water, broken glass, the smell of
gas, arcing or flashing lights, and creeking building structures. If there's ever any doubt,
either get another person's opinion (you shouldn't be alone anyway, if at all possible), or
don't approach the situation.
You want to help; after all, that's why you're listening to this. Just make sure you
do what you reasonably can for your own safety first, so that you can effectively
help others. Once your own safety is assured, you can be the means of helping or saving
Protocol training topics
Incident Command shadow responsibilities [link
You've been assigned the responsibility of shadowing Incident Command or
you've volunteered for it. That means you're the main communicator for the incident to all
of your civillian (not police, EMS, fire, etc.) operators. You have a few things to start
moving on quickly, so here's a minimum list of your duties as Incident Command shadow (not
necessarily in this order, but the order might help a little):
You are Net Control, meaning you are in charge of the civillian radio
net, under the direction of Incident Command. If there's a net already in progress,
(politely) inform the operators that you are taking over as Net Control, by order of
Decide on a band plan; that is, a) what frequency you plan to use for
Incident Command, b) what frequency should be used by other teams (triage, SAR, medical,
evac, etc.) if you should need more than one, c) whether to use simplex or repeater(s),
and d) which FRS (walkie-talkie) channel(s) to use.
Assign communicator roles, such as Operations shadow, Medical
Team 4 shadow, Stake President shadow, etc.
Assign tactical call signs to your operators, as in "Incident Command"
(that's you), "Operations", "Medical Team 4", "Aspen Stake", etc.
Start the net by announcing "QST, QST, QST" and then let everybody know
that you are shadowing Incident Command, and that this is a directed net,
meaning operators can transmit only if permitted by you
Assign somebody near (in geographical proximity) to you, to monitor the 2-meter
National Calling Frequency, which is 146.520 MHz (simplex). If your
monitoring person has a dual-band / dual-watch radio, ask him or her to also monitor
446.000 MHz (simplex)
Instruct your operators as follows:
slow down and enunciate
be brief (use fewer words) by thinking about what you're going
to say, then say it on the air
be accurate; that is, give proper detail, and don't worry so
much about privacy when a person's life is at stake
use each other's tactical call signs
use plain English as much as possible. Except for the "QST" at
the start of your net, avoid using "Q" codes or CB or police or military language.
While it's acceptable to use some clarifying words, such as "negative" and
"affirmative", try to refrain from ham radio jargon, such as "roger" or "copy"
or "clear" or "over". If you need one station to wait on-frequency while you
address a concern or answer the question of another, you can say "stand by".
put yourself last when announcing to whom you're speaking and who
you are, by saying, "Medical 1, Incident Command"
be kind and helpful, not angry and demanding, in spite of the
tremendous amount of stress you're under
Set the net in motion by telling everybody that they are now permitted
to transmit any message of urgency or need, as they relate to the incident
Every ten minutes order all ham operators to ID; tell them to simply
announce their FCC-assigned call signs all at once, and not worry about "doubling"
with other operators, since the rule is that you transmit your call sign, not that
you be heard; those who wait until others are finished will waste precious time
Remain on the job until released by Incident Command. If you're too
tired to continue, or if you need to relieve yourself, have another operator take
your place, then inform the Incident Commander of the change. There's no need to
announce the change to the net.
Repeat the net announcement by saying that you're holding a net to
handle an ongoing incident (or drill) every so often. If this is not a true
incident or emergency, you must state over the air that this is not an
emergency, to prevent unnecessary alarm.
As Incident Command shadow, you've got a big job. But keep in mind that, even though
you're "in charge" of your net and your communicators, you still answer to Incident Command,
who is in charge of the entire incident. Also, in a large-scale incident, Incident Command
might have several communicator shadows, including you as the civillian shadow, a fireman as
the fire and SAR (search-and-rescue) shadow, a policeman as the police shadow, etc.
volunteer, it's possible you might get called out to help with an incident as a
communicator, if you and your family are safe. But whether we're seasoned operators or
brand new at the game, one point of confusion can arise, especially if there's a lot
going on at the scene, and that is who is in charge. Most of us understand
the Incident Command structure, in which the first person on the scene assumes the role
of the Incident Commander, until replaced by somebody with greater authority or
qualifications. But what we're addressing here is who you answer to.
Let's see if we can break that down into just two different viewpoints. First, according
to the NIMS Unity of Command philosophy, each participant has one and only one
supervisor. So, that addresses who your boss is. But are you in charge of anybody or
anything? Turns out that's the other viewpoint.
The official is in charge of you
An official in this context is somebody who makes decisions and gives direction. This
could be a policeman, fireman, a church leader, community leader, or other person who is
responsible for handling the incident or gathering information. As a radio operator in the
capacity we're discussing, you're the official's shadow, essentially following him
or her where needed, to be ready to communicate by radio at a moment's notice. You're essentially
the slave, simply relaying messages from the person you are shadowing, to another radio operator
at an unseen, possibly distant, location.
What this means is that, while many of us might be experienced at leadership and administration,
you do not make any incident decisions. You can make decisions regarding how to set up or
work your radio equipment, and what to tell your own family, but not regarding the incident. For
example, if you see a need (injured person, water, more blankets, etc.), you should bring that to
the attention of your official, and that's all. Your official will make the decision of how to
handle the given information.
As a shadow, your responsibility is to relay traffic and messages as precisely as you're
able. At times, the chaos of the incident might make it difficult to work your radio in this way,
requiring you to ask for repeats of the messages that need to be relayed. In a very short period
of time, you'll discover by experience what works and what doesn't, including how to orient your
microphone and antenna, how to enunciate without sounding angry, and how to work in an adrenaline
rush without passing out.
You are in charge of your equipment
Even though your official is directing your actions, the FCC holds you accountable
for the proper operation of your amateur radio equipment, from the power cord to the antenna,
by virtue of your license. Nobody has the right to operate, modify, or move your ham radio
gear without your express permission, because you are the radio station owner. However,
you are permitted to delegate the operation, modification, and relocation of your ham radio
equipment to another, even an unlicensed, person.
This also means you're responsible for selecting an appropriate frequency for your communication
needs. It means you must remove sources of radio interference, should you become aware of
such a problem. It also means that it's up to you to find ways to ensure that your station
gear remains workable and available at the moments it's needed, whether that means backup
power (batteries, generator, solar panels, etc.) or even backup person (you're too tired or
You might be in charge of the net
That is, if you are the Incident Command shadow, you are resonsible for establishing a net,
including assigning frequencies, tactical call signs, and making the traffic (message-handling)
rules. You will become the voice of reason and calm to all your listeners, which will be
a fairly easy task, because of all the training and practice you've had on your local nets and
drills, in spite of the excitement of the moment.
If you are a radio operator who is not the Incident Command shadow, then you must do as
directed by your official and by Net Control. If there's a conflict in orders given by
the two, you're going to have use your best judgment, but keep in mind that Incident Command
is in charge of the incident. In most cases, the best thing to do is follow the orders given
by Incident Command, and then inform your official 1) what was told to you by Incident Command
and 2) what you are going to do.
Always serve with a companion [link
Many years ago I served an LDS mission in Japan. While there, I learned one of the rules
was that my companion and I went everywhere and pretty much did everything together. Except
for showering and personal hygeine moments, we were together in the same room 24/7. And that
taught me the value of companionship, not just because of an arbitrary rule, but because of
a number of good reasons, which now seem like common sense.
Don't serve alone
I recommend that, when we serve in any emergency communication capacity, such as a drill or
an event, or an actual incident, that we work as companions, and for many reasons. When you're
working with another, reporting becomes a little more accurate, you feel the need to share
your time and resources, time seems to pass a little easier, and you might even feel a bit
There are times when it's just not practical or even possible to find a companion to serve
with, and certainly most drill, simulation, or incident leaders will understand. Make sure
you understand that when you don't, you're taking a risk.
Assist another who's already serving
A couple of years ago I was serving at the Squaw Peak 50 ultra-marathon up Provo Canyon. When
I arrived, I noticed a young lady setting up the radio and refreshments at the aid station. I
saw a few others there that I knew, but out of nowhere a man walked up and wanted to know what
we were doing. He was obviously inebriated, and started to sit close to the young lady, then
helping himself to people's water bottles, and speaking loudly. It was apparent that the people
at our aid station were a bit nervous about the situation, so I kept placing myself between
the wanderer and the young lady. But the thought occurred to me, What if this woman had been
alone? Would she have felt safe? I mean, there's no cell service up there.
My suggestion is that, when you see another radio operator sitting alone, plant yourself right
alongside the person, and make yourself a new friend. Let the operator know that you're going
to assist and work right alongside him or her. This way, if one of you does get asked about
some details or actions, you can now reinforce the other.
It's another level of protection
When serving with another person, and you've forgotten some procedure or protocol, you have
somebody who can help remind you of what course to take. When you're with another helper, and
questions come up later on your whereabouts at the time of an incident or drill, you have a
ready witness who can vouch for you. If you get accused of some misdeed, you have somebody who
can assure the authorities of your activities. Finally, working in plain sight with another
tends to make you less of a target for an assault or other nefarious activities.
And let me conclude by saying this is MY suggestion, and not a rule or a law, or even a
demand; I believe it's just common sense. For safety, for protection, for accountability, and
for companionship during a possibly intense moment. But now, I'd like to hear from you.
Volunteer to be a backup [link
Because we're human, we have human needs and human circumstances that draw away our attention
from the task at hand. Our throats might get too dry, and we need a drink. We might need to
visit the restroom and relieve ourselves. One day I sat with an operator who suddenly got
stung by a wasp. For whatever reason, there are times when we can no longer perform the
function we were assigned, and during those times, it would be really convenient to have
somebody standing by, ready to take over our job at a moment's notice, if needed.
You be the volunteer
During many nets, an assistant net control position is assigned to a person who is
willing to help Net Control with duties. That person can also replace Net Control, if needed.
But for nets that aren't organized to the point of having an assistant, you can volunteer
for that spot yourself. And you don't need to announce that offer to Net Control or anybody
else; simply stand by, and if Net Control isn't able to continue for some reason, you can
step right in and take over, without skipping a beat.
Of course, if you don't announce your plan, there might be more than one of you who'll be
standing by to take over; then again, that's a good problem to have. It'll then be up to you,
to figure out who should take over, but that's typically pretty easy. You can let Net Control
know in advance, that you'd like to be a backup, or simply assume the role silently, until
the need arises.
As Net Control
And if you are Net Control, it might be helpful and wise to invite one of your members
to volunteer as ANCS (Assistant Net Control Station) prior to the start of the net, or even
during the net. I mean, you might never know when something will arise and require your
attention a lot more than your radio.
I'd like to hear from you. Anything else that might be important for a backup or an
Not an actual emergency [link
While working at my computer on a project one day, I had my radio on Scan, when it landed on
a conversation between three or four people. After a couple of goings back-and-forth, I heard
the word injury, and then paramedic, so I dropped what I was doing and turned
to listen. After more than a minute of words like bleeding and trauma, I started
getting just a bit concerned. But then, I started hearing clues, such as Donald Duck is
being transported and apply a neck tourniquet, which told me that this whole
communication was part of a simulation or mock disaster. Whew.
Announce that this operation is a drill
I believe that, had the Net Control operator or some other person on the radio, announced that
this had been a drill or a staged exercise of some sort, I would not have become nearly so
alarmed. Maybe he did, and my scanner missed the announcement. It's very appropriate for the
person in charge or in control of the net to say
We are staging a training exercise. This is NOT an emergency; only a drill.
This is only a drill, and not an actual emergency.
Repeat the announcement
Every half hour or other reasonable duration, repeat the announcement that what you're operating
is a simulation, and not an actual emergency. This way, people (like me, who tuned in late to
the game) will get the chance to hear officially what this alarming event is, instead of having
to listen for clues.
Dial back the reality
If you want to lower the level of concern by the listening public, yet keep your drill as realistic
as you can, inject silly clues to let them know they're listening to a training exercise, and not a
real incident. Use names of celebrities, political figures, or cartoon characters for tactical call
signs. Give places names like "bean bag chair" and "donut hole" to lighten up the drill a bit. Try
and use words like "bleeding" and "fracture" and "casualty" sparingly.
Say it at the end
At the conclusion of your exercise, repeat the announcement one last time:
This concludes our drill. This has NOT been an emergency, but a staged training exercise.
Don't forget that not only hams will be scanning and listening for alarming words, but it's
possible that officials such as firemen and EMS will also pick up on your drill. Your frequent
mention of the event as a training exercise will go a long way to lower their level of concern.
What are your thoughts? Let's hear from you.
Recording time formats [link
One year during the Provo Freedom Festival parade, I was asked to relieve the person who
was operating as Net Control for a portion of their net. It was about 9:30 am, and the parade
workers and communicators had been stationed and coordinating since 3 o'clock that morning,
so the parade was well under way. I glanced over the notes made by the previous person, who
wrote down a couple of minor incidents at 10 am, which confused me, since 10 am hadn't
occurred yet. Then it dawned on me that he was recording them in UTC time, not local time.
Of course, that raised a few questions in my head.
What time format should we be using?
Did somebody announce the format, or was that covered in some previous training?
Does it matter?
In my opinion, these are good questions, especially if somebody besides you needs to read
your notes, like what happened to me. Just to clarify, there are four types of time formats
that we as hams tend to encounter: 12-hour local time, 24-hour local time, military time,
and UTC time.
12-hour local time is what you read on your 12-hour clock, and let's say that local time
reads 9:27 pm on Tuesday. 24-hour local time is the same, but in a 24-hour format and without
the am or pm, such as 21:27, using the same example. UTC time is a 24-hour time format,
relative to the time zone in England, which is offset from our local time by the time zone
and Daylight Saving. Using the same example, 9:27 pm local time would be 03:27 on Wednesday
if it's summer, or 04:27 on Wednesday if it's winter.
Military time is seldom used by hams, but is often written by those in the military or law
enforcement, and seen by some of us during multi-agency drills and ARES callouts, for instance.
It's also a 24-hour local time format, but specifies the time zone, and for the same example,
would be 2127T for Utah.
Alright, so which time format is the best one to use, or which should we use?
The answer is, the one that's dictated by the person in charge of your activity, such as your
Net Control station, event organizer, or an Incident Commander. But if the chief didn't say,
(because organizers often overlook that possibly petty detail), then which should you
use? Your default should be to use 24-hour local time (like 21:27 Tuesday) if
you're engaged in a local activity, such as a church net, city drill, an ARES callout, or
activation. But if your communication can potentially be heard across time zone
boundaries, such as with an HF net or a special event station, you should use UTC time
(like 03:27 Wednesday for the same example).
What about on the air? To prevent confusion, it's often best to use the same time format on
the radio that you use when jotting down an event. If you're forced to mentally translate
between two different time formats, it's a lot easier to make mistakes, especially during a
The bottom line is to do your best to help communicate clearly. Even if you're the only person
who will ever see your notes, it's still possible that you'll need to refer to them in the
future. And if you do, will you remember what day and time you meant, when you wrote down
1:45? It might become important, for example, if an injured victim's insurance company asks
for it, which occasionally happens following a TERT incident.
And we haven't even touched on which date format to use, which is recommended by
ARES as 0M/0D/YYYY, as in 07/04/2020.
So, what are your thoughts? Which time format should we use in our nets? How about other
activities? Does it matter? Let's hear from you.
One day on social media, in the context of logging contacts, a person commented that he had
nothing to hide. A second commenter asked, "So, what's your Social Security Number?" The
first commenter then admitted that he indeed had some things to hide after all. On
one hand, we each do have something to hide, and should probably keep hidden from most
people. On the other hand, we also realize that much of our personal information is available
on the internet, if somebody really wants to find it. But that's our battle to fight.
If you're entrusted with somebody else's personal data, however, how much of it should
you broadcast on the radio, if ever? Most will react quickly, and say that we should never
give out personal information on the radio. Then again, if you're serving in an emergency
radio capacity, and you're asked for the information by an official, should you
freely broadcast it to the crowd who might be listening in? Most of us know that nothing on
amateur radio is private, and in fact, there are always ham radio operators who are constantly
scanning the frequencies for any kind of chatter.
There might indeed come a time when you're asked for sensitive information on the radio. These
can include a person's name, age, gender, race, weight, nationality, address, phone number,
medications, medical condition or history, extent or type of injury, location of incident,
identifying marks, and much more. We have what's known as HIPAA (or Health Insurance
Portability and Accountability Act) laws in place, that attempt to keep some of this
data private. Then again, we also have Good Samaritan laws that offer legal protection
to those who give reasonable service to others in need. So the bottom line is, you should do
your best to keep other people's infornmation private, but you're most likely protected, if
you ever need to give it out.
If at all possible, ask that you take the conversation to cell phone. If you
can't, because maybe you're helping out with a remote rescue or you're trapped, you need to
use good judgment. Sometimes, it helps to be creative and use general terms,
such as young woman or
not from our country or
above average weight or
in the northern Pleasant Grove area to hide
details. Some have suggested encoding the message by some cryptographic means, but keep in
mind that amateur radio rules prohibit the encoding of messages for the purpose of obscuring
them. One way to get around this is to use a digital mode of radio operation, which only a
small number of radio operators know how to use. In time, however, that minority will likely
turn into the majority.
So, what are your thoughts on radio privacy? Let's hear from you.
Net Control is your friend [link
Some of us are the types who question everything, from science to the law, from religious
doctrine to civic authority, and often with good reason. On one hand, it's good that we
question things, so that we can become better educated. On the other hand, it's just best
to follow instructions, if the situation requires your attention.
Purpose of Net Control
The reason we have one person in charge of a net is so that we can have an orderly exchange
of communication, whether that's for training or for an actual incident. The point of this
training is to help you and me understand that we should always do our best to follow the
directions given by Net Control.
Please understand that Net Control has no real authority, and should not make any decisions,
except those that relate to the net itself, such as the choice of frequency, mode of operation,
type of net, and so forth. But, it's possible that Net Control is shadowing an overseeing
authority, and is simply conducting the net or passing along policy as it's given. This is
the primary reason for us to accept and follow the instructions voiced by Net Control.
Serving two masters
In the world of CERT, we learn a principle known as unity of command, meaning that each
participant in the entire chain answers only to one leader. However, we do find occasionally
that we end up answering to two or more masters, due to our involvement or allegiance to
different groups that could be directing the activity at the moment. For example, say Net
Control asks you to communicate a message to a utility manager, but your religious leader
tells you to hold off with that message. Should you ignore your religious leader and make
the communication, or obey your religious leader and hold off passing the message? Eventually,
you're going to have to make that decision; however, keep in mind that Net Control might be
shadowing an official, whose directives take precedence.
The buck stops with Net Control
Back to questioning everything. Should you ever question the instructions given by Net Control?
If you truly feel that you have important information to offer, go ahead and make a suggestion,
but once Net Control has heard your suggestion, you should accept and follow the subsequent
decision. For example, say Net Control has asked all people to gather at the nearby elementary
school. You might want to remind Net Control that it's summertime, and that the school is
closed, but if Net Control returns and tells you that the city has given him or her the key,
then the topic is closed, and you need to follow the original instructions. Then again, if
Net Control determines that you have updated information he or she wasn't aware of, then you
should follow the new instructions that Net Control gives you.
Any other thoughts about following Net Control? Let's hear from you.
In many ham radio groups throughout the US, we might find ourselves involved with non-ham
officials as communicators for parades, marathons, bike races, and other civilian-sponsored
events. Once in awhile, however, we might also have the opportunity to work alongside
medical teams, search-and-rescue, and even law enforcement. Either way, participating in
these events helps sharpen our operating skills while providing a needed service.
The disciplined professionalism demanded by some of these more government-sposored
groups can place our amateur mindsets in a state of rigid and efficient operation, often
making the organized way public safety does things seem quite attractive. However, this
can also tempt us to feel or believe like we're one of them, and this feeling can carry over
into regular amateur radio operations. As a result, we might justify taking charge, giving
orders, or assuming leadership that we shouldn't, and maybe even treating others like they're
subordinate to us.
An outward expression of this feeling sometimes extends to the need to wear official-looking
apparel, complete with stars, badges, and harnesses often seen on true law enforcement
officers. This mimicry of public safety can be confusing to some civilians, who tend to
automatically and rightly pay great respect to one that appears to be a policeman.
Furthermore, speaking or acting like one on the radio is not only unnecessary, but somewhat
pretentious, and maybe a little deceptive.
One symptom of this law enforcement behavior is the insistence of using the one and only
acceptable phonetic alphabet, and ignoring or failing to acknowledge a net participant who
uses an alternate word. Another symptom is the feeling that we must correct a net
participant for a minor infraction in one thing or another. Honestly, if it's not truly
important, just let it go, without any comment or criticism from you.
You are not a cop. Well, in fact, some of you might actually be members of law
enforcement, but the point is that we shouldn't act, talk, or treat others like we are,
while acting in an amateur role. We can operate in a professional manner, yet we should
not insist that others perform in a particular way. Allow them the freedom to operate the
way they're accustomed to, while we set an example of kindness and acceptance.
What are your thoughts about not pretending to be a cop on the radio or when serving
Emergency training topics
What kind of grab-and-go bag [link
When you need to leave your home in a hurry, you'll also need to take with you as much as you
can reasonably carry in a grab-and-go backpack, to free up your arms to do other tasks.
But the kind of backpack you get might not help you as much as you'd like if you select one
that doesn't have the features to accommodate your needs. The two biggest backpack concerns
are typically size and utility.
You'll want your backpack to be large enough to hold everything you need in a grab-and-go bag,
such as clothing, food, water, first-aid, toiletries, flashlight, batteries, and hundreds of
other things that are important to you. But if you get one that's too large, you might be
tempted to over-fill it, and the pack can become awkward and difficult to carry. One thing to
think about is whether your backpack is large enough to expand outward from your body, rather
than just upward (taller.)
The word utility refers to your pack's usefulness. If possible, your backpack should
contain multiple full-sized storage spaces and plenty of large and small pockets. It should also
have plenty of hooks, straps, or other means of attaching items to the exterior of your pack,
such as those on a
or tactical style backpack.
Other useful features you might want to consider in a grab-and-go backpack are hydration bladder
and hose, plastic (rather than metal) zippers, carrying handle, adjustable straps, strap hooks,
chest straps, rubber or plastic feet (to set it down without wearing it out), in-pack frame,
back padding, bottom hooks or straps (to attach underneath, like a tent or sleeping bag / pad),
water resistance, cover or hood, outer webbing or mesh pockets, side pockets (for your water
bottle or other), hidden pockets, locking waistband, double-stitching, and zippered expansion.
Finally, you'll need to decide where to store your grab-and-go backpack, which might actually help
you decide what kind to get. Place your pack in a coat closet near your front door or other exit,
where you believe you'll most likely leave from your home if you need to. This allows you the
convenience of checking and re-stocking your bag regularly right in your home. Some place it in
their garages for the same reason, because they plan to escape by vehicle. Still others keep their
backpacks inside their vehicles at all times. Just some food for thought.
What should belong in your grab-and-go bag [link
Every person should have two things they have stashed near an exit-way in the event of a true
disaster during which they might need to evacuate: a 72-hour kit and a grab-and-go bag. Some
folks are resourceful enough to figure out how to combine these, but most of us are not. The
72-hour kit should contain everything we need to sustain life away from home for
72 hours, including water, water purifier, food, medicine, toiletries, TP, blankets, first-aid
kit, flashlight, headlamp, batteries, candles, lighter, raincoat, and dry change of clothing.
The grab-and-go bag should contain your
vest, CERT helmet, radio, antenna, radio batteries, tools, paper forms, pens, markers, non-latex
gloves, work gloves, emergency tent, emergency sleeping bag, and wipes. One thing that can make
all of this easier to haul is a collapsible wagon, assuming your disaster terrain is flat enough
for one. And if you do have a wagon, I would add a portable toilet.
With all of this, you're minimally prepared to serve your community in a CERT capacity. But
let's take a look at the radio you've packed in your grab-and-go bag. First, is your radio
already programmed with useful frequencies? These should include the following:
Finally, your radio batteries needs to be alkaline, not rechargeable. Store your pre-programmed
radio with a disconnected sled of alkaline batteries and a disconnected
or telescopic antenna.
your Area Simplex Frequency (mine is 147.480 MHz)
your City Simplex Frequency (mine is 145.770 MHz)
several local ragchew repeater frequencies (ours are 146.760- MHz and 146.780- MHz)
your local ARES repeater frequencies (ours is 147.340+ MHz)
your ERC repeater frequency (mine is 147.020+ MHz)
146.520 MHz simplex, the 2-meter National Calling frequency
a local weather frequency (ours is 162.550 MHz)
KSL radio 102.7 FM and 1160 AM (the designated Statewide Emergency Broadcast frequencies)
many like to program local police frequencies, but no real need for that, especially since most radios can't be programmed to them.
What frequency to monitor, to be of most help [link
You want to be as helpful as you can be when the need arises, to render some assistance to
others. So, what frequencies should you tune to during an incident, especially if cell towers
become damaged or otherwise unavailable? Here are some suggested ones, roughly in order:
Your Area frequency if you're near your home neighborhood. Your Area is
the geographical location defined by local religious leaders. And you know your Area
frequency because it's the one that's held weekly by the predominant faith, and you
don't have to be a member of the faith to participate. You should be able to locate
yours on noji.com/nets.
Your City frequency if you're within your home city, and is one of those
used by your city during a city-wide drill
Your ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Service) repeater frequency. For Utah
County, that's 147.340+ MHz (100.0 Hz tone).
your ERC (Emergency Response Communications) repeater frequency; for the Lindon
Bishops' Storehouse (Utah County), that's 147.020+ MHz (100.0 Hz tone)
The 2-meter National Calling Frequency, which is 146.520 MHz simplex,
and part of the
(for the 70 cm band, it's 446.000 MHz simplex)
These are provided, so that you can stay informed on the events as they're unfolding, to relay
to others who need the peace-of-mind that information brings:
The designatd Statewide Emergency Broadcast frequencies, which for Utah
is KSL radio 102.7 FM and 1160 AM
Any or all of several police, sheriff, fire, and EMS (emergency medical services)
frequencies, which include, but are not limited to, the following:
154.860 MHz : North Utah County Sheriff
156.135 MHz : South Utah County Sheriff
153.950 MHz : Utah County Public Safety
155.235 MHz : Utah County Search and Rescue
851.600 MHz : Utah Public Safety (fire, EMS, police, chopper, ambulance)
Finally, and possibly counter-intuitive, be sure to program your radios with a few ragchew
repeater frequencies. That is, frequencies of the nearest repeaters that are the most
often used. For Utah County those would likely be 146.760- MHz, 146.780- MHz
(100.0 Hz tone), and 146.620- MHz. If you're trying to help, and monitor one of these
repeaters, chances are fairly good that somebody who needs help will be calling out on one of
How to answer a call for help [link
member, you know that your community service is very needed when there's an incident
or emergency. You've been trained on really valuable skills, like Triage, Minor Medical,
Light Search and Rescue, and the Incident Command System, all of which can help save lives
when your help is needed. One thing we don't always get much training on, however, is how to
answer a call for help.
First, when you hear a request for assistance, you might not recognize it as a call for help.
That's because you're listening for a smooth, trained voice who's used to talking on ham radio.
The person on the other end might actually sound frantic, high-pitched, and hyperventilated.
It'll take everything you've got to remain calm, even if the other person isn't.
Second, the other person might not have ever heard of a call sign, let alone have a license.
It'll be up to you to ask the other person a few questions, to help keep him focused, to keep
him talking to you as long as you could, until help arrives, if it does. Ask what his or her
name is, call him by his name every chance you get. A person tends to feel more calm, assured,
and like you're really listening, when you repeat his or her name often.
Third, find out about his environment, whether he's in a safe place. Is he alone, or are there
others nearby? Are they alright? How old is he or she? If it's a child, where are the parents?
Are there power lines down near him? Does he smell gas? Is there broken glass on the floor near
him? Is there water on the floor or spraying in the air? Are the lights on?
Finding out as much information as you can will help in three ways: it'll provide the caretakers
(like police or fire or parents) more info to assess, it'll help calm the other person, and
surprisingly, it'll help calm you as well. There's often a lot of talk about protecting privacy,
but when a child's life is in danger, the child's privacy is probably not the first priority.
Your emergency gathering place [link
When disaster strikes, it's helpful to know that you can gather with others at a temporary
physical location, for help with your needs, to help with their needs, for information, and
for moral support, even when it's not necessary to evacuate. There's comfort in knowing that
others nearby understand what you're going through, and might be able to vocalize what you
yourself are thinking. Depending on the situation, it might not always be practical or even
possible for a group of people to gather at one specific location, but if it is, you
should. Of course, that opens up a lot of questions, like where you should gather,
where to go if your meeting place is no longer accessible, and who determines all of that.
Predetermined gathering place
To keep things simple, you should have a place to gather near your home, and another near
your work place or school.
For your home location, approach somebody in a neighborhood leadership position,
such as your bishopric if you're LDS, or your Association if you live in an HOA.
Ask them where you could gather during an emergency. Many will never have thought
about it until you've brought it up.
If neither of these apply to your situation, you take the leadership role,
designate a reasonable gathering place, and inform those in your neighborhood. The
Block Captian program provides some suggestions for grouping, but they're primarily
for the accounting of people, and they tend to favor sheltering in place rather than
gathering as neighbors.
Approach your employer or school official, and ask about an emergency evacuation plan,
including an outside location where people can gather.
Unplanned place to gather
Some situations require some quick thinking and a little pre-planning on your part, such as
when you're shopping or traveling. When a disaster strikes, it might be up to you to designate
a safe place to gather. People will find a little peace-of-mind, knowing that somebody
has taken the initiative to do something for their safety. If another person steps up
and devises a plan or location different from the one you had proposed, unless it's clearly
dangerous, use your leadership skills in a different way by supporting the other person,
instead of insisting that your way is the right way or the only way to
Make a contingency plan
In the event that your primary home, work, or school gathering place becomes inaccessible for
one reason or another, it's often wise to ask about or pursue a secondary meeting location.
Downed tree limbs or power lines, broken-up roads, flooded landscapes, or even pathways that
have been barricaded for emergency vehicles, might prevent you and your neighbors from collecting
at your predetermined meeting place. Have a Plan B in mind, just in case.
What to take with you
Keeping in mind that this gathering place is temporary, but somewhat close to home or work
or school, there are a few things you might want with you, but you don't want to go overboard
either. Here are some ideas (smartphone and keys to your home and vehicle are assumed):
Your grab-and-go bag, which might include bandages, water, toilet paper,
lighter, headlamp, and batteries
Warm clothing and jacket
Laptop with important documents and passwords
Your handheld radio, programmed with important frequencies, such as your
and the most popular local
If you have the time and luxury, toys and games for the little ones, mementos (such
as photographs, jewelry, and sentimental keepsakes), snacks to tie you over for awhile
Your two-minute warning [link
You hear a loud knock at your door, Fire department...you have two minutes to leave
your house! In the November 2019 issue of Reader's Digest, several homeowners
those very words
during the devastation of the July 2018 fire that ravaged houses in a suburb of Redding,
California, in which more than 38,000 were forced to evacuate their homes. If you had only
two minutes to leave your home and property, what would you take with you? In most cases,
you might not need to evacuate your home at all, but let's stop and consider a situation
that might require you to vacate with little notice.
People and animals first
Your first concern is for the people in your household, and then your animals. Your animals
can be domesticated pets, work animals, or livestock. Plan a way for people and animals to
escape quickly. Take into account age and disabilities, and how long it will take to evacuate
people who might need extra assistance.
A grab-and-go bag is essential
Stored in a closet right by your front door is your grab-and-go bag, which contains
all the personal and family items you had planned for an evacuation just like this, long
ahead of time. You've stored away bandages, water, toilet paper, over-the-counter medicine,
lighter, headlamp, batteries, clothing, ham radio, and other things you and your family need.
The convenience of such a bag cannot be overstated, since all your essentials can be picked
up in that bag and taken with you in seconds. Remember to rotate out expired medicines and
perishables every six or so months.
Maintain a communication method
Taking your smartphone with you goes without saying; it's going to be your primary lifeline
to the rest of the world. In a widespread disaster, however, cell towers become easily
overloaded, so you need to have a backup plan, which should include ham radio. Be sure to
take a handheld ham radio with you as you evacuate your property. And if you've already
stashed one in your grab-and-go bag, that's one less thing to think about taking with you.
Other important items to take along
Here are some things to think about:
Keys to your house and vehicle
Warm clothing and jacket
Laptop with important documents and passwords
Cash, credit cards, other forms of payment
If you have the time and luxury, toys and games for the little ones, mementos (such
as photographs, jewelry, and sentimental keepsakes), snacks to tie you over for awhile
You'll probably have a lot more than two minutes
In a widespread disaster, such as the California wildfire just mentioned, you and your
family will most likely have known about the quickly moving flames, how close they were to
your place, and the ensuing general evacuation order, long before the two-minute warning is
sounded. If you haven't already collected the things you need for your evacuation, those
warnings alone should give you a chance to re-adjust your priorities and start gathering
your needed items. On the other hand, an earthquake might not give you much warning at all.
And if this training topic will do any good, it might help you get a start on that list of
items today, plenty of time before any such disaster has occurred.
Your primary communication line [link
Unless you're face-to-face with the person you need, your primary line of communication should
be your smartphone. Yes, ours is a craft, a net, and a training that concentrates on ham radio,
but with all of that focus, it's easy to sideline the most important tool at our disposal. Your
smartphone should be the first device you turn to, for communication during an incident.
A smartphone contains features, apps, and built-in abilities that are unrivaled in any other
device, and I'd like to mention a few of them, as they apply to emergency communication. These
include a phone book, a note pad, a flashlight, GPS, and so much more. The trick is knowing how
to use them at a moment's notice.
Try calling first
Once disaster strikes, and it's convenient, use your smartphone to call somebody. If you or a
person nearby is injured or in immediate danger, call 911. If you're not in immediate danger,
call a friend or a co-worker or a clergy member. After that, call your out-of-state contact, if
you believe the incident is large enough, like an earthquake or flood or chemical spill. Your
call might not go through, but you need to try.
Try texting next
You might find that twenty thousand others are trying to use the cell towers in your city the
same time as you. Even though you show five full bars, your fully charged phone might seem to be
dead. If it does, your next step is to resort to texting those same people. Your voice call
requires quite a lot of bandwidth, and cellular systems will quickly limit connections if they
get overloaded, and they tend to get overloaded quite easily. Your text message will often get
through when voice calls cannot.
Learn to take notes with your smartphone
Your smartphone will typically have a built-in app for taking notes. Learn how to quickly bring
up the app and begin jotting down information. You might want to record the date, the time, any
injuries, people's names and phone numbers, contact information, and more. If you need to
communicate this to EMS, they might ask you about vitals, such as bleeding, breathing, heart rate,
and awareness. The information you note can be stored on your smartphone for quite a long time.
Those of us who have had training in ARES,
and AUXCOMM know of the numerous forms that need to be filled out and submitted for one reason
or another. Chances are, you won't have any of those paper forms when an incident happens, but
you can still note the same information on your smartphone app.
Take notes by email
One handy way to take notes on your smartphone is by opening an email app, as though you're
composing an email to somebody, like to yourself. As long as you've got the email app open, it'll
automatically save the information you've entered so far, even if you don't actually send the email.
This way, if your smartphone battery dies, all your notes are safely stored.
Just like with ham radio, all of this takes practice. Ok, you probably have plenty of practice
making calls and texting, but do you have your out-of-state contact in your phone book? Can you
bring up your notes or email app quickly, and are you pretty handy at using the editors on them? Do
you have a backup battery charger for your smartphone? And finally, be sure you know how to use
your ham radio if you aren't able to get a call or text through.
Consider CERT training [link
If you've ever been involved in a large-scale incident, such as an earthquake, hurricane,
chemical spill, or terrorist attack, you would have seen right away that the situation can
escalate into chaos quite rapidly. In general, people are unprepared for such events, and
their reactions to them quickly reveal a mindset of fear, panic, and hysteria arising mostly
from a lack of knowledge or training. CERT, or Community Emergency Response Team,
is a voluntary program that helps ordinary citizens become better prepared for disasters by
training them and arming them with a set of life-saving skills.
The purpose of CERT is to help you become more self-sufficient during a disaster.
During normal times, when we call the police, fire department, or for an ambulance,
the emergency personnel often arrive in plenty of time to save us or a loved one from further
injury or an otherwise untimely death. If the incident is large enough, however, resources
such as police, fire, EMS (emergency medical services), and rescue workers will likely be
stretched beyond their limits to effectively serve every person who needs them, if at all.
While it's not always possible, it would be helpful during those moments to know how to
help yourself, instead of being dependent on outside services.
CERT is a training program that's organized by FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency,
in the interest of helping people help themselves. Each city or county can sponsor a
CERT program of their own, as guided by FEMA, to promote the program and hold training classes.
FEMA will often aid the sponsor by supplying them with training material and information.
The CERT program trains its members on how to quickly form a working organization, complete with
leadership skills. It trains them on basic first aid, light search-and-rescue, fire safety, when
it's alright to enter a damaged building, and communication by radio and runners between all the
involved teams, including a recording and reporting process. CERT helps its members to understand
the stress and psychological burden that's felt by both the victim and the rescuer during a crisis.
The program teaches how to acquire and improvise resources that are not normally available.
Along with all this activity, CERT also teaches that you should never involve yourself in any
situation that compromises your safety.
Whether you're caught in an incident alone, or involved with an entire community, CERT can give
you the training you need to survive, communicate, and get the help and support you and your
neighborhood might need at a critical time. The organization, structure, and methodologies
within CERT are all adaptable to the situation at hand, and can be modified to fit a few or
many helpers, in a small or large disaster. CERT is also scalable as far as personal ability
can allow. This is because your neighborhood can include people with little or no emergency
training, and people who are physically fit or handicapped in some way. No matter the ability
level, ordinary folks can help, so CERT training is meant for all.
Those who have been CERT-trained can also volunteer to be part of activations.
When a sponsoring city or county deems it necessary and appropriate, it can activate its
CERT volunteers, by asking them to help emergency services in providing manpower, time, and other
resources toward an incident. Your participation in an activation is completely voluntary, and
can involve searching for a lost person with dementia, helping with communication in a city
parade, and so much more.
Finally, CERT members are not the police; they're not going to arrest people. They're also
not doctors; they won't be able to diagnose illnesses or prescribe medications. They're a
team of ordinary citizens who can be a source of strength and comfort during a really bad
time. And you can become part of that team.
Any thoughts about CERT that you'd like to share? Let's hear from you.
For other training net opportunities
Radio-related training topics
Setting up a net
at your work place [link
With all the nets that people have, it might be nice to set up a net at work. This way, our
work place could become better prepared for an incident, it might make a good daytime
distraction, and it could be a vehicle to invite others to get licensed. But, like with any
other amateur endeavor, there are rules.
You can indeed hold a weekly net at work, and even invite licensed co-workers to check in, and
even non-licensed folks to look on. But during a drill or an incident, you won't be able to
use ham radio to communicate, because you're getting paid to do so. Not even if you're a
policeman, a fireman, a medic, or even the governor. After hours, there's not a problem,
because you're not getting paid to do ham.
The one exception is if you're teaching ham radio as a paid professional educator. The rules
permit teachers to teach ham radio and get on the air with their students, and still get paid
to do all of this. This falls under incident to classroom instruction and can apply to
other professions if they are also teaching ham radio in a classroom setting during working
So, setting up a regular net at work is good practice, as long as you and your co-participants
understand that the object is not so you can do ham radio during working hours, unless life
or property is at risk.
Exercise: manually changing frequencies on demand [link
Every so often, you might find out that you need to change frequencies on your radio,
especially to one that's not already programmed into it. This can happen because you're
traveling to an unexpected location, because all the stations you have programmed are
busy, or because Net Control has asked you to change to a particular frequency during a
drill or incident. For these and other reasons, it's good practice to know how to manually
change to an unprogrammed frequency.
Now that check-ins have been taken on this net, I'm going to ask everybody to change to
another frequency, then I'll ask for you to check in again. Once check-ins are completed
on that frequency, we'll return to this one, our home frequency, where I'll ask
for you to check in once more. I'll then ask you repeat that process on yet another frequency
that might cause some to stumble. At the end, we'll all return to our home frequency and
take a final check-in and conclude the training.
On your home frequency :
Everybody please change frequency to 147.600 MHz simplex. KI7ABC, QSY to 147.600.
On 147.600 MHz :
This is KI7ABC, Net Control for this training moment. Please go ahead and check in now.
On 147.600 MHz, once check-ins are complete :
Thanks, everybody, for your check-ins. Please now change back to the net frequency.
This is KI7ABC, QSY.
On your home frequency :
This is KI7ABC, Net Control for this training moment. Please go ahead and check in now.
On your home frequency, once check-ins are complete :
Thanks, everybody, for your check-ins. Please now change frequency to 147.220
MHz simplex. Note that this is recognized by many radios as a repeater frequency,
which might require you to force your radio into simplex mode when you change to
this frequency. This is KI7ABC, QSY to 147.220.
On 147.220 MHz :
This is KI7ABC, Net Control for this training moment. Please go ahead and check in now.
On 147.220 MHz, once check-ins are complete :
Thanks, everybody, for your check-ins. Please now change back to the net frequency.
This is KI7ABC, QSY.
On your home frequency :
This is KI7ABC, Net Control for this training moment. Please go ahead and check in now,
one last time.
On your home frequency, once check-ins are complete :
Thanks, everybody, for your check-ins.
This training item was not meant to humiliate you, but to give you a little practice on
manually changing frequencies at a moment's notice. If you find yourself in a difficult
situation that requires radio contact, knowing how to manipulate your radio can keep you in
contact, or maybe even be a life-saver.
Keeping your devices cool in summer [link
One day last summer the temperature outside hit a hundred degrees again. And as the
mercury rose, I started to think about the poor devices cooking in my car. Even with
the windows cracked and shades over my dash, it's a veritable oven in there. So,
when summer creeps up on us, how can we keep our sensitive electronic devices safe
from the heat?
One obvious way to keep our radios, GPSs, phones, MP3 and DVD players, and other
gear from roasting is by removing them and taking them inside, where it's typically
a lot cooler. But that's not always practical, especially if you have a lot of stuff
in your car, and especially if some of it's installed permanently. What if I run my
A/C the entire time I'm out of the car? I don't think so.
I used to carry handheld radios in my car, and then put them under my seat when I
left my vehicle, but remembering to do that's a chore, and I often forgot. These days
I no longer stow handy-talkies in my car, because I have a mobile radio. And my mobile
radio has a separated control head, so that most of my radio is in back, out of direct
sunlight, while my control head is mounted up front on my dash. I still have to keep
the control head cool, so I need to remember and put up my sunshield when I get out
of the car.
But not everybody can afford a mobile radio, especially one that comes with a detachable
control head, although most new models do have that feature nowadays. So, what's the
best solution? I suspect there are as many good ideas as there are listeners, so I'd
like to hear your thoughts. How do you keep your electronic gear safe from the
Keeping your equipment clean [link
Several Field Days ago, I learned a valuable lesson. It was very warm and a little dusty,
so that when a breeze kicked up, some of the dust blew into the screen tent I set up for our
GOTA (Get On The Air) station. Didn't think it was much of a problem at the time; I just wiped
down whatever dust landed on my rig, tuner, power supply, the table, and our station was good
to go. That is, until I got it all home after the event.
At first, the big VFO knob (tuning knob) on my HF rig seemed to grind just a bit, then it became
more difficult to turn, and finally it froze altogether. After taking the knob apart, I discovered
that the bearings had become full of dust, so I cleaned it out. But my cleaning job wasn't very
professional, and after several laborious days and $40 later, I ended up replacing the knob.
I had learned my lesson, expensive in terms of both time and money.
Dirt and oils
Most of us don't spend a lot of time cleaning our radio equipment, which is not normally a problem.
But over time, dust, oils from our hands, dirt, and other unsavory substances collect on our
equipment due to use, which is a good problem to have; I would rather see my radios get dirty
from being operated, than collect dust by sitting on some shelf. So, try and protect your radio
gear from excessive exposure to dusty environments, if possible. Within reason, clean your hands
before picking up your microphone.
I wouldn't actually say I'm a germophobe, but I'm a little leary of using other people's cell
phones and placing my hand on restroom door handles. You likely believe that you're relatively
germ-free, but others might not share your belief, and would rather not touch your equipment
until they feel it's been wiped down a bit. Back to Field Day, I kept a canister of disinfecting
wipes near my GOTA station equipment, in case people want to wipe the microphone or mic stand
or even the face of my rig, before they started using it.
One day I purchased a used desk microphone, only to open the box and fill my room with smells of
bourbon, gin, and beer. When Billy Joel said his microphone smelled like a beer, I now know what
he was talking about. That made for an interesting guessing game, but it was no fun to clean,
having to take it apart and even throw the metallic housing and base into the dishwasher. You
might not think that you actually spit on (or into) your microphone, but in fact you do that and
more. It's another good reason to talk across your mic face rather than puff directly into it.
One word of caution, however. You might want to test a spot of your display, for example,
before cleaning the entire rig with some disinfecting wipes or harsh chemical. Most equipment
manuals state that you should only use water with mild soap to clean your hardware. And avoid
using paper towels, which can scratch your display and rub your radio's lettering and labels
right off. While you're at it, you might also want to vacuum or blow the dust out of the fans
in your power supplies and radios.
The benefits of a clean rig
As a side benefit, you might actually find that keeping dust and other flying debris out of,
and off of, your radio can actually extend its life, because dust and dirt are abrasive, and
can wear out small moving parts, like your microphone or knobs. Also, some dust is a little
conductive, and combined with a little moisture, can present low-impedance shorts in your
The point is, you really should keep your radio gear clean, as we had discovered during Field
Day. In the end, you want a clean radio that you can rely on if you're in a hurry or need to
help out during a small emergency.
How weather affects radio propagation [link
One question that surfaces occasionally, especially following storms, is how weather affects ham
radio. There are many weather-related influences that can act upon station operation, such as
temperature, wind, lightning, and barometric pressure, but this topic focuses on conditions resulting
from moisture, because of its conductive nature. Remember that "propagation" means how well a
radio signal retains its integrity as it travels along its path. In general, moisture from
weather affects HF propagation very little, VHF propagation a little more, and UHF propagation much
Moisture-laden conditions such as rain, snow, fog, clouds, or high humidity tend to partially
refract radio signals or reduce its strength, depending upon frequency, sometimes requiring you
to get your antenna higher or increase your power output to maintain good communication. Under
most circumstances, you will not notice a large change in transmit or receive signal
strength or integrity, regardless of weather changes. But, there are exceptions.
One of the activities many of us get involved with, is helping out with aid station communication
for marathons, bike races, and other events that take us up the mountains or into canyons. And yet
toward the end of any of these, as the sun is setting in the valley, one phenomenon that seems
to always catch us by surprise is the effect that dusk has on 2-meter propagation.
An inversion, caused by a layer of cooler air on the ground being trapped by a warmer layer above
it, creates a moisture density "boundary" that actually refracts radio signals. As well as from
the typical wintertime inversion, this phenomenon can be experienced as the summer sun sets, and
the air closest to the ground cools faster than the air above it.
During this dusk inversion, 2-meter signals originating from under the inversion boundary tend to
travel farther due to tropospheric ducting, which allows the signals to repeatedly reflect
off the ground and the underside of the inversion. By the same phenomenon, 2-meter signals originating
from over the inversion (like from on a hill overlooking the valley floor) tend to refract off the
inversion and head off into space, while very little of the signal gets through to the ground
Wet antennas and feed lines
When antennas get wet, iced, or blanketed with snow, they appear to be shorted out by water, but
in reality they are not, because what can appear to you like a DC short is not always an AC short,
and antennas function using AC. On one hand, there's no need to go to any lengths to protect your
antenna from wet weather. On the other hand, you need to make sure your connectors are waterproof
and will not allow any moisture to get into the coax.
Other weather-related situations
While we're talking about the weather, it might be worthwhile to mention a few other weather-related
items of interest, two of which do not always involve moisture:
Because of their water content, live trees can also alter how well radio signals get from one
place to another. A few trees won't affect your signal much, but a forest can partially or
completely block your signal from getting very far. For most amateur frequencies, the few
trees in your back yard will typically have little effect on your ability to be heard. But
if you're surrounded by a dense forest, especially one covered in snow or drenched in rain
water, you might find your signal to be noticeably degraded.
If your coaxial cable is free to swing in the breeze, even slightly windy conditions can result
in erratic signal reports, and can even work antenna joints and connectors loose. Be sure to
secure your feed lines, structures, and antennas to sturdy anchoring posts or buildings. Make
sure store-bought vertical antennas have wind ratings (often labeled wind load) that
can withstand your largest local gusts. Don't underestimate the power of air movement.
Collective lightning crashes from thunderstorms many miles away can be heard on your HF receiver
as atmospheric noise, and can present anything from a minor nuisance to a complete inability
to communicate. Related to lightning, excess static build-up due to air movement can discharge
not only on your antenna, but on nearby chain-link fences and buildings, often heard on your
radio as loud static pops resembling a crackling fire.
This training is more of a heads up than how to resolve weather-related problems,
due to the extra time it would take to cover all of that. The point is, most weather won't affect
ham radio operation very much; just don't be too surprised if you start getting unfavorable signal
reports when the sun starts setting.
Amateur radios that can transmit outside the amateur bands [link
Every so often, we see questions or statements posted online about using your radio to transmit
on frequencies outside of the amateur bands. Granted, many of our radios won't even allow us
to do that, but many do, and people wonder whether they're allowed to use those frequencies,
since they're available on a ham radio, after all. Before I go any further, let me say right
out that our amateur radio license only permits us to transmit on amateur frequencies, and those
within the privileges granted to us by our particular license class.
On the other hand, we also know that, in the event of an actual emergency, we can use any
communication means available, if our lives or property are in immediate danger. I don't want
to hinder anybody's rescue if their life is truly at risk, but allow me to say that, if you ever
find that you really need to communicate outside your privileges, by all means do so, but be
prepared to defend your definition of an emergency. You might need to explain why you
thought your situation warranted that emergent status, and why you needed to use the communication
method you chose, to save your life or property.
Now then, back to your radio. You might have discovered that your HT will allow you to transmit
outside the amateur radio frequency band, and that this feature might come in real handy if you
need to alert somebody official, such as the fire department or police. But, if you don't hold a
license to transmit on those frequencies, your transmissions will not be legal. Furthermore, if
you transmit on one of the license-free bands, such as FRS, MURS, CB, or others, using your
handheld ham radio, those transmissions will also not be legal, because the radio you're using
is not authorized for those bands. Moreover, even if you do hold a Maritime, Air, Commercial,
or other license, your transmissions on those respective bands using these ham radios will also
not be legal, for the same reason, because the radio is not authorized for them.
In the amateur radio world, we've been given quite a bit of latitude as far as equipment goes,
so that none of our equipment needs to be authorized or certified (formerly "type accepted")
before we can use them to transmit. But again, our transmissions are confined to the amateur
bands. So, why don't manufacturers simply prevent us from being able to transmit outside the
amateur bands? Well, some actually do, but many do not. I mean, why don't automobile manufacturers
prevent our vehicles from exceeding the speed limit? Maybe someday they will, but meanwhile,
the responsibility to drive legally falls on our shoulders. The same should apply to amateur radio.
To summarize, during an actual emergency, we're given a lot of freedom. Many of us have radios
that can take advantage of that extra latitude, but if we exceed our license privileges, we should
be prepared to defend our actions. And just because we can violate the rules doesn't mean we should.
Let's hear your thoughts. Did I omit some important facts?
Get involved with Field Day [link
Throughout the year, ham radio enthusiasts participate in a variety of activities, such as
club meetings, nets, contesting, elmering, antenna-building, exams, and just plain chatting
on the radio. But one of the largest annual amateur events, and the one many of us look
forward to with eager anticipation, is Field Day.
On the last full weekend in June, those who participate descend on an agreed-upon location,
set up their HF radio stations, and get on the air for 24 hours, attempting to make as many
contacts with other participating hams as possible. They log (or record) their contacts in
software during that time, then submit their logs to the ARRL afterwards. A person can
participate in Field Day alone, by using his or her own call sign, or with a club, using the
club's call sign. And each participant can get on the air for a short time, or for the entire
The original purpose of Field Day was to demonstrate emergency deployment readiness, and many
of today's rules governing Field Day reflect that. Eventually, a system of points was developed,
as an incentive to keep the station as primitive as possible. For example, extra points can
be earned by working completely on emergency power, which means battery, generator, or
solar. A Field Day location can be distant, in a nearby park, or right at home, with greater
points awarded for setting up away from home. Also, part of the readiness demonstration is
the requirement that the operators must not set up their stations until a few hours before
the official start of Field Day.
Operating an HF station is not the only activity available at Field Day, especially when
people get involved as a club. There are many supporting tasks that need to be considered,
such as securing permits, transportation of equipment, setting up, logging contacts, mentoring
new hams or unlicensed folks, repairing antennas and coax, safety, publicity, teraing down,
and food preparation, as applicable.
Field Day is not everybody's cup of tea, but it's one more fun activity that can stretch
and test our amateur radio abilities, and another way to get together with other hams and geek
out. It's also a time many hams use as a goal to create and then test a new antenna, try out a
new radio, or take advantage of the opportunity to get out of town and hear what hundreds of
voices sound like, without all that city noise. It challenges many of us to go just a little
above and beyond what we normally do, in the name of readiness, and have fun in the process.
Let's hear from you. What are your thoughts about Field Day?
Take good care of your equipment [link
Chances are, you've spent some hard-earned cash on your ham radio gear; after all, it's a
good investment for preparedness, practice, and maybe even a little fun. But things happen;
stuff gets broken, dropped, or left out in the rain. What are some precautions we could take,
to help ensure our equipment will last us a while? This checklist might help:
Avoid stretching a microphone cord to its limit; always leave some hanging slack
when using it
Never let the knobs on your radio strike or lay against anything hard; their strong
shafts are typically connected to delicate circuit boards
Unless your radio's display is a touch screen, avoid touching it, to prevent scratching
or damaging it, which can result in permanent lines
Avoid stacking anything on your radio; even laying innocent papers on your radio invites
heavier objects and prevents proper air flow
Shield your knobs, sliders, microphone holes, speakers, and displays from dusty
environments, which can be abrasive
Turn off the power to your equipment when not using it overnight
Check the batteries for leakage, even rechargeable ones
Transport your equipment in wrapped (bubble, fabric, etc.) or boxed containers
Try not to carry too much of it, just to save a trip
Keep your stuff away from pets and pests
Avoid unnecessarily loaning out your gear
When not using it, store your radio equipment in a cool, dry place, away from direct
sunlight, excessive dust, and moisture
Finally, don't pack away your radio so securely that it becomes a real pain to get it out
and use it when you want. Use some creativity to figure out how to protect your gear while
making it convenient for you to use.
Let's hear from you. Anything you'd like to add?
Personal training topics
Practice being the communicator [link
During a time of emergency or moment of great alarm, you're breathing hard and fast, you're
in a hurry, and so is everybody else. At a time like that, you don't want to offend anybody,
but you might speak quickly, directly, and expect a quick response. And when you don't get
what you want right away, you might get frustrated, irritated, or even angry.
Most hams are very understanding and patient, but if you don't feel you're at that point yet,
this is the time, when your adrenaline is low, to train yourself to be kind, thoughtful, and
grateful. That's why we have nets like the New Ham Net and your own stake or area net, to
practice taking control and experiencing what it's like to be nervous and hesitating under
stress. Then, with a little practice, maybe after a few times at being Net Control, you slow
down, ask carefully planned questions, and present a voice of understanding and welcome.
So, here are a few tips that might help:
Volunteer to help be a communicator at outdoor events, like the
Squaw Peak 50,
the Kat'cina Mosa 100,
the Freedom Festival,
the Art City Festival,
or Orem Summerfest
Take it up a notch, and volunteer to run a net as Net Control
When you're on the radio, slow down your speech and enunciate your words; it might
take you only five seconds to say something slowly, or twenty seconds for you to a)
say something quickly, b) have Net Control ask you to repeat that, then c) another
five seconds for you to repeat it slowly like you should have, to begin with
Try to remember the others are just as nervous as you, and are doing their very best
Be kind to them, and never criticize any of them
Offer advice only if it's asked for, or if you believe it's truly helpful at the moment
If you feel like you're starting to get upset or angry, take a deep breath and then
speak thoughtfully and in a friendly manner
People under stress often say seemingly non-sensical things on the air; try your best
to understand what they're really trying to say, and ask them to repeat if necessary;
maybe it's your brain, not their mouth, that's making nonsense
It's easy to take the short path to criticism, and berate, belittle, or sound condescending.
Always do your best to be kind and understanding, readily admit your mistakes, and know that
the others are freely giving their time as volunteers, and that they might have other or better
things to do, than endure your attitude. Remember that an apology is a sign of strength, not
Anything you can add to this list? Let's hear from you
Practice common courtesy [link
Most hams are very kind, helpful, and courteous to others. Still, it's easy to forget
to use common courtesy on the air if we don't make that practice a constant part of our
hamming. Furthermore, being from a variety of backgrounds, many of us might not always
agree on what's courteous and what's not. Here are some DOs and DON'Ts that might prove
Make it a natural habit to say
Be polite, welcoming, kind, positive, helpful, and forgiving
Be quick to sincerely praise the other operator; look for opportunities
to put the other person on a pedestal
Be just as quick to admit to mistakes and own up to your faults; accept correction
Give the other operator the benefit of the doubt; that is, assume they mean well,
and did not intend to offend
Try to listen more to the other person than insist that they hear you;
people need to know that their input is valued by you
Try not to convey a negative attitude or feeling on the radio; if you're in a
sour mood, or you feel too angry, sad, or painful, you should probably wait until
later, to get on the air
Avoid criticizing anybody and anything, even the weather or the gubmit, but
especially the other operator on the radio
Refrain from foul language
Avoid speaking sharply at others, and do your best to not raise your voice
in anger or frustration; remain calm if at all possible
Don't point out faults or shortcomings about other people; there are other
avenues besides ham radio to vent that kind of frustration
Try not to provoke another operator by using cutting remarks, spiteful language,
or by bringing up a sensitive topic particular to the person
Don't talk down to people and believe that you're smarter or better than
There you go: common courtesy. Then again, I didn't need to remind you of any of
that, right? That's because all these principles are already part of your ingrained
Focus more on others [link
Without a doubt, you are the world's most interesting person. Any intelligent soul on the
planet would love to hear every word you have to say about yourself. Your life history, your
adventures, your love life, and your aches and pains. At least, that's how we often make it
sound like, when we go on and on about ourselves. And then we wonder why nobody wants to talk
It's well-known that a person's most favorite word in the whole world is his or her own name.
By the same token, a person's most favorite topic tends to be something about that person. Ask
your contact questions about family, employment, school, favorite foods, vacation spots, TV shows,
and what makes life enjoyable. It's easy to focus on the negative, so ask about happy moments and
experiences and people they're close to.
Try this experiment: next time you're on the radio or cell phone talking with a friend, silently
count the number of times you say "I". If you can mentally multi-task, also count the number of
times you say "you" and then compare the two. If you find that your conversation is peppered
with a lot more "I"s than "you"s, that's only human nature, but it seems that we can overcome
the natural man, in order to become better conversationalists.
Of course we want to talk about ourselves, and we have a lot to share. But the important
thing is that the other person does too, so why not turn your focus to their concerns
and things that excite them? Most of the time, it takes practice to think of others over
ourselves, and to dominate the conversation with their point of view or their
opinions and adventures, rather than our own.
Be genuine and thoughtful in your questions and concerns as you talk with others. Do your best
to understand their struggles, to empathize with their feelings, even if you don't agree with
them. This approach to conversation will help others look forward to talking with you
and opening up a little.
Is this topic really all that important? Well, maybe not as much as other things we might discuss,
but picture this: If you ever find yourself talking somebody through a crisis or a lonely time,
placing your focus on him or her will go a long way towards comforting the person and helping them
feel like you're interested in understanding and being a friend. Eventually, they'll start warming
up to you and maybe even trust you a little.
It might take a little practice, but focusing our conversations on the other person might not
only win you a friend, but future friends who are silently listening in.
Amateur radio license plates [link
Not to be confused with a vanity call sign, an amateur radio license plate is a
personalized vehicle license plate that displays your current amateur radio call sign
as its number, whether or not that call sign is a vanity. And hams wonder whether they should
get one, but some are concerned about privacy or confusion, and still others are torn between
getting one for amateur radio, or another, favorite organization, such as the Boy Scouts of
America or Search and Rescue or In God We Trust.
When we encounter another vehicle that displays ham radio license plates, we often feel an
immediate sense of connection and camaraderie with the person, even when we have no idea who
the person is. Well, personalized license plates are optional, but there are a number of reasons
why you might want to put ham radio plates on your vehicle, and some reasons why you might not,
so let's list some PROs and CONs of getting them, and then let you decide.
It's a fun way for traveling hams to recognize a fellow ham
In an emergency or special event, it can help officials recognize you as part of the
solution (some will actually allow you access to incident areas where they might
It can give you a greater sense of responsible driving and public example (you might
be surprised to find just how true this is)
It can give you a sense of belonging
It might make it easier to explain why you're parked on a dark hill with a carload of
It shows your willingness to answer questions about ham radio (because you know people
will ask about them)
All the cool kids are getting them
Shows just how much of a geek you really are
Alerts thieves that you have ham radio equipment in your vehicle
Stalkers might be able to track your plates to your home address easily
It costs money ($23 one-time fee in Utah)
You might want to change your call sign in the future, and plates seem rather permanent
Shows just how much of a geek you really are
If you're interested in getting amateur radio license plates, contact the DMV in your state,
and most states support them and can help you. For Utah plates, go to dmv.utah.gov and sign
Correcting others over the radio [link
You've been listening to two people talking on the radio. Things were going well, but suddenly
you heard one of them make a mistake. He accidentally said, "10-4" or said, "broadcast"
instead of "transmit" or he let loose with a swear word, or he hadn't given his call sign in
eleven minutes. For some of us, our inclination might be to jump on and let the person know
what he did wrong, because we are righteous, we know best, and we're trying to set
the record straight by casting that first stone.
Alright, that's a little extreme, but we do find that, occasionally, we feel the need to
correct somebody's mistake in front of two hundred other listeners. Still, is there ever
a time when it's appropriate to correct somebody over the radio? Well, yes, especially if
the facts being conveyed might hold some significance, and it's important that all listeners
understand the correction, like the time or date of an event, or the address of an incident,
or a life-threatening detail omitted from a verbal report.
The first rule to correcting others on the radio is, just don't. If the
information you're attempting to correct is not that important, or the correction can be
made by somebody else, just take a deep breath and let it go. Chances are, the person who
made the mistake already knows he made the mistake. You're not the ham police, and he's
likely not a ham criminal. Furthermore, you should decide by your listening audience,
whether you are the person who should announce the correction, or leave that
to somebody else, whose job that is.
The second rule is to use good judgment. Ask yourself whether this a correction
that really needs to be made, especially in the earshot of many others. On one hand, it's
easy to justify making a correction about a vital piece of information that was announced
inaccurately, such as a phone number, a medical need, or the name of a contact official.
On the other hand, if a person accidentally uses a CB or police term, did not leave much
space before he keyed up last time, or sings a stanza of "Happy Birthday," it's probably
best to overlook and ignore the terrible offense. At other times, you might want to announce
the correction in the spirit of being helpful, like "I believe your WIRES is turned on" or
"Sounds like your battery might be running low," or "Could you please repeat your call sign
If you need to correct somebody, and the rest of the amateur radio population needs to hear
it, proceed to make the correction using only facts, and do so tactfully. If you lack the
social skills to make corrections in a kind and gentle way, be patient, and let somebody else
make it. It's an art form that takes a little practice to get right. Also, it's easy to blur
the line between correction and criticism, so make your suggestion without criticizing the
person. Instead of "You sound terrible," maybe say, "I only caught about half of that last
Finally, if you're the person who made the mistake, accept the correction with humility, take
ownership of the problem, and freely admit to your mistake, if it's appropriate. Avoid making
excuses, like "Nobody's perfect," and never retaliate, like saying "Well, your audio
sounds just as bad." Be the bigger adult, and thank the person who gave you the
correction, and let it end there.
Let's hear from you. What are your thoughts about correcting others without criticism,
when the information to be corrected is important?
When you received your FCC license, a website known as
(or simply, QRZ, and pronounced cue-are-zed) created a web page as a
courtesy to you, free-of-charge, containing only information it gleaned from the FCC public
record. It provides a convenient way for other hams to look up your name, home location, and
license class. QRZ also displays your email address, your photo, and a personal description,
if you've populated your page with those.
Create a login
As a new ham (or even if you've been around a while), it's in your best interest to create
a login on QRZ, to help people know how to contact you off the radio. After you do, you can
use QRZ to look up other hams quickly, find how to contact them, and see their photo and
biographical info if they've posted it.
Use QRZ to search for other hams
You can use QRZ.com to search for other hams by call signs, names, or location. In the search
box, you can enter a complete call sign, to display that person's QRZ page. You can even enter
a partial call sign and a wildcard character ("*") to search for a group of call signs. For
example, you can list all hams that have call signs starting with "KJ7" and ending with "H"
(because, maybe, that's all you heard on the air), by simply entering "KJ7*H" in the search.
You can list all hams named "Steve" who live in "Provo" by entering "Steve Provo" in the search,
then select by Name/Addr in the drop-down.
Use QRZ as an online logging program
You can log your contacts using QRZ.com, for any amateur band. It's a convenient way to keep
track of friends, special events, and faraway stations you want to record permanently. People
who look up your QRZ page will be able to see your contact list, a feature no other logging
program provides. (It's an easy way to show others the contacts you've made.) And when the
appropriate contacts are confirmed, QRZ will display the associated award (WAS, WAC, Grid
Square, etc.) at the top of your page.
Use QRZ as a flea market
QRZ.com has an online garage sale, of sorts. You can post your own ham radio equipment for
sale, or peruse the thousands of used items for sale by others. Hover the Swapmeet
tab, then select Ham Radio Gear for Sale to display the world's largest listing of
ham radio equipment for sale.
QRZ.com is probably the largest repository of call signs in the world. It was made originally
for American call signs, but today contains the call signs of numerous hams from many countries.
QRZ also posts announcements, alerts you when your license is about to expire, and contains a
It's not actually required of you to pay QRZ for your page on their website. But available only
through a paid ($17 annual) subscription, they have many useful features, such as unlimited call
sign lookups, the online Swapmeet, and the Web Contact Log.
Let's hear from you. Any comments or questions about QRZ?
Protocol training topics
Emergency training topics
What frequency to monitor, when you're
the victim [link
You want to be as helpful as you can be when the need arises, to render some assistance to
others. But what if you are the person who needs the help? No doubt you've learned about
and prepared many things to be self-sufficient during a critical moment, including with
communication. So, what frequencies should you tune to during an incident, especially if cell
towers become damaged or otherwise unavailable? Here are some suggested ones, roughly in order:
Your Area frequency if you're near your home neighborhood. Your Area is
the geographical location defined by local religious leaders. And you know your Area
frequency because it's the one that's held weekly by the predominant faith, and you
don't have to be a member of the faith to participate. You should be able to locate
yours on noji.com/nets.
Your City frequency if you're within your home city, and is one of those
used by your city during a city-wide drill
Your ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Service) repeater frequency. For Utah
County, that's 147.340+ MHz (100.0 Hz tone).
your ERC (Emergency Response Communications) repeater frequency. For the Lindon
Bishops' Storehouse (Utah County), that's 147.020+ MHz (100.0 Hz tone).
The 2-meter National Calling Frequency, which is 146.520 MHz simplex,
and part of the
(for the 70 cm band, it's 446.000 MHz simplex)
The designatd Statewide Emergency Broadcast frequencies, which for Utah
is KSL radio 102.7 FM and 1160 AM
Any or all of several police, sheriff, fire, and EMS (emergency medical services)
frequencies, which include, but are not limited to, the following:
154.860 MHz : North Utah County Sheriff
156.135 MHz : South Utah County Sheriff
153.950 MHz : Utah County Public Safety
155.235 MHz : Utah County Search and Rescue
851.600 MHz : Utah Public Safety (fire, EMS, police, chopper, ambulance)
Finally, and possibly counter-intuitive, be sure to program your radios with a few ragchew
repeater frequencies. That is, frequencies of the nearest repeaters that are the most
often used. For Utah County those would likely be 146.760- MHz, 146.780- MHz
(100.0 Hz tone), and 146.620- MHz. If you're in need of help, and call out on one of
these repeaters, chances are fairly good that somebody will be
monitoring and will answer your call for help.
Importance of scanning [link
Before they became hams, many had learned about searching through public safety and other
emergency frequencies for alerts, incidents, and other things that were going down at the
moment, using scanners. This way, they were usually the first to know about what's
going on, and then stayed informed with updates to a situation. Using a ham radio, it turns
out that you can do something similar. After programming your radio with important frequencies,
you can scan them for information and pertinent chatter.
Most of today's handheld and mobile ham radios are capable of scanning two different ways.
One is to scan all frequencies in the band, incremented by the amount set by the STEP
menu setting, which can be 5 kHz, 10 kHz, and so forth. Avoid scanning by searching all the
frequencies this way, because of the time it takes to traverse the entire band. Chances of
missing important announcements are high, and the scan stopping on noisy or irrelevant
frequencies, like the weather channel, will occur way too frequently, costing you precious
time if you're looking for real information. On the other hand, if you're traveling and aren't
familiar with the local repeaters, scanning the entire band might actually be a better option.
The other is to scan only the frequencies you've programmed into memory, but that'll
require you to do a little research on what set of frequencies you'd like to scan, to be of most
help to you during an incident. For these, I recommend a combination of local repeater, useful
simplex, and some public safety frequencies. Many of the public safety frequencies will be part
of trunked systems, so you'll likely hear only part of the conversation on them, but it's better
than nothing, and you'll often catch the majority of the information by context.
Once these are programmed into memory, you can start the scan by the press of a button or two.
While scanning, if the radio encounters a carrier signal on a frequency it tunes to, it momentarily
halts the scan, to allow you to hear it long enough to decide whether that signal is of interest
to you. Furthermore, depending on your radio model, you might be able to select how your radio
should behave when it encounters a signal. For example, you can set the scanning function in your
radio to continue scanning after a few seconds, or remain on the frequency until you prompt the
radio to continue the scan.
You might have frequencies programmed in your radio memory that you want excluded from the
scan, because of irrelevance. To do this, you can mark the frequency by SKIP, so that the
scanning function will skip listening to that frequency for a signal. You can do the same for
a noisy frequency, because it's a digital signal, or you're near an LED sign, or you use a charger
that gives off a lot of noise on that frequency.
After your memory channels are set up, and the noisy ones marked for skipping, you're all set
for scanning. Once an incident occurs, and you've taken appropriate steps to ensure your safety
and check in to a local net, you can start the scan going, to listen for relevant traffic or
life-saving information bulletins.
What do you think? Other thoughts about scanning? Let's hear from you.
How to call out for help [link
When you're in real trouble, calling out for help could mean life or death for you or the people
with you. And knowing how to get people's attention to obtain that help isn't always obvious.
Use your phone to call for help
Your phone will be your primary lifeline in most cases. When you find your life, health, or
property in immediate danger, call 911. There are times when a phone call might not be available
to help you, because many others are calling for help the same time as you. In that case, try
texting for help; texts will often get through an overloaded cell tower when a call will not.
Use your radio to call for help
If your phone battery is dead, or cell service becomes unavailable, resort to radio. When you
really need help right away, hopefully you'll have your grab-and-go bag handy, and it'll contain
your ham radio. And if you've managed to escape by car, hopefully you'll have your ham radio
installed in your vehicle. Here are steps you can take to call for help by radio: (Except for
the call sign, the following are not limited to ham radio, and so can be used on
walkie-talkies, CB, and
radio types as well.)
Listen on your Area frequency (if you're near home), City frequency, and Emergency
frequency, for a net or communication already in progress. (Your Area frequency is typically
organized by your local religious body or geographic area of citizens. Your Emergency
frequency is organized by the county ARES group, but can also be the National Calling
Frequency, if you're following the
At an appropriate moment, break into the ongoing net or conversation and announce that
you have a problem that needs to be addressed immediately
If you don't hear any communication taking place on any of your frequencies, set your radio
to scan all the frequencies in memory. When the radio stops on a valid conversation,
go back to Step 2.
If all else fails, change your radio to your Area, City, or Emergency frequency, and say
"This is KI7ABC, and I need help right away."
"This is KI7ABC. Could somebody help me right away?"
"This is KI7ABC. Could somebody get me an ambulance right away?"
Avoid using the words "emergency" or "break", since many hams are too used to equating these
words with drills or simulated exercises, even though they're reserved for true emergencies.
Use any means at your disposal to call for help
If you're experiencing a true emergency, you can do just about anything relatively safely to get
the attention of others, especially those who can access the help you need.
When deciding to use any means at your disposal, make sure you balance how much of a danger
you're in, with reason. Use your head, and keep safety first in your mind, in spite of the
adrenaline coursing through your veins.
Make a loud noise with these (three times, wait five seconds, then repeat)
banging metal, such as pots
anything else to grab attention, such as a loudspeaker
Post signs, ideally in large, red print
Send a runner to get help
If you're outdoors, clear the area, then set three fires spaced evenly apart in a line
Smoke signals (do you know how to do this? it has nothing to do with Morse code)
Anything else? Use your creativity safely.
Handling a missing parent [link
It might seem more intuitive to ask how to handle a missing child, but that implies
you're searching for a child you haven't met, probably a topic for another day. But in this
case, you've encountered a child who's become separated from the parent, or a child has found
you, while in search of the parent. This means it's the parent who's missing, not the
child. Also, this can apply to an adult with diminished mental capacity, in which case you might
be helping to locate a missing caretaker. Ok. So, now what do you do?
This training is quite relevant, because we ham radio operators serve during many public events,
such as parades, festivals, marathons, and carnivals, and in each event, often more than one child
gets separated from his parent in the crowd. Nearly all of these incidents have ended well, with
the child being successfully reunited with the missing parent. But what could we do, to ensure
a successful reunion?
Contact the authorities
Get on the phone or radio promptly, and let authorities or at least somebody else know that
you're with a child who's been separated from his parent. If you're part of a net in an event,
be sure and inform Net Control of the same right away. If it appears that searching for
the child's parents will take longer than a few minutes, and you aren't able to locate the
police just yet, focus on searching for the authorities rather than the parents;
you'll likely waste a lot more time and effort looking for individuals than for the police, fire,
or EMS personnel.
Don't be alone with the child
As quickly as possible, get another person to accompany you with the child. Having multiple
adults in the company of the child helps protect both you and the child. Even the call you
make to the police is a big step toward not being alone with the child. At the same time,
make sure the child is not left alone. In other words, don't abandon him while you go off
looking for the police.
Help reassure the child
As much as you know how, befriend the child. Find out his name, and call him by his name often.
Let him know that you're going to do everything you can, to find his parents or get help. Don't
make up things by saying that everything's going to be alright, or that he'll be with his
parents soon, because you don't know that. Ask him how he feels. One of the best talents you
can muster at a time like this is the ability to listen. A word of caution: only
hold or hug the child if he invites the touch; otherwise, avoid physical contact with him, except
an occasional pat on the shoulder or elbow. Playing a game in an open area with people nearby or
with others involved can go a long way to help calm the child.
Find out what you can from the child
Without interrogating the scared youngster with a hundred rapid-fire questions, casually ask him
what his mom's name is, where he lives, what his favorite food is, what video game he likes to
play, as it's appropriate for his age. If possible, find out where he and his parents were, when
they got separated, and what they were doing at the time. Find out how old he is, what school he
goes to, what his teacher's name is. Take note of the child's age, size, and what he's wearing,
his eye and hair color, and if possible, record that information.
Turn over the child intelligently
Before handing the child over to a complete stranger, look for clearly open clues that the child
recognizes the parent. Get the parent's name and address and number, then report all the details
you can, to the police or other proper authorities. You have no right to restrain the child in
the presence of his parents, and the parents have probably been worried sick looking for him, so
this moment can be a little awkward for all of you.
How all of this turns out will often result from you using good judgment, and each child
and situation is different from the next. The good news is that you were there, right when a
child needed you. Neither the child nor his parents will likely remember what you did for them,
but you probably will.
Ok, let's hear from you. Anything you could add, or you would do differently?
Getting involved with emergency communication [link
One of the reasons you got your ham radio license is for preparedness, because you've probably
heard that this form of communication is more reliable and less expensive offgrid than others.
But now that you’ve come this far, your goal is to not only help yourself, but others in your
community, and maybe even your state. So, is there some organized way for you to put your
new-found skills to work, and be of help in your community? Will those in charge actually feel
they can confidently call upon you to provide essential emergency services? Turns out it is
indeed possible for us amateurs to get called upon as *volunteer* emergency services
communicators. However, there is an organized way for you to get involved and help.
ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Service)
Sign up and become certified by your local ARES group, which in most cases is at the county
level. They are likely working with your AUXCOMM team, if you even have one (most places do
not yet), to help train you in procedure and protocol, and will let you know when and where
to help in an official capacity, if needed. A callout is a formal request by organization
leaders for your voluntary help during an actual incident. Depending on your ARES certification
level, you might get called out to help with communication, in conjunction with a wildfire,
flood, severe storm, or other incident with which the ARES leadership feels you can safely
RACES (Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service)
Sign up and become accredited with your RACES organization, which in most cases is at the
state level. They are also likely working with your AUXCOMM team, again, if you have one.
The RACES folks tend to leave much of the training up to the AUXCOMM folks, but if you’re
new to emergency communication, you should start with your local ARES team.
Get involved in your local (religious, community, area) net, and volunteer to help out as a
communicator. Their leaders will likely keep a list of volunteers, along with their skill
levels, and call upon your help as they see the need.
You are free to help out your own family and neighbors without any sort of training, position,
or direction, as long as you're a) representing yourself (not any organization), and b) your
self-deployment activities don’t interfere with emergency coordination efforts being done by
Offer your services in the ARES and local (religious, community, area) groups by offering
to run their nets, present a training topic, or host a simulated exercise (a *tabletop exercise*,
not a mock disaster). If you don’t volunteer your time and services, the organization leaders
might not realize that you want to help out at all.
Related to volunteering, stay up-to-date. Get on the ARES mailing list, and make sure you’re
receiving their updates. Keep informed on upcoming events, such as meetings, training, simulated
exercises, callouts, and more. Find out how to increase your expertise by advancing your
Getting involved with ARES [link
If you're interested in using both your radio and your brain to help out with local emergencies,
in a group that already has a training regimen and leadership organization in place,
ARES might be for you. They're willing to help you not only learn how to use your
radio and during an incident, but make use of skills you already have, and maybe learn some new
skills. Skills like emergency medical, snow and ice survival, backpacking for rescue, temporary
minimalist living, emergency power, and more.
ARES, or Amateur Radio Emergency Service, is a service organization program of the
ARRL, and consists of licensed amateurs who have voluntarily registered their qualifications
and equipment for communication duty in the public service when disaster strikes. Any licensed
amateur can apply for ARES membership, and neither ARRL affiliation nor posession of special
equipment is required.
ARES members are trained to assist with emergency communication in behalf of local
government (such as the County Sheriff), public service (such as the Red Cross and hospitals),
and relief agencies (such as the LDS Church and Salvation Army), when requested. They can
serve according to their training level, as indicated by their certifications, which are
bestowed by the ARES leadership upon completion of specific training requirements.
An ARES team can become activated by order of the Public Safety or other emergency
personnel in charge, through the ARES leadership. Once activated, ARES members are notified
of their assignments and duties, but participation is voluntary. Those who are able and
willing to participate in an activation might be asked to provide specific items, such as a
a pickup truck, batteries, or gasoline, if it's available to you. The ARES leadership then
asks the volunteers to show up at a particular command post or Emergency Operations Center
for further instructions.
ARES typically recruits their members from within a geographical boundary, many of them within
a specific county. Any licensed amateur is eligible for ARES participation, and can apply for
membership with the local ARES leadership. To apply in Utah County, visit
and download the ARES Membership form, and submit the completed form to the local ARES leadership.
For Salt Lake County, visit
scroll down to Join ARES and click
Most ARES teams provide weekly training for their members, by holding nets, gatherings, and
simulated emergency exercises. Training topics are often discussed on the regular nets.
Communication and equipment handling proficiency are promoted through certification levels,
which can be achieved through increasing stages of training. Members are informed of special or
unique training opportunities by listening to the nets or attending intreface meetings.
In many locations, ARES teams hold monthly if not weekly nets. These regular on-air check-ins
not only inform members of news and events, but also provide training by presenting a relevant
topic of discussion, and encouraging members to run the net themselves. The Utah County ARES
team holds nets each Tuesday at 9:00 pm on the 147.340+ (100.0 Hz tone) repeater. The Salt Lake
County ARES team helds theirs each Wednesday at 8:30 pm on the 146.700- (100.0 Hz tone) repeater.
As mentioned, one way to learn of important training opportunities and skillset upgrades is by
attending the monthly interface meeting. In Utah County, these are held on the first
Tuesday monthly 7:00 pm at the Utah County Sheriff's Office North Annex in Spanish Fork on
even-numbered months, and the Lehi Fire Station #83 (3870 Traverse Mountain Blvd) on odd-numbered
months. In Salt Lake County, the same meetings are held on the fourth Wednesday monthly 6:30 pm
at the IHC facility (5121 S Cottonwood St) in Murray. Besides online manuals and instruction
materials, ARES also has specialized vehicles at their disposal, outfitted with radios for
different agencies, antennas, and other communication gear.
Once you reach a relatively proficient point in your ARES training and certification, you can
be assigned an appropriate liaison post, which is typically an EOC, or Emergency
Operations Center, located in a hospital, city building, or county facility. When disaster
strikes, and ARES is activated, you might be asked to attend to your voluntary assignment if
you and your family are safe, and it is safe in your judgment for you to travel there and serve.
Getting involved with RACES [link
Many modern forms of communication, including broadcast, two-way, wifi, cell phone, satellite,
television, and more, can trace their roots back to amateur radio. Due to innovations made by
amateurs through the past one hundred-plus years, government and military have been able to
communicate during times when it's most crucial, such as natural disasters, search-and-rescue,
and international conflict. Those sparks of creativity only prompted more experimentation by
amateurs, and the airwaves in the early days of radio became flooded with the trials and errors
of many projects.
At the onset of World War I, it quickly became apparent that the military could not compete
with the huge army of amateur hobbyists for the available radio frequency spectrum. In response,
the US Congress ordered all amateur radio operation to cease. After the end of the War, amateurs
had to fight to get back on the air, but operate they did. Then came World War II, and the
familiar but unfortunate scene happened all over again, with all amateur radio ordered shut down
What is RACES
It was during World War II that the US Congress drafted the War Powers Act of 1941, which
provided for an amateur radio service to continue operating, in spite of the invocation of
the Act and a resulting shutdown of amateur radio by the President of the United States.
Today, this service is known as RACES - the Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service, and
is governed primarily on the state level. Regular amateurs can apply for RACES credentials,
permitting them to continue operating, but in a RACES capacity, when the President activates
the War Powers Act.
RACES accredits amateurs, conducts nets, holds training, hosts conferences, and more. Its
purpose is to provide a body of proficient communication volunteers who can use their own
equipment, skill, and time to aid with communication during a crisis that's large enough to
warrant the activation of the War Powers Act or other large-scale disaster. Once a person is
accredited, RACES issues a unique number to the person, to be used along with the FCC-assigned
call sign, for identification. Should the War Powers Act become activated, only those with a
RACES number can transmit on amateur frequencies.
Presidential invocation of the Emergency War Powers Act is not the only trigger that can activate
RACES. State governors and Public Safety officials can also activate a RACES operation if they
deem the incident scope to be large enough to warrant the use of amateur communication, because
the official communication infrastructure is inadequate or damaged. During an activation,
Public Safety officials will send out a notification to RACES members, requesting their help
and explaining the scope of the need.
Any amateur whose license has never been suspended can apply to RACES to become accredited,
but they decide who can eventually earn the accreditation. To become part of RACES in the
state of Utah, you must visit the
Utah Department of Public Safety
website and download the
PDF. Fill out the form, sign it, and send it to the address provided. You must agree to a
background check, must not be a convicted felon, and must hold a valid amateur radio license.
Once you're assigned your RACES number, you can check into one of the monthly RACES Nets. In
Utah, the RACES VHF / UHF nets are held at 8 pm of the third Thursday of even-numbered months
on the Intermountain Intertie, Sinbad, Skyline, and other repeater systems, which become linked
together state-wide. The RACES Nets are also held at 8 am of the third Saturday of odd-numbered
months on 3.920 MHz, which is 80 meters, and therefore requires you to hold a General class
license unless you're accompanied by a General or higher licensee. Another aspect of the RACES
nets is that many official government agencies open their EOCs (Emergency Operation Centers)
to allow RACES members to check in from their physical locations.
The Utah Department of Public Safety typically holds brief RACES trainings during the monthly
nets. These are often topics you likely know well, but can also include new or updated
information intended for RACES members. More detailed and in-depth training is held annually
on the first Saturday of November at the State of Utah
and consumes much of the day. The conference training is free-of-charge, often hands-on,
engages most of the attendees, and is very worthwhile.
Your responsibility, your opportunity
On the RACES registration application, you assert that you will ...serve to the best of (your)
ability as requested..., but this is not a military commitment, or anything close. Your
volunteer service is welcome and appreciated, yet optional. Still, being one of a few who can
operate a radio during wartime or other crisis is big, and your service can mean saving lives.
Unlicensed or under-licensed radio use [link
Many of us already know that a person can use whatever rational means is necessary, to
communicate when there's an emergency, and when normal means are unavailable. The problem
we sometimes run into, is the definition of an emergency. An emergency is a
situation in which a person's life is at risk. During that moment, a person without a
license can legally use a ham radio in an effort to save somebody's life. Knowing how
to turn it on and use it to call out for help might be another thing, but it's legal
Much less known is the fact that an under-licensed person can do the same. In
November 2013, when Typhoon Haiyan (pronounced high-YAN) struct the Philippines, the
LDS Church had a mission home in Cebu (pronounced seh-BOO) City, at which the mission
president, who is a licensed amateur, set up a ham radio station months before, as a
disaster preparedness measure. When Haiyan struck, the only operator nearby was an
American missionary, who happened to have a Technician license.
The missionary turned on the station and starting sending distress calls on 20 meters,
hoping to get the attention of the LDS Church's monitoring stations anywhere. Technician
licensees do not have privileges on 20 meters, so the operator was not unlicensed,
but under-licensed. Was his operation legal? Since this was a time of emergency, absolutely.
Although amateur radio rules are different between our two countries, policies regarding
emergencies are similar. He was able to contact help in California and Australia. The
folks in California relayed the messages to Salt Lake City, and the next thing you know,
the missionary was talking with Salt Lake, reporting stats and coordinating help.
Slow down and speak loudly and clearly
Chances are, in an actual emergency, your adrenaline is rushing through your bloodstream,
you're hyperventilating, and you might be talking 30 miles over the speed limit, at two
octaves higher than your normal voice. Breathe deeply and slowly. Slow down. Dial it back
a notch. You're much more helpful if you take five whole seconds to report something,
than if you were to say the same thing in two seconds, have the other station take two
seconds to ask you to repeat what you just said, and then have you repeat it all in five
seconds, taking a total of nine precious seconds.
Try lowering the pitch of your voice, and enunciate your words, only a little louder than
you normally speak on the radio. The other station will appreciate your clarity and loud
transmission, especially if you speak close to the microphone. The entire purpose of your
communication is to get help, and sometimes that means attracting attention, and if that
means being obnoxious, interrupting an ongoing conversation, or pressing random buttons,
by all means, do so. Many ambulances and police recognize what's known as "long-tone-zero"
in which you hold down the zero (0) key for five whole seconds, indicating the following
transmission is an emergency alert of some sort.
You will likely be held accountable
Understand that, even though you did everything correctly and legally, you might actually
need to justify your emergency transmissions later. I don't mean to the police, or even
to the FCC, but to fellow hams, who feel for your situation, but are concerned about
following the rules, like you are. If one of your listeners is somebody who might not
agree with your justification, that ham might just report you to the FCC. But that's
alright, since you're fully prepared to explain the situation and put them at ease, if
they should ask you about it.
What are your thoughts about unlicensed emergency operation? Let's hear from you.
LDS Church-specific topics
For slightly more technical training nets
Radio-related training topics
An excessively low SWR can kill you [link
When a person obtains a ham radio license, it's not long before the ham learns about SWR,
which stands for Standing Wave Ratio. It's the ratio between the reflected voltage
waves and the transmitted voltage waves on your coax, which boils down to the ratio of your
antenna impedance to your coax impedance, which should be 50 ohms. Well, our antennas aren't
always as perfect as we'd like them to be, and so many of us are always trying to tweak this,
or adjust that on them, in search of that elusive perfect 1.0:1 SWR.
Many hams become concerned if they discover their antenna system SWR is not perfect, and
sometimes take time-consuming steps or great expense to bring a non-ideal SWR down to perfection.
Some repeatedly climb up on their roofs, even in the snow, in an effort to achieve that elusive
measurement, even at the peril of their lives. Here's a news flash: your antenna system
does not need to have a 1.0:1 SWR to function well.
The two typical reasons hams want to reduce their SWR are 1) they don't want the reflection
due to the high SWR to burn up the final power transistors on their transceivers, and 2) they
want to ensure that all the power they send to the antenna goes out the antenna. If they're
running a really old rig, I can understand the first reason to a point, but number 2 is a
fear based largely on myth.
First, most modern transceivers (as in, commercial rigs made in the 21st Century) are
outfitted with a circuit called foldback, which will automatically reduce the output
power of the transmitter if it detects that the reflected voltage is above a particular
threshold. If you attempt to transmit to an antenna with high SWR, the reflected voltage
will trigger the foldback to reduce the transmitter's transmitted signal into the transmitter
output transistor, thereby protecting it from overload due to too low or too high of an
Second, even though some of the power is reflected by the antenna because of mis-matched
impedance, that reflected signal is not lost, but will get re-reflected by the
transmitter, and back out to the antenna. Like a big echo chamber, this whole situation will
be repeated until all the signal power is either transmitted out the antenna, or consumed by
the coax. And this is why you want to use low-loss coax, to ensure that more of your signal
actually makes it to your antenna.
So, how high of an SWR can you live with? Typically, a modern VHF mobile transceiver can handle
a relatively high SWR without initiating foldback, and can work comfortably with an antenna
system exhibiting an SWR of, say, 3.5:1 or lower. A typical HF transceiver can handle a moderately
high SWR, but will start limiting its output power at about 2.0:1 SWR, reaching its minimum
output when it detects around 3.0:1 to 4.0:1 SWR.
With this much tolerance, it's not really necessary to reduce your antenna SWR if it reads
2.1 on your analyzer across the target band. Even at full power, your radio will be protected
and most of your transmitter output will be sent to your antenna. There's no need to climb
on your roof and risk your life to fine-tune your SWR down to perfection, especially if
perfection can't reasonably be reached.
Using the correct bandwidth setting [link
One piece of ham radio information we don't seem to talk about much is bandwidth,
and maybe rightly so. It's a radio setting and a signal configuration that's important,
but by default, most of our radios set that appropriately, and we never concern ourselves
with it, so most amateur radio life goes on without us ever being aware of its existence.
Still, if you use one bandwidth setting, and attempt to communicate with another station
that's on another bandwidth setting, you might sound to the other station like you have a
bad cold, or like you're making Donald Duck impressions.
Bandwidth is simply the amount of frequency spread your signal is taking up while talking
or the amount of frequency spread your radio is set to listen for. There are two primary
bandwidth settings in the VHF and UHF world, where you and I are talking right now, and
they're just referred to as narrow and wide. Some radios also
include a third setting, but we'll focus on the two primary ones. When you're using your
radio to communicate on simplex, as long as you and the other station are using the
same bandwidth setting, that should work fine for you. The problem only usually exhibits
itself when you're trying to communicate through a repeater. An incompatible bandwidth
setting won't hurt your radio; it'll just make you sound funny, that's all.
In Utah, all repeaters are mandated by the
to use the wide bandwidth setting, meaning that your radio should also be set to the
wide bandwidth setting to communicate through repeaters here. However, the policies
in other states might differ from what you're used to, and you'll need to be aware of their
bandwidth setting requirements before attempting to travel there and use their repeaters.
One useful online tool for locating repeaters in a particular location, and discovering
their bandwidth requirements, is
which also has a free app you can install on your phone.
As mentioned, the default bandwidth setting for most VHF and UHF radios is for wide.
But while programming your radio manually or by software, and you're forced to choose between
the two, always select the wide setting, if you're not certain which you really need.
When preparing to travel out-of-state, be sure to research the bandwidth settings of the
repeaters you intend to contact. This also applies more to HTs, but can apply to VHF / UHF
mobile radios as well.
Let's hear from you. Do you have a different opinion or experience concerning your radio's
Pitfalls of a receive tone [link
No doubt you understand the role of a tone, once known as a PL tone, to communicate
through a repeater. In fact, most repeaters require them, to prevent possibly interfering
with another nearby repeater. To use those repeaters, your radio must transmit a sub-audible
tone, which is sent along with your voice. The repeater detetcts the presence of the tone,
and activates the repeat function. To make your radio do that, you locate the transmit
tone selection in your menu or programming software, and set it to the appropriate tone
But you might also be aware of a receive tone setting in your radio, and have
wondered what that is, and whether it's important to you. In short, it is indeed
important to you, but mostly important to avoid. That's because when your radio is
set to listen for a receive tone, you won't hear anything that does not send you that
A receive tone is sent by a station to you, to allow you to hear only the station that's
sending the receive tone, whether that's a repeater or a simplex station. However, if the
other station doesn't transmit a tone, you won't hear anything from it, if your radio's
receive tone is set. In fact, you might find that most repeaters do not transmit
a receive tone, and again, if your radio expects a receive tone, you won't likely hear
much from them.
So, unless you're certain that the other station transmits a receive tone, your radio should
always default to not expect a receive tone.
Let's hear from you. Do you have any other thoughts about receive tones?
Protocol training topics
Equipment-related training topics
A good solar-powered solution [link
There might come a time when you'll need to leave the comforts of your home for longer than
just a day or two. And if you're caught up in a long-term incident, such as an earthquake,
you might not have easy access to electrical power for your radio and other (lighting, phone,
medical devices) needs for several days. It'll be very convenient, therefore, to have solar
power available to you during daylight hours, even when it's cloudy. So, let's explore the
kinds of equipment you'll need, to accommodate a basic solar setup.
Your solar equipment should be light-weight, sufficient, reliable, and easy to use. I'd like
to add inexpensive, but quality is often compromised as the price of your solar gear
goes down, so the best we can usually hope for is a happy medium we can live with. To best
achieve those goals, here are some solar solutions that might work for you:
Probably the most important parameter of a solar panel is its output wattage. Other factors,
such as weight and rigid or flexible frame are also important, but make sure you get a panel
or set of interconnected panels that can provide you with the power you need. For a basic VHF /
UHF radio, lighting, and cell phone needs, I recommend no less than a total of 80 watts,
preferably 100 watts. A high-quality solar panel will also maintain a high output during cloudy
or even overcast days.
A charge controller is a device that regulates the rate of current flow through
(and often the voltage level presented to) your battery, to prevent damaging your battery,
while providing sufficient charge rate for it. Many modern solar panels have charge controllers
built onto them. An MPPT
charge controller will charge your battery to its maximum capacity by automatically monitoring
that battery's charge level without the need of manual monitoring. Your charge controller
input voltage should match the range supplied by your panels, and its output voltage should
match the range specified by your battery. Also, I highly recommend one that's capable
of handling 20 amps.
Use a battery that's made for solar, especially a sealed battery for portable use. Because of
the daily charge-and-discharge routine, I highly recommend a 12 volt deep-cycle
battery. Be sure your battery voltage matches that of your charge controller output. Battery
capacity is noted by amp-hours (Ah), meaning that it can deliver a steady current for a limited
amount of time. I recommend one that is rated at a minimum of 35 Ah (meaning it can deliver
1 amp of current for 35 hours, or 5 amps for 7 hours, etc.), and preferably more, like 100 Ah.
Typically, however, the larger the battery capacity, the heavier it is, although lighter options
are being developed all the time.
On one hand, the connector of choice between large (home) solar panels is the
but your charge controller might simply require a bare wire for its input from the panel
or output to your battery. For easy and quick connection / disconnection, I recommend
Anderson Powerpole™ connectors between your battery and everything it connects to, such as
your charge controller,
power distribution block,
and accessories, such as your USB converter, radio, and lighting.
Before jumping blindly into a solar solution, do some reading, watch some videos, and try
out some gear. Talk with friends who have gone the solar route, and find out what their experience
is, with type of gear, quality, portability, weight, and cost.
Become acquainted with your gear and its limitations. Repeatedly practice hauling it to some
reasonable location out of town, and setting it up. Try charging your phone, running your laptop,
or powering your mobile radio and asking for signal reports as you make contacts. Time yourself,
to see how quickly you can deploy and set it up in case you really need to. Actually using your
solar setup this way will help you understand what it can do and what it can't do,
which is exactly the feedback you need for future improvements.
Basic lightning protection [link
As most of you know, there aren't many parts of our country that are immune to lightning strikes.
As a result, people who have antennas installed on their roof tops wonder whether they should
do something to prevent damage to their equipment from the effects of lightning. On one hand,
some hams run to their radios when a storm approaches, and disconnect their coax. On the other
hand, if they're away from home, that's not always possible or practical. Should you simply
keep your coax disconnected, until you need to get on the air?
If you visit a repeater site, you'll likely find a ham radio a lot like your own, located in a
small building. Attached to the radio is a length of coax, that connects it to an antenna, which
is typically installed up on a tower, whose base is just feet from the building. Because the
tower is on top of a mountain, it gets struck by lightning numerous times throughout the year.
So, when a lightning storm approaches the mountain, do you think there's somebody who races up
the mountain each time, and disconnects all of the repeater's coaxial cables?
In fact, nobody flies up to the repeater each time it starts raining, that we know of. Instead,
a repeater is connected by coax to an antenna and tower that's properly grounded. This proper
grounding diverts most of the lightning energy to ground, protecting the repeater and all of
its associated gear. Can the same grounding methods be applied to your home station, to protect
it from lightning damage? Well, yes, but you really don't need to, or even want to. You don't
need to install a commercial-grade grounding system, because chances are, your home will never
receive a direct lightning strike. And you don't want to, because the cost of doing so is very
high, beyond the reach of mere mortals.
What are the odds?
First, it's much more likely that lightning will strike a few blocks away from you, than right
at your house. Is it possible for it to strike your house? Sure it is, but highly unlikely,
because your house doesn't offer the cloud much reason to complete an electrical path. Yes, it
would be nice to protect your home and all your gear from a direct lightning strike, but in
reality what you're trying to protect it from is either a nearby strike or static
buildup, which are much more likely.
Second, when lightning does strike nearby, or if static builds up because of wind or blowing
dust or moving clouds, that static can collect on your antenna. And once enough charge collects,
that electrical imbalance needs to find a path to ground, and often that path is through your
equipment. The object, then, is to give that static buildup a place to go before it reaches
that critical level.
Minimal lightning protection setup
Here are some practical and inexpensive things you can do, to apply some basic lightning
and static protection into your antenna system:
At this point, your grounding system should protect your equipment adequately if your
antenna is a J-pole, because the ground on a J-pole is typically higher in elevation
than its signal element. If your antenna is any other type, chances are, its signal element will
be higher in elevation than the ground portion, leaving the signal side with little or no
connection to ground. If or when you're ready to ground the signal portion of your antenna, do
Drive two eight-foot-long half-inch ground rods into the dirt about a foot away from your
house, one just below your antenna, and the other about half-way around your house to the
electrical service box
Connect a length of 4 gauge or 6 gauge bare copper wire between the two ground rods, then
connect another length of 4 or 6 gauge bare copper wire from the electrical service box
to the ground rod closest to it
Connect a length of 4 or 6 gauge bare copper wire from the base of the antenna or its
mast (if the ground part of the antenna is electrically connected to the mast) to the
ground rod below it
Install a lightning arrester onto the ground rod below your antenna
Connect a length of coax from your antenna to the lightning arrester, then another length
of coax from the other side of the lightning arrester to your radio
There are more things you can do, towards making your antenna system completely lightning-proof,
but that's not the purpose of this brief overview. If you really want to install a commercial-grade
site, and you have the means to do so, it should be able to weather just about any storm. The
basic installation I've described here should provide your equipment with some adequate protection
from most typical storms and static charge buildup.
Install a lighning arrester
on your coax [link
People who are new to ham radio don't always appreciate the benefit of erecting an outdoor
antenna, until others complain about their signals, or until they themselves realize that
people can't hear them very well. Some wonder whether putting up an outside antenna will
attract lightning. When we encourage people to install an outdoor antenna, one that's above
their roofs, however, we should also tell them to ground the antenna coax through a surge
protector, also called a lightning arrester.
Lightning is a strange beast, and although it's electricity, it doesn't seem to act the same
as the electricity we use from our wall sockets or batteries. We often refer to the kind we
generate for running things, as current electricity, while the kind that nature provides
as static electricity, even though all electricity follows the same laws of physics.
Current electricity is produced by moving electric charges that reside within an electronic
band of a metallic atom. They remain in that band until an electromotive force pushes them.
Static electricity is produced by friction between insulating materials, such as glass, cloth,
rubber, air, a cat, dust, and clouds.
When enough friction occurs, the static begins to accumulate, until the total voltage presented
by the difference between the accumulation and a nearby opposite voltage contact, such as the
ground, is great enough to overcome the distance (indeed, about 3000 volts per millimeter!)
When this happens, the space between the two becomes ionized by the electric field, which
creates a temporary and erratic, but effective conducting path between them. When the ionized
path is complete, the accumulated charges travel within the ionized path very suddenly, creating
a very high temperature discharge, in turn resulting in a very incandescent, blinding flash.
The purpose of a lightning arrester is to route static charge to ground relatively slowly.
With one in place, the lightning is less likely to have to discharge quickly. So, will your
rooftop antenna attract more lightning? Possibly, but if its coax is fed with a lightning
arrester, the discharge will occur much slower than without one, and you might never notice
If the water behind a large dam exceeds its rated capacity, the dam could burst, and the
resulting torrent could cause quite a lot of desctruction downstream. But if the water was
released much more slowly, the damage could be largely avoided. Lightning is deadly and
damaging because it's a very quick movement of a lot of static charge. By slowing the rate
of this discharge, the damaging effects of lightning can be reduced. A surge protector such
as a lightning arrester does just that, and provides a relatively slow drain of the charge,
instead of completely blocking the charge until it becomes too large to hold back.
Some people advocate unplugging your coax during every lightning storm, and if that works
for them, then I'm happy for them. Those people should keep in mind, however, that if the
lightning jumped 500 feet to reach their antennas, the measly six feet of separation made
by unplugging the coax is probably not going to stop it, even if the coax end is sitting
in a glass jar.
What do you think? Any personal experience with lightning or thoughts about lightning
arresters? I'd live to hear from you.
You might want to invest in a large battery [link
In an effort to be a little more independent from commercial power, we often look
for ways to supply electrical power to our devices by other means. Achieving this
independence will require us to evetually turn our attention to electrical power
storage, and depending on our predicted need, that storage might be substantial.
We have a lot of power-hungry devices that require electrical energy, so to narrow down
this discussion, let's focus on supplying power to our power-hungry radios, by dividing
them into two categories: HTs and others.
Our HT radios typically require either rechargeable or non-rechargeable batteries. It's
true that they can be powered by household AC using their charging cradles, but that's
neither typical nor recommended. Non-rechargeable batteries are a great source of immediate
power, but you need to keep a respectable supply on hand for any long-term use. Rechargeable
batteries require periodic recharging, depending on your usage. They can be recharged by
using commercial power, which we're trying to be independent of. Your two remaining reasonable
options are solar and a big battery. Solar can last almost forever, as long as your demand
doesn't require nighttime activity. But if you want continuous, reliable electrical power,
you need to purchase a large battery. And the large battery can still be charged by the sun
during the day, or by commercial power when it becomes available.
Mobile and desktop radios
Mobile and desktop radios, which often act as base stations, tend to require a lot more
electrical power than HTs, and so typically puts them out of the reach of non-rechargeable
batteries. We can reasonably supply them the necessary power by a generator, a large battery,
or solar, which will still require the large battery. Portable generators are very convenient
and are often outfitted with their own inverters, but they can be noisy, and most require
access to liquid fuel. While a generator has its advantages, once again, a large battery
can supply you the power you need, noiselessly, and solar recharging can make it a sensible
How large is large?
Obviously, how large a battery you'll need, will depend on how much power your radio (and other
devices) will require. Assuming the worst case, which means running your HF radio at 100 watts
on 50% duty cycle for 20% of the time, you should get a battery that's rated for at least
100 amp-hours. If you know you're only going to power your mobile radio, get a battery that's
rated for about 35 amp-hours, but keep your radio set to transmit at 20 watts, unless you really
need the higher output power. And the CCA (cold-cranking amps) rating is only a consideration
if you want to start a car with it.
Assuming the above conditions, your large battery should be an SLA, or sealed lead-acid
type, which is spill-proof. Furthermore, your usage could further benefit from the battery
being a marine or deep-cycle type. But lead can get very heavy, so if you can
afford it, you might consider getting a LiFePO4 battery instead, with the same
rating. Also, your mobile and desktop radios likely require 13.8 volts, but don't be afraid
of using 12-volt batteries for them.
Beware of inverters
If you plan to use your large SLA battery to provide AC power through an inverter, keep in
mind that many inverters generate RF noise that can interfere with your signal. Also, inverters
can be inefficient, wasting a lot of the stored electrical energy as heat. As much as possible,
power your radios directly from your large battery, instead of going through an inverter. Wall
power adapters are also hugely inefficient, so avoid them unless it's truly necessary.
Let's hear from you. What are your thoughts about getting a large battery?
How much more beneficial is drilling a hole in my car really
No doubt you've been told countless times that placing an antenna on your car by drilling
a hole in its body can give you the best mobile signal. One question that seems to arise
periodically is whether it's really worth the benefit over other ways to mount
your antenna. Let's take a look at the most popular mounting methods, and compare.
First, let's make sure we understand what we mean, when we refer to drilling a hole in
your vehicle. This hole is typically large enough to fit an appropriate connector type,
to allow the connector mount to slip into it and clamp or pinch around the hole in some way.
One of the most popular mounts is the NMO mount, which is about 3/4" in diameter,
and can be drilled into the center of a metal roof, through the metal bumper, or any sheet
metal section of your vehicle, such as the fender, qurter-panel, hood, or trunk lid.
Next, in comparison, there are several vehicle mounting options that do not require drilling
a large hole. These include a magnet mount, lip mount, glass mount, and bracket mount. A
mag-mount is probably the least invasive, and simply sticks to your steel body anywhere. A
lip mount pinches onto a trunk lid or hood by a couple of set screws. A glass mount uses an
adhesive to stick to the inside of your vehicle window, and a corresponding piece on the
outside opposite the inside piece. A bracket mount is actually drilled into your car body,
but under your trunk lid or hood, so that the small sheet metal screw holes are invisible.
How they compare
All of the different vehicle mounting methods work, but with varying degrees of success.
You might actually find that, if you're only interested in communicating through local
repeaters, they'll all work wonderfully, if they're installed correctly. On the other hand,
once you start trying to communicate with more distant repeaters or with a station on simplex,
it becomes apparent which mount options work better for you. In fact, you might discover that
all of the drilling options, including the bracket mount, work well, even on your
bumper, because of the direct connection between your coax shield and your car body or frame.
For the others, unless you have two antennas mounted by two different methods on your vehicle,
and you can switch between the two, it might be difficult to make a fair comparison. But in
case you have that luxury, move to where you're at the point where your simplex signal starts
sounding sketchy according to one antenna mount, then switch to the other mount, and make
note of the difference.
After all the mounting and testing and comparing, one question people tend to ask is whether
the antenna mount in question will perform just as well for receiving as it does for
transmitting. And due to a principle of physics known as reciprocity, yes, it will.
So, to answer our first question, will drilling a hole in my vehicle be that much
better than not drilling a hole? Your personal experience might reveal that it really doesn't
make much difference, but judging by the experiences of the many who have tried using several
methods, drilling a hole will indeed make your mobile voice heard better farther away.
What are your thoughts about drilling a hole in your vehicle?
Is an RF choke necessary? [link
Every so often, you might have seen a photo of a rooftop antenna with a large coil of wire
or what appears to be a length of leftover coax under it. That strange coil is known as an
RF choke, and might be something you need, if you install an external antenna
(one that's attached to your radio through coaxial cable), even if that antenna is inside
your house. But what is it, and do you need one? And if you need one, where could you get
What it is
Most conventional (dipole-type) external antennas present two conductors, known as
antenna elements, to the air, so that during each half of the AC cycle, the transmitter
sends an electrical signal to one element, the other element captures the signal, then the
signal is returned to the transmitter. But many antennas do not possess this other conductive
path back to the transmitter, meaning they have to return the signal some other way.
Unfortunately often, that return path is the outer shield of the coax.
When coax is used to transfer the RF energy to the antenna, much of the electrical signal
is conducted through the outer-most layer of the center conductor and the inner-most layer
of the conductive shield. This is known as skin effect, which becomes more pronounced
at higher signal frequencies. The resulting current flowing in the center conductor is
always equal and in opposite direction of that flowing through the shield, and is known as
When the RF signal returns by the coax shield, it will often be carried on the outer-most
layer of the conductive shield, meaning that the total coax signal is no longer balanced,
but will now have two currents being returned to the transmitter, the extra outside signal
known as common-mode current. There are other ways that common-mode current
can get into the transmitter, but very commonly through the coax outer shield. This extra
current tends to generate local noise in your computer speakers or your neighbor's
television set. It can also sound like a hum, often mistaken for house current AC.
You can reduce the amount of common-mode current traveling on the outer shield of your coax
by using an RF choke. The purpose of an RF choke is to suppress or reduce the common-mode
current flow in coax to a minimum for the given frequency. There are a variety of different
kinds of RF chokes that can be used, depending on frequency, power, and amount of common-mode
current to be suppressed. Also, you can either purchase store-bought RF chokes, or you can
make them yourself.
Where you can get one
You can create your own RF choke quite easily, depending on the frequency. To make one for
2 meters and 70 cm, tightly (meaning unable to see daylight between the turns) coil six
turns of RG-8X coax in an eight-inch diameter. The coil does not need to look perfectly neat,
and can have turns overlapping or crisscrossing each other, and will still work perfectly.
This geometry is *somewhat* optimized for 2 meters, but will actually be an effective RF
inductor for a very wide range of frequencies.
Then again, if the shack RF appears to be excessively strong, or your coax is thick, like
with LMR-400, you can still make one yourself, but with a toroidal core instead. If you're
using RG-8X, wrap eight to ten turns of the coax around a ferrite toroid. If you're using
LMR-400, use an RF isolator in-line instead. The RF choke should be installed as closely
as possible to the feed point of the antenna. It does not matter how you install the RF
choke or where you mount the coil, as long as it's not next to the antenna radiating
element itself. If you make your choke by a different number of turns or a slightly different
diameter, it will be just as effective.
So, does your antenna system need an RF choke? It might if people complain about a hum in
your signal through an external antenna, or if yours is an end-fed antenna or J-pole. But
if you do, it's easy to purchase one or make one of your own.
Ok, let's hear from you. What are your thoughts about RF chokes?
While preparing to serve at one of the local scout camps as an assistant scoutmaster one
day, I purchased a head lamp that I thought would be much better than the dim battery-operated
table lamp I had used the year before. It was advertised with "5000 lumens" emblazoned across
the top of the package, which was the highest I had seen up to that time. At the end of that
first day of camp, I pulled out my new head lamp and turned it on. What I discovered was that
the light was so bright, I couldn't see much of anything, for the whitewash. And it didn't have
a lower-intensity setting, so my new head lamp ended up being nearly useless.
A head lamp is a wonderful tool, because it frees your hands while illuminating something of
interest, such as a notepad you're scribbling on, a hiking trail, or a dangerous obstruction
ahead. So, what kinds of features are meaningful in a head lamp that's suited for your needs?
Today's head lamps nearly all use LEDs instead of light bulbs, so they're much lighter
and use much less energy for even more light. Therefore, one of our first head lamp concerns
tends to be its brightness, measured in lumens. You need to either purchase a head lamp
that can give off your needed amount of light, or can be adjusted to various intensities, and
avoid the problem I experienced at scout camp.
Head lamp run time can give you an idea of how long it can deliver usable light. The old
standard measured how long your light lasted until its intensity is reduced to that of usable
light. The new standard uses ten percent of a light's original brightness as the end of usable
light. So, if you find two similar headlamps with a big difference in run times, one of them
might simply not be using the new standard just yet.
Some newer head lamps use what's known as regulated output, meaning that, rather than
allowing the light to dim with reduced remaining charge, the brightness remains fairly constant.
The advantage, of course, is consistent lighting during its life. The obvious disadvantage
is that, when the batteries fall below the regulated threshold of charge, the light turns off
without warning, potentially leaving you scrambling to replace batteries in the dark.
Today's head lamps can run on rechargeable batteries or alkaline batteries, which are not
rechargeable. Lithium and NiMH batteries tend to perform better than alkalines in cold weather,
but they tend to lose their charge when sitting idle, while alkalines can sit for years without
losing their edge. And along with battery variety comes weight, which is quite a concern for many,
and tend to be heavier with longer-lasting batteries. Some heavier head lamps are intended for
specific applications, such as climbing or search-and-rescue, rather than social or routine
Other features might include the following:
water resistance, important if you plan to hike in the rain at night
shock, important if you climb or you often impact your light
accidentally against passing objects
tilt, allowing you to point your light in an important direction
switch lock, to prevent accidentally switching on while pressed in your
a red light mode, which can illuminate objects ahead of you, while preventing
your pupils from shrinking the way white light does
narrow and wide beam selection, important if you're hiking a long, narrow
path or doing close-up repair work, another feature that could have been useful
to me at scout camp
Finally, if you hesitate to use head lamps because they might be bulky or mess up your hair,
keep in mind that their purpose is often as much for others (like Search and Rescue)
to see you, as it is for you to see nearby objects.
Any of your own thoughts on head lamps? Let's hear from you.
Use Anderson Powerpole™ connectors [link
If you're ever in a hurry, and grab a radio plus the necessary gear, then start setting up,
only to discover that your DC power cables have different connector types from each other,
or do not mate because of gender mis-match, you're not alone. One way to make your DC power
connections just a little simpler is to agree on a single, reliable standard that connects
and releases quickly, and installs easily. One standard recommended by both local
groups and the
is the Anderson Powerpole (or Powerpole for short), which is very convenient.
What it is
A Powerpole connector is a two-conductor, snap-together pair of shaped metal tabs located
in a plastic housing, often color-coded to indicate electrical polarity. They're gender-neutral,
meaning that there is no separate plug and socket; each connector is both a plug and a socket
that can mate with any other connector. Also, Powerpole connectors are inherently safe because
they present no exposed electrical parts that can be contacted by a person or anything near the
For those of use who are hobbyists or experimenters, the Powerpole connector is convenient
if you need to repeatedly connect and disconnect your DC power, such as your battery or other
power supply, to your radio, or other devices. For the many who are involved with portable
radio work, such as emergency communication, field work, or even instructional demonstrations,
this convenience can be a real time-saver, knowing that you can count on any of your equipment
being able to connect its power requirement to any source, without worrying about connector
You can purchase Powerpole connectors for generally three wire gauges, named for the
current-carrying capabilities of the intended wires, the 15-amp, 30-amp, and 45-amp sizes.
In spite of their different wire and tab sizes, their housing exteriors are all the same
size, and connect with each other. You can also purchase a 75-amp size, but their large
housing cannot be connected to the housings of the other three. While you can connect any
appropriate wire to a Powerpole connector, it's convenient to use zip cord, which
is a two-conductor pair of stranded wires for your needed gauge, easily identifiable by
their characteristic red-and-black insulation.
When you install an Anderson Powerpole connector pair onto a pair of wires, it's recommended
that you crimp the tab onto the wire, and not solder it. Once you crimp the tab onto the wire,
you can install the housing vertically, with the positive over the negative, or horizontally,
with the positive on one side or the other. The current convention is to install them
horizontally, with the positive on the left if you look into the connector end, and with the
tab cups facing downward. The housings typically come in different colors, and it's recommended
that you use red for positive and black for negative.
Where you can get them
You can purchase Anderson Powerpole connectors from Amazon, eBay, or at the source, from
Powerwerx.com. Just make sure the conductor size matches the gauge of wire you intend to
install them on. And if you don't already have a pair, be sure to purchase the Powerpole
connector crimp tool, but beware of ill-fitting imitations by also purchasing them from
What do you think about Anderson Powerpole connectors? Let's hear from you.
The "ish" of ham radio [link
Several years ago, a ham mentioned that he had homemade a copper J-pole. But he said that
he accidentally cut one of the elements about a quarter-inch too short, and asked whether
that boo-boo will affect his antenna's performance. I told him that, even if he had tripled
that mistake, it would work perfectly. My friend was puzzled, because the drawing he read
specified element lengths down to sixteenths-of-an-inch. Furthermore, when he got it on the
air, he received nothing but perfect signal reports, even on simplex into the next county.
How was it that the plans for the antenna were so detailed, yet still worked, and worked
well, even after its actual dimensions deviated from the specifications?
To be sure, there are indeed times in which some degree of preciseness is required in
amateur radio. But the reason many designs and instructions contain such detail for
building stuff is to help get our dimensions within the ballpark, and then it's up
to us to fine-tune them for actual use. In other words, ish, which in our
context means roughly or close enough. This means most of the
parameters we can control, do not require the fine detail we often imagine.
For example, many will tell you that VHF is useful only by line-of-sight; that is, only
when the two stations are within sight of each other. Yet experience will show that
line-of-sight does not always guarantee a clean communication, and a lot of contacts can
be made away from the line-of-sight. So, does VHF require line-of-sight? Not always.
Power supply voltage
Can we use a power supply or battery listed at 12 volts, when our equipment specifies a
requirement of 13.8 volts? Most of the time yes, because our equipment voltage requirement
is often accompanied by a tolerance, typically around 15%, and 12 volts is within that
tolerance for 13.8 volts. So, will your 13.8-volt equipment work with a 12-volt supply?
Many seem to always be looking for that elusive 1.0:1 SWR in their antennas. An SWR greater
than 2.0:1 might force your transceiver to reduce its power output, so you should try and keep
it below that level. But, as long as the SWR is low enough to keep the transceiver's output
power amplifier from reducing its output power, will an SWR of 1.9:1 work for you? Sure it
A few HF ham operators get caught up in the confusion about radial and counterpoise lengths.
Some of them go to great pains to cut them to precise fractions of wavelengths for each
intended band, when in reality, no such precision is required. If you install radials, cut
them all the same length if possible, at least a quarter-wavelength of the lowest frequency
you plan to use. For example, if your vertical supports 80, 40, 20, and 10 meters, install
eight to sixteen radials, and cut all of them about 66 feet long each. If you need to cut a
few shorter, that'll still work just fine.
And what if you can only install 13 radials? Or what if you have to bend some of the radials
around an obstacle? Or what if your yard is just too small? Is there any hope of you being able
to work distant stations under those conditions? Of course.
Car antenna placement
If you were to install an antenna on your car, you're likely told that you should you stick it
right in the middle of the roof. That's good, if it's possible, but sometimes there are
obstructions, such as roof ribbing, side air bags, and a moon roof. Will your antenna still work
if it's not located in the dead center of your roof? Of course it will.
And if your antenna orientation is a few degrees off, will that affect your signal performance?
You've also been told that you must get your 40-meter dipole at least 66 feet above ground,
to work effectively. Will it work if you can only get it up 50 feet? You bet. Or will your
NVIS antenna work if it's a little too low-to-the-ground? Quite possibly.
If you don't speak very loudly, or if you have an accent, or a mild speech impediment, will
those keep you from being an effective ham radio operator? Probably not. Or what if you're a
little shy, and hesitate, and trip over your words...should I stay off the radio? Absolutely
Let the facts speak for themselves
So, in spite of precisely engineered and calculated directions, it's still possible for you
to compromise on some measurements, yet work ham radio effectively. Many of us have installed
imperfect antennas, using imperfect feed lines, imperfect radials, imperfect power supplies,
and imperfect radios, with less-than-perfect operating habits, and yet enjoy amateur radio
about as much as the ham with the finest setup.
What do you think about the ish of ham radio? Let's hear from you.
Other training topics
A number of applications in amateur radio use decibels to express a relationship
or change in value. These include antenna gain, feed line loss, noise, amplifier boost,
signal strength, and more. But to many of us, decibels seem a little mysterious, or at
least a little outside our experience, and so we hesitate when using them, if we understand
them at all.
A decibel is basically a logarithmic comparison between two values. So, when we add or
subtract in decibels, we are actually multiplying or dividing the values. Let me explain,
using the two decibel values that might be the most important ones we tend to use. These
are 3 dB and 10 dB.
When a signal doubles in strength, we say it increased by 3 dB. Negative 3dB therefore
means that its strength was cut in half. When signal strength increases ten-fold, we say it
increased by 10 dB. Negative 10 dB therefore means that its strength is one-tenth what it
was at the start. And that's it.
You might find that many dB values are made from these two. For example, if my antenna has a
gain of 6 dB, it's able to boost my signal by 3 dB plus 3 dB, or in other words, it can double
the signal, then double it again. So, an increase of 6 dB is a two times two equals
four-fold signal boost by my antenna.
Two more simple examples. If I'm comparison-shopping and find an antenna advertising a 12 dB
gain, how much will that boost my signal? Well, 12 dB equals 3 dB plus 3 dB plus 3 dB plus
3 dB, which equals two times two times two times two, or a sixteen-fold increase. But if a
competitor antenna brags a 13 dB gain, how much greater will that one boost my signal? 13 dB
equals 10 dB plus 3 dB, which equals ten times two, or a twenty-fold increase.
From these, you can easily calculate antenna gain, signal loss, and a lot more. So, if I have
a radio transmitting 100 watts on a particular frequency, how much power will my antenna put
out? The output power of my transceiver is called PEP, or peak envelope power.
Say my antenna advertises a wonderful 9 dB, with respect to a dipole, which we call dBd. But
let's say my coax loses 3 dB of my signal, due to its type and length at my frequency of choice.
This means my antenna will output 100 watts minus 3 dB plus 9 dB, or 100 watts plus 6 dB, or
in other words 100 watts plus 3 dB plus 3 dB, or 100 watts times two times two, equals 400
watts at that frequency! By the way, we call this ERP, or effective radiated power.
A little off-topic, but where did that extra 300 watts come from? The answer is that the antenna
only appears to be putting out 400 watts, because that's the definition of gain, the focus
of the power you do have, in one direction more than another, much like a flashlight reflector
dish concentrating light more in one direction.
Any thoughts about decibels? Let's hear from you.
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