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Ham Radio For Dummies

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  • Edition: 4th
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2021-04-20
  • Publisher: For Dummies

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Supplemental Materials

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Respond to the call of ham radio 

Despite its old-school reputation, amateur radio is on the rise, and the airwaves are busier than ever. That’s no surprise: being a ham is a lot of fun, providing an independent way to keep in touch with friends, family, and new acquaintances around the world—and even beyond with its ability to connect with the International Space Station! Hams are also good in a crisis, keeping communications alive and crackling during extreme weather events and loss of communications until regular systems like cell phones and the internet are restored. Additionally, it’s enjoyable for good, old-fashioned tech geek reasons—fiddling with circuits and bouncing signals off the ionosphere just happens to give a lot of us a buzz!   

If one or more of these benefits is of interest to you, then good news: the new edition of Ham Radio For Dummies covers them all! In his signature friendly style, longtime ham Ward Silver (Call Sign NØAX)—contributing editor with the American Radio Relay League—patches you in on everything from getting the right equipment and building your station (it doesn’t have to be expensive) to the intricacies of Morse code and Ohm’s law. In addition, he coaches you on how to prepare for the FCC-mandated licensing exam and tunes you up for ultimate glory in the ham radio hall of fame as a Radiosport competitor! With this book, you’ll learn to: 

  • Set up and organize your station 
  • Communicate with people around the world 
  • Prep for and pass the FCC exam 
  • Tune into the latest tech, such as digital mode operating  

Whether you’re looking to join a public service club or want the latest tips on the cutting edge of ham technology, this is the perfect reference for newbies and experts alike—and will keep you happily hamming it up for years!  

Author Biography

Ward Silver, NØAX, has been a ham since 1972 when he ear­ned his Novice license. Ward is the lead editor for the ARRL Radio Handbook and the ARRL ­Antenna Book. He is the author of the ARRL License Manuals and several other books on ham radio topics.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

About This Book 1

My Assumptions about You 2

Icons Used in This Book 3

Beyond the Book 3

Where to Go from Here 4

Part 1: Getting Started with Ham Radio 5

Chapter 1: Getting Acquainted with Ham Radio 7

Exploring Ham Radio around the World 8

Tuning into Ham Radio 9

Using electronics and technology 10

Joining the ham radio community 12

Radiosport — Competing with Ham Radio 15

Communicating through Ham Radio Contacts 16

Ragchews 17

Nets 17

Citizen Science and HamSCI 18

Chapter 2: Getting a Handle on Ham Radio Technology 21

Getting to Know Basic Ham Radio Gear 21

Building a Basic Ham Radio Station 23

Basic stations 23

Communication Technologies 26

Understanding the Fundamentals of Radio Waves 28

Frequency and wavelength 29

The radio spectrum 30

Dealing with Mother Nature 32

Experiencing nature affecting radio waves 32

Overcoming radio noise 33

Chapter 3: Finding Other Hams: Your Support Group 35

Finding and Being a Mentor 36

Interacting in Online Communities 37

Social media and blogs 37

Videos, podcasts, and webinars 38

Email reflectors 39

Online training and instruction 40

Web portals 41

Joining Radio Clubs 41

Finding and choosing a club 42

Participating in meetings 44

Getting more involved 45

Exploring the ARRL 46

ARRL benefits to you 47

ARRL benefits to the hobby 48

ARRL benefits to the public 49

Taking Part in Specialty Groups 50

On the Air — IOTA, SOTA, and POTA 50

Young Hams — YOTA 51

Competitive clubs 51

Handiham 52




QRP clubs 56

Attending Hamfests and Conventions 57

Finding and preparing for hamfests 57

Buying equipment at hamfests 58

Finding conventions and conferences 59

Part 2: Wading through the Licensing Process 63

Chapter 4: Understanding the Licensing System 65

Getting Acquainted with the Amateur Service 66

FCC rules 66

Ham radio frequency allocations 67

Learning about Types of Licenses 69

Technician class 70

General class 70

Amateur Extra class 70

Grandfathered classes 71

Getting Licensed 72

Studying the exam questions 72

Taking your license exam 72

Volunteer examiner coordinators 73

Volunteer examiners 73

Receiving Your New Call Sign 74

Call-sign prefixes and suffixes 74

Class and call sign 75

Chapter 5: Preparing for Your License Exam 77

Getting a Grip on the Technician Exam 77

Finding Study Resources 78

Licensing classes 79

Books, websites, and videos 80

Online practice exams 82

Locating Your Mentor 82

Chapter 6: Taking the Exam 85

Types of Exams 86

Public in-person exams 86

Remote exams 86

Exams at events 87

Exam sessions in homes and online 87

Finding an Exam Session 88

Registering with the Universal Licensing System (ULS) 88

Getting to Exam Day 90

What to have with you 91

What to expect 91

What to do after the exam 93

Chapter 7: Obtaining Your License and Call Sign 95

Completing Your Licensing Paperwork 95

Finding Your Call Sign 98

Searching the ULS database 98

Searching other websites for call signs 99

Printing your license 100

Identifying with your new privileges 101

Picking Your Own Call Sign 101

Searching for available call signs 102

Applying for a vanity call sign 103

Maintaining Your License 104

Part 3: Hamming It Up 105

Chapter 8: Receiving Signals 107

Learning by Listening 107

Finding out where to listen 108

Understanding how bands are organized 109

Using Your Receiver 110

Tuning and scanning with channels 112

Continuous tuning with a knob 113

Software-controlled tuning 114

Listening on VHF and UHF 115

Listening on HF 116

Using beacon networks and contact maps 118

Receiving Signals 121

Receiving FM voice 121

Receiving SSB voice 125

Receiving digital voice 127

Receiving digital or data modes 128

Receiving Morse code 131

Chapter 9: Basic Operating 133

Understanding Contacts (QSOs) 134

Common parts of contacts 135

Casual contacts 139

Nets and talk groups — On-the-air meetings 139

Contests and DXing — Radiosport 141

How contacts get started 142

Joining a contact 144

Failing to make contact 145

During a contact 147

Calling CQ 150

Casual Conversation — Ragchewing 152

Knowing where to chew 152

Identifying a ragchewer 154

Calling CQ for a ragchew 155

Making Repeater and Simplex Contacts 156

Understanding repeater basics 156

Making a repeater contact 160

Using access control 161

Miscellaneous repeater features 163

Maximizing your signal 164

Setting up your radio 164

Making a simplex contact 168

Digital Voice Systems 169

HF digital voice 170

VHF/UHF digital voice 170

Digital repeater networks 172

The DMR system 176

Casual Operating on HF 178

HF bands 178

Picking good times to operate 179

Contacts on CW and digital modes 181

Chapter 10: Public Service Operating 185

Joining a Public Service Group 186

Finding a public service group 186

Volunteering for ARES 188

Preparing for Emergencies and Disasters 189

Knowing who 189

Knowing where 190

Knowing what 190

Knowing how 192

Operating in Emergencies and Disasters 193

Reporting an accident or other incident 194

Making and responding to distress calls 195

Providing Public Service 197

Weather monitoring and SKYWARN 197

Parades and charity events 198

Participating in Nets 199

Checking in and out 200

Exchanging information 200

Tactical call signs 202

Radio discipline 202

Digital Message Networks 203

Winlink — email by radio 204



Chapter 11: Operating Specialties 209

Getting Digital 210

Digital definitions 211

WSJT modes — fast and slow 212

FT8 and FT4 213

PSK31 and PSK63 216

Radioteletype (RTTY) 216

Non-WSJT MFSK modes 218


Packet radio 220

APRS and tracking 220

DXing — Chasing Distant Stations 223

VHF/UHF DXing with a Technician license 223

HF DXing with a General license 227

Taking Part in Radio Contests 235

Choosing a contest 237

Operating in a contest 238

Chasing Awards 245

Finding awards and special events 245

Logging contacts for awards 246

Applying for awards 247

Mastering Morse Code (CW) 247

Learning Morse correctly 248

Copying the code 249

Pounding brass — sending Morse 250

Making code contacts 251

QRP (Low Power) and Portable Operating 251

Getting started with QRP 252

Portable operating 253

Direction-finding (ARDF) 256

Operating via Satellites 257

Getting grounded in satellite basics 257

Accessing satellites 258

Seeing Things: Image Communication 259

Slow-scan television 259

Fast-scan television 261

Part 4: Building and Operating a Station That Works 263

Chapter 12: Getting on the Air 265

What is a Station? 265

Planning Your Station 266

Deciding what you want to do 266

Deciding how to operate 267

Choosing a Radio 270

Allocating your resources 271

Software defined radios 272

Radios for VHF and UHF operating 273

Radios for HF operating 278

Filtering and noise 281

Choosing an Antenna 282

Beam antennas 283

VHF/UHF antennas 284

HF antennas 285

Feed line and connectors 289

Supporting Your Antenna 293

Antennas and trees 293

Masts and tripods 294

Towers 295

Rotators 296

Station Accessories 298

Mikes, keys, and keyers 298

Antenna system gadgets 299

Digital mode interfaces 301

Remote Control Stations 302

Remote control rules 302

Accessing a remote control station 303

Upgrading Your Station 304

Chapter 13: Organizing a Home Station 307

Designing Your Station 307

Keeping a station notebook 308

Building in ergonomics 309

Viewing some example ham stations 312

Building in RF and Electrical Safety 316

Electrical safety 316

RF exposure 317

First aid 318

Grounding and Bonding 319

AC and DC power 320

Lightning 320

RF management 321

Chapter 14: Computers in Your Ham Station 323

What Type of Computers Do Hams Use? 323

Windows 324

Linux 324

Macintosh 324

Android and iOS 324

Microcontrollers 325

What Do Ham Computers Do? 325

Software-defined radio 326

WSJT-X and fldigi 327

Radio and remote control 327

Hardware considerations 328

Keeping a Log of Your Contacts 329

Paper logging 329

Computer logging 330

Submitting a contest log 333

Confirming Your Contacts 335

QSL cards 335

QSLing electronically 336

Direct QSLing 337

Using QSL managers 337

Bureaus and QSL services 338

Applying for awards 339

Chapter 15: Operating Away from Home 341

Mobile Stations 341

HF mobile radios 342

Mobile installations 343

Mobile antennas 347

Portable Operating 349

Portable antennas 353

Portable power 354

Field Day 355

Field Day “gotchas” 357

Chapter 16: Hands-On Radio 359

Acquiring Tools and Components 360

Maintenance tools 360

Repair and building tools 366

Components for repairs and building 368

Maintaining Your Station 370

Overall Troubleshooting 372

Troubleshooting Your Station 372

Power problems 373

RF problems 374

Operational problems 375

Troubleshooting RF Interference 377

Dealing with interference to other equipment 378

Dealing with interference to your equipment 380

Building Equipment from a Kit 383

Building Equipment from Scratch 384

Part 5: The Part of Tens 385

Chapter 17: Ham Radio Jargon — Say What? 387

Spoken Q-signals 387

Contesting or Radiosport 388

Antenna Varieties 388

Feed Lines 389

Antenna Tuners 389

Repeater Operating 390

Grid Squares 391

Interference and Noise 391

Connector Parts 392

Solar and Geomagnetic Activity 393

Chapter 18: Technical Fundamentals 395

Electrical Units and Symbols 395

Ohm’s Law 396

Power 397

Decibels 397

Attenuation, Loss, and Gain 398

Bandwidth 398

Filters 399

Antenna Patterns 400

Standing Wave Ratio (SWR) 401

Battery Characteristics 402

Satellite Tracking 402

Chapter 19: Tips for Masters 405

Listening to Everything 405

Learning How It Works 406

Following the Protocol 406

Keeping Your Axe Sharp 406

Practice to Make Perfect 406

Paying Attention to Detail 407

Knowing What You Don’t Know 407

Maintaining Radio Discipline 407

Make Small Improvements Continuously 408

Help Others and Accept Help from Others 408

Index 409

Supplemental Materials

What is included with this book?

The New copy of this book will include any supplemental materials advertised. Please check the title of the book to determine if it should include any access cards, study guides, lab manuals, CDs, etc.

The Used, Rental and eBook copies of this book are not guaranteed to include any supplemental materials. Typically, only the book itself is included. This is true even if the title states it includes any access cards, study guides, lab manuals, CDs, etc.

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