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It’s Official: I’m Now a Ham (Part III)

This weekend (September 15/16) there was a big Ham Fest (for Ham Radio enthusiasts) at the Virginia Beach Convention Center. This morning, I was one of about 40 people who gathered in an upper room sitting for a Ham Radio licensing test.

The majority of those 40 people were taking a test for the Technician License, which is the first of the three licenses in Ham Radio. (The three levels are, “Tech, General and Extra.”)

In March 2011, I obtained my Technician’s License.

Today, I successfully passed a 35-question test and I’m now the proud owner of my “General License.”

And better yet, of the 35 questions on the test, I got 34 right!!   :)

It’s been a happy day.

With this new license, I’m now legally empowered to fiddle around on HF frequencies, which opens up a whole new world.

VHF and UHF frequencies are principally line of sight, but on HF, short radio waves can skip thousands of miles, reflecting (and bouncing) between the mirror-like ionosphere and the earth’s surface. Radios producing as little as five watts (which is very, very low power) take advantage of this “propagation” (as it’s called) and can send signals from Norfolk to London (and beyond!).

Now, with my Certificate of Successful Completion of Examination (CSCE) in hand, I’m free to cruise the radio bands of HF. There’s just one last little obstacle:  Lucre.

After the test today, I descended to the main hall of the Convention Center and attended the Ham Fest, which is a massive display of vendors of radio equipment. Based on what I’ve learned, I’ll need to gather up several hundred dollars to buy a new radio that complements my new radio privileges.

Until then, I’m still having a lot of fun playing around on what’s known as the “2-meter band” (VHF). Thanks to my beautiful eight-foot Diamond X-200A, a dual-band vertical antenna (standing at about 30′ high outside my brick ranch), I’ve successfully tuned in stations up to 158 miles from my home in Norfolk.

Who knew Ham Radio could be so much fun?

:)

To read more about my experiences with Ham Radio, check out Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, and Part V of this series.

Click here to take a look at the General Test. As someone with no background in electrical components, I found it a bit challenging!

My ham radio station is pretty modest.

My ham radio station is pretty modest. That's a hand-held five-watt, dual band Wouxun on the table, sitting next to a Radio Shack 10/45-watt HTX-212. A J-pole antenna hangs from the ceiling. This device (hand-crafted by Mike Neal) is a little marvel. Using only this antenna, I can pick up a strong signal in Kilmarnock, about 75 miles from my house.

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The first Radio Shack two-meter radio I used was loaned to me by the RASON Ham Radio group here in Norfolk. I was so enamored of its many charms, that I went looking on eBay for one of my very own.

The first Radio Shack two-meter radio I used was generously loaned to me by the RASON Ham Radio group here in Norfolk. I was so enamored of its countless charms and ease of use, that I went looking on eBay for one of my very own. The one I found is an HTX-242, which is (as far as I can tell) identical to the 212, but maybe a little tiny bit newer. The HTX-242 is sitting atop an MFJ 28-amp power supply. A list showing the two-meter repeaters in the Hampton Roads area sits to the right.

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Ebay - how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. The first lesson to learn about Ham Radio is it can be an expensive habit! Thanks to eBay, I found an HTX-242 new in box (which is pretty cool, considering how old this radio probably is).

Ebay - how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. The first thing I learned about Ham Radio is it can be an expensive habit! Thanks to eBay, I found an affordably priced HTX-242 "new in box" (which is pretty cool, considering how old this radio probably is). It is a dandy! I'm guessing it's about 15 years old, but I don't really know. It's a throwback to the days when Radio Shack sold stuff that had to do with radios. Imagine!

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My friends at RASON tell me that part of the reason my signal is so good here is proximity to the water. We live on a finger of Lake Whitehurst.

My friends at RASON tell me that part of the reason my signal is so good here is proximity to the water. We live on a finger of Lake Whitehurst.

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And this helps with the good reception, too!

And this helps with the good reception, too! Since this photo was taken, we've raised the antenna another four feet!

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Now I ask you, did you ever see a prettier antenna?  :)

Now I ask you, did you ever see a prettier antenna? :)

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To learn about RASON, click here.

To read Part I of this blog, click here.

To read Part II, click here.

To learn about the many pretty Sears Homes here in Norfolk, click here.

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