Ham Radio, A fun special interest group
Ham radio is also known as amateur radio and sometimes called shortwave radio. Unlike CB radio, it has more than one band and more modes of transmission than only AM channels. Ham bands run from microwave to UHF (ultra high frequency), VHF (very high frequency) and HF (high frequency). It is used for everything from casual chats to communications via satellite, moon bounce communications and emergency communications. By being able to choose the band you use, you can vary the distance you cover and your transmission. The choice of frequency is also dependent on time of day, solar conditions and mode of transmission. Ham radios come in a number of configurations from small handhelds, the size of cellphones, to large desktop units.
Why would you want to use anything besides a CB radio on your motorcycle? Have you ever heard individuals calling, “Ola, Ola,” using numbers for identification wanting to talk to anyone who can call back? Those are “skip shooters” using CB for something CB was not meant for, and which is technically illegal. You may have noticed this numerous times, hearing conversations on your CB from local truckers, either long haul 18 wheelers or local farmers and grain trucks. The usual response is to turn the “squelch” up on your radio to block those annoying transmissions. Later on because of this, you may not be able to hear instructions or safety messages, especially if your riding group is separated by traffic. Ham radio gives you better choices. VHF and UHF mobile radios are ideal for bike-to-bike communications, as well as extended communication through repeaters, which allow you to talk to other hams for information. If you say you are “motorcycle mobile,” I can just about guarantee you will have someone reply to you. On 9/11, I was riding on Skyline Drive in Virginia, heading to D.C., to visit family. Because of the disaster, my cellphone was useless. Even the pay phones at the restaurant took close to an hour to get a dial tone. But my ham radio on the Wing, which was a handheld with a mobile antenna, allowed me to talk to hams 100 miles ahead on the road.
So you probably want to know what you would need to join the ranks of ham radio operators. It does require a license issued by the FCC. In the U.S., anyone can become a licensed ham (except a representative of a foreign government). You can be any age. The youngest ham in America is 4 years old and the youngest “extra” is 6 years old (highest license).
You may feel a bit overwhelmed by all the information. Find a local ham club or two and contact them. Hams love to help others in the group, just like GWRRA. You will get a lot of information. If the first club doesn’t meet your needs because they are too specific in their interests, find another just as you might look for another Chapter in GWRRA if the local Chapter was not for you. The Amateur Radio Relay League (ARRL) website, www.arrl.org, has a link to help you find clubs in your area.
The three classes of licenses are technician, general and extra. Technician – offers VHF, UHF, microwave and one HF band (10 meters) operator privileges. General – offers VHF, UHF, microwave and portions of all HF bands operator privileges. Extra – gives you all portions of the amateur bands operator privileges. Ham licenses are additive in that you have to have the lowest license before taking the next higher. (You can take all three licenses on one day paying only $1 fee if you want.) To obtain a license you must take the test. The questions on the tests for each license class are published exactly as they will appear in the test. For the technician license there are 350 questions, of which 35 will be on the test. The full lists of questions are on line at www.arrl.org/question-pools. There are also practice exams available online. See www.hamradiolicenseexam.com, eham.net/exams, http://grz.com/hamtest, https://hamstudy.org/tech2014. It is important to remember that it is best to learn the “what, when, why and how” so you can answer the questions from knowledge just like we train in the classroom before going on the range allowing us to understand why we do the things in the “test” like push right, go right. Look for instructional material explaining the meaning of the questions. You can search for “ham license exam study guide” in your browser and you will find a number of free and paid sites. The references above are some of the best.
Once you can get 85-percent on practice exams four or so times in a row, it’s time to find an exam session. One of those local clubs will be able to guide you to a test location. Next is to determine what kind of radio you are going get and where to mount it. There is a great difference in price and features among the radios that could be adapted to our motorcycles. When I started I chose a radio capable of APRS due to an interest in support of charity events. That radio ran about $400. In addition, I needed a GPS to feed the radio position for about $60. Today I can buy a handheld radio for as little as $45 and a complete APRS transmitter (radio and GPS unit) for $100. The best suggestion I have is that while you study for the test, also look at the references at the end of this article and investigate options so you can jump right in when you get your license. Join the fun hobby of ham radio and get your own ham call sign like mine – 73 N9ZKS. (73 is a greeting used in ham radio for, “Good to see you,” or “Great talking to you.”)
Motorcycle Amateur Radio Club – http://marc-hq.org.
Robert and Joan Partigianoni, WB5JZP/KA2BRS, LA-M
Region H, KCQ6230@hotmail.com.
Robert and Donna Ferguson, KD4TVE/KD4WIK, NC-G
Region N, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Norman and Kathy Huber, N9ZKS/KC9SKF, IL-Z
Region E, email@example.com.
Norman Huber, GWRRA #144629, belongs to Chapter IL-Z and lives in Bloomington, Illinois. He owns an ’05 Yellow Gold Wing and an ’87 Gold Wing Interstate with 171,000 miles and 67,000 miles respectively. Huber has had his ham license for 22 years.
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