What Radio Amateurs Do
Radio amateurs have their own radio stations at home. These are not “broadcasting stations” in the normal sense of the word. The equipment is not used for transmitting entertainment or news programmes. It’s used for communicating with other radio amateurs around the world.
Radio amateurs are allocated, by international agreement, a range of frequencies (or “bands”) which they may use to communicate with each other. Some of these bands are more suitable for relatively short range communication (say across town) whereas others are suited to world-wide communication. It all depends what you want to do.
Some radio amateurs are happy to talk to other amateurs around the world (generally about personal and technical matters) whereas others like the competitive aspects of the hobby – entering world-wide “contests” to pit their operating skills against the best in the world. Some explore new transmission or radio propagation techniques, whereas others enjoy experimenting with new antenna designs. And still others speak to astronauts in the International Space Station, or to other amateurs via a number of amateur communications satellites circling the world.
Enjoyment of the spectrum by all depends on responsible conduct by all radio amateurs. IARU supports the principles set out in the the work on Operating Ethics by ON4UN and ON4WW which can be found here.
Computers play an important part in amateur radio today, used for technical modelling, station logging, propagation prediction, and to support advanced transmission techniques such as slow-scan television and threshold extension modes of digital communication.
An amateur radio station can transmit speech, Morse code, data or images. Amateur radio equipment need not be excessively expensive – a few dollars will buy the components for a basic transmitter/receiver capable of world-wide communication under the right conditions. But of course, once you are drawn into to amateur radio, you may want more advanced equipment. Some radio amateurs spend lots of money on their equipment, but this does not always mean better results! The skill of the operator makes a big difference.
Every day, thousands of radio amateurs can be heard communicating and experimenting on the airwaves. Why not listen in, and enjoy the magic amateur radio?
Listening to Radio Amateurs
If you want to listen to radio amateurs, you will need a receiver. Not a normal broadcast receiver, but one which can cover the bands on which radio amateurs transmit, and which can “decode” the special sort of speech transmission which amateurs use. This is called “SSB” or single sideband. Look for an “SSB” position on short-wave radio receivers. If you have that, then you can connect an antenna to your receiver (a few metres of wire outside and clear of buildings will suffice). Tune to the following bands at the times shown and you should hear amateurs.
- 1.85 – 2.0 MHz mainly evenings
- 3.6 – 3.8 MHz mainly evenings
- 7.05 – 7.2 MHz most of the time
- 14.1 – 14.35 MHz most of the time
- 21.1 – 21.45 MHz mainly daytime
There are many other amateur radio bands, but these will get you started !
Try not to get confused by the abbreviations radio amateurs sometimes use when talking across language barriers. A few you might encounter are:
- CQ – a call inviting ay other station to reply (at the beginning of a “contact”
- CQ DX – as for CQ, but looking for stations outside the caller’s own continent
- QSB — fading
- 5 & 9 — one of the signal reports used by amateurs
- 73 — best wishes
How many can you hear?