Following a comment on the previous post by Jessica Maybury, I decided a bit of background information on it was in order. I had probably talked about Amateur Radio while assuming that everyone knew roughly what it was about. Those who know me well, I suspect, know not to ask me about it at all, even if they don't, unless they want their ears bent.
Amateur Radio is a hobby pursued by millions of people around the world. To become a radio amateur involves passing an exam in very basic electronics, radio communication and the causes of and ways to prevent interference. Once you've passed you're considered competent to venture out on the airwaves with a radio transmitter. Of course, you could just buy a CB licence or even buy a mobile phone - but there are differences. A licensed radio amateur, if they want to, is permitted to build their own radio transmitter - with a CB licence you're not even permitted to tamper with the set you've bought. CB is restricted to one band: amateurs have a whole range of bands to use. Amateur radio is a lot more than talking into a microphone: amateurs transmit and receive Morse code, radio teletype, TV and a range of data modes (encoding signals for transmission and decoding signals with the help of a computer). Licensed amateur hold call signs which identify them and the countries they come from: the "prefix" of the callsign identifies the country. (Sorry, but this map is not the most up-to-date: UK callsigns begin with M these days, not G. Mine is M0KXD) (click to view):
Like "jazz", the term "amateur radio" covers a whole range of activities. Some become amateurs simply to communicate with other amateurs. Some are more interested in building radio equipment. Some use amateur radio satellites or even bounce their signals off the moon. A lot of astronauts are radio hams - it's even possible, as an amateur, to communicate with the International Space Station. There is an ongoing competition, Summits on the Air (SOTA), for hill-walking radio hams who enjoy transmitting from hilltops.
Most amateur radio goes on on the shortwave bands. Using these bands is an interesting challenge. Conditions change: sometimes it's possible to transmit right around the world, sometimes it isn't. The atmosphere bends shortwave radio waves so a signal that's inaudible a hundred miles away can be heard a thousand miles away.
What do amateurs talk about? First, it's not a bit like Tony Hancock. Seriously, I think Hancock gave amateurs a bad press, but here he is:
In real life, amateurs are restricted: you can't discuss politics, or say anything offensive. In a brief contact they'll generally restrict themselves to reporting their names, locations, and the strength of their signals. However, sometimes you can get into a longer chat. The hobby has a language of its own. Basic English is used a lot, but a whole lot of abbreviated terms that are used too which enable people from different countries to understand each other. These started life in Morse code, where commonly understood abbreviations are vital. For example, when I transmit, I usually use a digital mode known as PSK-31 (roughly, this is a bit like a modern, computerised version of the old "Grandstand" teleprinter they used for the football results). Messages are sent and appear as text - we don't talk to each other directly. First I'll transmit, on a frequency commonly used for digital modes:
CQ CQ CQ DE M0KXD K
In other words, this is a general invitation to communicate (CQ) from (de) me (m0kxd). "K" is an invitation to anyone to respond. When I responded to a CQ call by JY5HX (Dr Munzer Qraini) in Jordan the other day I sent this. Important information is repeated, as interference and fading can disrupt signals:
JY5HX DE M0KXD
Thanks for the contact Munzer!
RST is 599 599 599
Name: Dom Dom Dom
QTH: Bellerby Bellerby Bellerby
So hw? BTU JY5HX DE M0KXD KN
RST is an estimate of signal strength and quality, a bit like the Beaufort Wind Scale.
QTH is a term from the "Q code", used to mean location.
HW? is an old Morse abbreviation for "how?" - i.e., "how do you copy"?
KN is a bit like "K", but means only Munzer is invited to respond.
This over was followed by another in which we offered to exchange QSL cards and said goodbye. Of course, we could have gone on for longer if we'd wanted to.
I could go on, but, out of consideration for patient readers I'll resist the temptation. If you want to know more, have a google. The internet is awash with stuff to do with Amateur Radio.
5 years ago