Archive for Ham Radio 101

Having a Field Day, 2012 – decisions, decisions

Jun 10 2012

It’s time once again for that wonderful ham radio gathering known as Field Day, which takes place from 8:00 a.m. June 23, 2012 to 8:00 a.m. June 24. Hams from all over the U.S. and other countries will gather on the airwaves to try to make as many contacts with each other as possible. Although there are likely going to be numerous places from which hams will be operating, for hams on Oahu looking for lots of hams to meet and lots of activity, they’ll have some choices to make.

At the invitation of the University of Hawaii, the Emergency Amateur Radio Club will be holding its Field Day activities on the Bachman Hall lawn at UH-Manoa. (Yes, that does mean that visitors to the university and people passing by into Manoa will likely be treated to the sight of tall HF antennas…and what says ham radio more than big antennas?)

For those who prefer a day at the beach, the Koolau Amateur Radio Club will be holding their annual Field Day celebration, as they’ve done in past years, at Kualoa Regional Park on the windward side.

Both events will be open to the public and hams will be available to answer questions. Both clubs will also need people willing to camp out on Friday, June 22, to help setup antennas. Check each club’s website for more information.

For an idea of what happens on Field Day, check out my YouTube video from last year’s combined EARC/KARC Field Day.

Filed Under: Ham news, Ham Radio 101

Having a Field Day

Jul 8 2011

Most people are familiar with the phrase “to have a field day” in various contexts – in some cases meaning experiencing freedom from responsibility, in other contexts referring to criticism, but in all cases to appear to enjoy oneself doing it.

However, when ham radio operators in the United States and Canada have a Field Day, it actually has a more specific meaning. It refers to the ARRL and RAC Field Day, held every year on the last full weekend of June (June 25 and 26 in 2011). On that day, thousands of amateur radio operators get out from their home locations (hence the name – getting out “into the field”), set up stations running on emergency power, and operate for a 24 hour period. In its basic form it’s an emergency communication exercise – you never know where you’ll be setup in a communications emergency; you probably will not have commercial power readily available; and you want to be able to operate for as long as possible with the equipment you have.

But while Field Day serves an important role in preparation for emergencies, hams have a whole lot of fun as well. Here are some clips of the last Field Day the Emergency Amateur Radio Club had with their sister club, the Koolau Amateur Radio Club.

EARC/KARC Field Day 2011 on YouTube


Filed Under: Ham news, Ham Radio 101

Mind your Ps and Qs. Well, your Qs at least.

Feb 25 2011

Building on our look at CQ and 73 a few posts ago, let’s continue with the those weird three letter abbreviations that all start with the letter Q.  For a new ham, it might take a while to get used to, as quite a few of them are used in ham speak: “Q are what?” or “Q is what?”

The Q code, as it’s called, also came from telegraphy.  It’s not surprising that a lot of ham radio speak comes from telegraphy, as radio was once known as the “wireless telegraph,” and the first radio experimenters transmitted by using Morse code on spark-gap transmitters.  Even today, they are used extensively on CW and digital modes, but they do also work their way into voice transmissions as well. It’s worth knowing what they mean.

Q codes can be used in three ways.  By themselves, they can be used as statements, or when followed by a question mark or said with a rising intonation, as questions.  They can also be used as an expression, in place of certain words or phrases.

Here are some of the most common codes you’ll hear on the air:


As a question: “Do you have interference?”
As a statement: “I have interference.”
As a expression: Interference
Voice example: “I hear you clearly, but there’s some QRM from a nearby station.”


As a question: “Shall I decrease power?”
As a statement: “Decrease power.”
As an expression: Operation at low power, in particular operation at 5 watts or below.
Voice example: “You’re sending a great signal for a QRP station.”


As a question: “Shall I stop sending?”
As a statement: “Stop sending.”
As an expression: Used when you intend to “shut down” your station.
Voice example: “Well, I have to go someplace else, so I’m going to go QRT.”


As a question: “Who is calling me?”
As a statement: “You are being called by _______.”
Note: Often pronounced in Commonwealth fashion as Q-R-Zed, even by American operators.
Voice example: “This is WH7GG.  QRZ?”


As a question: “Are my signals fading?”
As a statement: “Your signals are fading.”
As an expression:  Signal fading
Voice example: “I copy you 5 by 9, with some QSB from time to time.”


As a question: “Can you communicate with _______ direct or by relay?”
As a statement: “I can communicate with ______ direct or by relay.”
As an expression: Any two-way contact between amateurs.
Voice example: “Thanks for the QSO. Good talking with you.”


As a statement: “Here is a broadcast message to all amateurs.”
Voice example: “QST QST. This is net control calling the EARC Net.”


As a question: “What is your position in latitude and longitude?”
As a statement: “My position is ____ latitude, _____ longitude.”
As an expression:  An amateur’s present location, or location of his/her base station.
Voice example: “My QTH is Honolulu.”

Interestingly, one thing you may notice on the air when you work international stations is that no radio call sign in the world starts with the letter Q, in order to avoid confusion with the Q code.

Care and feeding of new hams

Feb 22 2011

If someone gets a call sign and no one hears it…

Last Saturday, I spent an enjoyable morning with Kevin AH6QO, Ron AH6RH, Tom WH6DJF, and Darrell KH6XL, as Kevin held a new ham workshop at Kakaako Waterfront Park for the new hams who passed at the last test session. About 25 passed in that session, and we were fortunate enough to have six hams join us: Fred WH6DQY, Dwayne WH6DRC, Ophemia WH6DRH, Elba WH6DRI, Richard WH6DRO, Leland WH6DRR. (A whole lot of DRs in this bunch, and Kevin had made up mnemonics for some of them, all of which had some form of “down right…” They worked, though, as I was able to remember most of them.)

We were able to get all six of them on the air, whether it was just a simplex contact on 146.52 from 50 feet away, or some contacts off the 146.88 repeater (thanks to Cedric KH6CPU, Lovell AH6LL, and Cyndi WH7JA for the help, and I’m sure there were others.)

Kevin went over the basics for the new Techs – the basics of on-air behavior and ID’ing, repeater and net behavior, and the basics of walkies, mobile radios, and antennas, with the experienced hams there chiming in when needed. All in all, we had a very productive session and we hope to hear these new hams on the air soon.

That workshop addresses a larger problem we see with new licensees. Ron and I were talking after the EARC general membership meeting and he mentioned how we tend to lose newly licensed hams. Out of every 10 hams we license, nine never get on the air – never get a radio, never check into a net.

If I get a call sign and no one hears it…am I really a ham?

Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t met Ron at work and if I hadn’t had his support as I passed my Technician exam. I probably would have been one of those 90% of licensees who have callsigns but no radio. And I certainly wouldn’t have gotten this far.

I’m glad to see that we’re making a greater effort toward reaching these new Technicians. Ron is doing a presentation for the Emergency Amateur Radio Club directed toward the new Techs, called “Now you have a ham license; what can you do with it?” after the EARC’s testing session on Saturday.

The session will be from 11:30 am to 1:00 pm at the Fleet Reserve Association, 891 Valkenburgh St. If you’ve recently gotten a license, I hope you’ll make it out.

Filed Under: Ham Radio 101

CQ, 73, and other related abbreviations

Feb 18 2011

It’s not surprising that most communities have their own brand of slang. But then, ham radio has its own brand of English that one needs to get used to when you get into the hobby. And some of it is abbreviated – hams have been doing that before text messaging and Twitter was even conceived.

Take, for instance: if I were to initiate a contact on the HF band, or on two-meter sideband, or even on FM simplex (but not on a repeater), I would say, “CQ CQ CQ…” One would think, “Why those two letters, C and Q? Why not something more understandable, like ‘NE1, NE1, NE1…’”

It turns out that CQ, like much of ham lingo, has its roots in good old fashioned wired telegraphy. English telegraph operators used the CQ signal to call attention to all operators along a wire (much as the current Q-code QST does today…more on that in another article). The letters CQ come from the first two syllables of the French word sécurité, meaning security, safety, or in this case, “pay attention.” When British operators, many of whom were former landline telegraphers, went to sea, their codes went with them, and CQ became a general call to all ships. It, however, lacked the sound of urgency needed of a distress call (back in those days, in the crowded bands of the early 20th century, a CQ would have gotten lost in the noise), and it was eventually replaced with SOS for distress calls, with CQ remaining a general purpose call.

Today, on the air, CQ still retains its original meaning of “attention,” but according to the ARRL, quoting Thomas Raddell, its meaning has evolved into something like “yelling ‘Hey Mac!’ down a drain pipe.”

Getting back to the contact, I call CQ, you answer, we have a nice ragchew, and when you sign off, you say to me, “Well, it’s been great talking with you, Keith. 73.” Why 73? Why not some other number? Why not 43 or 103?

(If hams were fans of Douglas Adams’ novels, maybe they might be partial to 42. But I digress…)

Again, we’re back to the days of landline telegraphs. In 1859, Western Union standardized what came to be known as the 92 code, in which the numbers from 1 to 92 were assigned meanings. Most of them fell into disuse, although we occasionally see a few remnants. Code 30, for instance, was the standard code for “no more;” this code is still used occasionally at the end of press releases.

Code 73 itself was first used in 1857, with the meaning “My love to you!” But within a short time its meaning evolved from the romantic to strictly platonic – “from a Valentine-type sentiment to a vague sign of fraternalism.” It was used as a “friendly word between operators.” In early versions of the 92 code, 73 became “accept my compliments.” To make a long story short, the meaning of 73 further evolved until by 1908 it acquired its current meaning of “best regards,” and came nearly full circle in its use as a friendly word between operators.

Two sidenotes: 73’s original meaning of “My love to you” is preserved in the current code 88, meaning “Hugs and kisses.” Incidentally, because their meanings are plural, 73 and 88 are always used in the singular. Saying “73s” is like saying “best regardses.”

For more information, check out the history page on the ARRL website.

(edit 2/28/12: I’ve been learning French on the side, and I found that I totally forgot to include the acute accents on sécurité. C’est corrigé. Désolé.)

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