VaibhaV Sharma

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Tag: Ham Radio

CQ WW DX 2015

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Its that time of the year when amateur radio frequencies light up like a Christmas tree on the air. Pretty much every khz of the popular bands (20m, 40m) is occupied with voice recorders spewing out CQ/QRZ calls from contesting stations. Other bands are busy too depending on propagation and conditions.

CQ-WW-DX-2015-10

And then there are a few regular rag chewers (group chat types) trying to weather the onslaught of busy bands, and try to talk at length as usual. Occasionally, a contest station would wander around and end up transmitting on their frequency and be given a piece of mind from the rag chewers. Fun to listen in.

Its all quite remarkable actually. Most contacts last not more than a few seconds, enough to exchange information for the contest log book. First of all, for the uninitiated, Amateur radio contesting is all about making as many “contacts” as possible in a short period of time. Points are earned based on how many continents, countries, areas, etc. you make contacts in and then the number of those contacts. There is a long list of contests that happen every year.

If you get into contesting seriously, it is an excellent way to learn about and optimize your antenna, radio setup for optimal performance. With the equipment all set, one would need to come up with a strategy of what bands to operate on and during what time of the day/night. That is based on propagation data. Propagation data is available from various sources and also have translated versions like this –



Once equipment is setup and propagation based strategy is set, then comes the workflow of how you run the equipment. There are various categories of operation like SO2R – Single Operator 2 Radios. Combine that with the type of modes one can run the radios in – CW (Morse Code), Packet Radio, SSB (Single SideBand – Voice).

Yes, its not just about talking to random people anymore. Its a sport. A Radiosport.

I need to fix my home shack antennas and try contesting from home sometime. Here is a video of an operator handling a pileup (tens of stations trying to contact YOU). I have done a bunch of these as well for W1AW/6 and its a lot of fun –

Ham Radio setup in California

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Ham Radio setup in California

Originally uploaded by Dalfry

HF propagation is so unpredictable. Just yesterday night we were
talking to radio stations from Hawaii to Idaho to Texas and North
Carolina and tonight, 20 meter band is totally dead. Not even a single
contact.

Surprisingly, there were still a few morse code stations audible. More
reason to finish those last three morse code training sessions.

BTW, this pic is our current radio setup at home. A table right next
to the balcony where the antenna is hoisted 10 ft in the air using my
camera tripod and conveniently hidden behind a pillar to avoid
complaints from neighbors. Also a copper wire running to the water
pipe for better electrical grounding. The rig sucks 23 amps on full
100 watt transmit power.

If nothing else, we can probably write a chapter on stealth ham radio
operation from a balcony.

Ham Radio

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Back in school, we had these “extra curricular activity” sessions. Some of them, we could opt for during school hours and the others were available after-school hours.

Instead of taking “arts and craft” like everyone else (so that they could just sit on their ass), I opted for playing musical instruments and that too percussion music because I just thought they would be more interesting. For the next 7 years, I played with the school orchestra, in morning prayers, in inter-school competitions and wherever the school orchestra was pulled in to play.

I learned how to deal with 10 – 12 different instruments including Indian classical and western pieces. I can confidently say that I was pretty good at it. Even today, I can play most of those instruments if I can get my hands on one. I just love it.

That was during school hours activity, which was free.

The activities after school hours included –

* Computers (I could not get through the aptitude test, so no go)
* Scouts / NCC (The wear-the-blue-half-pants-and-scarf Scouts was interesting for a year, then got boring)
* Aero Modelling (Rs 300/month were expensive but dad tried for a month or two and then we gave up)
* Ham Radio (Again, expensive and needed an aptitude test and all)

Exposure to these activities just blew my mind. Unable to pursue them, I used to hunt for cheap hobby electronics circuits to build. Learnt how to solder electronic components on general PCBs and made several projects at home.

We had a 20 year old Philips “hifi” radio tuner + amp + record player with two speakers. I spent loads of hours trying to tune-in distant AM radio stations from the UK and other countries. I used to look at pictures in the Yagi antennae design books in school and failing to understand the theory, used to try and build at least the antennae at home using aluminum clothes hangers and then mounted them high on the roof using wood sticks. Those did not work too well for radio stations but I found out it worked very well for stealing cable television signals from the splitter on our neighbor’s roof. So the ham radio thing never worked for me and most of the time I had my school exams to worry about getting through. 🙂

Fast forward 15 years, here I am with a fresh Private Pilot License. Shortly after I landed in the US, I bought some ham radio books and tried to study but I used to be too worried about the paperwork that would be needed to get anything done in this country.

Two days ago, I decided I had to just DO IT! Went and bought the Ham Radio License Manual and an account on HamTestOnline.com. And here are the results from the first practice tests after barely 24 hours of studies –

Woot! I am going to take the test this saturday. I need to start thinking about what ham call sign I should get. 😀

Why couldn’t I get these kind of grades in school / college. These exams are not rocket science but I have never scored such numbers in my life. 🙂

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