“Calling CQ” – Learning A New Skill

If you’re like me, you’ve been trying to do all you can to stay busy, entertained, and occupied during this time of self-isolation.  At the time of writing this (April 10th), I’ve already completely cleaned and reorganized the garage, my shed, my medicine cabinet, my gun cabinet, the cabinets under my sinks, my kitchen cabinets, my pantry, my closet, my dresser and bedside table, and refrigerator.  I’m running out of things to clean!  On the plus side, this is the cleanest my house has ever been since the day we built it nearly a decade ago.  Also, I realized I hung on to a lot of CRAP that I didn’t need and it was very satisfying to throw it all away.

So, in an effort to find a way to keep busy with all of that done and the inability to go to the range, I decided to take up a new hobby.  Over the last few weeks I have been studying to get my Amateur Radio License from the FCC, or my HAM License.  It has been something that has interested me for the better part of a decade, but I always thought it was too difficult to pass the test that is required.  Turns out it is actually a fairly simple and straightforward process, and the test is nowhere near as technical as I thought it would be.  I’d like to share with you my journey of becoming an licensed HAM operator in hopes that it may help some of you begin this journey or continue down this path.

Due to the fact that I am a “Millennial”, I started my search online (naturally).  I am a big proponent and fan of YouTube, so I gravitated there.  I found a channel that was a HUGE help in getting started.  In fact, his whole channel is geared toward people who are looking to get started in HAM.  The channel I’m referring to is “Ham Radio Crash Course” and the channel’s owner’s name is Josh, aka Hoshnasi.  He can also be found on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook under one or more of those names for those who utilize those platforms.  He has put together an entire video series that details how someone could study for, understand, and ultimately pass a licensing exam to become a Technician-Class Amateur Radio Operator.  That is perfect for times like these when we are all binge-watching shows anyway.  There are other useful YouTube channels I’ve found that include “Ham Radion 2.0”, “HamRadioConcepts”, and “K6UDA”.

Of course, maybe you’re not friendly with the internet or electronics (so how did you end up here?) or maybe you just prefer good old-fashioned paper.  Don’t worry, there is an option for you as well!  In fact, I argue that a book is a better way to not only learn the information but to retain it for longer and possibly etch it into permanent memory.  If that is the case, then I would encourage you to pick up the “Ham Radio License Manual, 4th Edition” that is published by the ARRL (American Radio Relay League).  They make a study guide for each class of Amateur Radio (Technician, General, and Extra), but just be sure to get the most recent edition for whichever you choose, as the question pools are updated once every few years and you don’t want to be studying the answers to old exam questions.  I picked up the one for the Technician-Class License and I chose the spiral binding so I can lay the book flat on a desk or my lap when reading without fear of damaging a traditional spine.

I feel good about what I’ve learned so far and have even gone as far as taking some practice exams online through the ARRL’s website as well as through an application that I downloaded for my cell phone.  I am consistently scoring passing grades at this point (75% or higher over 35 multiple-choice questions), and have looked for a testing session near me so I can go take the exam for real.  Unfortunately, every testing session coordinator I have reached out to has indicated that the sessions are cancelled until at least the first week in May.  Well darn, now more waiting.  (NOTE – The ARRL rules allow for “remote testing” and more VEC’s are looking into software that allows for them to proctor exams via the computer and internet.)

A few quick notes about the testing for Amateur Radio:

  • Sessions can be “walk-in”, but some require an appointment.
  • Cost is generally between $10 and $15.
  • If you pass your Technician-level exam, you can take the General (next level up) at no extra cost, and Extra (highest level) if you pass the General, again at no extra cost.

OK, so I’m continuing to study for my Technician-Class License and will do some studying on the General-Class License (because why not?), but it seems like I’m dead in the water AGAIN until this self-isolation is over.  Well, not really.  I can supplement my studying time with researching which radio I will want when I finally become licensed!  Again, I turn to Josh with HRCC.  He has some REALLY good videos on the Baofeng UV-5R and other similar radios.  These are very inexpensive ($50 on Amazon for a package deal) and good enough to start the journey.  I would compare it to the Hi-Points of the gun world.  Yeah, we all make fun of them, but if that is all you can afford or if it gets you into the sport, they are they really bad?  The low price point is enticing, for sure, but just remember that while it is perfectly acceptable to buy one and use it as a “scanner” and listen to radio traffic (broadcasts or transmissions), you need to be licensed to legally transmit (push the PTT button).

Today, I have 2 Baofeng UV-5R radios that I have programmed to listen to Weather Radio, emergency radio, simplex (general talking) radio, repeaters, and local Public Safety (police, sheriff, fire, ems, etc.) frequencies.  I have also done some research and picked out my “graduation present” to myself which will be a Yaesu FT-3DR.  In fact, I might just buy it today so it is here ready to use once I am assigned my callsign!  Hooray for new toys!

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