Why Amateur Radio Is a Great Hobby for Me
Back in 1981 citizens band radio became legal in the United Kingdom. Before this where what was classed as "the AM days". Basically, guys in the UK were using imported AM CB radios. In many cases, these were American citizens band radios that were perfectly legal to use in the USA. Most people had them in their cars because in those days it was illegal to use this type of radio communication. Anyone caught using an illegal CB radio would have it confiscated and may end up with a fine.
In 1981 we were given our own frequency which ranged from 27.601, up to 27.991. This consisted of 40 channels FM with a maximum power output of 4 W. CB radios has the 27/81 stamp on the front so are recognised as legitimate citizen band radios. As soon as citizens band became legal everybody jumped on the bandwagon and during the day it was virtually impossible to find a free channel. I first got the bug for talking to people on the radio in 1982 when my cousin Matt bought a CB and installed it in his bedroom. I can still remember the exact radio he got, it was a Maxcom 7E. My dear cousin went through phases when he was younger and the CB didn't last very long, he then moved on to BMX bikes. Anyway, the bug stuck with me and a friend of mine lent me a Fidelity 1000 which I attached to the handlebars of my bike. Along with a small motorcycle battery and a DV 27, I used to have a lot of fun talking to people whilst riding around the area. Unfortunately, my parents wouldn't allow me to have a CB at home unless my grades improved at school, well, suffice to say I never got my CB at home.
You were obliged to possess a citizens band license in those days, my mother didn't even know I had the radio so I obviously didn't have a license. One day I was cycling down the road merrily chatting away when I looked over my shoulder and saw a police car coming towards me. I absolutely panicked and decided I better get out of there pretty sharpish. The bike I was using was an old one that I stored in a garage just down the road from our house. My parents didn't actually use this garage, hence me being able to hide everything from them. Anyway, this bike had a missing pedal, there was just a metal bar that you put your foot on. So there I was pedaling as fast as I could thinking I was going to be pulled over and asked for my license when all of a sudden my foot slipped, the bar ripped my trousers up to my knee and left a great big gash in my leg. Boy did that hurt, I can't remember what explanation I gave to my mother.
I left school and the only time I ever used a CB was on the trawler I worked on. Then in 1990, four years after suffering my spinal cord injury I decided to buy myself a CB radio. I got myself a Midland radio that had the antenna and batteries included in a nice little pack. A friend of mine Adrian who also got a radio at about the same time made a bracket so I could put the radio on my wheelchair. I used to go out in much the same way as when I had my bike, I even managed to work Germany one day from my wheelchair. I made many friends in the first year on the radio, in fact, these friends are still with me today, although a few of them are now a silent key.
1990/91 was a fantastic time for talking to people you normally would never hear on the radio. The term we use for trying to talk to people long distance is DX or DXing. At certain times of the sunspot cycle, a strange phenomenon happens. Surrounding the Earth are various invisible layers, one of which is the E layer. These layers become charged every now and then and have the ability to reflect radio signals. Normally you wouldn't really be able to talk to anyone much more than 10 miles away unless you are on the very high ground. However, using the E layer, or sporadic E as it's actually referred to means your signals are literally redirected many miles away, quite often ending up in other countries. On a good day when the sporadic E is running really well, it is quite possible to work countries just about anywhere in Europe on very little power and very basic antennas. I really got into talking to people around Europe and would spend hours upon end shouting my CB callsign, DVN 21 hoping someone somewhere would come back to me, preferably with a foreign accent. I would also enjoy exchanging cards with them to confirm the contact. I've got literally hundreds of cards still. I could have thrown them away and I look back at them with great fondness. In fact, Remek, PLCB 2875 (?) is a Polish gentleman that I befriended way back in 1990 on the CB, we are still friends to this day and talk every now and then on Skype or MSN.
In 1995 I decided to go one step further with my radio communications and I took my amateur radio exam which I passed quite easily. Having also taken a CW (Morse Code) test I gained a class A amateur radio license. Even though Amateur Radio and citizens band are much the same in the sense that you are pressing a button and talking to someone somewhere else, they are actually worlds apart in technology and what you can achieve. My UK Amateur Radio License entitles me to use all of the allocated amateur radio frequencies and modes including USB, LSB, AM, FM, CW, and various data modes. I am also entitled to use a maximum of 400 W PEP on certain frequencies. I am also allowed to use a selection of different types of antenna including wire, vertical and directional.
G0VQY's Live Video Feed
Ham Radio for the Disabled
I am lucky, I have got a fair degree of independence, I've got my own vehicle and I use an electric wheelchair most of the time which means if I want to go out, I can at any time. However, some disabled people are not as lucky as me and quite often find themselves totally housebound, sometimes not even getting many visitors. I can tell you from experience that loneliness is not nice, it's nice to have someone to talk to once in a while. Amateur Radio is the perfect hobby for any outgoing person that has to stay inside a lot.
The beauty with talking to someone over the airwaves is they can't see you, they don't know anything about you, if you wish you don't have to tell them your disabled. Some people find it hard to relate to disabled people, it's sad, I don't blame people, but you are often treated differently if you are sitting in a wheelchair, or have some kind of other disability. If the person you are talking to can only hear your voice then the first impression they will get of you is your personality and the way you come across over the airwaves. All of my friends I have now I have met on the radio at some stage over the years, most of them didn't know anything about my disability when I started talking to them. By the time we met personally we were already good friends and in most cases they really didn't notice the wheelchair. Get this, I have even met a couple of girlfriends over the airwaves, I suppose it was my wit and charm that did it for them.
Facebook and texting may be most people's choice of communication for keeping in touch. However you just don't get the same enjoyment as you do when you put a call out and somebody comes back to you. They could be down the road from you, or they could be on the other side of the world, you really never know who is going to return your call, and that is the excitement of amateur radio
Radios & Technology
Amateur radio transceivers are very complex pieces of equipment nowadays. Most of them have knobs and buttons that you need to press and turn. If you choose the right radio then you may be able to turn the knobs and press the buttons even if you haven't got much movement. However, I will not kid you, I have not as of yet owned and amateur radio transceiver that I find extremely easy-to-use. Manufacturers of this equipment haven't taken into account that some people have dexterity problems with their digits. Having said this there are probably not enough amateur radio operators to justify big companies like ICOM or Kenwood to spend millions on radios for the disabled. Now I have probably totally depressed you by making you think that after all you have read you are not going to be able to use the radio independently, let me cheer you up and say with the help of a computer and some very clever software, you can control most of your radio independently using your mouse and computer.
Ham Radio Deluxe
Thank God for computers!! I really mean that. I'd be the first person to say that being disabled really sucks. Having said that, I am so glad that I am not a disabled person living in the 60s or 70s, or even portions of the 80s. I don't know how I would cope without the technology that we have nowadays. With the benefit of hindsight, I would absolutely hate to try and live in the days when we didn't have all the technology that we have in this day and age.
Okay, let's get back online again. Ham Radio Deluxe, or HRD as is often referred to, what exactly is it? Well, to put it in the most basic term, HRD is a completely free piece of software that you download and install onto your computer. All you do then is connect your radio and if you use one, your antenna rotator to your computer and then you have the facility to control your radio/rotator using your computer, that's basically what this piece of software does. There is quite a lot more to it and it is very clever as it will automatically turn your antenna using the correct beam headings for the person you are talking to. As long as you are using a radio/rotator that is compatible with the software, you will be able to control them with just the click of a mouse button. Buttons on the transceiver appear as buttons on the screen, you just click on them. On the other hand, knobs that require you to turn them on your transceiver appear as slider controls. There a couple of main slider controls that enable you to tune through the frequency. I use a Kensington Trackball Optical Mouse on the computer that is connected to my transceiver. If you are familiar with this trackball then you will know the facilities it has. You can program one of the buttons to act as a drag function. Basically in my case, I hold down the left button momentarily which then enables me to drag things around the screen, it's basically the same as holding down the left button on a standard mouse whilst moving it on the pad. I will include a YouTube video of myself using HRD shortly so you really get an idea of how easy it is for a disabled ham radio operator to control a very complicated amateur radio transceiver with just a trackball mouse.
Using Your Radio Remotely
Ham Radio Deluxe has the facility which enables you to use your radio remotely. What does this mean? Well, if your main amateur radio transceiver is connected to your computer network and you are able to control it using Ham Radio Deluxe, then any other computer you have in your house that is also connected to the network can be used to access your transceiver. As long as you are using the correct interface then you will be able to fully operate the transceiver by just using another computer. I find this particularly helpful as I am able to operate my radio whilst in bed, so even if I have to have bed rest, I am still able to use my amateur radio equipment and enjoy my hobby. You are You can even operate your transceiver remotely from elsewhere, even another country.
PST rotator is another piece of computer software which enables you to use your computer to control portions of your amateur radio equipment. In this case, we are talking about the antenna rotator. PST rotator has got some really nifty functions built into it that help you point your antenna in the right direction. You can either type in the person's callsign, or suffix and the program will automatically redirect your antenna to their country. Alternatively, you can put in their locator and it will make a few fine adjustments and point the antenna to the right part of the country, very helpful if you are talking to people in large countries.
This is a piece of software that I would not be without now, it makes my life a lot easier as I don't have to sit there with my finger on the rotator control waiting for it to turn.
How to put out a CQ call
For those of us who have been licensed radio amateurs for a while, making a CQ call comes completely natural. However, if you are new to amateur radio then it can be quite daunting when it comes to making your first CQ call. I have made a short video which shows you how to locate a clear frequency and put out a simple CQ call.
Making New Friends on Ham Radio
What I love about amateur radio is no matter who or where the person is in the world you are talking to, you have got that one thing in common, the love for making contact and talking with complete strangers. This video is a prime example of how two ordinary people who without amateur radio would never have met. The video is of myself, G0VQY, talking to Rafi 4X4FR in Tel Aviv Israel.
Amateur radio will also give you the opportunity to talk to people that you would probably never get the chance to talk to normally. This is a good example of me making a short contact with a station in Colombia, South America.
Quite often when we make contact with someone we exchange cards to confirm the contact. The abbreviation for confirming a contact is called "QSL". These cards, known as QSL cards often have a photograph of the operator and includes information such as the operators callsign, signal report, frequency, band, mode and sometimes a little message. The majority of people send these cards either through the post or via a designated source such as QSL manager, or through a Bureau that is normally attached to a society or club. However, now the Internet has come along you can now send cards electronically. These are known as eQSL. What you do is design your card in Photoshop for instance and then upload the design onto the eQSL website. If you haven't got any software to design your own cards then you can use predefined designs which are freely available on the eQSL website. If like me you have problems writing then this electronic system is just absolutely perfect. If you are using a logging program such as Ham Radio Deluxe then you can download your log as a ADIF file. You then upload this to eQSL and it automatically fills in all the information and sends the card for you. The only drawback is that the person you are sending the cards to must also be registered with eQSL. Even if they do not have an account, as soon as they register, any cards previously sent to them will be waiting for them. It really is a very good system that has been well thought out.
My main interest in amateur radio is the HF bands, in particular 10, 17 and 20 m. In order to maximise the performance of your station an extremely efficient antenna is very important. Whereas vertical and wire antennas give good performance, by far the best type of antenna is known as a "directional antenna" basically this is a specially designed antenna that enables you to choose the area of the world you want to work and literally fire all your power in that direction. It also works the other way around, whereas a single vertical or wire antenna pulls signals from all different directions, the beam antenna only pulls signals from the direction you are pointing it to. In other words, if you are pointing your beam antenna to the east then you probably will not hear much from the West. The downside of installing one of these beam antennas is you need something to put it on. Normally this is a radio mast made of steel that can be anything from 10 m, or even over 30 m high. These masts need a solid base which is often a large block of concrete. You will also need planning permission before you can put one of these big masts up. In most cases, as long as the mast and antenna isn't a blot on the landscape, the council should have no objection to you installing a mast and antenna on your property.
I have had a mast in my back garden since 1996. Just recently I replaced my old mast with a brand-new galvanised steel Radio Structures 18 m heavy duty mast. I have also installed a new three element SteppIR beam antenna. This antenna is a revolutionary design because it is basically a three element mono band antenna on six bands. How is this achieved? Well, the antenna uses three motors to adjust the size of the antenna to each band and frequency you are using. So if you want to use 10 m then you press a button and the antenna resizes itself for that band. If you then decide you want to use 20 m, you press another button and the antenna adjusts its size and voilà, you have a three element mono band antenna, really great stuff!
I have been using an ICOM 7400 for the last few years and it is a really fantastic radio. It covers all the major HF bands, plus 6 m and 2 m. I use the SM 20 base microphone and I always get complimented on my audio quality.
I have recently purchased an ICOM 7800 which is ICOM's flagship HF transceiver. This baby covers the major HF frequencies, as well as 6 m and has an impressive 200 W output, twin receivers and filters to die for. I have also got a Heil Pro 40 microphone which I hope will complement my station and give me that little bit more presence on the airways.
Here are a couple of links to help you.
I have purchased nearly all of my amateur radio equipment from Ron at Vine
This is the website for Radio Structures, the manufacturer of my tower
G0VQYs YouTube Channel
I quite enjoy making videos of my contacts and uploading them to YouTube. So check out my channel, you may just hear yourself
I feel very blessed to live in the location that I do. As you can see by the photograph I am probably no more than 100 m from the edge of a cliff which looks over the sea. This and the fact that I am around 195 feet above sea level means I nearly always receive and transmit good signals.
Taking delivery of my new radio structures tower