Prepping: Ham Radio – Which Hobby?

One of the joys of being an amateur radio operator is that the hobby is really a whole bunch of hobbies all bound-up under one roof.

There is, quite literally, something for everybody.  And no Morse code requirement, so that hurdle doesn’t exist like it did for a bunch of us “oldtimers.”

It’s also great for people who are somewhat attention deficit.  Because you can “drift” from one part of the hobby to the next, seamlessly,, and in a single weekend.

Take last Sunday, for example.

One aspect of ham radio is “contesting.”  This is where you see how many stations (in how many countries, states, grid-squares, or counties – all depending on which contest) you can talk to.  So last Sunday I turned the “big rig” on and pointed the beam up east of due north, over the pole, to see what I could do.  Here’s part of my online log from

As you can see, in the case of a major disaster in Europe, I would have a decent chance at getting first-hand information.  The Turks and Caicos station was off to the band and side of the beam’s directional antenna pattern..but the 20-meter band was in really good condition.

Closely related to “contesting” is “certificate-chasing.”  .. Every weekend, there are “special event” stations and if you work one (sometimes more) you can win yourself a certificate to go up on the wall.  Here’s a great one…

There’s a special event station at the Indy 500 every year.  And the Enigma certificate is worth chasing, too.  Commemorating the busting of the Enigma code machine during WW II.  But, there’s way more depth to the hobby that just turning on a ham radio (rig, we call ’em) and knowing how to use it.

Ham radio is a “goes with” hobby.

Take fine wood-working, for example.  Some hams are expert at making furniture. So they build the most amazing furniture to house and hold their “other hobby.”  Some guys have entire buildings devoted to the hobby.

Low power fanatics?  QRP it’s called (meaning low power).  Some of worked over 100 countries on less power than one of those ill-named “tactical” flashlights.  That, my friend, takes some skill.  Then there are the digital modes which we talked about a few weeks back.

Other people like metal work.  For them, there’s always something to do on the tower, antennas, and other peripherals.  For the more technically-oriented, there is bending up a chassis by hand on a brake and then building a piece of equipment in your own box.  I’ve done some of that, but you can buy aluminum “project boxes” on eBay if you’re not interested in sheet metal work right this minute.

One of my upcoming “metal hobby” projects is welding up a solar panel mount for the antenna tower, for example.  What could be cooler?  Vince Gingery had one of his famous “how-to” books lay out how to use conduit and rebar to make a 37-foot fold-over ham  radio tower…see how this works?  Nice unifying hands-on hobby.

Who do you suppose makes all that ham radio software?

It goes without saying that you can go nuts on circuit design and engineering of new antennas (which I enjoy immensely) because once done, you take your design and head out to the shop, fab it up,  and then toss it up on the tower or in the trees and take it for a spin on the air…

Drones your hobby?  How about using a drone to lift a leader line up over that 100-foot high pine tree?  With antennas, the higher the better, except for near-vertical-incident-skywave (NVIS) communications which my buddy “the Major” has been lecturing emergency-services oriented ham around the PNW on.

Ah, then we come to restoring old gear.  Waiting for it to arrive, but here’s my next project (after I finish up the old Johnson Pacemaker transmitter):

Hams will recognize this as an old KWM-2.  This one is missing a bunch of parts (has no crystals, for example) and those are a bit pricey to dig up ($25 a pop is the going rate).  Which doesn’t sound too bad, until you realize you’ll need about a dozen of them.

Still, I snagged the basic chassis on eBay for $125 plus $40 in shipping, so I figure how far wrong could I go?

Not like I have time for any of this, as it is just another series of distractions.  While working on the newest builds of our Light Crown project, there’s an old Kenwood TS-430 on the electronics bench and listening to CW (Morse code) keeps the brain agile while soldering and assembling things.

I realize this may sound like a pitch to run out and grab a ham ticket.  You can find local ham radio clubs that have licensing classes *(usually a single day for the “technician” license, which is the entry-level license) over at the website.

Oh….forgot to mention that if you’re a “hot rodder” it’s also a blast to put ham gear in your car or truck and be able to cruise down the freeway talking to some in, oh, Ecuador, for example.  Passes the miles most enjoyably.  Plus, with another radio dialed in to the right “trucker channels” on CB, you can keep a high level of situational awareness while traveling.  I’ve always figured “How can this be a bad thing?”

OK, then I found the answer to that:  Added a radio which was capable of police frequencies and the NOAA weather radio alerts, too.

Ah…the hobby with everything except for the one thing we’re all short of:


Write when you get licensed…

20 thoughts on “Prepping: Ham Radio – Which Hobby?”

  1. George, great article. You keep enticing me to get into ham radio, but I haven’t tilted over the edge yet. I like the drone idea to raise the height of an antenna because I am reluctant to build a large tower antenna like yours.

    • Lived my whole life tower-less. Cheap wire antennas will serve you Just Fine. Been hamming since 1966. Had a tower for one season, and a big ice storm took it down — and it was strong-built, too! If it had hit the house, it would have made a big, unfortunate mess. Thankfully, it missed. I have discones on the chimney for VHF, but only wire antennas for the low bands. (Less than 30 mHz.)

  2. George

    “This one is missing a bunch of parts (has no crystals, for example) and those are a bit pricey to dig up ”

    In terms of pure electronics can a crystal be replaced by a 555 timer circuit producing a steady sinusoid or perhaps a high frequency digital crystal oscillator with it’s output divided down to a lower frequency.
    Maybe a phase locked loop circuit could work?

    I do mostly digital stuff so my experience with radio circuits is very limited. Just thinking in terms of work arounds!

    • Electronics class lecture. There are lots of crystals in a radio. Some are used as heterodyne oscillator, some as local oscillators for the upper and low sideband switching, and in some radios (not this one) a stack of similar crystals is used as a bandpass filter. The KWM-2 uses a mechanical filter.
      To the point: a 555 timer will make an oscillator, but when you get up into RF ranges component values (hell, even air temp and humidity)can change a frequency.
      The reason is understood in PPM or parts per million.
      A typical AM transmitter, at 1000 on the AM dial can be +/- 20 cycles from it’s assigned frequency. That seems like no big deal. Except an oscillator with that spec would be +/- 200 cycles at 10 MHZ and +/- 2,000 cycles (2 KHz) at 100 MHz.
      There is a real art to oscillator design for RF because in addition to stability, you also need to minimize jitter and phase noise in order to keep (mixer stage) mixing products (*spurious noise) to a minimum in order to optimize the signal to noise ratio – the holy grail of ham radio…

      • Thanks for the great info! I have decided to not go into the crystal replacement business.

  3. You’ve kept that ham radio pilot light alive for me over the years George. I’m going to get back into it this year and do some new things. I was advanced class as a teen and just let life take over, still know CW a bit but not 25wpm like my young mind processed. I’m wondering if it’s like a bicycle…..
    I live in a neighborhood that’s not ham friendly so antenna design is an issue. Was thinking of putting a loaded dipole in the attic, three stories up, runs north-south, comp roof. Think it will be effective or just a source of frustration?

  4. George, Ham radio sounds like a lot fun but to people like me who know absolutely nothing about it intimidating and complex is what it seems like. It would be great to find a class that would cover it. Or a book that is not boring but breaks it down to a know nothing like myself. Any suggestions?

    • Ray, find a local to you ham radio club. Clubs are a huge resource to helping pre-hams and new hams and experienced hams in all aspects of the hobby. If you go to there is a link there to help you find clubs close to you.

      I’ve been a ham since I was 14 and still enjoy the hobby very much and am active chasing DX, some contesting, Field Day (coming up June 21-23), working with new hams, active in my club, occasionally work some digital and more. I’m 56 now and the hobby is just as exciting if not more than when I was just getting into it. It can be that way for anyone!

    • ARRL has many listings for classes on their site and it can be searched by state. Also you might want to check with a local ham radio club as they may not have their listings on ARRL. There are also ham meets that offer one day classes for newcomers to prep for the exam which they also may administer that same weekend. There is also a club in SC that posts their weekly meeting on YouTube under the user call sign W4EEY.

    • I “third” the “HAM Radio for Dummies” book. Read it casually, then reread it if it has held your interest. The online exams are invaluable. The ARRL and eHAM online sites provide “prectice tests” and lists of HAMS whose websites also host practice tests. You don’t need a rig to take the tests. Amateur Radio was at a low point locally when I became one — had to travel 80 miles to get to a club with a practicing VE (volunteer examiner) to get my first license. It was worth the trip…

  5. George,
    When getting serious about Ham Radio several years ago, I found the book “Ham Radio for Dummies” a great beginning source. Lots of great info, without getting too technical. I still prefer back to it when writing up education moments for our weekly club net. 73’s

  6. If the situation deteriorates to the point that ham radio is the only means of communication, the only thing you will get over that radio is bad news.

    There sure won’t be anyone coming if you radio for help.

  7. I think that my tower that came with the house and I’ve never used was one of the Gingery designs! It’s about 40′. It’s definitely got its share of welded rebar and will pivot down to the ground. The location isn’t ideal, but the foundation is rock solid in the wind. No guy wires either! If I could get a deal on “spare time”, I’d consider hooking it up to something.

  8. Just listening can be a great source of local intel. Winter storm? Wanna know how the roads are without listening to the happy-talk morning news zoo on the TeeVee? Tune your scanner to the local school bus channel. You’ll get The Best road condition reports — and VERY specific to YOUR neighborhood — that you’d ever imagine.

    Point being: Just listening, in some sort of Great Inconvenience will give you a ton of useful situation knowledge. Don’t need a license for that, but having a “ticket” gives you a lot more. So, at the least, equip yourself as a Radio Snoop, and “intercept” for Good Stuff.

  9. Hi, George.

    Congrats on your KWM-2 purchase. I have one that is operational and I love it. Yours looks to be about the same vintage as mine- “winged emblem” and no finger hole in the tuning knob. I only had to recap mine and replace a few tubes, but I also paid a few more $$$ for it than you did! I really enjoy and feel privileged to own a real piece of radio history such as this rig. So when you get ‘er running, maybe we can have a KWM-2 to KWM-2 QSO!
    73, de John N3DRA.

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