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How to Become a Sad Radio Amateur

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Section A


This booklet is intended to introduce you to amateur radio; a hobby that is challenging, rewarding, educational, reclusive, obsessive, and tends to be a little sad. It also serves to answer some of the questions which are asked by prospective nerds, or even existing radio amateurs about the hobby.

What does amateur radio offer me?

Amateur radio is unique in the freedom it allows you to develop and experiment with radio communication equipment, and sit for hours in a cold shed avoiding the outside world. It can even enable you to communicate around the world and waste a fortune sending fancy postcards to bizarrely located countries. Radio amateurs may make contact with people in any country, so long as the Johny-foreigners have learnt english or enough Morse code abbreviations. Radio amateurs are often at the cutting edge of radio technology and increasingly they are able to use their home computers to combine computer technology and radio, although on the other hand some prefer to still witter on for hours about the weather - using AM. By becoming a radio amateur you can prepare yourself for a world which is increasingly technology-based and hostile. For example, you can experiment with antennas, television, RTTY (radio teletype), data (including computer controlled communications such as packet radio), satellite communications and, of course, short or long range voice or Morse code transmissions. Or just "crack one off" over the pictures of commercial equipment in old copies of Practical Wireless.

The hobby frequently leads to participants making lasting friendships both in the United Kingdom and worldwide, with other nerds they've never met. In this way it has proved to be a great asset to those who are socially inept, or who find having a life is a problem, because of the opportunity it provides to make friends. Many other amateurs are able to offer their services to the first aid organisations and even the police at public events and during disaster relief operations at home and abroad. This means feeling the power of holding a handheld radio in public, and perhaps even wearing a reflective tabard like the professionals do. For most amateurs, however, it is just the sheer excitement of monitoring hours of static that is so absorbing.

The Novice Licence

The Amateur Radio (Novice) Licence was introduced in 1991 with the aim of encouraging people of all ages, but particularly young people to take up amateur radio without knowing nearly enough about it. Novice licensees have been given small segments of the major bands, because we can't possibly let them loose on all the precious frequencies. Novices will have an all round taste of amateur radio in practice, such as how the fully-licensed will avoid them like the plague.

Both classes of the Amateur Radio (Novice) Licence allow the novice to use a wide variety of frequency bands. Those permitted under the Amateur Radio (Novice) Licence (B) will allow regular contacts in a local area (a street or two) and occasionally at longer range, possibly several hundred yards. The Amateur Radio (Novice) Licence (A) gives access to additional frequency bands used particularly for long range communications. Novices using these bands will be able to make contacts with other countries, and other continents, very often using hesitant Morse code.

Why must I take a radio and electrical theory examination before I can become a radio amateur?

Because transmitting radio energy can really upset your neighbours TV viewing, stop the police hearing about your gran's mugging, electrocute your cat, etc. We've got to make sure you know your backside from your elbow, obviously. We can't have your neighbour's Coronation Street ruined with your 80m ragchew can we? Once you are licensed you can ask other amateurs on the air about the subjects you really ought to know about before being allowed anywhere near a light switch.

Who runs the Novice Licence practical Training Course?

The Novice Licence Training Course is run on the whole by bored amateurs who really want more people to talk to, preferably women or (unfortunately) young boys. It will be available at many remote and secluded locations throughout the UK. The aim of the course is to train novice licensees in the basic skills of amateur radio and to make sure they are well prepared for the mediocrity they'll find on the air.

How do I go about taking the examinations?

The usual way is to line the RSGB's pocket buying the RAE syllabus book, learn it back to front and then find a local amateur to explain it all. You'll wish you'd paid more attention at school in maths. Then you'll have to figure out how to get to the nearest examination 120 miles away on your pushbike, but that's just tough luck kiddo! Buy yourself a nice new HB pencil and rubber, and prepare to endure a tedious multiple guess paper.

What do the examinations test?

You'll face questions on obscure technical details that you'll very quickly forget in the following years, and things you'll never need to know. Just for a laugh we'll throw in a question or two on formulae that never appeared in the book you've learnt. To be fair, we'll always throw in a dead easy one about the phonetic alphabet although the ulterior motive is to make you laugh at the absurd choice so that you may be asked to leave the room.

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Section B

Types of Licence

There are two types of amateur radio licence, the full Amateur Radio Licence and the Amateur Radio (Novice) Licence. There are two classes of each licence:

1. Amateur Radio Licence (A)
This licence permits the use of all the frequency bands allocated to the amateur service, including the HF (high frequency) bands which may enable global communications unlike the VHF bands which also allow global communications but not as often (50MHz, satellite etc). To become a Class A licensee, it is necessary for you to have passed the Radio Amateurs' Examination and also the 12 words per minute Amateur Radio Morse test even if you only want to talk and never use CW in your life. This is quite plainly absurd but believe it or not there are plenty of existing amateurs who are quite happy with that since they've already suffered. For more details on this backwards thinking see the campaign for common sense at the site. Holders of a Class A licence are able to proclaim that all amateurs should build their own equipment, master Morse up to a speed of 30 words per minute and should have played an active part in the previous war.

2. Amateur Radio Licence (B)
This licence only permits the use of frequency bands allocated to the amateur service above 30 MHz, which does not, however, normally facilitate communications with anyone interesting at all. Maybe the local after-news net on a Sunday, but you may as well give them a phone call. You'll find the calling channels are as dead as a decaying dodo, and spend your time listening to the local repeater's Morse I.D. every couple of minutes until someone passing through your godforsaken area decides to whistle on the repeater a few times without saying anything. Or maybe you'll be captivated by an obscure interest such as microwave TV and become a valued member of an exclusive group of, say 4 other such individuals, with your very own quarterly newsletter that campaigns for the hogging of several tens of MHz of spectrum that get used twice a year.
If you happen to live in the same household as a Class A licensee you may effectively use all bands at any time. This is because a Class B amateur can use HF if supervised by a Class A amateur (of course they're there all the time) because a Class B operator will not have a clue what's happening without the superior ability of a Class A licensee there to guide them.

The same licence document is ignored for both classes of licence. You'll find people signing /P just because they're using a portable! This rule changed back in 1977 - you now sign /P at a temporary fixed location (AND state the location), and use /M when Mobile, either on foot or in a vehicle, moving or not. Should amateurs still be allowed to operate if they haven't read their copy of BR68 for nearly 25 years?!

3. Amateur Radio (Novice) Licence (A)
This licence permits the use of selected tiny portions of some of the less well used amateur frequency bands, including some HF bands. To become a Class A Novice Licensee, it is necessary for you to have successfully completed the Novice Licence Training Course run by the RSGB, obtained a pass in the NRAE run by C&G and obtained a pass in the 5 words per minute Novice Morse Test run by the RSGB. No wonder only ten people have chosen this option so far. This license allows you to acheive very little but learn more in order to get a real licence.

4. Amateur Radio (Novice) Licence (B)
This licence permits the use only of novice amateur frequencies above 30 MHz. To become a Class B Novice Licensee, it is necessary for you to have successfully completed the Novice Licence Training Course and then obtained a pass in the NRAE, and you will also have needed be brainwashed by someone who somehow managed to make radio seem interesting. You can then pester Mummy and Daddy into buying you a dual-band handie (or save a part of your pension each week for ten months for one) which you'll use for a week, maybe two.

Conditions for Becoming a Full Radio Amateur

You must:

Licence Fees

The annual fee for both classes of licence is currently 15.00. The licence is renewable annually and the fee must be paid before the anniversary of the issue date of the licence. Current amateurs who never use their gear must face this annual tax just in case they might want to become active at some far point in the future, because proving you once held a license is a bit difficult once it's lapsed. You have to present the orginal pass slip as proof, despite having sent it in the first place without it being returned. And you wouldn't want to lose your lovely G callsign for one of those horrid new M ones would you?

Amateur Call Signs

Article 25 of the International Radio Regulations (to which the UK is a party) says that the Amateur Service must use a system of licensee identification. These "call signs' are intended to:

The International Radio Regulations specify that a call sign in the amateur service should be made up of:

The UK currently uses call signs starting With the letter "M". A secondary element is added to the "M" prefix to indicate that transmissions are from a region other than England, and so are not worth replying to, as follows: Wales (MW), Scotland (MM), Northern Ireland (MI), Guernsey (MU), Jersey (MJ) and the Isle of Man (MD). It doesn't matter that their callsigns are longer, they're not English.

Therefore a Class A Licensee living in Wales could have the call sign "M-WHO-CARES", and a Class B Licensee in Jersey could have the call sign "M-ANYTHING" as we'll not hear them from here.

Call signs are normally allocated in strict alphabetical sequence but a particular call sign may be reserved (subject to availability) up to 6 months in advance for those sad enough to go out of their way to get their initials - even though those initials probably need the really embarrasing phonetics such as Romeo and Juliet. Callsigns can always be spelt out on the air using an unofficial code using the names of countries and capital cities - because a foreigner is far more likely to understand such good old English names better than the international standard NATO codes they learnt for their exam.

Callsigns must be given at the start and end of every period of communication, or every 15 minutes, which is fair enough. Some operators insist that "period of communcation" means every "over" and so use their callsign before and after they say anything at all, and probably even when asking their wife for a jump.

For more personal introductions, an amateur should spell his name with phonetics such as "The name this end is Nik, November India Kilo" regardless of how readable his signal is, as if that's the only part of the transmission that would be difficult to understand. This is especially silly when the operator's name is Charlie, Juliet, Mike, Oscar, Romeo or Victor.

The format for the Novice call sign series has been decided as follows:

Can I get a refund if I stop using Amateur Radio?

No, refunds are not offered for Amateur Radio Licences, but friends (that have loyally stuck by you) and family may well rejoice and hold a party. Welcome back to reality.

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Frequency-Checking Equipment in Amateur Stations

Many enquiries are received seeking advice on suitable apparatus for frequency measurement for use in amateur stations. You must waste a bundle of fivers on some wavemeter which you'll never use. Your handheld radio isn't going to suddenly change frequency bands is it? You must check your equipment and put all relevant details in your log book "from time to time". Most amateurs would argue that every 30 years could be described as "from time to time". In fact, just once in your lifetime may well suffice.

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Log-keeping in Amateur Stations

The license conditions state that a log must be kept detailing every contact, and every unanswered CQ call. This is to make the hobby even more tedious to newcomers, and to make sure that interference can be traced to you. It would of course be far more logical to only enforce log-keeping for a maximum of one calendar months when your station is under suspicion, but that would be too sensible. You'll enjoy looking back at all the stations you've worked in years to come, trust us. Power levels must be recorded in dB Watts, to confuse the elderly. Mode of operation must be recorded as, for example, "FHHJJF3448EEE" instead of "FM" because that's the way we like it. Tough. Dittos are not allowed. Any non-compliance will result in the confiscation of your licence, all of your equipment, sundry goods and chattels, perhaps your wife. And prison too, you criminal.

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Repeater stations are provided to enhance the range of mobile stations, because trying to work anything from a car on VHF/UHF is otherwise even more futile. Therefore all stations should use them to work their friends down the road, when a simplex channel would have done the job nicely. We cannot allow a repeater to be as useful as having your own PMR channel because we just can't. We'll spoil things by insisting that the repeater gives its I.D. in slow Morse code, piercingly loud, every couple of minutes so that monitoring the repeater is un-bearable. The excuse is that we've confused the word "repeater" with the word "beacon" and we're not going to change our minds about this, even though other countries have. Sometimes a repeater is even required to give its I.D. several times in a row, many times within one minute, while muting the audio from the mobile station desperately trying to pass his emergency message.

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RA 190 (Rev X)
Sep 2001
FUN 038d
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Here is the real document.

A quick reminder that this is an attempt at humour. I'm a ham myself, if I have to admit it. If you actually want to have stern words with me may I politely ask you to go and have a sense-of-humour gland transplanted in.
Why did I do this? To have a good moan about the negative aspects of one of my fave interests, and try and draw attention to the some issues such as the code requirement, lousy repeaters and log keeping, the "5 and 9" syndrome, etc. I hope it's been noted!
Thank you - RF-man - 17th February 2000.

And now that I've got your attention, here comes the serious bit...

The need for Morse...

comments, arguments, email...

I am a Radio Amateur. I took and passed an exam in electronics, radio technology, operating and license conditions. A government department charged with regulating the radio spectrum is thus satisfied that I am competent to receive a license to establish and operate a tranmitting station. However, I am not allowed to use the very bands that regularly permit wide-area or international communications. I am restricted to local VHF/UHF. Or worldwide communications by satellite or by the six meter band on an infrequent basis. Why? Because I am not interested in learning the Morse code to be tested for this irrelevant skill.

When I explain that to ordinary people, they quite rightly think such a situation is ridiculous. It is only with an in-depth appreciation of the history of Amateur radio that you can see how it came about. There is no need for this to continue.

Numerous countries have already recognized this, and have altered their Morse tests by dropping the speed down to 5 words per minute (usually from 12 or 13wpm). This is the first step on the road to abandoning this obstacle altogether.

We can help this process by educating those who feel they have a right to affect our lives. We can pressure our national administrations to vote at future World Radio Conferences for a change to the international regulations governing Amateur Radio. This needs to happen, and will. Please help this come about. We can change things that are no longer relevant to modern life. It is called progress.

At the moment I can use SSB on 50.110 and during an opening communicate with other stations in far away countries. I am not permitted to do the same thing on 28.3 MHz. Can anyone give even ONE good reason why not? I know why I'm prevented from doing so, but I'd like even ONE good reason why this SHOULD be so. Go on. Surprise me.

Read more here...