Sunday, 19 December 2021

THE FIRST 3 YEARS AS A HAM OPERATOR

TIME FLIES WHEN YOU'RE ENJOYING YOURSELF

I came to be a licensed Amateur Radio operator quite late in life at 60yrs old, but I've been a ShortWave Listener for 30 years or more. On my 60th birthday (December 2019), my friend Carl (G0UXF) bought me a handheld transceiver (Baofeng UV-5R) and it was this "nudge" that made me decide to look into becoming licensed after all these years.

The truth is, back in the 90's when my mates were talking about getting their licences, I'd never really felt like I had the time to study because of work commitments and career progression. I also had the great pressure of discovering that my firstborn son had Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy which was a terminal illness. All my focus was on him and the rest of my family.

So moving on 30yrs, I discovered that unlike in the 1990's where you had to go to college to study for your RAE, you could now start with a Foundation Licence which permits operation on almost all the bands with a power limit of 10W. That sounded fantastic to me, so I joined the West Manchester Radio Club and never looked back!

The Club had a Tutor (Jim Brett) but the course was nearing its end when I joined, but I still decided to jump on board and take the exam which was due in a few weeks time.

I had already purchased the FOUNDATION LICENCE NOW book and judging by the contents, I reckoned it would be pretty easy to pass the exam. 

There were 26 questions in the exam and all of them were multiple choice answers. You needed to get 19 correct answers in order to qualify for a pass, which leaves quite a generous margin of error.

As part of the training provided by WMRC, one of the senior members (G0FRL) very kindly visited my home to provide me with some practical tuition (which was compulsory then, but no longer is since the Covid Pandemic). He also took me through the Morse Code requirement which again has been removed from the syllabus. 

Anyway, when I took the exam I was gutted to find I'd got one answer wrong. My instructor said he'd have chosen the same answer as me but my invigilator disagreed. No matter though - I had passed and soon after I received my letter from OFCOM, so the real learning could begin. I had always wanted an MCQ callsign and I was lucky enough to get the one I requested : M7MCQ.

My first radio apart from the Baofeng, was a Yaesu FT-897D and at home I'd found a nice little corner to set up my Shack. It was all very exciting and the start of something much bigger.

Little did I know how much there was to the hobby. Even though I'd been a SWL for decades, I'd never realised how much things had changed in the world of amateur radio.

One of the biggest changes was the progress of digital operations and also the introduction of full blown SDR (Software Defined Radio). This meant that this already wonderful hobby had a whole new raft of exciting avenues to explore! There were no end to the possibilities. I could experiment with voice on SSB FM, AM, voice on Digital (DSTAR, C4FM, DMR), and Data modes such as FT8, FT4, WSPR,etc.

My limit of 10W very quickly turned into an actual desire to use less and less power. QRP operation became enjoyable, to the point where I still have no interest in taking my Intermediate test even though I have zero doubt I would pass. Who knows - I might do it in the future just for the hell of it, but 10W is certainly not restrictive in terms of how much you can enjoy this hobby!

 
There's numerous experiments and fun to be had with antennas too. I learned how to erect and tune 'off the shelf' antennas and how to make my own from bits of wire and coat-hangers! It was like a dream come true to someone like me, who normally gets bored with hobbies because they become a bit repetitive.


If you've got an open mind, Amateur Radio will always keep you busy and interested! There really is no end to how varied the hobby is. It's good for your mental well-being because it keeps your brain active (heavily taxed sometimes 😂) and guess what? It can keep you physically fit and active if you choose to participate in some of the many outdoor pursuits such as Parks On The Air and Summits On The Air.

As a Foundation Licence holder, my 10W limit encourages me to go outdoors and find a good spot to work from. In the warmer, dryer months of Spring, Summer and Autumn, it's great fun to hike up to the top of a hillside or spend a day at the beach and set up station. It's good for you and your logbook! From the seaside I managed to have a number of amazingly clear chats with American operators using just 2.5W and a wire antenna. 

If you choose your destination well, you can make it very appealing to other family members too, so you're not abandoning them at the weekend. And you don't have to go far either!

Other enjoyable activities include Field Days with your local Club.  WMRC have organised countless Field Days over the years and it's always fun and rewarding. Of course, operating with the Club gives you the opportunity of using some amazing antennas and even experiencing a bit of QRO using the Club Call Sign under the supervision of members with a Full Licence.

 
Field Days also provide opportunities to learn from more experienced members. It might be something technical, something about RF or even how to tie a better knot to start a generator 😂. Whatever it is, you'll come away wiser than when you arrived. Others may also benefit from your help - everyone's got something to offer someone else. You also get to build closer friendships with fellow Hams.

I've really enjoyed trying out all the new equipment, selling some and then trying something new. I've enjoyed all the experiments in different modes of operation. antenna building, learning to master new software, configuring hardware, learning to build kits, learning to troubleshoot and trying to help other Newbies who are still learning.

 

In the last 3 years I've learned (but not necessarily mastered 😂) all sorts of stuff and continue to experiment and improve my knowledge of the hobby.

Best of all though, has to be sitting at a radio and speaking to a complete stranger at the other end of the world! Someone in a different timezone. Someone with a totally different outlook on life. Someone with something new to say. It'll never grow old.

If you happen to be someone who's been thinking of 'getting into radio', stop hesitating and go join your local Radio Club.  Join in and you'll be rewarded with new friends and new knowledge. 

So in summary, I'm pretty happy with my progress so far. I've made around 2000 logged entries and have managed to bag 71 countries using 10W or less. I'm sure that others have achieved much more in that time, but I'm still more than content with my progress considering that I work full time and have a few other demanding hobbies.  I look forward to many more years of enjoyment from Amateur Radio and I thoroughly recommend it to others.


73, Tom, M7MCQ
www.m7mcq.com

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GALLERY 






















2 comments:

  1. Great Tom, congrats being a licensed HAM now already for 3 years. Very important you were already a SWL for 30 years. Listening is one of the most important skills in this radio hobby. Too many that don't hear well. Hope you will stay into the hobby and have enough challenges to catch your interest in it. So many that leave the hobby after a few years with an attitude of "done it all, bored". Good luck! 73, Bas

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  2. Thanks Bas, hope you and your family have a great Xmas and New Year!

    73, Tom, M7MCQ

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