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Getting Started


If you or your sons or daughters have expressed an interest in "ham radio", you may be keen to find out just what you (and they) are letting yourselves in for!

Amateur radio is a hobby that lets radio enthusiasts talk to each other locally, and around the world. Radio amateurs complete a short training course and exam, and then get a licence to transmit on special radio frequencies. Radio amateurs learn about radios, frequencies, aerials, the legal aspects of transmitting and some of the technical basics that help with general understand of things like voltage and how to be safe. It’s an ideal hobby for the technically-minded, and is suitable for all ages from around 6 to 106.

First thing to do is make contact with a local club and talk to the members, they will be more than happy to talk to you about whats involved. Most people study for the exam by taking a short course through the radio club and at home using the low-cost study book and online course guide.

Once you/they passes the exam, you will be able to apply for a lifetime licence and be issued a ‘callsign’ that allows you to start talking to other "hams" around the world. You will also need a radio and an antenna. You will learn about this on the course, but in summary, there are 3 common types of amateur radio frequencies that amateurs use. VHF/UHF/HF, see a breif description of these further down, and a few other things.

Check out some of the things you can do!

Vhf/Uhf

LICENCE REQUIRED

Depending on the height of the aerial, distances of up to 50 miles are possible. Many get started with a battery-powered handheld radio (€30+). These come with a short antenna that can be used over a fairly short range (a few miles), and are typically used outdoors. They can be connected to better antennas for better range. If your youngster wants to transmit from indoors, they can use their handheld connected to a better antenna, but will ideally want a “base station”. These start from around €75+, and require a power supply unit (€30+). Antennas: The best results will come from a rooftop antenna (about a metre long, €30+). This will be connected to the “base station” via coax cable. If you can’t get an antenna on the roof, an antenna placed high in your loft is an option. In some cases, an antenna close to a window or hung securely out of the window will work too.

IRLP/EchoLink

LICENCE REQUIRED

Using as little as a Vhf/Uhf hand held radio you can connect to local “repeaters”, which are connected to the Internet. This means that from a handheld radio, it’s possible to talk around the world.

HF

LICENCE REQUIRED

Radios for HF are more expensive (€300/400+) and allow users to talk around the world. HF radios require a power supply unit (€50+) and sometimes need an antenna tuning unit (€100+) depending which model HF radio you purchase (some HF radios have this built in). HF frequencies require larger antennas, which can be as simple as a long length of wire (between 5 and 40 meters). Antennas are ideally set up in the garden, but loft antennas can be effective too. If you can’t set up an HF station at home, you can consider IRLP/EchoLink. Radios are usually handheld, and so need antennas like those mentioned under “VHF/UHF”

Space Contacts

LICENCE REQUIRED

Using a handheld radio and a D.I.Y. homemade antenna it is possible to make contacts around the world via amateur satellites in orbit or even make contact with astronauts on the international space station.

PMR

LICENCE FREE

Without even realising it you might already have an intrest in radio. Those "cheap walkie talkies" that you bought in Aldi/Lidl/Tesco for your camping trip or just for the kids to play with are infact PMR446 (personal mobile radio, 446 MHz) radios. They operate in part of the UHF radio frequency range that is open for use without licensing for business and personal use in most countries of the European Union.

PMR446 is ideal for small-site, same-building and line of sight outdoor activities. Depending on surrounding terrain range can vary from a few hundred metres (in a city) to a few kilometres (flat countryside) to many kilometres from high ground.

So dig out those PMR's and give a call, you never know who might call back.

(SDR) Software Defined Radio

LICENCE FREE

An RTL-SDR is a small USB dongle that connects to your PC or Laptop with free SDR software and used to listen to the invisible world of radio communications. From as little as €10 you can get a noname USB dongle, or spend €25+ and select from one of the top products reviewed here.

Just have fun and enjoy the hobby of radio....................There is something for everyone

There is something for everyone, no matter what your age or level of interest.
Learn morse code if thats your thing or build your own radio transmitters.

The hobby can be as cheap or as expensive as you make it. You don't have to buy new, lots of equipment (radios, antennas, and other accessories) can be got second hand, or even borrowed from the club.


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