One of the few things worth telling from 2020 has been getting my ham radio licence. It is not something I came up with all of a sudden, but it’s true that COVID-19, with all the lockdowns, curfews and restrictions that has brought in general, has given me the extra motivation I needed to get to work and pass the exam.
So far it’s been a short and full of doubts trip, but (and this is the reason-to-be of this post) one with a lot of nice and helpful people along the way. As a beginner, it is difficult to know where to start when you have a million different modes, bands, radios, antennas and what not to trim down before you can get your first radio. After a lot of reading, I got an Anytone 878UV Plus:
The reason I chose the 878UV was being able to get on the air without having to spend a fortune on new equipment. Yes, one can use any analog handy talkie to talk through the repeaters but as far as I have seen, there is not much traffic in them. At least, not in Zaragoza’s (see list in URZ’s website). With no people using the repeaters, it is difficult to learn. But what about HF?. This wasn’t working for me either because it would’ve meant spending a lot more money, probably in mid-range transceivers, antennas, etc. So I discarded this option because I didn’t want to buy “just-ok-for-now” models that are good as a beginnner and get old in a couple of years, or even worse, second hand equipment from who knows. So, 878UV Plus and DMR it is.
After some configuration, I got on the air and to my surprise everything was much better than I had thought. I started talking to people all over the world in no time, and even though I didn’t know (I still don’t) how to properly do QSOs, at least I was doing them. What was QTH again? what was QRT? Why certain people don’t use the phonetic alphabet? Some people like long chats, some others are there for the QRZ, QTH, temperature, callsign and 73s. It doesn’t take too much time to feel the experience in certain people, the pace, the steady rhythm in each and every QSO they do. And they get a lot of people calling them, of course.
More on DMR
In DMR all you’ve got (sort of) is Talk Groups/Time Slots/Colour Codes and the repeater or hotspot you want to use. I will avoid getting into the details of what is what, but for now, think of them as a way of gathering people together (in different groups) over shared resources (repeaters, etc): I might use the same repeater as you, but I am interested in talking to the Spanish amateurs (214), or the whole world amateurs (91) as opposed to you, talking on the Norwegian one (242) to name a few. Technical configuration apart, because of course there is a learning curve, operating this is way easier than all the bells and whistles required for HF with SSB (USB/LSB), band plans, antennas, etc; and surely people run QSOs at a lower pace, which makes it beginner-friendly in my opinion.
WebSDR is a good ear training
I was speaking about HF, and how things are a bit more complicated there than in talk groups. In my case, and just for now, I’ll concentrate on using WebSDR for my HF learning while at the same time I practice using a less demanding place myself. This is where something called SDR (Software Defined Radio) comes into place, and of course its online version: WebSDR. WebSDRs are free to use, powerful, and very versatile devices that allow you to use radios all over the world with the advantage that the antennas connected are better than you would have yourself right at the beginning. You can tune one to the frequency you want and listen to QSOs run in different modes and bands. Yesterday, for example, using an SDR located in Asturias, I got to follow a very experienced amateur doing QSOs at a pace I had some trouble understanding the signal reports, callsigns, etc.
Friendly amateurs, the EA2, and QSL cards
As I’ve said, after a couple of weeks I’ve been able to talk to people from Zaragoza (part of the Spanish district 2: EA2, EB2, EC2) on analog (VHF/UHF) and digital, getting some invaluable advice on radio equipment, signal reports (is this thing working?), or just very good company. At the same time, I’ve been able to talk with people from all over the world on digital at any time of the day: a bless for us, night crawlers!.
A couple of days ago, one of the amateurs gave me a nice surprise. After our chat, he got my contact details from QRZ and wrote me an email saying he had enyojed our conversation and that he had thought of saying thanks, giving some nice info about his hometown and, this is the best part, sending me my first QSL card. His name is Benjamin, located in Port Fairy, Victoria, Australia (VK3TBS). Of course sending QSL cards is not mandatory, but for many amateurs, filling up one’s walls with cards people have sent you, either electronically or by mail, is by far the best part of the hobby. After Ben’s QSL card, I designed my very own QSL card straight away so that I could send him one myself. And this is the (template) result:
73 de EA2EVN