A Year in the Hobby

Ham radio really is a hobby made up of hobbies. It’s an onion and the more one peels, the more there is to peel. And there is no shortage of areas to explore. I got my license just about a year ago – I took my Technician exam on my dad’s birthday – and an upgrade to General followed about a month later. So what have I poked at this year? A lot. Let’s take a look.

Maybe the best part of getting into this hobby was getting back to making things. It’s been too long since I broke out the soldering iron and went to town on making something that did something new as opposed to hacking on something that needed a repair. I went through a couple of kits. I built a dummy load which has been used many times over. I put together 20m and 40m kit radios. Or mostly anyway. And I put up my very own 20m dipole antenna in the attic. That wasn’t exactly a moonshot, but it was a step toward showing me just how homebrew things can get with this hobby.

Wiring the house has been fun as well. And by fun I mean fun explaining to my wife why these cables have to run across the bedroom floor. I haven’t gotten the shack to the basement yet, so my radio lives on my nightstand. It’s not a great solution, but it’s what I’ve got. Ham radio is about compromise. I’m compromising until I can get the wire to my office in the basement. It’ll get there! Maybe this winter!

And then there’s DMR. I had no idea that existed in the realm of the amateur world the way that it does. I had great success with the Zumspot and an inexpensive MD-380. Programming it wasn’t as daunting as was advertised and I’ve had contacts all over the place with that thing. The Zumspot also opened me up to D-STAR and I participate on nets there regularly now.

Nets! What do you do with a ham radio? You talk to people. And the best place for that is on the regular series of nets that are out there. I have a 2m net that I do over RF, a net that I join over EchoLink weekly, and a D-STAR net. For those keeping track, that’s three different vectors of communication I’ve collected in one year. It’s still amazing to see just how many ways there are to join in. All I need now is an HF net that I can hit regularly and a DMR net that doesn’t start at 11 PM my time.

There are also a ton of pieces of software that feed into this hobby. I’ve learned to use all kinds of fun stuff from CHIRP (which I got to run on a Mac, thankyouverymuch!) to FLDIGI which I have running on a Windows NetBook. I also got to spend a lot of time with the RaspberryPi as I monkeyed around with add-ons for the Pi-Star system on my Zumspot and GNURadio on my desktop-ish Pi. Yes, I’m playing with computers again. And it hasn’t really been nearly as bad as I expected. Aside from my time with virtual machines and trying to resolve every device driver issue that one could encounter with something as simple as a UNIVERSAL Serial Bus. I swear, back when USB was introduced I lauged at the Universal part. I’m still laughing…through my tears.

Taking my rig on vacation was good for an afternoon or two of distraction. I got some 20m contacts up in the hills and it was good to say that I’d done some HF operating. I was hoping to get a little more of that, but I’ve been busy and haven’t resolved my 40m attic antenna just yet. Or the 6m. Or the 10m. I have antenna issues. And those aren’t going away, I don’t think. But taking the rig on vacation let me test out my portable antenna and see that it works pretty well for what it is. I’m still looking at other ways to do that and need to put together a batter box and a Jeep mount and… Yeah. That list keeps growing.

So what’s on tap for the next year? I want to join a local club so that I can get more involved. I’d like to help out with event communication. I want to see how I can further my volunteering with radio. I’ve attended and ARES/RACES meeting and submitted my application. That’s a start. A small one, but a start nonetheless. I really want to go to Field Day next year. Maybe I’ll go to Ohio and do that with my dad. But I will, in any case, be outside and on the air for that one. I’m putting it on the calendar now.

I’m also going to figure out the low power digital modes so that I can have a little more fun. I think I can use my silly NetBook for some of that and once I figure out what I’m doing with the software, I’ll be out and on the air with that too.

Mostly, I hope to keep using this hobby as a way to unplug from the daily stress and push my mind to be creative in a different realm. It’s a way to sharpen skills, meet new people, and relax.