I’m thrilled to help return ham radio to the pages of Nuts & Volts In
every other issue, I’ll be discussing
some aspect of ham radio technology
that you can use on your workbench
and in your projects — whether you
have (or get!) a license or not.
Over the years, NV has featured
ham radio in articles and columns so
ham radio was never truly absent. The
magazine’s editor is a ham (NU1N)
and Paul Verhage — maven of the
high altitudes and Near Space
columnist — is also known as KD4STH.
Many of the authors hold an amateur
“ticket,” so maybe they will share their
call signs with us in future articles.
You may be surprised at how widespread amateur radio really is!
A little about my background: I
have a degree in Electrical Engineering
and spent 20 years in various types of
industrial and medical product
development — both hardware and
software. I’ve had an amateur radio
license since my high school days and
am now known on the ham bands as
NØAX (the slash is silent). For the last
dozen years or so, I’ve been writing
and editing books and columns for
the American Radio Relay League
( www.arrl.org), such as the three
licensing study guides; a classic
reference for radio technology,
The ARRL Handbook; and a near-classic antenna reference, The ARRL
Some of my other books and
columns are included in the sidebar
on resources, including Ham Radio for
Dummies. I’m pretty active on the air
and like to operate in competitive
events known as radiosport, as well as
provide public service and study radio
wave propagation. There is more on
my “ham radio bucket list” than I will
ever get to!
So, what is this ham radio stuff
anyway and why should you care?
First, there is far, far more to amateur
radio in the 21st century than in the
movies. Those images
you see of glowing tubes
and racks full of black
with the jumping meters
and dials? They are as
obsolete as 8” single-sided floppy disk drives
and 7400 family TTL
logic! Sure, some of that
gear is still out there on
the air, but today’s ham
radio is up to date and innovative.
Hams are big players in the
Arduino and Raspberry Pi
communities, just as they are in
developing over-the-air digital
communications protocols and
networks. Even if you’re not really
interested in the full ham radio
experience, you might be interested in
using non-licensed wireless data links
in your projects, for example.
Whatever your specialty, learning
about radio will help you select, apply,
and use wireless technologies better.
Modern-day ham radio is really a
combination of three important
components. The first is science:
Hams learn about radio circuits and
systems, antennas, how signals
propagate from place to place, and
the antennas that make it happen.
The second is skill: By practicing
effective operating, hams apply that
science to insure that signals get from
point A to point B. Finally, the ham
combines the science and skill in
service of his or her fellow citizens.
You may have seen the motto “When
All Else Fails,” which refers to the
ham’s storied ability to fill in when
commercial and government
communications are disrupted.
All three aspects — science, skill,
and service — are important, and
there is a home for you in whichever
area is most interesting.
This column will touch a lot of
An Intro and Antennas
Welcome to the world
of wireless know-how
in the form of amateur
or "ham" radio. Where
else can you be an
study solar and
system, and provide
valuable public service
— all at the same
time? Amateur radio
and the Nuts & Volts
readership have a lot
in common. Let's get
to know each other!
Where Does the Term “Ham” Come From?
Everybody wants to know why it’s called “ham” radio.
While there are many answers floating around, the truth is
that no one really has the definitive answer. Nevertheless,
after being asked thousands of times, the most common
and reasonable source of “ham” is that it was originally a
not-very-complimentary term used to refer to the amateurs
by commercial and military operators. In those days of
spark transmission — the original ultra-wideband signal! —
everybody had to share all of the radio spectrum, so
interference was a huge problem. The amateurs turned the
term into a badge of pride that persists to the present day.
It’s not an abbreviation for anything, so it’s never capitalized.
It’s referring to the original hackers — the hams.
PRACTICAL TECHNOLOGY FROM THE HAM WORLD
January 2015 19