54 January 2018
Building a station often requires integrating several
pieces of equipment, including controllers or switches.
If digital modes are in use, an interface between the
computer and radio may be required to isolate analog
signals or to decode digital protocols. These are
usually microprocessor controlled and require proper
configuration by software or hardware, installation of
drivers, and often a special cable or two.
Most radios and many associated gadgets have a
computer control port; either an RS-232 (COM) port or a
USB port. If software is used with one of the digital modes
(such as when accessing the Winlink system), you’ll need
to be able to get the radio and PC “talking” to make the
connection. You understand bit rates and handshakes,
right? Then, you’re the perfect person for the job!
Getting a Ticket
Perhaps the opportunity to work with everything from
batteries to the ionosphere has you thinking of applying
your talents to a unique and valuable form of public
service. So, what’s involved?
In a nutshell, crack a book for a few nights, take a free
class, and sit for a 35 question/multiple-choice exam. That
will get you a Technician license so you can really start
learning. Morse code is not required to get this license,
although you might find it very enjoyable once you try it.
All the ham exams are given by volunteers. The ARRL’s
Find-An-Exam service at www.arrl.org/exam_sessions/
search will help you find a local test session. No test costs
more than $15 and the whole process takes an hour or
After you pass, you’ll get a certificate showing your
success, and in a few days, the FCC database will list
your brand new call sign. You’re on the air and ready
to contribute your talents to the cause! The process is
outlined on the ARRL website at
The Need Still Exists
During these weeks of being cut off, ham radio
has been a lifeline for many in the island disaster areas.
Immediately after the infrastructure was flattened or
submerged, ham radio operators stepped up and relayed
thousands of health-and-welfare messages. Some of the
messages were handled by voice nets on the traditional
shortwave or HF (high frequency) bands; mainly 14 MHz
( 20 meters) and 7 MHz ( 40 meters). More were handled
as email through the Winlink system’s radio and Internet
network. The islands will be relying on ham radio for weeks
to come as life slowly returns to normal.
Why not consider adding a new feather in your
technical cap as a radio amateur? Once licensed, you can
renew for life. While ham radio isn’t like a flashlight you
can throw in a drawer and pull out when you need it, you’ll
find the necessary training and practice to be a lot of fun.
Plus, you’ll meet some really interesting people It’s a great
way to give back to your community. NV
People Get Ready
Technical talents aside, you’ll still need to be
able to power yourself when the lights go out!
Do you have food and water for 72 hours
at home? If you were called out to a response,
could you quickly find and pack all the necessary
clothing and supplies? How about a small tool kit?
With the winter here in North America, these
are good questions to ask in order to prepare
yourself. Do an Internet search for “go kit” to get
some great ideas.
n FIGURE 2. This is the ARRL’s Technician Class study
guide for the 35 question exam. There are similar guides
from other manufacturers, including simple Q&A formats
if that’s more your style.