Me and Amateur Radio (part one)

I haven’t written much about my amateur radio activities yet (actually, I haven’t written much at all yet… ;) Well, it’s about time to change it!

In case you haven’t heard about it yet – amateur radio, often called ham radio, is a hobby enjoyed by about six million people throughout the world. An amateur radio operator, also known as a ham or radio amateur, uses advanced radio equipment to communicate with other radio amateurs for recreation and self-training or public service (emergency or disaster communication). To become a ham and be able to communicate on the designated frequencies (familiarly called bands), you have to pass an exam at your local authority (CTU in Czech Republic, Ofcom in the UK, FCC in the US). Then you would be issued a call sign which you would use to identify yourself during communication.

I was first licensed in the Czech Republic in summer 2000 and I received a call sign OK1THA (spelled as “oskar kilo one tango hotel alpha”, or “Oto Karel jedna Tomas Helena Adam” using the international or Czech phonetic alphabet). At that time, certain license classes were in place. I decided to take an exam for class C which comprised of a technical test (mostly electronics), legal test (restrictions and legal requirements) and practical Morse code test. Quite surprisingly I passed all the parts of the test although the only one I was confident with was the first one.

After officially becoming a ham I had a problem getting hold of a suitable transceiver (receiver-transmitter, or rig for short)Icom IC-706MKIIG to actually start making contacts. I didn’t have enough knowledge and equipment to build one myself and at the same time didn’t have enough money to be able to afford a professional one from one of the leading brands (Icom, Yaesu, Kenwood). Therefore it wasn’t until late 2003 that I made my first amateur radio contact at last. By that time I was able to save some money, so I looked around eBay and found a used Icom IC-706MKIIG for a reasonable price from an American seller. Fortunately my friend Zuzka was working in the US on a Work & Travel stay so she brought me the rig and saved me the trouble with shipping.

Shortly after that I finally started making some contacts! At first on 2 metre band (145 MHz) in FM mode on a local repeater just to get used to the way the contacts work. I couldn’t wait working on the HF (high frequency, 3-30 MHz) as the way it works is completely different and in favourable conditions you can make worldwide contacts quite easily. The trouble then was an aerial – for these bands, antennas need to be quite bulky (e.g. 20 metres long for 7 MHz band) to be efficient and at that time I was living at a student dormitory Strahov. The best opportunity to get on HF was during Christmas 2003. Shortly after Boxing Day we usually go to our house in Sumava near the German border. So this time, I packed my rig, power supply and about a kilometre of cables with me :) Before that I had prepared a simple multi-band aerial called Windom (it is basically an off-centre fed dipole – two lengths of wire connected to a coaxial cable via a simple 4:1 transformer). I put it up as soon as we arrived at our house – and on 26 December 2003 at 15:53 GMT I made my very first HF contact with OK1DOT on 80 m band in SSB mode. During next couple of days (and mostly nights :) I made contacts with amateurs in a lot of European countries including Germany, France, Spain, Portugal, Sweden, UK, Ireland, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Ukraine and more. Oh, what a thrill! :-) Now, these are merely local EU contacts for me… but back then, I was simply amazed!

After that I was struggling with putting up an antenna again. For some time I had at least a dipole for 40 metres on which I made a couple of tens of contacts, including my first DX (a long distance contact, on HF it means basically a contact with a different continent) – I worked an Israeli station 4X6HQ on 15 metres. Then I had to take my antenna down, so I wasn’t active on the bands at all.

I see this article is getting rather long, so you can read more in the following one if you’re not too bored yet :-)

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