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Introduction to Amateur Radio

So I recently decided, like many others during lockdown to get my Amatuer Radio Foundation license, which is the first of three possible levels. Each subsequent level allows you to transmit on more frequencies and with more power. It also allows you to use more types of transmission such as personal hot spots and build your own equipment.

There is plenty of information online on how to pass your tests and I include some links to those resources below. Be sure to search for amatuer radio clubs in your area. Even with current restrictions you can get support and participate in Zoom or similar meetings or listen on the airwaves.

Many people are scared to take an exam. The online training and books will give you all the information that you need to pass. The exams are multiple choice with 4 answers and you will need some basic maths skills. You can use a calculator in the exams and will need a basic 4 function one for the Foundation, and a £10 scientific one for the other two levels. But it must not be a programmable one. The exams can currently be taken online via Zoom and invigilated by an RGSB official on Webex. You will need two devices or webcams for the Intermediate and Advanced tests. There is currently no practical test.

The number of questions in each of the Foundation and Intermediate papers remains the same, 26 for the Foundation and 46 for the Intermediate. For the Full licence exam, the number of questions is reduced by 4, from 62 to 58.  The pass mark percentages remain the same so that a successful candidate will require 19 marks to pass the Foundation (73%), 28 for the Intermediate (61%) and 35 for the Full (60%).

https://rsgb.org/ The Radio Society of Great Britain - the first stop for all information about radio. Once you pass the Foundation exam you can get first year membership for £20, use the voucher in your complimentary RADCOM magazine after registering with them for free. You can apply for your exams and see the rates here. Retesting is free.

https://rsgb.org/main/clubs-training/for-students/online-training-resources-for-students/ This is where to find courses and exam information.

https://www.essexham.co.uk/ - Provides structured training for the Foundation Exam
via http://schoology.com/

https://ofcom.force.com/licensingcomlogin Amateur radio in the UK is licensed and regulated by Ofcom. You can register straight away and as you pass each license you can enter your candidate number and get a callsign. You can choose the last three letters, subject to availability, but they are not guranteed when you move up to the next level.

https://repeaterbook.com List of all repeaters worldwide, very accurate and up to date, also has apps. Be sure to only select modes that you can receive. A repeater making a hissing noise may be transmitting in a digital audio mode that you can't receive.

Once you pass your Foundation Licence you will be given links showing the basics of how to start a contact and set up your equipment safely. You can then transmit legally within the conditions of your license. a great way to start is to find out when your local radio club holds meets on 2 Metres, These allow you to login when requested and participate in quizzes and general chat on chosen subjects.

Amateur Radio has expanded way beyond the radio waves and you can now connect all over the world even on VHF and UHF by linking through the Internet. This can be done via a hand-held radio, mobile or base unit or simply using a laptop or computer, Raspberry PI or even a mobile phone! This is done using software such as Echolink, FreeStar, Allstar, Brandmiester and a lot more. Echolink is a good place to start and there are some good videos showing you how to get started.


Buying a radio transciever
While a radio is not essential most people will want to buy a hand-held radio or walkie-talkie (Handy Talky they are called in America) and you can get started for around £25 with a Chinese one such as the Baofeng UV-5R or UV-S9, see some informed information here. These cover 2m and 70cm in FM mode and can store 127 channels.
 
Baofeng UV-S9, around £25 will get you started on 2M and 70cM with 5 watts

 
A first upgrade is usually a better aerial than the 'rubber duck' flexible antenna and amongst the favourites are Nagoya NA-771 dual band whip. Be sure to buy the genuine article as there are many fakes, see my pictures below. I got caught out and paid £3.96 for a fake (Orange wrapper) and it would not SWR below 8:1 which is attrocious and could damage my radio. It wouldn't even fit in until I ground the base down with a file. After more research I bought a genuine one for £17.98 on Ebay (Green wrapper with proper working QR code!).
 
From left to right, green genuine Nagoya wrapper for 5/8 whip for my car, genuine Nagoya NA771 dual band whip £18. Orange cover is a fake as is the antenna to it's right £4 (QR code doesn't work), small rubber duck is standard Baofeng, Check reviews before buying.

Once you start this hobby you will soon realise that it is a great community, do listen to advice from other operators and you will quickly earn their respect and they will support you any way they can. You can increase your range by using local repeaters and enter some of the digital networks across the world through some of them.
 
Within weeks of passing my Foundation license I am contacting(QSO) people from Canada, America and Germany using repeaters and linking software.

You will soon get the urge for better equipment, better quality and perforaming hand-held radios can be had for around £100-£400. These will have digital modes such as DMR, Fusion C4M(Yaesu), D-Star https://www.electronics-notes.com/articles/ham_radio/voice-modes/analog-digital-voice-modes-summary.php

You can also send digital data. This can increase transmission rabnges dramatically and is a very wide subject https://www.electronics-notes.com/articles/ham_radio/digimodes/digital-modes-summary.php
 
As you progress your licence you can attach your radio either physically or via radio to a node (either yours, or a public one) that can link into the internet and convert your transmissions into other digital formats.

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