Indian Institute of Hams' Official Website

Newbie's Corner

Let's talk up Amateur Radio!

Amateur Radio or Ham Radio as it is called is a fascinating hobby. Isn't it hair-raising when sitting in the confines of his/her cozy room, a radio amateur (also called a ham) with a wireless set can talk to a geologist in the Antarctica, astronauts on the ISS (international space station), or the captain of an Italian ship sailing in the Pacific Ocean?

What is Amateur Radio?

People who pursue the hobby of using a personal radio station to communicate, purely for noncommercial purposes, with other radio hobbyists call it ham radio or Amateur Radio. They call themselves Amateur Radio operators, ham radio operators or just plain "hams." Hams communicate with other hams, around the block, on a distant continent or from an orbiting space station! Some talk via computers, others prefer to use regular voice communications and still others enjoy using one of the oldest forms of radio communication - The Morse Code. To start with you need to get a license from the Government of your country to go on air. If you were to ask a dozen different amateurs what ham radio meant to them chances are you would get 12 different answers. Radio amateurs have discovered a richly rewarding high-tech hobby that has many different appeals to different people. Whether it is the ability to talk to local friends over the radio waves using a hand-held transceiver, communicating digitally with packet radio to exchange personal messages or vital information in an emergency, talking to other hams anywhere in the world, or engaging in contests with other Radio Amateurs over the airwaves, there is something for everybody.
 
Amateurs are often affectionately called hams. The source of the name ham is not known but it has been around almost from the beginning of amateur radio in the early 1900s. The name amateur has nothing to do with skill or knowledge but rather implies that ham radio cannot be used for commercial or revenue generating purposes.

Susan Helms on ISS

Astronaut Susan Helms, KC7NHZ, operating from the International Space Station as NA1SS. (NASA Photo)

Kids in the Shack!

Sarah (background) and Lisa (foreground) Wolbert enjoying Kid’s Day from the shack of their father, K6XX.

What Hams Do
 
Whether you would like to chat with your friends on the way to work or school, check into a net (An Amateur Radio net happens on a particular channel where a group of hams can discuss on a topic of mutual interest), connect to others via a repeater or an amateur radio satellite, or volunteer for emergency services, amateur radio is the first and foremost about communication. Radios can be hand-held transceivers similar to a walkie-talkie, a mobile unit for use in a car or other vehicle, or a base station with an outdoor antenna used for local or distance communication. Regardless of the type of equipment radio amateurs have a wide range of activities they can pursue. There are VHF (Very High Frequency) repeaters across India which can amplify the signals from your walkie-talkies and re-transmit it across huge distances. Some of these repeaters are interconnected through VOIP (Voice over internet protocol) on the internet using a technology called Echo Link. This enables a ham enjoying a long drive in the ring roads of Bangalore to talk to his counterpart in Germany or a holiday maker in the coast of Florida in USA.
 
If computers are your favorite aspect of today's technology, you'll soon discover that you can connect your computer and ham radio equipment and operate on such digital modes as packet radio and PSK-31. With packet, you can leave messages that other packet enthusiasts will pick up and answer later. Like you may know ARPANET served as a test bed for several new networking technologies, it lead to the ALOHANET in 1970 at the University of Hawaii which was a large scale packet radio project.
 
Communicating by bouncing signals off the moon is another interesting activity that radio amateurs are into. You can experience the thrill of hearing your own signal returned from space by an orbiting "repeater in the sky" - a ham radio satellite. Hams regularly use Amateur Radio satellites, called OSCARs (Orbiting Satellites Carrying Amateur Radio). If you route your signal through an orbiting satellite, you can make global radio contacts on VHF(Very High Frequency) and UHF(Ultra High Frequency). In 1990, a series of small Amateur Radio satellites, called Microsats, were launched. One is a packet radio satellite that allows messages from Earth to be stored and forwarded back down to Earth when the spacecraft is within range of the designated station. Does all of this sound futuristic or beyond your skills? It shouldn't. All it takes is a Grade II license to enjoy this exciting ham radio technology.  Hams in India have built their first ever Indian amateur satellite called HAMSAT(VUSAT).
 
Radio Amateurs have always been in pace with the advancements made in the field of technology and have side by side contributed to it immensely in the form of inventions and developments.

Hams in Space!

In 1983, the first radio amateur and astronaut made history by communicating with ground-based hams from the space shuttle Columbia. On that mission, Payload Specialist Owen Garriott, whose Amateur Radio call sign is W5LFL, took along a hand-held amateur transceiver and placed a specially designed antenna in an orbiter window. It was the first time ham radio operators throughout the world were to experience the thrill of working an astronaut aboard an orbiting spacecraft. In 1985, Mission Specialist Tony England, W0ORE, transmitted slow scan television (SSTV) via Amateur Radio while orbiting the Earth from the shuttle Challenger. He named the payload SAREX, for Shuttle Amateur Radio Experiment. NASA routinely scheduled SAREX missions. NASA promotes ham radio activity because of its proven public relations and educational value. It's also a reliable means of backup communication. During the late 1990s, the shuttle crews requested that NASA include a SAREX payload on their flights. An amateur station was one of the first "extra" items installed in the International Space Station. Amateur Radio operators living on the International Space Station enjoy using its on-board ham station during their off-duty hours. They enjoy conversations with their friends, school students and hams around the world by voice and packet radio. Many astronauts are ham radio operators. SAREX gave many school children the opportunity to talk to the astronauts and ask questions about their work. The Little Lillys School (Mahalakshmi Layout) in Bangalore has an active ham club and the students were lucky enough to make contact with astronauts on SAREX flights.

Hams in Space!
Helping Hands! Hams as helping hands
 
When commercial communications services are disrupted by power failures or damage that accompanies natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods and hurricanes, Amateur Radio operators are often first at the scene. Battery-powered equipment allows hams to provide essential communications even when power is knocked out. In Gujarat as a result of the destructions caused by the earthquake in 2001, many emergency ham stations were installed and they rendered effective communication services in the areas affected. During the Bhopal gas tragedy, radio amateurs set up a VHF communication network in the city for the benefit of people who had vacated their houses while the deadly MIC gas was being neutralized. During the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq when civilian telecommunication links to the beleaguered country were snapped, it was a lone South Indian who conveyed messages on ham radio news about stranded Indians to their relatives in India. In December 2004, when the quake triggered tsunami slammed on the Indian coast, hams from across the country setup communication links in order to help coordinate the relief efforts.
Hams you know
 
Hams come from all walks of life: Students, Teachers, Doctors, Engineers, Architects, Businessmen, Scientists, Film Stars, Kings and Prime Ministers making it a well knit international fraternity. Some prominent radio amateurs are late Prime Minister Sri Rajiv Gandhi(VU2RG), Smt. Sonia Gandhi(VU2SON), Mr. Amitabh Bachchan(VU2AMY), late King Hussein of Jordan(JY1), Actor Kamal Hasan(VU2HAS), late astronaut Kalpana Chawla(KD5ESI) and there are many more popular personalities…

JY1

King Hussein (JY1) in his shack.
Hams throughout the world have enjoyed a friendly relationship with King Hussein for decades. The king was extremely active within the hobby. Despite his celebrity, King Hussein conducted himself like an ordinary ham. He would talk to anyone at any time.

Andrea Hartlage

Bill Carter (KG4FXG) helps 12- year-old Andrea Hartlage (KG4IUM) work her way through her first CW contact.

Getting Started
 
Now that you have an idea of what hams do, you're probably asking "Okay, how do I get started?" To become a radio amateur requires a license authorized by the appropriate governing body in your country. In India you will need to prepare for and take an examination to get your license. The exam material depends on the license level or grade that you are applying for. For most budding hams it is a good idea to connect with a local Amateur Radio Institute or Club where classes are given in theory and/or Morse code (CW) as needed to prepare you for the exam. Although you can get the study material to learn on your own it is generally much easier and faster to take a course. The syllabus includes Basic Electronics, Operating Procedures, Rules and Regulations of Amateur Services, International Codes and Morse code. The minimum age required to earn a ham radio license in India is 12 years. In the process you will meet other hams or hams to be and begin creating your own network of contacts. When you earn your Amateur Radio license, you receive a unique call sign. What's in a Call Sign? All Indian hams get a call sign, a set of letters and numbers, assigned to them by the Ministry of Communications. No one else "owns" your call sign-it's unique. Your Amateur Radio license with your unique call sign gives you permission to operate your Amateur Radio station on the air. Indian call signs begin with VU2, VU3, VU4 or VU7 with some combination of letters that follow.

Written & Compiled by Sarin Gopalan VU3SGQ