My introduction to Ham Radio

A family friend of mine has long been an advocate of amateur or HAM radio. Growing up, I remember distinctly going to his house and seeing his home HF radio set. Before the time of computers, his radio dominated the room and all of the dials, microphones and keys reminded me of Dr. Frankenstein laboratory. When I was about 10, my father loaned me a testing manual to get my HAM license. I simply recall the book was very thick and there was a lot of wiring diagrams in it. This was a bit intimidating to me and the requirement to learn Morse code quickly stopped any ambition that I had to get my license.

Skip ahead about 20 years, and I found myself working for a video game development company. There, I had to good fortune of working with some of the smartest people whom I still call friends. Three of them had their HAM Technicians License which allowed privileges on the 2M ham band. At the time, I didn’t even know what that meant, but they quickly informed me that the license no longer requires you to learn Morse code.

Eventually, I bought a small little Yaesu HT Radio, and found that after just two weeks of study, I was passing the online ninety percent of the time. Three weeks later, and I passed the test and soon received my ticket, KF7QIB. Soon enough, I had fitted a Yaesu FT-7900R, 2M/70cm, 50 Watt radio in the Jeep. The radio is mounted beneath the passenger seat, with the remote head unit mounted on the dash. I have run a small external speaker, so in the event of an incoming signal, I do not feel like I am speaking through someones rear end. Combined with my CB and cell phone, I was pretty well setup for any emergency communication issue.

Now, armed with my license, I discovered IRLP, AllStar and internet connected radio repeaters. For those of whom don’t know, VHF radio is essentially line of sight radio transmission. Utilizing a HAM license, an operator can connect to repeaters, which will in turn, broadcast a transmission over the horizon. The HAM community created Repeater networks which allowed operators to communicate over a large expanse of land using linked repeaters. In the age of the Internet, HAM license holders can build and create linked Internet Repeaters. So, utilizing the radio in the jeep, I can connect to a repeater network which literally, can span the globe.

A few years after getting my license, I went of a jeep club tour. I normally do not enjoy this type of trip simply because everyone is forced to wait on that one guy, who is always late. So, I pull up the the meeting place and get out of my Jeep. My Jeep is nothing special as far as Jeeps are concerned, but it does stand out with a CB antenna and a 2 Meter antenna both mounted in front of the tire carrier.

2M and CB Antenna mounted on the tailgate behind the tire carrier on Green St. Bodie, CA

Almost immediately, another Jeeper asked me, “What’s with the second Antenna?

Oh, that, well I just have a little 50W 2 meter radio in the Jeep for emergencies.” I responded. Although, technically, it is not just for emergencies…

He shot back, “Well, I used to have one of those, but didn’t see much use for it

As I tried to respond, “They are actually quite useful, because you can…” however, I was interrupted with him asking someone else about their bumper. Such is life and he seemed to be the guy who wanted to “out do” everyone else.

The trip organizer instructed everyone with CB radios to tune into channel 19, and the 40 or so jeeps started down the trail. In the event one is not aware, when moving down a 4×4 trail is a large group, the front of the group pulls ahead and goes and there own speed. The back of the group goes no faster that the slowest driver. The middle of the group will expand and compress like an accordion. It is likely that the front of the group can be moving at 40 mph while the middle is slamming on the breaks. In just a few minutes of driving 40 jeeps were spread out over some 2 miles of trail.

At which point in time, the CB radio just became annoying. No one was allowed to talk because the leads where using the radio to speak from the front to the back of the group. However, it was worse… The front could not get line of sight, and the low quality, low power CB radios could not reach. So, they needed a someone in the middle to relay messages front and back and front again. How bloody annoying. Meanwhile, on 2M radio, I was listening the someone in Washington state talk to Oklahoma on the repeater network 45 miles outside of Las Vegas.

He shot back, “Well, I used to have one of those, but didn’t see much use for it

So, CB or HAM, that is the question… Why not both? Seriously, why not have both. CB, Cellphones and HAM Radios all have their place in a 4×4. Although HAM Radio is better quality is almost every measurable way, because of the licensing hurdle and perception most people out there will not spend a few hours to learn how to use radio equipment and take the test.

I have heard my friends talk about the expensive HAM Radios. Well although a high end HF Unit can go for a lot of money, basic entry level cheap handhelds can be purchase for $25 on the internet. I have a Yaesu HT, FT-60 which I purchase for about $180 several years ago. In the days of $1000 cell phones and $30K for a decent new 4×4, this is a minor expenditure. I am not saying that the cheap Chinese HAM radios compare with Motorola, Yaesu or Icom, but they do offer an entry into the technology.

There is more than enough room in a 4x4 for two radios.  A CB and a 2M Ham radio.
There is more than enough room in a 4×4 for two radios. A CB and a 2M Ham radio.

The audio quality is much, much better on UHF/UHF Ham. Recently, I introduce a friend to HAM radio, and he was blown away with the superior audio quality over a larger distance. During our HAM Radio test, CB was a non starter…. we tried.

On a camping trip deep into the Mojave last year, my son and I camped at the Mid Hills Campground. Sadly, on this trip we suffered some problems with the Jeep. My cellphone was out of service, and CB would not do it, however peace of mind was easily available listening on 2 meters. Fortunately, I did not need to call out.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.