If there was an emergency and for some reason the cell system and internet went down, how would you contact those you loved, and more, how would you find out what was going on? Most of the modern world’s population is connected in these 2 ways. Yet time and time again these systems are failing. It seems crucial to have a method of communication which does not rely upon these services.
Ever since I introduced the concept to my son’s cub scout den (several years back), I have had the itch to dig a little deeper into HAM radio and get licensed. Last year, I made a commitment to myself to get licensed by the end of 2016. I made this decision for multiple reasons. Of course one reason, and the main reason was listed in the opening paragraph, but it also seemed to be a perfect addition as it aligns with many of my current interests. I have been involved in media my whole life. I started playing with sound when I was very young, and have been expanding ever sense. Sound is all about frequency, energy, and the manipulation thereof. I have also always been a tinkerer and tweaker. Modern language seems to have shifted, and I suppose I could also call myself a hacker, although on most days, perhaps just hack. But my interest in building things, both electronics and widgets here and there all involve a a mind which can take things apart, examine them, and get a pretty good idea about how they work. As I have been reading, this is exactly the mentality of a ham.
If you don’t know what ham radio is, it is a activity which, when licensed, gives one a massive swath of the electromagnetic spectrum to play in. You are given the ability to communicate with people a few hundred feet away up to several thousand miles away with fairly simple equipment. Ham radio does not rely upon massive amounts of infrastructure. It relies upon a piece of equipment you own (a radio) being manipulated in such a way as to direct radio waves to where you need them to go. Yes, this is a fairly simplistic description, and there’s a lot involved (hence why one needs to be licensed), but it’s within reach for all people.
Every year we have a Ham Festival at a near by fairground. They offer what is called VE testing at these fairs, so I decided that I would make this my target date. As always, life gets busy. Life, work, family start to fill in all the gaps in your time. Towards the middle of October I realized that I had a little over 2 weeks to get my head wrapped around this stuff. What I have now learned, is that you will first learn the test, then you will fill in the gaps once you are licensed and can actually put hands upon the gear. I really dug in and started studying my butt off. I found a number of very helpful videos, books, and study aids (which I will link to at the end of this post). I had seen it mentioned several times that if you pass your test for “Technician”(the first level of ham operator), you could immediately take higher tests as long as you had a passing score. After about 8 days, I started to feel fairly comfortable with the material, so I decided to dive into the material for the “General” license. As a second level, of course this was far more intense. The math was harder, and the concepts weren’t so… general. While I knew most of the electronics portion in technicians, I was in very new territory in the general. This was a fantastic chance to flex and scoop up a new layer of knowledge. It wasn’t so foreign that it didn’t make sense, yet it was hard enough that I had to really fight to get it in my head.
Then after a couple mind numbing weeks, test day had arrived. I walked in and registered. They were very organized. Eventually a gentleman called my name and led me back to the testing area. I could only have a calculator and a pencil in hand. I opened the book and found that I knew this stuff. While I was feeling confident, I took my time and made sure that I colored the correct bubbles. I then went back through and made sure I entered what I thought I had entered. I had. Once I was finished, I had to wait outside while someone checked my test. This was a long wait. Not so much in time, but more because your head starts to wonder if I answered this or that correctly. 18 hours later… or 5 minutes, depending on which side of the test you were on, a man came out and shook my hand and said congratulations. I passed my HAM test.
I took the Technicians and only missed 1. I was then offered to take the General test. It was the same process… I took it and only missed 5.. YES! Finally they offered to let me take the extra test. This is the highest level one can go, but there was no way I could even begin to prepare for that. I was honest with and told them that I had not even the foggiest of an idea what might be in there. They said it was fine and I could try it if I wanted. Having nothing to loose, as I had already succeeded in what I went there to do, I took it. It was pretty severe. Deepest and darkest end of the pool sort of stuff. I went very slowly trying to find anything that might give me a clue as to what might be a correct answer, but this stuff was way over my head. I went out and waited again. Finally the man came back out. How did I do? He grinned and said I missed half the questions. Ha. Not good. But he said that General was something to be proud of, especially given my study time, and two tests in one day. He didn’t have to tell me this, but I was glad he did. I was pretty happy about it, but I think I am going to go for that Extra license soon.