I am interested in getting involved in amateur radio (aka ham radio) and am wondering what kind of free resources I can utilize before I decide to purchase equipment.
If you’re in the US, you probably have a local amateur radio club, who will be unbelievably overjoyed to have newbies express interest in their hobby. ARRL maintains a list of affiliated clubs. They’ll be able to hook you up with free or low-cost local resources.
I have no idea what the amateur radio landscape looks like outside the US, but I assume it’s at least similar.
edit: Consider tagging with “hardware” and possibly “culture”. And while this is certainly immediately adjacent to material that is on-topic, some lobsters may disagree with its presence here.
For the record, I am in the United States (specifically, California). Thank you for the information!
Do you need any sort of licensing before you join, or is that something that an amateur radio club could help you out with?
Your local club may or may not run workshops and study groups, but they’ll almost certainly not require that you have a license to even show up.
I’ve used https://hamstudy.org to study for two and a half of the tests (Amateur Extra is much more about math and engineering than the first two, which are easily memorizable). I’ve heard that the No-Nonsense Study Guides by KB6NU are legit too, but never really got in to them.
What I enjoyed both when first getting started and still now is playing with SDR. You can get the RTL-SDR blog-branded unit for $25 on Amazon, or just a boring standard one for $12. I like just seeing what’s on the airwaves with the Gqrx SDR software on Linux (and probably Mac), and have a dedicated airplane watching station using FlightAware’s piaware Linux distribution for Raspberry Pi. The RTL-SDR is receive only, which means you can use it without a license. I’ve also got a rad1o, but I mostly just use it like a more-unwieldy RTL-SDR, and haven’t transmitted with it yet.
Some things I’d like to do with it but haven’t yet: PSK31 and other digital modes, satellites, pass my dang Extra.
Is this what you are referring to by “SDR”? It may be because I am recovering from a cold, but I can’t seem to understand the wikipedia description. What exactly does SDR do? Is it like an arduino with radio transmit/receive capabilities?
Possibly an oversimplification, but I think of them as just a radio tuner for computers, instead of a radio tuner bundled with hardware that decodes the radio signals all the way into audio or video. You can use software that converts the radio data into audio: https://vine.co/v/ODX0FlOMbMd , or software that decodes radio data into aircraft position reports: https://vine.co/v/OUQiJAmFz5L , or text: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ixdNtE8XXoc
For most hobbyist SDR, since you’re using a general-purpose computer instead of dedicated circuitry for processing, having anything less than a Raspberry Pi 1 seems iffy.
If you want to listen to the airwaves without buying anything, there are some SDR (software defined radio - basically, it uses software to change listening frequencies, etc, instead of a physical dial) receivers that are available on the web here at http://www.websdr.org/ where you can listen and see the spectrum graphs.
There are a bunch of podcasts for amateur radio - I’ve heard the ‘solder smoke’ podcast is good but I haven’t listened. The training stuff from KN6BU linked elsewhere is good for learning. If you’ve got a local club, check them out.
What interests you about it? Being able to talk to people in far-off lands? Being able to build stuff and use it? The idea of hiking out into the woods and setting up a temporary communications center? Disaster preparedness? Something else? Hunting down radio transmitters and finding them (‘foxhunting’ is the radio equivalent of geocaching, sort of)
I want to build my own components (DIY kits) and then transmit and receive with other people around the world. I would love to be able to tune into The Buzzer station too, if possible.
If you want to transmit and communicate with other folks, you should get your amateur radio license in order to do so legally and to get a callsign assigned. The Amateur Radio Relay League (ARRL) has a bunch of links to resources for getting licensed, including practice exams, at http://www.arrl.org/getting-licensed. The license exam is made up of a publicly available pool of questions that is periodically updated.
The folks at hackaday and the adafruit blog sometimes feature ham projects for DIY stuff (https://hackaday.com/tag/ham-radio/ and https://blog.adafruit.com/tag/ham-radio/). And there’s lots of folks doing cool QRP (low power, often homemade) transceivers - http://www.hfpack.com/ might be a place to poke around.
There used to be a livestream of UVB-76 (“The Buzzer”) at http://uvb-76.net/ but it doesn’t look like it’s streaming now and their blog hasn’t been updated since last year. :(
Thank you very much. :-)
You can tune into the Buzzer with any shortwave radio provided you can get the signal, IIRC. I haven’t had much luck with shortwave reception in eastern Canada however.