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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.


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    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.

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      For the record, I am in the United States (specifically, California). Thank you for the information!

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        Do you need any sort of licensing before you join, or is that something that an amateur radio club could help you out with?

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          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.

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        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.

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          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?

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            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.

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          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)

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            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.

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              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. :(

              Good luck!

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                Thank you very much. :-)

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                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.