In the beginning…

I can remember how it all started. Kind of. Quite a few hams I know got started in the hobby through the Citizen’s Band (CB) radio. It’s fairly easy to setup in your vehicle or as a base at home and talk to others locally or, when band conditions allow, around the world. I, too, had a small foray in the CB world having had a small portable radio with a magmount on my Chevy S-10 truck. I had it for about all of 2 weeks thinking I could talk to truckers on I-70 and give them a good “breaker breaker good buddy” however I never heard a peep. Maybe I just wasn’t doing something right I’ll never know but that was when I was 16 and I hadn’t touched radio for another 17 years.

Preppers

Fast forward to 2017 and I’m talking with a friend, Brent KD9EYI, who had been talking about some prepping he had been doing including getting his radio license. You could say that I am interested in prepping though perhaps it’s more about survival. My boys are in Boy Scouts and I enjoy being with them on campouts and practicing basic (and very basic) skills. I happened to think about what may happen if we were out camping and something were to happen. What if my cell phone was dead or out of range? Maybe I could call for help using a radio!

Yeah, I know. Not likely to happen in the midwest where my struggle for cell coverage happens to only be around the Indiana/Ohio border and even then it’s not that bad. Still, the idea that there was a “certification” and knowledge gained intrigued me as well as the idea that I could have the license “just in case” seemed like a good idea. Brent let me know about a class coming up with the Muncie club teaching for the Technician’s license and I signed up.

The Teaching

Gary KD9ZUV and Rob KB7ZGB were the instructors and I learned in that class that there is a whole lot more to radio than just talking into a microphone. I learned that people had figured out how to send images and even television across radio long before the internet. That there were folks not just listening to transmissions from the International Space Station but with this basic license I could even speak to them! Of course I didn’t know how to do those things and the Technician license exam is not going to teach how to do those things but what Gary and Rob did for me was to open my eyes to the world of ham radio and just how exciting it really could be.

After a few weeks of class and some butterflies during the exam, I passed with flying colors. What seemed like an eternity, but was only about a week, my license finally showed up in the FCC database. I was now known as KD9LVX and allowed to “dispense hot air”! I ordered my first radio from Amazon, a Baofeng UV-5R which I later learned was pretty ubiquitous for new hams. Next: mic fright.

SSTV really caught my eye for some reason. I was intrigued enough to try learning more about it and even found an app on my iPhone that could encode/decode the multi-tonal sounds into an image. Cool! Now I just needed to find someone to send me some pictures. Luckily the ISS had announced that they would soon be broadcasting SSTV as an event celebrating… something. Either way I had a window to now mix tracking of a satellite and receive some pictures. Yay!

Spacemen sent me pictures

I recall it was a chilly morning on the first pass. And a bit rainy but not too bad. I had no idea about satellite work and using a Yagi antenna along with either dual VFO’s or dual radios for the U/V repeater functions but all I wanted to do was to hear what they were saying. That first pass I heard a lot of static and a bit of squarbled sounds. It was over before I knew what was wrong but some after some thought I concluded what was wrong was that I wasn’t pointing my rubber duck antenna at the ISS. I was close in my conclusions but later in my learnings I would find out just how close.

The next pass was the next day. Still chilly and still slightly wet but I was determined to make Day 2 even better. I’m standing in the backyard holding the radio in one hand, my phone in the other. Using an app I found to track satellites I found the ISS in the sky and pointed my antenna towards it. Then I switched over to the app for SSTV and waited. Nothing heard the first few seconds I was sure that I did something wrong. Just as I was about to change hands I started hearing the SSTV signal. It wasn’t the clearest nor the strongest however it was just enough to get a fuzzy picture on my phone of some comrade cosmonauts. (ISS is International after all)

I later improved on future passes to use a Yagi tape measure antenna (super simple and cheap to build) and decided to record the tones instead of live decoding. I could then use an app on my computer for better processing. An upgraded radio to the Yaesu FT-3DR helped tremendously as well with a better receiver and built-in recording. Now I’ve got more handheld radios (too many Baofengs to count) than I know what to do with. I’m sure that will make its way into a future post though for now I’d close with this: Whatever your reason for getting into the hobby, whatever it was that sparked your interest, what you REALLY want to do, just don’t let that stop you or limit you. There is a world of this hobby that even I have yet to discover or try out and every bit of what I’ve done has been exciting. Yes, even the electrical engineering degree you need for Amateur Extra. (Not really, but kinda.)