29 May 2021, 07:00

On The Air - WG0O

Ham Radio Shack

A year ago Christmas I got my Amateur Extra Class ham radio license. I’ve been slowly accumulating radio stuff to eventually put together a ham radio station (shack).

Things have changed quite a bit since I used to sit as a young kid and watch my dad work his ham radio rig. His rig was very large, contained many tubes, had tons of dials, and a confusing amount of switches on the front.

I ended up getting a tiny, state-of-the-art, SDR (software-defined-radio) that covers many different ham radio bands. It is probably the Swiss Army Knife of ham radios.

I bought a smallish, unobtrusive, multi-band antenna and today I finally got it installed:


A small test of receive capability quickly got me listening to people from Vermont, California, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, etc.

I’ll have to try this a little more once I get back from summer vacation.

23 Mar 2020, 14:08

Ham Radio License - Amateur Extra Class

I remember long ago my dad was a ham radio operator (WB2ZEO). He spent many hours building, operating and talking on his radios when I was a kid. I remember him studying for his Novice, Technician and then General Amateur Radio licenses from the FCC. I always wanted to get my Ham Radio license because my dad had his. My dad passed away in the early 90s.

This last Christmas holiday season I had some extra time so I decided to try and get my Ham license. Today, compared to years ago, things are both simpler, and more complex, at the same time. Gone is the requirement to be able to copy Morse code at increasing faster speeds. However, computers are now much more utilized in the Ham Radio world.

I bought the three AARL books for studying for the Technician, General and Extra Class licenses and proceeded to study pretty extensively for the last two weeks. Remember, I’m a Ham newbie so my impressions reflect thus.

With a little studying anyone can get a Technician Class license and have some fun with the small handheld walkie/talkie type (UHF, VHF) radios. You become pretty knowledgable about scanners (police, EMS, airplanes, boats, weather, etc.), and you usually talk to people around your local area. You also have a little introduction to long distance communications.

The next higher license, the General Class license, allows communications around the world. You must first have passed the Technician Class license before taking the General Class license. The General class license is geared towards the weather condition requirements, technology requirements, radio operation, and the rules and regulations about world wide communications. The General Class license is much more difficult than the Technician Class license and requires quite a bit of electrical engineering knowledge.

The highest license, the Amateur Extra Class license, is very difficult, and appears to be geared towards the designing from scratch, building, testing, and operation, of radios and antennas capable of worldwide communications. Some amateurs even communication via satellites, or bouncing signals off the moon to others very far away. You gotta be pretty nerdy to pass the Amateur Extra Class test.

Testing day arrives and I show up with all the correct paperwork and identification. I had emailed the person in charge the prior week and told them my tentative plan. The online instructions indicated that if you pay the $15 dollars then you can take all three tests. But, and a big but, you must pass the first test before you can take the second test, and you must pass the second test before you can take the third test.

As I’m giving the examiner my initial paperwork (really a team of 3 people overseeing the testing) he says, “Oh, your the one taking all three tests today…”. My reply was “We’ll see, I hope so.”

The first test, the Technician Test, was pretty easy. I guess there are several versions of the test and you randomly get one of the versions. My version was pretty easy. Not a single question on the test requiring any math. Wow, my lucky day. Thirty questions, I was done in about 5 minutes, I missed one question.

The second test, the General Test, was also relatively easy. Thirty questions, I was done in about another 5 minutes, I missed two questions.

There where about 9 people taking various tests with me. Only one person finished their test before I had finished the first two tests. All the tests I’d seen people taking, including my first two tests, where colored a dull yellow. The examiner pulls out the third test for me (the Amateur Extra Class test) and it is colored pink. Unlike the first two tests this one has 50 questions. No one else has a pink test. Hmmm, this probably isn’t good.

The Extra Class test was pretty difficult, I spend a pretty long time on it. I try to keep track of the number of questions I think I got right, and the number of questions I’m just guessing at. A grade of 74 is passing. My rough calculation shows I might get an 80, maybe higher if my guessing is good. I turn in my test. The examiner’s red marker seems to be getting way too much activity. Three examiners (VEs) have to grade the test and they cross check each other’s work. Turns out I missed all the ones I guessed at, and I missed one of the others that I thought I would get correct for a final score of 76%. I just barely passed. But, at the end of the testing I have passed all three tests and earned all three licenses: Technician, General and Extra.

I’m the last one testing at the testing place. All the other testers have long since gone. It has been just over an hour from start to finish. The examiners want to take my picture and post it on the local club’s website. I’m wondering what the big deal is. They say “Well, you’re the first person to take and pass all three tests at the same time at this location. Actually, you’re the first person to even take all three tests at the same time.” Conflicting statements, I think they’re saying I’m both smart and stupid at the same time. I will say there was a fair bit of luck involved.

I’ll probably end up getting a radio to talk on, not sure.

This effort was for dad, sometimes I really miss him, even after all these years.