Starting out in Amateur Radio

Initial basic shack image

After spending many evenings setting up telescopes in my back garden only to find the skies cloud over and spoil an evening of star gazing, a podcast by Prof Brian Cox gave me the idea of looking into radio astronomy.  Don’t get me wrong, I have no space for a mini-Jodrell Bank, but after some research I found an interesting article about using a fixed position Yagi antenna and Raspberry Pi to snapshot a slither of the Milky Way each day.  When combined, these slivers build up a reasonably good picture of space from the radio spectrum – totally invisible to the human eye.  One FunCube Pro+ Dongle later and some Pi software and I start “listening” to radio waves.  Now, there is one small problem… I know nothing about radio.  Oops.

The next point of call was the RSGB website; I found that the local radio group was meeting in a couple of nights.  A quick phone call later and I’m signed up to the Amateur Radio Foundation exam in two weeks time.  Fast forward 11 weeks and I have sat both the Intermediate and Advanced exam and here I am with the Full UK Amateur Radio license.  I’m not going to say it was easy – far from it – there was a huge amount of reading necessary – but it was certainly “do-able”.  The local radio club, Silverthorn Radio Club (Chingford, London), were really supportive and handled my, sometimes bizarre, questions remarkably.  Thanks to all that were involved.

With the Foundation license came an eagerness to get on the air (by this time my interest in radio astronomy was put on hold – there are so many other areas of amateur radio to distract me first).  The biggest question was “which rig should I get?”.   After hours of researching, discussions with colleagues, and wanting to try and get the best available (which was also portable)  I purchased an Elecraft KX3 with ATU, Iambic paddle, external battery and a SOTA mast and some wire to make up aerials.  I was convinced that I would be climbing mountains and operating SOTA for the whole of the Summer (ahem – I was a little ambitious).  The KX3 was a great rig, maybe too good for a noob, I managed to work some good contacts on 40m-20m and really enjoyed my initial few months of the hobby.

Initial basic shack image
Shack 1.0

When I had gained the full license, I encouraged my two sons (15 & 12) to take the Foundation course and exam.  They brought a friend each and six weeks later the four of them, a Dad and one of their teachers, all sat the exam and passed (the teacher with 100% – as you might expect).

I decided the KX3 wouldn’t be as “user friendly” as I would like for my boys, so quickly sold it and switched to the Yaesu FT-991.  I also bought an FT-1XD HT so as to be digital all the way.  We are all enjoying the FT-991 and are finding it a great beginners rig, especially for “Millennials” who are used to menu driven interfaces.  I have the FT-1XD with me constantly although do find that there is little activity on the 2m/70cm bands in my area and mostly connect with a DV4-mini dongle to the Fusion reflectors available there.

It has been an exciting and thoroughly interesting experience which I would recommend to anyone.  The vast range of applications amateur radio can be used for makes it nearly as overwhelming as the first deep-space-object viewing in astronomy.  I am sincerely looking forward to progressing in the hobby and, in the long term, bringing my interest in deep space and radio together.

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