To begin with, allow me to introduce my "ham" personality. I am KE3GG.

So what?!  What does that mean?

Well, it means that I have been granted an Extra Class Amateur Radio license by the Federal Communications Commission of the United States of America.  The callsign of that license is KE3GG.  From this callsign, you can determine that I indeed hold an Extra Class license and that I live in the 3rd Call District, which encompasses the states of Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia.

So what's so special about an "Extra Class license"?

Nothing really, it simply indicates that I have passed various levels of exams in electronics theory, rules and regulations, and Morse Code proficiency.  The Amateur Radio license structure is set up to offer incentives to improve to the next level.   In all, there are three levels of licenses.  Those levels are:  Technician, General, and Extra.  With each level up, the operator is given either more privilages or more spectrum/bandwidth, and in some cases, both.

So what do you do as a ham radio operator?

I make new friends all the time.  Everytime I get on the radio, I learn about geography, culture or some of the technical aspects of radio communications.  Most of all though, I have a relaxing, fun-filled experience sharing with people all over the globe, much the same as one can do on the Internet, except, I have a real voice on the other end.  Okay, so not everytime is there a real voice, but most of the time.

What do you mean?  If you don't have a real voice, then what do you have?

Well, sometimes it's another ham operator sending morse code.  Or, it may be that I'm talking to someone via teletype, or facsimile or even Packet Radio.  Occassionally, it may be just a picture sent via slow-scan TV or a live video image sent by NTSC fast-scan TV.  There are numerous non-voice communication methods available to the ham radio operator.

What's Packet Radio?

It's a digital communication mode.  It uses your ham radio as a modem for your computer and works similar to your email account.  But it does more than just email.  It also allows you to connect to bulletin boards or just chat with other hams using Packet terminals, similar to instant messaging and chat rooms.  It can also be used to distribute bulletins to the general ham population quickly.  For more info on Packet Radio, check out the homepage of TAPR (Tuscon Amateur Packet Radio)

Are there any other digital communication modes?

Yes, there are.  The original digital communications mode that hams used was the good old Morse code.  Later hams began using teletype, which uses the Baudot code for sending text.  With the advent of home computers hams have worked at adapting them to a myriad of other digital modes such as AMTOR, PACTOR, APRS, PSK31, MFSK16 and MT63.  There are now even streaming digital audio and video modes being used in ham radio communications.  There is also a radio version of the Internet, called Winlink, which connects to the Internet and allows full Internet functionality from a radio in the field working as a computer modem for a computer.

What about this TV stuff?  Can hams send TV signals also?

Indeed we can.  And if you have enough patience to wait for a ham within range of you to come on the air, you can watch the action from your very own living room.  All you need is a TV that is cable ready and an outside UHF TV antenna.  Simply connect the TV antenna to the cable input of the TV (or VCR) and tune the TV to either CATV channel 57, 58, 59, or 60.   The most likely, i.e. easiest, place to find ham radio TV activity in most parts of the United States is on CATV channel 57.

What was that you meant about talking to people all over the globe?  How far away can you talk to people?

Those are tricky questions to answer.  The short answer for both is, it depends.  What that means is, it depends on a lot of things.  There are many variables that affect how far you can communicate.  A short list would include; your radio frequency; your communications mode; ionospheric activity and time of day.  When you hit upon the right combination of factors, you're able to talk to other hams on the opposite side of the world.  My farthest conversation was Australia.  From my location in the U.S., that was the opposite side of the world.  If you would like to see how the rest of the world relates to my location, take a look at this Great Circle Map centered on Washington, D.C.

I bet you had to have a lot of power to do that!

Nope, I was running only 100 watts of power.  Now as an Extra Class licensee, I am allowed to run up to 1500 watts of power, but I've never needed that much.  In fact, my most powerful piece of equipment only runs 740 watts, but most of the time I run on 100 watts or less.

All this sounds so cool!  What else can you do as a ham?

Well, I haven't even mentioned satellites yet, but ... hams to date have launched about 40 satellites for communication between hams.  Each of these satellites were funded by donations from hams the world over and were built by hand by a dedicated group of individuals.  Satellite communication adds an exciting challenge to an operators ham radio experience.   To learn more about the amateur satellite program, check out the webpage of the AMSAT (AMateur SATellite Corporation).

For those that like to fly radio controlled airplanes or run radio controlled cars and boats, there are several frequencies set aside for ham radio operators only.  The best part about those frequencies is that there is very little competition for the frequency pins and much less chance of interference.

If you would like to learn more about the exciting world of Amateur Radio, check out the ARRL (American Radio Relay League) webpage.


Well, since you asked.  When I'm on the road locally, I tend to hang out on the CCARC (Charles County Amateur Radio Club) 70-centimeter repeater on 443.700 Mhz, on 2-meter simplex at 146.52 Mhz or on HF somwhere on the 40-meter band.  When I'm at home, I'll usually listen in on 40-meters on the weekends and some evenings.   Usually I'm hovering somewhere around 7.272 Mhz.  You'll often catch me on the 7.272 Ragchew Net or the 1721 HF Roundtable Group.  Saturday and Sunday mornings finds me eavesdropping on the RV Service Net on 7.230 Mhz before the start of the 7.272 Ragchew Net.  And when 15-meters opens up, you'll likely find me just about anywhere on that band.  Once I get a few more wires in the breeze though, you'll likely also find me on 80-meters and 10-meters.  Very rarely will you find me on 20-meters except to chase Special Event stations or to have an SSTV QSO, but I have had a lot of fun on 17-meters and have been known to jump up there to escape all the rabid, mouth-foaming contesters that choke up the bands during the more popular contests.  Lately I've been having some fun in the evenings on the 160-meter band where the 1721 HF Roundtable Group is currently holding their nightly discussions on 1.872 Mhz.

The only contest I really get excited about is Field Day.  That contest combines several of my hobbies in one manic weekend.   I get to play radio, camp in the rough (well as rough as a 25-foot camper will allow), play guitar and sing with good friends, skinny-dip in the local pool and drink!  Not necessarily in that order!  Once in a while, I even pull out a few model rockets or an RC airplane for a little mid-afternoon fun.

Other than Field Day, I find most contests to be an annoyance that interfere with my casual operating, which for the most part involves chasing down special event stations.  Having run several of my own in the past, I am always on the lookout for others doing the same.  It's a comraderie thing.