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What is Amateur Radio?
A radio amateur means a person who is interested in the radio technique solely for a private reason and not for financial gain (non-professional) and to whom the Authority (ICASA in South Africa or FCC in the US) has granted an amateur radio station license and shall mean a natural person and shall not include a juristic person or an association provided that an amateur radio station license may be issued to an amateur acting on behalf of a duly founded amateur radio association.
The amateur radio service is defined by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) as a radio communication service for the purpose of:
- and technical investigations
carried out by amateurs, that is, by duly authorised persons interested in radio technique solely with a personal aim and without pecuniary interests.
Radio Amateurs, or "Hams" use two-way radio communication to make contact with other radio amateurs all over the world. They are even able to use satellites (and even bounce signals off the Moon) and on occasion speak with astronauts. Radio Hams can do this from home or while mobile in cars, boats or on foot.
Radio Hams have a full range or communication modes at their disposal. These include plain voice, Morse code, numerous digital computer modes and even graphical modes like television. As a licensed amateur radio operator, you will be able to join in experiments using all these modes.
Amateur radio can be enjoyed by young and old, male and female, even the most severely disabled can make friends around the world from their own home. This hobby knows no boundaries.
Using even the simplest of radio set-ups and antennas, amateurs communicate with each other for fun, during emergencies, and in contests. Through HAMNET they may be called upon to handle messages for police, Metro Emergency and other public service organisations during all kinds of emergencies.Back to top
My Journey So Far
The seed was planted for me near the end of 2018 when I was thinking about how fragile our cellphone and technology links actually are. Any extended power outages, a disaster, government censorships of social networks, etc means communications can be cut off. I started thinking more and more about alternatives and amateur radio was the natural option as I realised more and more how it is used every day in the background where we do not see it. It is obviously not just about emergency use, but often used for well-organised social chats, experimentation, where no cellphone signals are present, communicating with people in distant countries, talking to the International Space Station, bouncing signals off the Moon, and much more. Prior to this I was very active on CB radio back in the early 1980's.
So I registered for one of the bi-annual 4-month courses that are offered in Cape Town and also online for the RAE exam which was next in May 2019 (also only twice a year in South Africa). The course went into lots of depth on regulations, radio procedure, electronics, RF propagation, RF interference, filters, amplifiers, Q codes, phonetic alphabet, and lots more. To qualify we also had to do a practical HF (High Frequency Bands below 30 MHz) assessment which included setting up an HF radio and antenna and making 5 HF contacts (QSOs) on the air. The great thing also about going on the course (apart from being better prepared) is also about getting to know a few other fellow new hams.
I took a week of leave before the exam to do my final preparation and finally the day of the exam dawned on 18 May 2019. About a week after this our results were published and I had a pass, and I became ZS1OSS! Ham call signs follow this standardised syntax ZS would be a single or double alphabetical character for your country, the numeral following is usually a geographic region so 1 in our case is Western Cape, and the last 1 to 3 alphabetical letters you get to choose if they are available, and in my case the OSS standards for Open Source Software in case you wondered. In South Africa ICASA sets the regulations, and we must transmit our callsign with every transmission, whereas in the USA they only have to do it every 10 minutes.
Since then, I have called in on the weekly news bulletins every Sunday morning and did my first SSB simplex chat with a colleague from work. I'm easing my way into the chats and still need to tune my antennas a bit better before I can expand wider. I've also set myself up on JS8 digital mode, and joined the Western Cape branch of HAMNET for volunteer emergency communications and events.
I did have some challenges getting my Kenwood radio to connect to the SARTrack software due to differing baud rates, different COM ports, and TNC settings, so I made a 5-minute video explaining which settings to use at https://youtu.be/z6KLYRv_rX0.
I have some opinions on my choices of radios since I have bought a few extra radios, which may help others:
BASE = Yaseu FT991A vs Icom IC-7100 - although the Yaesu has a great colour waterfall display and is probably a better receiver for weak signals and selective filtering, and both are all-band all-mode radios, I do much prefer the Icom's scan modes for preferred channels and current band channels over Yaesu's more difficult scan operation. Also the Icom was a tad easier to set up with digital modes and need not have the sound input switched over when changing modes. The Icom is also a bit more compact and has a remote head unit so is easier to also mount in a vehicle. Lastly Icom's buttons give quicker access to some critical functions than Yaesu's screen touch buttons which often need to be scrolled. Both do have built-in tuners and will connect to a computer with a single USB cable for digital and remote control. Yes Yaesu does System Fusion (C4FM) and Icom does D*Star digital modes but if you have an openSpot device you can connect to any mode via the Internet including DMR.
MOBILE = TYT TYH-7800 (Yaesu clone) vs Kenwood TM-D710GA - Yes the Kenwood is a bit more expensive but you likely then only have to buy a mobile once. It has 7 different scan modes which are fairly easy to use (see my video about this) and of course it has built in full-feature APRS as well as a TNC and GPS. The TYT does have a wider range of frequencies it receives but these are outside the ham bands, and like my Yaesu base rig has less intuitive menus.
PORTABLE = Yaesu FT-60R vs Anytone AT-D878UV - The Yaesu had a reputation for great reliability and a wide range of frequencies but its menu system is not nearly as intuitive as the Anytone. The Anytone is also a DMR radio with APRS beaconing (send only) with built-in GPS capability. The Anytone's menu system is much like a feature phone's menu system, and very easy to navigate.
You can view various photos about my hobby and the journey in my Ham Radio Photo Album.
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- Base rig 1 - Yaesu FT-991A HF/VHF/UHF All Mode Transceiver
- Base rig 2 (and mobile HF) - Icom IC-7100 also HF/VHF/UHF All Mode Transceiver
- Portable 1 - Anytone AT-D878UV Digital DMR VHF/UHF with Roaming and GPS, with Nagoya NA-701 antenna
- Portable 2 - Yaesu FT-60R VHF/UHF
- Mobile 1 - TYT TH-7800 50W VHF/UHF Full Duplex, Cross-Band Repeater
- Mobile 2 - Kenwood TM-D710GA with built-in APRS and Echolink (Has replaced Mobile 1)
- Watson W-30 Colinear VHF/UHF base antenna
- Homebrew 2m VHF quarter-wave (works best actually) which sits inside my house's roof
- MFJ-1778M G5RV Junior Wire Antenna 40m-10m but I broke this apart to built my own outside inverted-V wire antenna for 40m
- Nagoya UT-308UV VHF/UHF magnet mount antenna for portable if I need to use a radio in someone else's car
- Comet SBB-1 16" dual-band mobile (primary mobile antenna on my car) on a Comet LD-5M lip mount
- Shark Mono Band Verticals Mini 40m 36" (HF mobile antenna for car) on a Diamond Antenna K400-3/8C lip mount although this is a bit heavy for the hatchback's lip so I'm using it with a magnetic mount for when parked somewhere
- Comet CHA-250B HF Vertical Base Antenna 6 Meter Through 80 Meters - just note this has a height of just over 7m so needs the guy ropes attached and a very stable mast
- ATU - MFJ-993B Auto Tuner 1.8-30MHz
- FAA-450 Antenna Analyser (EU1KY) - this really useful for plotting SWR curves across the band. See some photos of typical graphs here.
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Winlink E-Mail via Radio
See my Winlink page.Back to top
How to Configure APRS in South Africa
See my APRS page for some tips.Back to top
JS8Call Digital Mode
JS8Call is open source software providing digital text messaging over weak radio signals spanning continents. See my JS8Call Digital Mode page where I also have to link to some useful messages to use in tactical situations.Back to top
Listen Online to local hams in Cape Town via OpenWebRx
I have set up an open source OpenWebRx service on a Raspberry Pi which monitors various frequency bands from my home. You can listen to it by going to http://www.gadgeteerza.co.za:8073/. OpenWebRx actually has a number of such receivers around the world that you can listen to and you will find the directory at https://www.receiverbook.de/ where my station is listed too.
The following could be interesting to listen to on my station and are all marked with yellow bookmark tags along the top of the waterfall display. On the right-hand lower part of the screen is a control display which allows you to change the band, volume, squelch, mode type, etc. But clicking on the yellow tabs should set the mode correctly for you. Don't be afraid to play with it as it is receive only and won't damage anything:
- RTL-SDR 2m VHF Digital = APRS stations beaconing location information around Cape Town which includes cars/trucks, weather stations, repeaters, etc and displays the data they are transmitting. So weather stations will show weather info whilst cars/trucks will show location, speed, direction, etc. If there is an emergency operation or rescue on, you may see the portable tracker units reporting in via radio. There is also an International Space Station (ISS) voice frequency here for when they pass over Cape Town but you may only hear the astronauts speaking as the uplink frequency is on 145.200 MHz FM.
- RTL-SDR 2m VHF Digital = 144.300 USB for Wednesday HAMNET bulletins at 16:30 UTC/GMT (apart from 1st Wednesday of the month which is a physical or virtual meeting).
- RTL-SDR 2m Voice = Five Repeater Stations (you'll hear bulletins Sundays 06:30 and 17:00, Mondays at 18:00, Wednesdays at 16:30 (all UTC/GMT times so add 2 hours for local SA times).
- RTL-SDR 70cm UHF Digital = Helderberg DMR which is 24/7 International DMR Channel 91, and the Internation Space Station (ISS) on 438.800 MHz when it passes over. This is a cross-band repeater facility so you'd hear hams from far away talking up to the ISS, and we'd hear them here on this frequency.
#hamradio #amateurradio #openwebrx #js8call