How to get an Amateur Radio License

What are the steps for getting your first amateur radio license?

Start by taking an online test for the Technician license. It is easy and free. You will probably do better than you expect. After the test, note the areas that you need to study. hamexam.org is my favorite online test site. You only need a C (75% correct) to pass.

K6WRU license blur

Now that you know what to study, get a study buddy, get some study materials, or best, both. The No Nonsense Technician-Class License Study Guide by Dan Romanchik (KB6NU) is free as a PDF and is exactly what it says. Study the sections where you are having trouble and keep taking practice tests until you are happy with your scores. Download it from the KB6NU study guide page.

Take a break from your studying to find a license test session. That will give you a deadline. Use the ARRL license exam session search to find a session.

There might be a fee for the exam, up to $15. You can take tests for all of the license levels at one session, so go ahead and take the test for General. You might pass!

After that, find a mentor to help you get on the air. In amateur radio, we call these people an “Elmer”. Use the ARRL club search page to find one near you. On the Web, try the Amateur Radio Elmers Facebook group.

Choosing a radio? That is a different post.

Simple Base for Morse Code Key

I wanted to mount my Morse code key on a base so Scouts could use it at Jamboree on the Air (JOTA) this coming October. A $15 walnut “display base” from Amazon was just the right thing for that. Now we can set up a “Send your name in Morse code!” station.

Flameproof key 3

The key is a CTE-26003A “Navy Flameproof” that I bought when I was first licensed, back in the early 1970’s. I’ve never used it and it was never mounted on a base. It looks brand new. The “CTE” manufacturer code is for “Telephonics”, which matches the name on the key.

flameproof key manufacturer

A few hams offer nice bases for sale, but they were either too big or I was too cheap. This black crackle finish metal base is designed specifically for the Navy flameproof key and is reasonably priced at $30, but it is huge and weighs three pounds. Not quite was I was looking for. I also found some very nice exotic hardwood bases. Those were lovely, but I was looking for something more utilitarian.

I spotted the Plymor Solid Walnut Rectangular Wood Display Base with Ogee Edge on Amazon and chose the 6 x 4 inch size as the best match for the key. I picked up some #6 screws and fiber washers, plus some vinyl feet to keep it from scooting around on the desk.

flameproof key parts

The official Navy name for the key is “KEY SIGNALLING SEARCHLIGHT TOTALLY ENCLOSED TYPE 26003A” (spelling is original). Maybe some of the signaling searchlights were acetylene, so they needed a flameproof key. It is a very nice straight key considering that it was designed for very slow Morse code.

After I collected all the parts, I found a very similar wood straight key base project. That one uses lead shot to weight the wooden base, then felt on the bottom.

Plastic Pipe Roof Antenna Support

I noticed a clever antenna mount on another ham’s roof, so I built one myself. Putting my VHF/UHF antenna at the highest point of the roof has really improved my ability to copy some of the far-flung participants in our weekly ARES/RACES net.

plastic pipe antenna mount close-up

A cradle built from two-inch ABS DWV (drain, waste, and vent) pipe sits across the ridge of the roof. Legs two feet long go down on each side and a two-foot section is a vertical antenna mast.

My antenna is a Diamond X50NA, same as the X50A, but with a weatherproof Type N connector. I did additional weatherproofing with 3M Temflex 2155 rubber splicing tape and Scotch Super 33+ electrical tape.

I had spotted an antenna mounted like this and contacted the ham at that address. Rolf Klibo, N6NFI, replied with an article he’d written for the SPARK newsletter describing the mount. With that, I was off to the hardware store.

I used two-inch ABS DWV (drain, waste, and vent) pipe in two-foot sections. I cut up two of them to make the four pipe sections that go along the ridge of the roof.

The X50NA mounting hardware fits masts up to 2 3/8 inch, which is why I used two inch pipe. For coax strain relief, I used a conduit hanger that fit. Zip ties attach a loop of coax to the hanger so the full weight of the feed line isn’t pulling on the connector. That can rip the coax right out of the connector, or harder to diagnose, pull just one of the shield or center connector loose.

Antenna mount 3 Antenna mount 4

For a commercial version, I’d look at the Rohn NPPK, a steel frame that fits over the roof peak. It is designed to have a rubber mat underneath and four 18 pound concrete blocks holding it down. I’m sure it is far more secure than my DIY plastic pipe mount.

Rig on a Board Update 1

The “rig on a board” is working well. I’m a little worried about it scratching the central console, so the next version should have a cloth surface there. I’ll probably use a thinner board with some carpet or corduroy covering it.

Rig on a board 1

A wider board, maybe 10-12 inches, would leave plenty of room for the mic.

The wood for the prototype is 11/16 x 7 (measured), about 20 inches long, cut close to the middle. I used a regular door hinge. It has a little bit of play, but not too bad. A piano (continuous) hinge might be a better choice, especially if I use a wider board.

While I’m mounting things, an external speaker would help. I’ve plugged in one that I use with my Lowe HF-150 shortwave receiver and that improved the audio.

Hmm, 1/2 (or 5/8) x 12 (or 10) x 20 seems like a job for some scrap plywood. Just need to find some scrap carpet.

Rig on a Board Prototype

This is a first cut at a removable mount for my VHF/UHF rig. Until now, the radio has been sitting on the passenger seat, but that is far from ideal. So I put together something simple that holds the rig steady and puts the display and controls at a better angle.

One end of the hinged board goes between the seat and the center console. The other end holds the radio. The power cable is dressed with a velcro tie behind the radio.

Rig on a board 4

I grabbed a scrap board (I think it is pre-painted house siding), sawed it into two chunks, installed a hinge in the middle, and mounted the radio bracket on one side. I screwed down a velcro cable wrap to keep the excess power cable from flopping around.

Rig on a board 2

So far, I like it a lot. I need to figure out a bracket to hang the hand mic, though.

Rig on a board 3

I’ll probably modify this a bit more before rebuilding it with a nicer piece of wood. I was thinking of securing it to the seat back with a strap, but it seems pretty secure as it is.

Using a Mobile Antenna as a Temporary Base Antenna

For our July Fourth Safety Watch this year, I used my dual-band mobile antenna on a ground plane mount on a camera tripod. I’d purchased a Nagoya GPK-01 NMO Ground Plane Kit ($28) to test my NMO mobile antenna, because my mag mount seemed flaky.

As I was drifting off to sleep one night, I thought that the 1/4-20 screw on my camera tripod might fit the holes on the ground plane kit. It did, so now I have a robust, free-standing, dual-band antenna for em-comm use.

IMG 4753

The antenna is a Comet SBB-5NMO with 3 dB of gain on 2 m. Not a flamethrower, but a solid antenna when used with a good ground plane.

The radials unscrew from the mount, so the ground plane kit packs up small.

IMG 4750

Our station was up on a hill, so we had great line of sight to the whole valley. We ran a mobile rig (Yaesu FT-8900R) at 50 W from a battery, so we had a great signal. We could also hear the other stations clearly, so our station was net control.

IMG 4748

The only thing I’ll change next time is to use 1/4-20 wingnuts instead of regular nuts. I might paint them orange, too. I was sure that I would drop a nut in the grass and never find it.

And yes, that is a classic Gitzo Reporter aluminum tripod. If needed, I could extend the center column to get the radials above eye level.

Voile Ski Straps

Better than bungee cords! I purchased a few of these, thinking they might work for strapping my fiberglass radio mast to posts and stuff. They are great. Stretchy, adjustable, and super easy to fasten and unfasten. After I tighten a strap, just releasing the tension almost always catches a hole on the buckle to secure it. Lovely design.

Here is one of the two I used to strap my mast to a railing on top of Mt. Umunhum for a SOTA activation. My shortest straps are red and 15 inches long.

Voile 1

Earlier, I used a longer blue one (20 inches) and two of the red ones, linked, to strap the same mast to a walkway post for ARRL Field Day.

Voile 2

A red strap held the balun to the top of the mast to take stress off the connectors.

Voile 3

I started with this variety pack of three sizes ($16.50 at Amazon), then stuck with the same color scheme for ordering more.

I’ll be taking these on every field radio outing. That means I’ll have swap them back and forth between my emcomm go bag and my SOTA gear. I think I can manage that.