Radio amateur activities
WRC 2003 and the Morse code (II)
According to the final acts signed at the end of WRC 2003 conference, the authorities decided that the condition previously mandatory of bearing an examination on the Morse code to operate below 30 MHz was suppressed but the decision to apply or not this condition was left with the free appreciation of national administrations. Fine said all amateurs limited to VHF and above frequencies, and not very familiar with the telegraphy... Indeed, this opportunity opened the HF bands to many new amateurs. Welcome to you !
Practically many countries including small entities like Belgium, Luxembourg, Hong Kong or Papua New Guinea decided to suppress the Morse examination immediately.
However administrations from countries like F, G, DL and LX among others wished that VHF amateurs keep their callsign although other countries accepted the callsign change.
Most other countries followed this movement, including the United States. Indeed, in July 2005 FCC suggested to drop the famous "Element 1", the 5 WPM Morse test, from the Amateur Service rules (Part 97) as they have received thousands petitions requesting its removal.
It is so that end 2006, FCC eliminated the Morse code exam requirement in order to "encourage individuals who are interested in communications technology, or who are able to contribute to the advancement of the radio art, to become amateur radio operators."
But by a strange reversal of the history, now that the Morse code is not more mandatory, many amateurs are again interested in this mode and learn the code... This confirms that the will of people has sometimes more effects than a law applied in force.
For Morsists, remember that there is an excellent shareware ($20) for reception, WinMSDSP, able to manager any kind of Morse communication, including Meteor Scatter up to speeds reaching 4000 words/minute !
CEPT Radio amateur license and the rest of the world
End 2003 T/R 61-01 was approved. What does it mean ? This ratification was a true revolution in the amateur radio community. It means that the owner of an European VHF license (equivalent to the US Technician) can work on the HF bands from any country at the condition that this country has implemented Appendix 1 point 2 of this document. That will be probably not the case in San Marino or Andorra (see the document) as these countries have not ratified this recommendation yet.
However, if not all european countries have ratify the removal of ITU article 2735 in their law yet, most administrations gave the provisional authorizations within the limits of their State without wai for the deliberation of the European Commission (CEPT). In the field, the HAREC Class A certificate (CEPT Class 1) given to the owner of an old HAREC B certificate has thus not (yet) a legal value in another country of the European Community, although most accept the equivalence, from Luxembourg to Finland.
But this liberalization is on the good way. Preceeding the ideas expressed at WRC 2003, an arrangement was signed on March 21, 2002 between CEPT (Europe) and CITEL (Inter-America) as well as with ATU (Africa). This arrangement should help ITU in the development of telecommunications and the standardization of HAREC certificate.
That means that if non-European countries haven't signed the T/R 61-01 document yet, usually they "support" the principle, as for example IsraŽl, Peru or the U.S.A.
Now that the U.S.A. dropped the Morse code, amateur who meets the CEPT requirements will have the privileges accorded the US Amateur "Extra" class license. However, the U.S.A. does not issue a full FCC license based on reciprocity. That means that to get a regular US Amateur "Extra" class license, you must succeed test Elements 2 (Technician), 3 (General) and 4 (Extra). You do not qualify for a permanent US license simply based on the fact you hold a license from another country.
What happens if a canadian or US citizen visiting Europe wants to use his transceiver ? CEPT, thus european administrations do not recognize yet the participation of Canada or the U.S.A. for example as a non-CEPT participating country, as this country is not a member of the European Community. In practice non-European licensed amateurs must request a reciprocal temporary operating permit in the visited country like they did visiting another country from America for example (see IARP). This is done by applying in writing several months in advance to the Ministry of Communications (or Transportation) of the visited country. You need to supply all information, including callsign, license class, dates of your visit and the model and serial numbers of all transmitting equipment you plan to transport to this country.
The IARP permit
The IARP is an International Amateur Radio Permit, reciprocal and temporary, issued to all amateurs citizens and licensees of a country that is a signatory to CITEL agreements (thus all american countries). It allows visiting amateurs to operate temporarily an amateur station in a CITEL country.
The IARP may be issued by an american member-society of the IARU. For the U.S.A., this is ARRL, in Canada this is RAC, in Brazil this is LABRE, etc. IARPs are issued for one-year terms, or until the amateur license expires, whichever comes first. A new IARP can be obtained.
Like CEPT licenses, there are two classes of IARPs : Class 1 requires knowledge of the international Morse code and carries all operating privileges, and Class 2 that does not require knowledge of telegraphy and carries all operating privileges above 30 MHz. When operating under IARP, an indicator consisting of the appropriate letter-numeral designating the station location must be included before the callsign (e.g. PY2/VE4SKY). Currently the following countries recognize an IARP : Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Peru, Uruguay, U.S.A. and Venezuela.
The shack and its equipment
Before contacting amateurs worldwide, to make QSOs in other words, you must select your equipment, first your transceiver, maybe its associated power supply (depending if it works directly on the 115/220V main or via an external 13.8V PSU), then the so long-awaited microphone (stand or hand-held), your antenna and maybe a pylon and a rotor, some tens of meters of feed line ending with PL connectors, a dummy load, an external SWR-meter or an antenna tuner and the mandatory logbook (logger).
Note that the logbook has to include at least 4 data : the date and time of communication, the call sign of the correspondent, the emission frequency and the emission class (like J3E and not the mode like SSB although everybody do it). It must be kept one year from the date of last inscription. Menus of these logbooks are usually written in English.
You can also add some accessories to your station like a computer connected to the Internet, a Morse key, a TNC interface, a linear amplifier, or even a VHF antenna to work with satellites.
You will soon discover that your shack will gradually be fill up with many accessories, a practice that you will probably experiment if amateur radio becomes your first spare time activity.
You can prepare this selection months before to get your license, although the regulation does not allow you to listen amateur traffic with an equipment able to transmit.
When all is plugged and well disposed on your desk, that you have well read and read again all instruction manuals, serious things will begin : indeed, before pronouncing the least word at your mike or your first code, you will need to tune all this equipment to get the lowest SWR at both the transceiver and the transmission line.
Work first with a dummy load to prevent making QRM (man-made interferences) on the air while tuning your system. If you use a linear amplifier, don't forget to tune the plate and the load to get here also the lowest SWR on the line according to the working frequency. If you don't make these checks you have all chances to overload the last stage of your transmitter, to get signal losses and high currents, source of potential damage to your installation, if yourself are not injured. So, it is great time to apply correctly what you learnt to succeed your ham examination.
Now your station is ready and I invit you to go on the air. Check first if the frequency is not in use. If it isn't, send your first CQ... This is here that it becomes fascinating when someone answers to your call !
To watch : Young Lady Ham Radio Operators
To see : Ham shacks of dream (Gallery)
Your First Ham Shack, par KC2YTI
What language to speak on the air ? No rule recommands a special language to use on the air. Therefore, the polyglot will be very at ease as ham radio because with QSO passing he could practice all languages that he masters when jumping from one country or continent to another. The feeling to belong to only one national community vanishes and one becomes quickly cosmopolitan with a vision of "foreigners" much different from the feeling often petty and segregationist of many people. Of course English-spoken people by birth are less sensitive to this fact as most foreigners know somewhat English.
According to UNESCO, there are 7000 languages and dialects spoken in the world. Much to the detriment of linguists, about 15 languages disappear each year.
In this context, Saint Ignatius High School in Ohio published a list of main languages spoken in the world. One learnt that if Mandarin is the most used language due to the explosion of the chinese population, this is the English that remains officially the first spoken language in 115 countries, followed by French used in 35 countries and Arab spoken in 24 countries.
All factors together, including economical or taking into account the secundary language, they classify as follows the ten most used languages in the world, by decreasing order : English, French, Spanish, Russian, Arab, Mandarin, German, Japanese, Portugese and Indi/Urdu. And de facto, most radio amateurs speak English and often several among the three first languages listed, the six others being essentially used in countries where it constitutes the official language (and where inhabitants are sometimes reluctant or have difficulties to speak foreign languages).
The universal language : the "bad English"
In 2013, Jeremy Gardner, an european official from England and translator noted that most official texts were badly translated into English, and listed all errors in a 66-page paper published by the Secretariat General of Translation Directorate of the European Accounting Office.
Face to this fact, he analysed how european officials expressed knowing that european institutions include today representative of 27 countries speaking 23 languages.
He noted that if most officials speak English, it is an approximation that we call the "bad English" or "EU-English".
Indeed, most european officials have not the English as mother language and had to manage to learn English. So, they don't master it and use substitution words (e.g. "sickness insurance" instead of "health insurance") or words borrowed to other languages (to French for example when they use "planification" instead of "planning"), wrong terms that sometime change the meaning of sentences.
The advantage of "bad English" is that between foreigners everybody is understanding (even if one says that English by birth would prefer that foreigner do more efforts !).
If we extend this question to all the european population that should triple by 2050, we note that only 25% of Europeans understand more or less English while 7% of them only understand French, the other languages being little practiced outside their country.
We note the same tendancy to amateur radios : if punctually each speaks his mother language, during DX QSO, contests and other pile-ups, all speak "bad English" successfully !
So don't worry if you do not master English. And if you have the language easy or if you want to learn a foreign language on the air, the world is yours !
Disasters and emergency services
We cannot discuss amateur radio without speaking about emergency services. As in 1914 when Hiram Percy Maxim, 1WH founded ARRL to coordinate the service of radio relay stations that helped truckers across the U.S.A., today radio amateurs always insure a similar service (Cf. the definition of amateur radio) but at another scale.
In this context, radio amateurs are also volunteers offering their time, their know-how and their equipment to serve the community in ensuring communications duty in the public service when usual media (radio, TV, cellular, etc) become useless (damaged, burned, flooded, etc). In these circumstances, there are always some radio amateurs whose installations are always operational and who can relay messages to authorities.
In the U.S.A., where stands the largest ham community, the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) consists of licensed amateurs involved in providing information to authorities about disasters (weather conditions, status of infrastructures and needs of the population), from WX4NHC, the amateur radio station at the National Hurricane Center to the Hurricane Watch Net, the Waterway Net, Skywarn and the Salvation Army Team Emergency Radio Network (SATERN).
The same kind of organization exists in several other countries to name the U.K (RAYNET) and in a lesser extent in France where the Plan ORSEC is organized in cooperation with REF-UNION. In the other countries this cooperation is less close and active as these countries are subject to few disasters and rescues are fully taken in charge by officials.
Mid 2005, ARES was engaged in the Hurricane Katrina recovery effort in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Earlier (December 26, 2004), after the tsunami killed hundreds of thousands people and destroyed infrastructures on coasts of Indonesia, Thailand and Sri Lanka, several radio amateurs were the first people calling authorities and the international community for help or reporting to authorities the state of inhabitants and infrastructures of their region. At this occasion ham radio operators working from Red Cross US Ships were alerted and maintained contact with operators stayed in the US. At other occasions, contacts via Echolink also helped identifying needs of disaster victims.
More recently, during the floods in Belgium in July 2021, radio operators from the Brabant Wallon's Emergency Radio Network helped the police after its Tetra antenna and computers were left completely underwater. 30 volunteers were deployed in the provinces of Brabant Wallon and Hainaut. They connected fire stations, ambulance stations, hospitals (including medical emergency vehicles), the main command post in Wavre (the Governor's Crisis Centre and Field Multidisciplinary Command Post) and 112 dispatch in Mons via VHF (cf. CRJ, Crise BW).
Thanks to the cooperation between these amateur networks and officials, the population can be quickly taken in charge and the nightware soon over. Remain however to rebuild the devastated zones and sometimes his or her own identity...
These emergency radio networks communicate on HF bands (80, 40, 30, 20m) and take in charge health-and-welfare inquiries on the air, and optionally via their web site. These activities become tactical communications that have the power to save lifes rather than a simple hobby for the operators.
A world to explore
With time and more experience, after have read amateur magazines and meet other amateurs in radio clubs, maybe participating in some DX-peditions and contests, you will discover that amateurs do not only work in Morse (CW) or phone (SSB) but some of them use many other interesting modes too like FM on VHF, aurora traffic, SSTV, packet, and other digimodes like RTTY, PSK31 or JT65 to name a few.
When the sky is the limit : listen to these amazing QSOs
At last, if most amateur activities require a standard installation (a transceiver and a HF or V/UHF antenna) digital modes require either decoding programs like Multipsk or specific accessories like a Pakratt PK-232 DSP interface which is an external controller (TNC) dedicated to packet radio and digital modes.
Satellite activities (OSCAR, ISS, Funcube, etc) or on higher frequencies (SHF, EME traffic) require more technical skills, specific software and a directional antenna or a large dish antenna knowing the low power of received signals (cf. e.g. the station and software of VK3UM).
A good start : Listen to amateur radios via Internet and SDR
Before to get your license of amateur radio and launching your first "CQ", and even before buying a receiver, there is another pleasant way to listen to amateur radios and share activities of this community.
For some years and thanks to the development of Internet and faster processors, the general audience and specially SWLs, can listen to amateurs bands without having a dedicated receiver at home, simply using Internet or a software defined radio, alias SDR.
You can for example use the web interface provided by WebSDR and select the website of you choice that will connect you to a HF or VHF receiver connected to Internet. The station is usually connected to a short antenna (whip or dipole) but is able to capture all readable signals up to antipodes, 12000 km away or even more distant using the long path.
The alternative is to connnect on the DXHeat cluster (or other DX Summit, WSPRNet, LOTW, etc), usually used for assisted QSOs, that also offers the opportunity to listen amateur bands without constraint nor subscription.
Listen to amateur radio stations, DXHeat cluster
Clic on a DX call sign then select the headset
What shortwave radio broadcasts on what frequency (and conversely) ?
If you prefer to control your receive conditions, instead of buying a shortwave receiver or a transceiver, often expensive and quite cumbersome, you can purchase a small SDR receiver. Their sizing is ranging between the USB stick and the switchbox.
If most are provided with a small whip antenna 20 cm long just able to capture FM stations, to decode properly V/UHF or SHF signals like ISS transmissions, APT signals from weather satellites or TV channels, you need to connect it to an external antenna cut for that specific band (e.g. a short beam or a helical antenna).
To watch : AirSpy SDR at work by W9RAN
How to set up a SDR radio, B.Churchward
A last, note that HamSphere, developed by Kelly Lindman, 5B4AIT, is a program simulating HF propagation over Internet (see the review). Contrary to Echolink that is reserved to amateur radios and can take advantage of RF links, in subscribing to HamSphere, even without be a licensed amateur you can contact amateurs (licenced or not) all over the world. It is not amateur radio, but simply voice communications over Internet (VoIP) but it looks much to the real working conditions.
Fun for all
End 2015, FCC counted more than 735000 licensed amateurs in the U.S.A. including 23% of Extra class licensees (it is 11% more than in 2005). There are about 1.3 million licensed amateurs in Japan, 176000 in Thailand, 141000 in South Korea and some thousands or tens of thousands in the other countries, bringing the number of amateur radios to 3 million in the world according to IARU. However, if all pay yearly for their license, we can estimate than 30 to 50% of them are not active (they keep their license but have either no more transceiver or simply listen to ham bands).
Whatever your interests, the amateur radio community is very active and its members go from the teenager to the old timer 90 years old. The majority of amateurs is 45 years old in Europe and 58 in the U.S.A.
One can explain this quite advanced average age because the examination put off some persons although today the licence is within the reach of everybody. Then, the everyday life is not always compatible with an activity that has tendency to fill in hours, evenings and even holidays, isolating the amateur in his ham shack or in the field to the detriment of his family. It is also for this reason that some XYL became radio amateurs !
In all cases, thanks to the new regulation, the average age of radioamateurs tends to become younger. Each year the community is growing, radioclubs see new blond heads, sign of good health, and a regain of interest from the population towards this activity.
Have fun, and hope to work you soon on the air !
73 de Thierry, LX4SKY.
For more information
Download & Ham Links (on this site, the 1st page to visit)
Recommendation T/R 61-02, CEPT (HAREC exams)
CEPT-ECC Report 89, CEPT (novice or base license)
How to Become a Radio Amateur in Canada and USA, eHam
What is Ham Radio?, ARRL
What is Amateur Radio ?, RSGB
Get on the Air...Now!, Don Keith, Erin Press, 2015
Ethics and Operating Procedures for the Radio Amateur (PDF in several languages), IARU
Amateur radio associations
IARU (all members)
Amateur Radio Groups on Facebook
Icom amateur radio users (private)
Kenwood - Amateur Radio HAM (private)
Radioamateurs et Amateur Radios (in French)
Pictures related to Amateur radio, QRZ Now
Videos on YouTube
Modern Amateur Radio Hobby, by VE2CWQ
Portable activities (in French)
DX-peditions in video, James Brooks, 9V1YC, on Dailymotion.