Amateur Radio - Activities and Practices

Activities and Practices

Amateur radio
  • Amateur radio direction finding
  • Amateur radio emergency communications
  • Amateur radio high bands
  • Amateur radio homebrew
  • Amateur radio operating award
  • Amateur radio station
  • Amateur television
  • Antenna theory
  • Automatic Packet Reporting System
  • Contesting
  • DX communication
  • DX-pedition
  • Hamfest
  • High speed multimedia
  • High Speed Telegraphy
  • Internet Radio Linking Project
  • Packet radio
  • Portable operation (amateur radio)
  • QRP operation
  • QSL card
  • Skywarn
  • Vintage amateur radio

Amateur radio is a hobby with many facets and thus attracts practitioners with a wide range of interests. Many amateurs begin with a fascination of radio communication and then combine other personal interests to make pursuit of the hobby rewarding. Some of the focal areas amateurs pursue include radio contesting, radio propagation study, public service communication, technical experimentation, and computer networking.

Amateur radio operators use various modes of transmission to communicate. The two most common modes for voice transmissions are frequency modulation (FM) and single sideband (SSB). FM offers high quality audio signals, while SSB is better at long distance communication when bandwidth is restricted.

Radiotelegraphy using Morse code (also known as "CW" from "continuous wave") is an activity dating to the earliest days of radio. It is the wireless extension of land line (wire based) telegraphy developed by Samuel Morse and was the predominant real time long-distance communication method of the 19th century. Though computer-based (digital) modes and methods have largely replaced CW for commercial and military applications, many amateur radio operators still enjoy using the CW mode, particularly on the shortwave bands and for experimental work such as earth-moon-earth communication, with its inherent signal-to-noise ratio advantages. Morse, using internationally agreed message encodings such as the Q code, enables communication between amateurs who speak different languages. It is also popular with homebrewers as CW-only transmitters are simpler to construct. A similar "legacy" mode popular with home constructors is amplitude modulation (AM), pursued by many vintage amateur radio enthusiasts and aficionados of vacuum tube technology.

Demonstrating a proficiency in Morse code was for many years a requirement to obtain amateur licenses for the high frequency bands (frequencies below 30 MHz). Following changes in international regulations in 2003 countries are no longer required to demand proficiency. The United States Federal Communications Commission, for example, phased out this requirement for all license classes on February 23, 2007.

Modern personal computers have encouraged the use of digital modes such as radioteletype (RTTY) which previously required cumbersome mechanical equipment. Hams led the development of packet radio in the 1970s, which has employed protocols such as AX.25 and TCP/IP. Specialized digital modes such as PSK31 allow real-time, low-power communications on the shortwave bands. Echolink using Voice over IP technology has enabled amateurs to communicate through local Internet-connected repeaters and radio nodes, while IRLP has allowed the linking of repeaters to provide greater coverage area. Automatic link establishment (ALE) has enabled continuous amateur radio networks to operate on the high frequency bands with global coverage. Other modes, such as FSK441 using software such as WSJT, are used for weak signal modes including meteor scatter and moonbounce communications.

Fast scan amateur television has gained popularity as hobbyists adapt inexpensive consumer video electronics like camcorders and video cards in PCs. Because of the wide bandwidth and stable signals required, amateur television is typically found in the 70 cm (420 MHz–450 MHz) frequency range, though there is also limited use on 33 cm (902 MHz–928 MHz), 23 cm (1240 MHz–1300 MHz) and higher. These requirements also effectively limit the signal range to between 20 and 60 miles (30 km–100 km). The use of linked repeater systems, however, can allow transmissions across hundreds of miles.

These repeaters, or automated relay stations, are used on VHF and higher frequencies to increase signal range. Repeaters are usually located on top of a mountain, hill, or tall building and allow operators to communicate over hundreds of square miles using a low power hand-held transceiver. Repeaters can also be linked together by use of other amateur radio bands, landline, or the Internet.

Amateur radio satellites can be accessed, some using a hand-held transceiver (HT), even, at times, using the factory "rubber duck" antenna. Hams also use the moon, the aurora borealis, and the ionized trails of meteors as reflectors of radio waves. Hams are also often able to make contact with the International Space Station (ISS), as many astronauts and cosmonauts are licensed as amateur radio operators.

Amateur radio operators use their amateur radio station to make contacts with individual hams as well as participating in round table discussion groups or "rag chew sessions" on the air. Some join in regularly scheduled on-air meetings with other amateur radio operators, called "nets" (as in "networks") which are moderated by a station referred to as "Net Control". Nets can allow operators to learn procedures for emergencies, be an informal round table or be topical, covering specific interests shared by a group.

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