[an error occurred while processing this directive] ZEPHYR Magazine
                              T H E
                           Z E P H Y R
                  __     M A G A Z I N E
                 Issue #35                1-10-87
            A weekly electronic magazine for users of 
                        THE ZEPHYR II BBS 
                    (Mesa, AZ - 602-894-6526)
                owned and operated by T. H. Smith
                    Editor - Gene B. Williams 
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                            (c) 1987

     One of the more fascinating hobbies (in my opinion) is 
amateur radio. With it you can talk to people from all over the 
world, free. (Well, not quite free. You have to have the 
equipment, and pay for the electricity.) Most of those people are 
strangers. At least they are at first. Quite often they become 
     In a way, ham radio is like a massive, worldwide BBS. The 
users have a common interest, just as do computer operators. And, 
as with BBSing, there are other mutual interests that come out. 
Sometimes these are networked - with a specific frequency set 
aside, along with a specific time, for those interested to join 
in to the conversation.
     Hence, this week's article.

               Becoming an Amateur Radio Operator

     Right about the turn of this century a guy named Nicola 
Tesla developed some fascinating ideas. Among these was the 
theory that a signal could be sent through the air, instead of 
through wires, to bring about communications. Another guy, named 
Marchese Guglielmo Marconi, took that idea and became famous for 
     Marconi stuck a length of metal up into the air and sent a 
heavy spark into it. A similar length of metal hanging in the air 
at a distance was able to pull in this spark, and associated 
equipment detected it and put it back into the audible range. The 
entire world was astounded when Marconi was able to send such a 
signal, and the message it contained, clear across the Atlantic 
     As with any new technology, home experimenters jumped on 
this new idea. Within a very short time, there were several 
hundred "radio stations" in existence.
     And as so often follows new technology, groups cropped up to 
fight the new ideas. Some very still claiming that electricity 
was a thing of the devil. Reading some of their comments on what 
electricity was doing to the world is quite like reading scare 
tactic reports about nuclear weapons. 
     The combination of these outcries, and primarily due to the 
growing popularity of the study of radio electronics, caused the 
government to create the Federal Communications Commission. 
Stations that wished to go commercial had to satisfy certain 
standards and requirements. In an unusual bout of fairplay and 
rational thought, sections of the radio bands were also set aside 
strictly for use by nonprofessional experimenters.
     Almost immediately a special group was formed, now called 
the Amateur Radio Relay League - the ARRL. This group has grown 
until it now takes in a large portion of all amateur radio 
operators in this country. It represents the amateurs to the FCC 
in an effort to make sure that amateurs remain protected. (And 
they do an awfully good job of it.)
     Quite a few people make the mistake of likening amateur 
radio to CB. The two are about as much alike as are a pencil on 
paper writer compared to the use of a computer. That's why you 
used to be able to get a CB license just for mailing in a form - 
and also why it was decided that operating a CB radio no longer 
requires a license of any kind.
     The range of a CB radio is 30 miles or less. By law, you 
CAN'T operate the radio over a long distance path. Also by law 
(and one which many ignore), you are limited to 5 watts as an 
input to the final transmitter stage. That's plenty for local 
communications, but if you remain legal it's useless for anything 
else. (Then again, it's not *meant* to be for anything else.)

                        How Tough Is It?

     A move was made to expand CB into the amateur bands, to give 
them more power and thus greater range. Failing this, that group 
tried to push through a new kind of amateur license, one that 
required no code test. That too has failed. The major opponents 
to these has been the ARRL and ham operators in general.
     Those on the outside quite often view this resistance as a 
"sour grapes" attitude, or as some kind of effort to keep people 
     To be fair, that's just what it is - an effort to keep out 
those people who don't care enough to put forth at least a little 
effort. As some have stated, "There will be no 'free ride.' The 
amateur radio operator can reach all across the country, and all 
across the globe. Before that kind of power is granted, the 
individual should demonstrate a sense of responsibility. Do we 
really want the kind of abuse so common in CB to spread even 
     You see, since its beginning amateur radio has managed to 
accomplish something that few other such things can claim. It is 
self-regulating. The government, through the FCC, creates the 
laws that govern communications. In essence, there is next to no 
government interference beyond this, simply because amateurs have 
a long-standing reputation for being able to "take care of our 
own." And they want it to stay that way.
     Actually, the license requirements aren't all that strict. 
And getting a license isn't all that difficult. If you have the 
idea that you can't do it, think about Guy Mitchell. He earned 
his novice class license 5 months before he entered kindergarten. 
Are *you* to be outdone by a 5-year-old? 
     The number of open channels for the amateur is quite large. 
Despite the fact that there are millions of amateurs scattered 
all over the world, it's rare that you can't find a frequency 
that is open for use. And, the higher your license, the more 
frequencies there are available for your use.
     Most of the bands available for amateur use are excellent 
for long range communications. When I had my novice class 
license, the lowest category, I talked to people in virtually 
every state. My first out-of-country communication took place 
early one Sunday morning when I talked to a serviceman in Panama. 
After that I talked to Mexico, Spain, Brasil, Australia and once 
had a brief communication with someone in Tibet. All this with 
the lowest level license, its relatively limited frequency 
allocations and operating within the legal 200 watts of power. 
     There are some distinct advantages with amateur radio. These 
advantages bring with them increased responsibility. You already 
realize the kind of damage a single idiot can do to BBSing. 
Imagine this idiocy being on the air waves from coast-to-coast, 
or even from country to country. To help weed out the "turkeys," 
several things have been done. Most well known of these things 
are the tests required before a license is granted.
     Unless you're upgrading an existing license, all licenses 
come in two parts - code and written. The higher the license, the 
more privileges you have, and the more difficult the testing. For 
example, the beginning class (novice) requires only a simple code 
test and an even simpler technical test. The top category (extra) 
requires 20 wpm for the code test and a very comprehensive 
technical test.

                            The Tests

    * Class               Code           Written           *
    * Novice              5 wpm          easy!             *
    * Technician          5 wpm          general           *
    * General            13 wpm          general           *
    * Advanced           13 wpm          more technical    *
    * Extra              20 wpm          very technical    *


     The easiest and fastest way to get started is with the first 
category, the novice class license. The average person can 
prepare for the novice class license in just a few weeks without 
much difficulty. (It took me less than two - and then another 
month before I was ready for the general class test.)
     For the novice test, the would-be ham must be able to receive 
Morse code at 5 words per minute. This test normally lasts about 5 
minutes, 1 minute of which must be perfect.
     The technical test for novices consists of 20 questions. Of 
these, 7 concern the rules and regulations. Another 4 cover 
operating practices, propagation and such things. Only 8 
questions on the test are more technical in nature. These ask 
about the basic principles of electronics and communications and 
of safety.
     Due to the self-regulating nature of amateur radio, any 
general class or above license holder who is over 18 can 
administer the novice test. If you take a class, such as through a 
local radio club, quite often you can take the test right there in 
class. Either way, the novice can get started with a minimum of 
     With a novice license, you are limited to communications by 
Morse code, and to 200 watts of final input power. The idea of 
these restrictions is to almost force the operator in two 
directions. One is the desire for more power and more versatility 
in the frequencies allowed. This will (hopefully) stir the 
operator to learn more and to attain those higher goals. The 
other is to keep the newcomer on a relative "leash" where he or 
she can do the least harm. 
     Keep in mind, with a ham radio, and even within the limita
tions of a novice license, you can reach all over the world. With 
my novice license and restrictions, I reached every state - 
including Alaska and Hawaii, plus a number of foreign countries. 

                         Higher Licenses

     All higher classes of license require testing through a VE 
(volunteer examiner) team. This team is made up of local ham 
operators - people just like you. The only thing the FCC does is 
issue the license, based on the test results, of course.
     Testing is held several times per year in a variety of 
places. (The next testing as of this writing will be March 7 and 
again on May 30 in Tucson. Testing will also be held on March 21 
in Scottsdale. Pre-registration is required at least 30 days ahead 
of the date. Deadline for the Scottsdale testing is Feb. 20th.)
     The technicians class brings with it all the privileges of 
the novice class license, plus the privileges of operating in the 
VHF and UHF frequency ranges (2 meter and above - primarily for 
local communications - if that makes any sense to you). The code 
test for technician class is the same as for the novice. The 
technical test is the same as for the next category - the 
general class license.
     General class opens a new world for the radio operator - 
namely voice communications over long distances. It also carries 
increased frequency privileges. A General Class holder has all 
the privileges of the novice and the tech, plus a whole new load 
of privileges. 
     Advanced and extra classes continue to add new privileges, 
such as amateur television.
     The way things are set up, you can skip steps. Your first 
goal might be to obtain the general class license, for example, 
and bypass the novice and technician licenses. Once your test 
appointment is set with the VE, you can go right through all the 
tests and become an Amateur Extra in a single day - assuming that 
you know enough.

                            How Much?

     One concern of many beginners is that amateur radio is going 
to cost a lot of money. Not true. (Well, not *necessarily* true.)
     My own first transceiver (capable of receiving and 
transmitting) could put out more than 500 watts of transmitting 
power. You can effectively reach around the world on just a few 
watts if you know what you're doing. 100 watts will take you just 
about anywhere. 500 will really punch things through. Total cost - 
about $200. You *can* pay less. (Of course, you can also pay a lot 
more. That's up to you.)
     My first antenna was a ground-mount vertical. Cost - $40. I 
could have gotten by for considerably less by building my own, in 
which case the antenna would have been no more than the cost of 
the materials. (A very simple, but very effective, antenna is just 
some wire.)
     So, for me, I got into international communications for $240 
- about the same cost as a decent modem. I could have done it for 
about $100. And, if I'd wanted to spend the time to build my own 
equipment (there are thousands of plans available), it would have 
cost even less.
     You can spend thousands and thousands on equipment if you 
want to. You can do that with computer equipment, too. (How 
difficult would it be to spend $10,000 on computer equipment? 
You'd be pressed to spend that much on radio equipment.)

                         The First Steps

     You can get started in amateur radio in any number of ways. 
There are several amateur radio magazines available. Most well 
known is "QST" - the official publication of the ARRL. This 
magazine is available by subscription only to members of the 
ARRL, but membership does not require a license. You can contact 
them through the address at the end of this article for more 
information on this magazine, and on their entire line of 
     Almost at odds with the ARRL is "73 MAGAZINE." This magazine 
is available on newstands, and also offers an extremely good line 
of books on the subject.
     There are other magazines available. In my opinion, the two 
mentioned are the best for newcomers. Just the ads are an educa-
tion. And both, as mentioned, have a variety of books to help you get 
     A shortwave receiver is also of great help, although it is 
often a relatively useless inv.shtmlent. There are three reasons 
for this. First, the novice class test is so easy that using the 
receiver as a means of practicing Morse code normally isn't 
necessary. (Besides, "73" offers some very nice training tapes.) 
     Second, many shortwave receivers are meant for general use 
and do not effectively tune in the amateur bands. This is fine if 
you're into foreign broadcasts. This is fascinating in itself!!! 
(When the Soviets first invaded Afghanistan, I listened to 5 
*completely* different versions of what really happened - the 
version given to the American public, that given out by Radio 
Free Moscow, one from Afghanistan itself, one from the BBC in 
England and another from Germany.) But a "general coverage" 
receiver is usually pretty much useless for ham radio.
     Third is the cost. Even if that receiver will work with 
amateur radio, you will still have to buy a transmitter. This may 
or may not be the right solution for you. Most people prefer to 
start right out with a transceiver - a unit that does both jobs 
of receiving and transmitting. Others prefer to have both 
capabilities and in different units. The receiver you buy just 
could end up being useless. That's something you have to decide 
for yourself.
     To learn the code and all the needed technical information 
to pass the novice test, you can make the attempt to do it on 
your own, or you can join one of the many classes.
     On your own, the two best ways are to make use of either the 
code practice broadcasts from the ARRL (given at the end of this 
article), or to use one of the better code practice tapes. It's 
usually not advisable to learn by practicing with a friend who 
knows as little about it as you do. You're almost certain to pick 
up some mutual bad habits this way. The needed technical 
information can be learned from books quite easily.
     The classes are designed to teach you both code and the 
technical information. Most run for about 10 weeks. At the end of 
this period, quite often a group test is given in class for your 
first license. Find a ham radio club in your area and ask them 
for details on when and where.

Helpful Addresses:

Federal Communications Commission       
PO Box 1020
Gettysburg, PA  17325

District office of the FCC is in
Los Angeles - phone number is

The form used for application for a license is:
FCC Form 610
This same form is used to renew or update a license. You can get 
a copy by writing to the FCC. You can also get one through just 
about any local radio club or amateur radio store.

     -    -    -    -    -    -    -    -    -    -    -     -
Newington, CT  06111

A "Club and Training Department" has been set up specifically to
help newcomers. For a SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) they 
will send you free a list of 200 questions that you might except
to see on the novice test.

The ARRL also broadcasts code practice their W1AW license.
These codes come across at 5, 7 1/2, 10, 13 and 15 words per
minute. The frequencies are 1.818, 3.58, 7.08, 14.070, 21.08, 
28.08, 50.08 and 147.555, all in Megahertz.
The times, in Mountain Time, are:
     7 AM and 5 PM  on M, W, F
     2 PM and 8 PM  on T, Th, S, Sn

You can also find the names of local operators who can give you
the novice class test (the "Dear Friends" program), local clubs, 
local classes, a list of helpful books, etc., etc., etc., etc. by 
writing to the ARRL.
The Superstition Amateur Radio Club, for example, offers classes. 
They can be contacted at:

Superstition ARC
PO Box 1551
Apache Junction, AZ  85217-1551

Until Next Time

     It's really not all that difficult, nor all that expensive, 
to get started in amateur radio. It does require that you have an 
interest. This isn't a "Cracker Jacks" license. If you DO have 
that interest, though, there's nothing quite like it.
     We have several hams on the board here. There's me, of 
course. Dave Kelly is also a ham. Chris Mitchell was, although he 
let his license lapse. Any one of us, plus a handful of others, 
can answer any questions you might have.
     If YOU happen to be a ham, come on forward and tell us about 
     Incidentally, Dave and I both monitor 147.12 on an irregular 
basis. Many nights I can also be found on the Zia Link (146.70 or 
145.25 or 147.15). My call is KA7FQW.

Zephyr Magazine is © Gene Williams. All rights reserved.