What is Amateur Radio?
For most people, the word Amateur Radio may be construed to mean some form of CB radio. Wrong!
Whilst CB is a very popular two-way radio mode it is limited to very low power and just two bands of 40 channels each using either the UHF or HF band. CB radio may be suitable for short-distance casual conversations where the operators are a few kilometres from each other but not much more than that. Using an Amateur Radio network you can, for example, use a radio in Cooma and speak with another amateur in Batemans Bay, Eden, or Bega with the press of a button. In fact, you can use your radio in your hand to contact just about any other amateur in Australia or the world without the limitation of distance!
Amateur radio operators have access to dozens of bands from as low as HF (and even lower), through VHF, UHF, and microwave frequencies each with as many effective channels as can be squeezed into the available space and operating on much higher power levels. Amateur Bands are actually not defined in terms of channels, instead, they are simply defined as segments of the radio spectrum, within which amateurs can use any frequency at all within reason.
Amateur radio operators are also permitted to use increased output power of up to 120 watts on modes other than SSB, where power of up to 400 watts is permitted. Another difference is that radio amateurs are allowed to construct or modify equipment, whereas CB users must use type-approved transceivers only i.e the sort of simple radios you buy at Jaycar, Dick Smith, Supercheap autos, etc.
There are approximately 14,000 licensed Amateurs in Australia, over 700,000 in the US, and around 3,000,000 worldwide. There are amateur radio operators in just about every country of the world all talking to each other at various times of the day or night via the various Amateur Radio frequencies we are permitted to use. An Amateur Radio operator may be a farmer, tradie, retiree, student, doctor, truck driver, or any person at any age who is simply interested in the hobby and enjoys radio communications.
To become an Amateur Radio operator and get into the above action, you will need to be licensed by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), and the method of attaining your license is explained here.
What can you do with Amateur Radio?
For many people who become Amateur Radio operators, the simple pleasure of being able to have a conversation with another Amateur is all they need. Some people simply like to have a chat about anything in common and do so every day, week, or whenever they want to. The fact that the person you are conversing with is another radio amateur means that you already have something in common which is a great start. From there radio amateurs can and do talk about almost any subject though, just as if you were at a dinner party, it’s probably safer to steer away from controversial subjects.
One way to get started on-air is by joining a Net. There are daily and weekly Nets which are simply scheduled contacts with several other Amateurs at a set time on a set day and specific frequency. Every week there are literally hundreds of Nets on several bands you can join across Australia and the World presenting a great opportunity for you to ease into the hobby with like-minded people. Our own Club Net is held at 7.30 pm every Saturday night on the 2m VHF band. You can find out more about it here.
Some people like to chase awards in events called Contests where operators try to contact as many other operators as they can in a defined period usually within a day or a weekend. Others like to work (contact) rare overseas stations from locations such as small island nations, Antarctica or, any country where there aren’t many radio operators. Others experiment with Amateur Radio Television or ATV whilst others enjoy using digital modes such as FT8, and PSK amongst many other modes as well as the new kid on the block rapidly gaining in popularity, Digital Mobile Radio (DMR).
Amateur satellites are just that, Amateur Radio Satellites that allow operators to converse with each other using something as simple as a homemade antenna and a hand-held radio. Others like to bounce signals off the moon called EME (earth-moon-earth). Some enjoy working the world with very low power called QRP operation or bouncing their signals off meteor trails (Meteor Scatter) or aircraft flight paths.
Most Amateurs these days buy their radios which are built for the purpose though some amateurs still like building their own equipment known as Homebrew which can range from simple antenna and radio construction whilst sharing ideas on how to tackle a repair or new construction project with other amateurs. As any Homebrewer will assure you, there is nothing quite like the satisfaction of having built your own antenna from scratch using simple materials, putting it up, testing it for efficiency, and having an on-air conversation using something you built yourself that will, in most cases, outperform a commercially built antenna.
The above is only a very small example of the many facets of Amateur Radio and there are many more to find out and use.
Amateur Radio & Emergencies
In times of crisis, during both natural and man-made disasters, Amateur Radio is often used for emergency communications when landline phones, mobile phones, the power grid, and other conventional communications fail or are congested. Amateur radio equipment can easily be run off-grid providing reliable self-supported communications over vastly greater distances than CB could ever dream of.
Amateur Radio and the Internet
The Internet has an increasing role in Amateur Radio. There are modes of operation such as IRLP and Echolink allowing an operator to use their radio, whether it be a small hand-held, mobile or base station to connect with other Amateurs all across Australia and the World via the Internet instantaneously. Applications like Facebook have dozens of pages dedicated to the sharing of information on an array of Amateur Radio topics such as antenna building, Digital modes, Satellites, long-distance (DX) conditions, radio repairs, Buy/Swap & Sell sites, News, etc. The list is really endless.
Australia is fortunate in having one of the least regulated amateur radio services in the world. There are relatively few restrictions on what sort of signals we transmit in our allocated bands. This benefits amateur radio as it makes experimentation in new modes and techniques easier.
The above information really only skims the surface about Amateur Radio and the purpose of this page is to simply give you some initial understanding of just some of the many facets of this interesting hobby. To find out much more about Amateur Radio take a good look at our Links page where you will find lots of links to websites featuring stories and videos explaining just some of the wonderful attributes of Amateur Radio.
If you received an Amateur Operators Certificate of Proficiency (AOCP) – Foundation, Standard, or Advanced – at any time since 1 January 2018 and are not a member of the WIA, you are eligible for a complimentary 1-year WIA membership. The Club strongly recommends membership in the WIA and you can find all about the many benefits of membership here: https://www.wia.org.au/joinwia/wia/aboutjoin/
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