Amateur Hour

Recently, I missed a party I really wanted to attend…  During the whole planning process, the hosts (the birthday boy’s brother and sister) and I became “Facebook Friends”.  Since I did know them both back in the day, it was nice to re-establish that “friendship”. 

While peeking through Joe’s brother’s FB page – I noticed something familiar to me…  Something I have not had much interaction with over the past 10 years, but it’s something that I still maintain an interest in.  I saw several photos of his brother sitting in front of amateur radio equipment!  I mean, I knew he was a “ham”, but I did not know he was a “Ham”!

I left a comment for him that was “Amateur Radio Specific” (thinking he knew I was a “Ham” too).  I woke up this morning with a message from him asking me if I was a Ham, if he knew that, and to fill him in.  I sent him an email about the down and dirty details of my indoctrination into and involvement in the world of Amateur Radio…

About 1/3 of the way through writing that email, it occurred to me that I may have never really talked about my be a Ham here on FOF…  It’s been a while since I have actually USED my license, but is true that I do have an official FCC Amateur Radio Operators License.

He replied back to me, and (to be honest) just chatting a little bit with him about it has sort of “tweaked” my interest again… I have some specific goals I’d like to accomplish before I really dive head first back into the world of Amateur radio – but there is really nothing stopping me from playing around with it again…

For those of you who don’t know it, here is the story... 

Whenever I used a Ham term, slang, or “Q-code” or something jumped out that I assumed most non-Hams would not know what means, I have tried to provide an explanation or a link.  If you find something you don’t understand, or does not make sense…. ASK!

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I've always had an interest in radio.  It started way back when I was a young lad...  Just after my grandfather (whom I was very close to) passed away, my grandmother went out and purchased a police scanner...

My grandfather forbid having one in the house, as he was a police officer and said he had to listen to that "squawk box" enough during the work day - that he had no interest in hearing it at home.  (After 16 years of being a police dispatcher, I can COMPLETELY understand why he said that).

I became FASCINATED with that scanner! 

If your interested, or you have not already seen the story, click the "Origins of a Police Dispatcher" link for “the rest of the story”. 

The first thing I bought with my very first paycheck from Coast to Coast (Valley West) was my own police scanner...

My next big jump into the world of "radio" - was an “11 meter transceiver”!  (For those of you who don’t get the joke here… 11 meters is the Citizen’s Band – A.K.A. – CB Radio!)

I installed a CB radio in my car - and was a decent user of the radio through High School and into College...  My high school, and college buddies also got CB Radios - and we would stay in communication as we raised hell around town...  We used "Bloomington Police" call signs based on the areas we lived!  (We were all Law Enforcement Students.... )

Yeah, go ahead… Call me a dork.  It’s a badge I wear with HONOR!

The next big step in my indoctrination into the world of radio came with my decision to change my focus from a career as a Police Officer to that of a Police Dispatcher.  If you are interested, and have the time, you can also follow through to this link "Origins of a Police Dispatcher - The Final Chapter" for "the rest of the story".

After getting married, and settling into the notion that I was going to be a Police Dispatcher instead of a Police Officer - I decided it would be beneficial to make the jump from police scanners and CB radios to Amateur radio!

I spent three months with my nose in a couple "Introduction" and “Instruction” books written by Gordon West, and in 1993 I finally took the test and got my Amateur Radio "Technician"  ticket. (I also got SKYWARN certified during this time period too!)

Ticket - slang term for an Amateur Radio Operators License.

Now that I was officially a licensed Amateur Radio "Technician" (and newly married, with family, and making a little over 8 bucks an hour), money was TIGHT!  So I began saving... literary change... (pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters) for a radio. 

This was before the internet was what it is now.  Back then you really had to RESEARCH to find the best deals on radios... Catalogs, QST magazine adds, LOTS of phone calls, trips to Radio City, swap meets, Ham shows, etc...

ft-416 I eventually found what I was looking for - a basic entry level radio that suited my needs and was something I could afford....

The Yaesu FT-416 (in grey).  It's a basic - single band 2m HT. 

2m – Two Meter (an amateur radio band)
HT - “Handy Talkie” (Walkie-Talkie style radio)

They (Yaesu) were dropping the "grey" and sellers were closing them out...  I forgot how much I paid for it, but I got a pretty good deal...

I started playing around, spending time on 2m...  Saturday Morning Swap Shops, etc...  I was working at the Mall of America as a dispatcher by this point - and we had a weather radio and police scanner in the dispatch center hooked to a decent 2m ground plane antenna way up on the roof...  I'd disconnect the coax, and hook up my HT - Shazam!  Got some decent reception there!  I'd spend my break time (working overnights) parked up on the top level of the ramps, getting to know a few of the late night "regulars" on 2m... 

Back in the day, a “Tech” was the only "Code Free" license - and Techs were viewed by many in Amateur world as "Less than an Amateur".  We were (at times) scorned for being allowed to use the bands...  My intent was always to go "Tech Plus" - (Tech, plus the 5 WPM Morse Code requirement) and maybe even further.  I started studying, got some Morse Code practice tapes from the library and bought some Morse Code practice software for my old 286 Windows 3.2 machine!  My lowly "Tech" license sort of kept me from getting in too deep into the Amateur Radio “community”.

My intent was to build a QRP rig - while saving up for something a bit more "Shiny and new"!  (Some of the high end HF rigs can run as much a five to seven thousand dollars!)

QRP – Low Power
HF – High Frequency
(as opposed to VHF -Very High Frequency / UHF – Ultra High Frequency or the Microwave Frequencies)

Degen 1103 At this time we bought a run down fixer-upper house (a "flipper" before house flipping was chic') - and I started my career in dispatching which required LOTS of training, working night shifts, etc, etc, etc... 

Ham radio was put on the back burner.  Although, I did continue listening to the Shortwave bands (and still enjoy a romp through the SW bands on my Degen 1103 - Left).

I never did get the "plus" for my Tech license. 

For many reasons – like the "Ni-Cads" (remember Ni-Cad??) for my HT giving up the ghost, babies starting to arrive (one after the other), work, and maintaining the house, the next thing I knew It had been 10 years since I last TX'ed on an Amateur bands... (TX – Transmitted)

I have kept up my license (by renewal) - always thinking that some day I plan on getting back into the scene... And now, with the code requirements lifted - that just may happen...  Someday.

I work with another Ham.  He is more active than I am... Mostly around Field Day, and he is BIG TIME into SKYWARN... He worked up to General (with code) but has lost or forgotten most of it over the years (He can still remember his call sign, CQ, QSL, QRZ, and 73).  He and another Ham I see in the police department from time to time are part of the Bloomington Communications Group - and try to talk me into getting my Extra or General...  They have the tests frequently enough... the hurdle is  trying to find the time for prep...

CQ – Attention or “Calling all stations”
QSL – I am acknowledging receipt.
QRZ – You are being called by…
73 – Best Regards

So, to answer the question posed to me in that email from my buddy’s brother… Yes, I am a Ham - but not as much as I'd like to be...  I really only sort of "dabbled" in it many years ago - but I have the interest and intent to return someday.

Are you a Ham, and just stumbled upon this page?  Tell me your Ham story, or send me a link!


  1. I didn't realize there was so much to know. I have trouble with normal texting. How would I remember what QRZ meant? It's like OMG!

  2. I also did not know it required all the details you went through.

    I think it's pretty dang cool.

    I hope you can find time to get back into it.

  3. --. --- --- -.. / .-- --- .-. -.- / -.. .- ...- .. -..


  4. I ate a ham sammich the other day. It was tasty!



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