Different Aspects of the Hobby

There are many different areas of interest within the Amateur Radio hobby. They all have "communications by radio" in common, but the applications can be quite diverse and fascinating ! Below is a summary of just a few of these applications. Where possible, a web site is referenced where more information can be obtained (there are usually many sites available ; only a few are provided here to get you started).


No place to put up antennas at home? How about putting a "station" in the car or truck?

Many new Hams start out with a VHF radio (FM mode) for communicating with other Hams in the local area. Many get a transceiver that is small enough so that it can be used in either the house (for base station use) or in the car (eg. for communicating on the way to/from work). Mobile communications on VHF/UHF was one of the main reasons that repeaters were invented. As the word suggests, repeaters re-transmit your signal, and are usually located on tall buildings, towers, or high points of land, so that they can "spread" your signal over a much larger range than you could from your vehicle.

But you want to talk further than just local? Then try putting an HF (shortwave) transceiver in your car. Even HF radios are available in smaller sizes now so they can easily fit in a mobile set-up. The necessary antennas are a little larger than those for mobile VHF/UHF, but most are similiar in size to a large whip (8 foot).

But you're using a motorcycle? No problem! There are Hams that communicate from that type of vehicle too. And some do not just use VHF for local communications -- they too can go HF mobile to talk to different parts of the continent, or even the world if conditions are right!

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DXing : "Long Distance" Communications

Although the classic definition of DX is "distance", today it generally means contacting Amateur stations in far-away places. On the HF (shortwave) bands, DX stations are those in foreign countries. On the VHF/UHF bands, DX stations can be within the same country or continent, since making a VHF (eg. 2 metre band) contact, without the help of a satellite, between, say, Ontario and Arizona, would be quite an accomplishment!

For award purposes, other places than just political countries can be considered as DX "countries" -- for example, the French protectorate of Reunion island in the Indian Ocean is counted as a DX country, even though it belongs to France. The rules for determining what is a DX "country" can be quite complex (see the link below for details).

Would you like to see a list of the DX stations that are on the Amateur bands right now? Try the link to the Webcluster below. Each line in the listing is a station "heard" report (called a "spot"). A report consists of the following items (in the order shown) : callsign of the reporting station, the frequency (in kilohertz), the DX station's callsign, text comments by the reporting station, the time and date (in GMT/UTC) when the DX station was heard (time is given in 24 hour format, eg. 1745 means 5:45 PM), and the DX station's country (best automated guess). Amateurs report spots via their local packet radio "cluster node" (specialized packet radio BBSes), or via specialized telnet (internet) nodes. One ham group in Finland (their club callsign is OH8X) runs a webcluster that collects these reports from different cluster nodes world-wide, and places them on the Internet at their web site.

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Amateur Radio Satellites

If you want to work the world without having to learn Morse Code to get your shortwave band qualification, try using the various Amateur Radio satellites! You can use low power, and pick a mode you prefer (voice, morse code, or even packet radio using your computer). Computer programs for satellite tracking are readily available, or there's even an Internet site that tells you the latest Amateur satellite pass predictions (see link below).

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Amateur Television

Always wanted to be in pictures? How about learning more about the technical aspects of television? Yes, Amateurs can transmit/receive television pictures too! There are two types of TV used by hams : Fast Scan television (FSTV), and Slow Scan television (SSTV). FSTV (also known as Amateur television, or ATV) uses the same basic transmission standards as commercial TV (however, Amateur transmissions must not be business-related). SSTV is the transmission/reception of still pictures (rather than 30 frames per second used by FSTV).

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Amateur Radio Digital Modes

For the transmission/reception of anything with text (letters/numbers) or binary, any one of a number of digital modes may be used. Nowadays, these are all forms of computer-to-computer communications (for Amateurs, this is communications over the radio instead of over telephone or cable lines). The different modes evolved due to their respective error-handling and transmission characteristics. These modes include RTTY (radio teletype), PSK31 (narrow bandwidth Phase Shift Keying), AMTOR (AMateur Teleprinting Over Radio), packet (data sent in groups or packets), PacTOR (fusion of packet and AMTOR), and CLOVER (uses 4 tones instead of 2). Both RTTY and PSK31 are normally used for real-time chatting ("ragchewing") and DXing, whereas one of the other modes are used more for message handling due to their error checking protocols.

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Space Communications

Maybe this is where the future of Amateur Radio lies? Imagine communicating between planets or galaxies instead of countries! Well, maybe this is not possible just yet! In the mean time, how about communicating directly with the astronauts (some are Amateur Radio operators too) who are on the International Space Station ?

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Morse Code

Even though there is talk of phasing out the use of Morse Code by many services, it is still a valuable mode of communications. There are those occasions when stations using Morse Code will be understood, but those using voice or data (digital) will not. This is the case under weak signal conditions, often encountered in VHF DXing, HF DXing, or EME (Earth-Moon-Earth). The Morse Code mode is also known as "CW" in Amateur circles (CW means "continuous wave" -- it does not vary like voice).

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Text and links by the web site author, Wayne Barrey (VE3JV).