What Did You Do With Your Handheld?

Written by: Michael Ross VE2DUB
Published in the Concordia ARC

The no-code basic amateur radio license puts a whole world of personal communications in the palm of your hand. If you are like most new hams you started with a handheld 144 Mhz FM radio and spent at least a few months meeting and talking to other area hams on the local repeaters, using the autopatch like a free cellular phone to call friends and family from their front door instead of ringing the doorbell and have been cursed at using the radio from inside the car 20 miles from the repeater or the back room of your apartment whose only window points away from the repeater.

Finally you broke down and bought a magnet mount antenna that you often forgot to take out of the back seat and wondered why your friends still couldn't hear you. Only occasionally will you stay put in the one hot spot, balanced on top of the desk in the living room, where your signal is full quieting into the repeater with the handie talkie. Promises of the outdoor antenna await the warming rays of Spring.

You may have listened to or even checked in to a net, a weather net, swap net or shortwave listening net. Perhaps you strayed outside the limits of the ham bands and listened in on police, pager, taxi, airplane or juicy cellular phone calls? Does it get any better than this?

One day you tuned through 145 Mhz and heard those brrrrps sounds of packet radio that forced you to get a TNC (terminal node controller) to go between your handheld and personal computer to see what all the noise was about. Months passed, you were no longer heard on the repeaters but could now be found on several packet frequencies at the same time, so many in fact that a few of you even had to get additional callsigns so you could be on the air in more than one place at a time. After a short while, the computers took over the stations and spent more time talking to eachother than you ever did in person. Can you believe the software even keeps track of who has connected to your station while you were gone so you can see who you missed when you get home? In fact, some days the computers are so busy talking to eachother that real people have to change frequencies just to get a packet in edgewise.

One day the computers tired of talking to each other in the local area and convinced their owners to connect them to the Internet, where they now spend even more time talking to each other but now all over the planet, through packet to internet gateways. They even allow humans to contact eachother in real time if they enter the converse mode, the conv command from the packet bbs command line. For those that are too busy for real time contacts the computers will store and forward your messages to the other ham's computer or nearest ham radio bulletin board system for him to pick up when they get back.

If this wasn't enough, some enterprising computers and TNC's got various universities and amateur satellite groups to package them into little micro-satellites and launch them into orbit so they could pick up and relay messages between stations on Earth, from space. One lucky station hitched a ride to MIR, the Russian space station and has been picking up messages left for the cosmonauts from hams all over the world. Another station has been riding the American space shuttle with astronaut hams allowing two way computer comunications with the shuttle. The handie talkie has also been used for two way voice contacts with hams on Earth using a shuttle window mounted antenna. The same handie talkie you have been using on the local repeater could have been talking to the space shuttle but you would have to get that antenna outside! You might also need some satellite tracking software that runs on your PC and maybe a power amplifier to boost your power output.

There are other amateur satellites you can use with your basic license. You'll need a multimode VHF and UHF transceiver, azmith and elevation rotor and a low noise preamp to use these space repeater satellites.

By switching from FM to Morse Code or SSB on the VHF bands you can greatly extend your range from 10's to 100's of miles, direct station to station without repeaters! Get the biggest antenna you can put up, a multimode rig and a low noise preamp and talk from New York City to Toronto on a regular basis. Try bouncing signals off the Northern lights, meteor trails and even the moon! Take part in the January VHF contest from the club station January 20 and 21 to get a taste of the action.

Have you seen the slow scan television pictures being sent between stations on 2 meters using a single chip $5 interface between your handie talkie and personal computer? Real color pictures coming out of your handheld! Check out the JVFAX program and build or buy the simple interface to join in the fun.

Have you ever been on a foxhunt? Hooked up your handheld radio to a beam antenna that you held out the window of your car and waved around to get a fix on where the hidden transmitter was the loudest? When you got to where you thought the transmitter was, trompled through snow up to your waste looking for the hidden antenna buried in a snowbank? You had to be there... next time ?

Don't overlook the other VHF bands. The basic license allows operation on 50 Mhz which can provide continent wide communications during the summer months and occasional worldwide openings.

Check out two way amateur television on 439.25 Mhz by hooking a UHF antenna and preamp to the cable input of your VCR or cable ready TV and tune in to cable channel 60 and watch the shows. Add a camera and transmitter and you are on the air with your own two way television station!

Scrape together a few parts and get on 10 Ghz with a surplus microwave motion detector and head for the mountaintops to talk to other stations with home built dish antennas.

Have you heard the shortwave signals coming through the remote base on the club repeater from the 80 meter swap net on Sunday nights? With a little bit of practice, your hand can be trained to send and write Morse code at 5 words per minute, fast enough to get you on two of the amateur shortwave bands, best at night for long range communications. There are audio tapes and software available for the asking to get you started. So what are you waiting for?

After operating Morse Code on the air for a while you should be ready for the 12 wpm test and then all the rest of the shortwave bands are yours. You will be chatting with hams in Europe, South America, Asia, Africa, sending packet, amtor, radioteletype and slow scan television pictures all over the planet, chasing DX and taking part in weekend HF contests. Soon you'll have a shortwave set in the car working DX on the way home and all the time wondering.... what DID I do with my handheld?