We’re very happy to have the Tampa Amateur Radio Club (TARC) joining us again this year at Gulf Coast MakerCon 2015. We asked a couple of their members to tell us a bit about amateur radio and the place of ham radio in the DIY community, and they did a nice little back and forth for us here to share what they love about ham, and why they think you’ll love it too!
So Meet Jon and Liz:
TARC at last year’s Gulf Coast MakerCon event
Jon: Hi, my name is Jon (KJ4NYD).
Liz: Hi. My name is Liz (KM4BWM) and we are amateur (ham) radio operators.
Jon: Before we get into the kinds of things that amateur radio operators do or build, let’s talk a little about what amateur radio is.
Liz: To be a amateur radio operator to me is fun and interesting. You meet all different kinds of people from all over the world. It is a way to interact with someone that you may have otherwise have never met, or even had an opportunity to meet.
Jon: For those that don’t know, amateur radio is what what the rest of the world calls “ham” radio. They are just different words for the same thing. You may ask yourself “what’s the difference between that and a C.B. radio?”
Liz: OK Jon. What is the differnece?
Jon: Well, there are a couple of differences. The first is output power. C.B’s are limited to about 5 watts and are only for local area use. Most people don’t realize that it is illegal to use a C.B to talk to anybody that’s more than 60 miles away.
Liz: Really?? I didn’t realize that C.B.’ers were limited to that short of a distance.
Jon: Well, I’m not saying that they don’t do that, but yes it is illegal. Amateur radio operators on the other hand can talk all over the world if conditions are right. Depending on frequency, we can use 1000 watts or more. Because of the increased power, we are required to get a license which is free and only requires that you pass a simple test.
Liz: Yeah, you don’t have to take it four times like I did. Thankfully there’s no limit to the number of times yyou can try to pass the test. Thank god it’s pass or fail. :)
Jon: There are different levels of licenses… Technician, General, Advanced, and Extra. We can go into the difference later for anybody that’s interested.
Liz: So Jon, how easy is to make your own radios and antennas. Also, why would you build something on your own instead of just going onto the internet and buying something out of the box?
Jon: Well Liz, take a look at the picture of the antenna that I’ve attached. Those are just a few of the antennas that we have at my local club (yes, us radio geeks have clubs). Just one of those can cost $1500 or more, but they’re regular just stainiless steel tubes, nuts, and U-bolts that are assembled in a particular way. You can buy all those things at Home Depot like $120 or so. All you need to do is get the measurements right.
Liz: Yeah, but what if I’m not mechanically inclined?
Jon: There’s are apps to help figure out the measurements. Anybody can put a nut onto a bolt. Plus all you have to do is ask for help, and tons of other hams will come to help build and install the thing.
Liz: That is true. The ham nation is one of the friendliest groups of people that I’ve ever met.
Jon: I personally also like to build things just to see if they work.
Liz: What kinds of things have you built?
Jon: Well, I’ve got a handheld antenna made from PVC pipe and pieces of an old tape measure. We call that a tape measure beam. I also made an HF antenna out of 5 metal slinkies that I bought at Toys R Us that works surprisingly well. Pictures of both are attached.
Liz: You’re kidding. They actually work!!?? How cool!! How far away can you talk with them?
Jon: The tape measure antenna is good for just a few miles. However, I have talked to people across the Atlantic with the slinkies.
Liz: Well I got into it to be able to help out in emergency situations. Helping out with Police and Fire departments when phones lines are down.
Jon: Cool. All it takes for that is a wire to be strung between 2 trees, or along a fence, or something. All wire sends out and receives radio waves.
Liz: I have not talked to as many people as you have, but I have found it cool that we got to listen to the space station for the a minute or two as it passed us by. They go so fast that the signal goes by quickly. I love the fact that I can speak to either someone in the states as far as Alaska or as close as Tampa or go the other route and speak to someone in Australia or Japan.
Jon: The nice thing about this hobby, if you can think about it, you can do it. People still use voice and morse code, but we also send digital dignals as well. Plus TV signals.
Liz: So what will we be displaying at our table at Makercon?
Jon: We’ll have both local long distance capabilities there. We’ll be completly running off of our own power supply, and will be using an antenna that another Maker built to take on hiking trips into the Colorado wilderness.
Jon and Liz: We both look forward to seeing you at Gulf Coast MakerCon.
And we can’t wait to see you both there, too!
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