21 Things to Do: Get on the air

Once you’ve acquired a radio, the next step is to get on the air. You’re now an amateur radio operator, not an amateur radio listener.

If your first radio is a VHF transceiver, the first thing to do is to find the repeaters in your area.  One way to do this is to use the K1IW Amateur Repeater and Broadcast Transmitters Database (http://rptr.amateur-radio.net/). Simply fill in the form, and it will give you a list of repeaters near you. When I asked for 2m repeaters within 10 miles of Ann Arbor, MI, I got the following list:

Location Frequency PL (Hz) Callsign Sponsor
Ann Arbor, MI 145.23 100.0 W8UM U of M ARC
Ann Arbor, MI 146.96 100.0 W8PGW ARROW ARC
Ypsilanti, MI 146.92 100.0 K8RUR I-94 ARC

What this chart is telling me is that to communicate with other amateur radio operators using the W8UM repeater, I need to set the frequency of my transceiver to 145.23 MHz and enable the CTCSS tone and set that frequency to 100.0 Hz.

Once you’ve set your transceiver up properly, you should first listen to see if other amateurs are currently using the repeater. If no one is using the repeater, you can try to start a contact with someone, by simply saying your callsign followed by “listening” or “monitoring.” For example, I would say, “KB6NU listening.” If another amateur radio operator is listening, and wants to talk to me, he or she will replay with his or her callsign, and then we’ll start our contact.

If there are already operators using the repeater, listen to their conversation, noting how long they speak before letting the other operator take a turn, how often they identify, and even what they are talking about. If you don’t think that they would mind if you joined their conversation, say your callsign immediately after one of them has stopped transmitting. They’ll break for you and let you join the conversation.

It really is just that easy. Most hams are welcoming and great people to talk to. By getting on the air frequently, you’ll get to know a lot of great people and have many interesting conversations. Sure, you’ll run into the occasional grouch, but don’t let them ruin your enjoyment of amateur radio.

Operating on the shortwave, of HF, bands is a little different than operating on the VHF bands. A complete description of those differences is beyond the scope of this book, but you’ll find a lot of good information in the The ARRL Operating Manual for Radio Amateurs (see below).

The basic principles apply, though. Listen first to see if there are other amateur radio operators on the air that you can contact, and if not, give out a call inviting other operators to contact you. Then, once you have established contact, have an interesting contact with the other radio amateur.

Over the years, I’ve met many amateurs who studied hard to get their license, but then didn’t get on the air for months, or even years. Don’t let that happen to you. Amateur radio is a contact sport. Get a radio and get on the air!



  1. Great post. Just got my General a few weeks ago, and almost done putting together my first HF station with a dipole and 100w. Might try to get my first QSO today! ;-)

  2. Just a minor quibble about an otherwise great posting — the newcomer trying to use a repeater might be unable to unless he was aware of the requirement to set in the correct offset.

    The article you pointed to that discussed receiver design was fascinating. I think the system using the high-speed ADC is the future of communications receivers.


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